The province of Kampot in south Cambodia might be the most picturesque and manifold in the whole country. There is the coast of the Gulf of Thailand, the southern Elephant Mountains with Bokor National Park, the Teuk Chhou River (also: Prek Thom River), a number of limestone mountains and plains. East of Kampot follows the seaside resort of Kep and nearby Rabbit Island, and not far from that the border to Vietnam and Ha Tien.
Kampot Town, seen from Bokor Mountain. Image by Asienreisender, 6/2015
Kampot town is situated at the banks of the Teuk Chhou River, five kilometers before it's mouth reaches the Gulf of Thailand. It has the morbid charme of a ruined place, with a majority of it's buildings in a rotten state as it looks after a war or a long time of decline - and that's exactly what happened here.
Nevertheless it's an upcoming place now which infrastructure develops rapidly these days, but is far not that evolved as many places in Laos since recently or in neighbouring Thailand, which is defenitely ways further in development than Cambodia is. But change is quick here these days; Kampot Special Economic Zone (KSEZ) with it's new deap-sea port (under construction) and a lot of future investments in grand style will change the place thoroughly.
The place inhabits around 48,000 people. About 500 colonial buildings, partially privately, partially communally owned, are left in Kampot, some of them are restored meanwhile, others are still abandoned. A few of them are made-up now as guesthouses. The old French market building has been recently restored and houses now a number of shops, cafes and restaurants. The bigger fresh market is at the other end of town. Although there are frequently tourists coming to Kampot there are none of the notorious 'girl-bars' here.
The eastern bank of the Teuk Chhou River is paralleled meanwhile by a broad promenade with big, old casuarina trees and some figtrees. Most of the old buildings there are restored, including the old market as already mentioned, what was just a few years ago still a rotten, dirty, half-abandoned place. Walking along the promenade one enjoys a great panorama view over the river towards the Elephant Mountains. The river provides a microclimate with a fresh breeze and, so far the wind is coming from southern directions (as normally between May and October, in south-west monsoon time), a fresh smell of sea air. Although the promenade is new, it's already at many spots damaged by the erosion of currents in the ground. The fundament is not sufficient.
A typical streetcorner in Kampot with yet unrestored buildings. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
Following Kampot's river banks a few kilometers downstream one passes the splitup of two arms of the river who form the rivers mouth. Bordering Kampot's southern outskirts a Chvea fisher village is placed at the river banks. The muslim Chvea have a historic relation to Malaya and Sumatra. Their fishing boats look quite similar as the boats one can see in the ports of the Malay Peninsula as e.g. in Ranong, south Thailand. The fishing village is surrounded by remains of mangrove forests. Mangrove forests stretch over parts of the coastlines of Kampot Province, so far they are not destroyed already.
The local people around Kampot are mostly ethnic Khmer. Particularly in Kampot town the Khmer dominate in number. In business, Chinese and Vietnamese have their place as well, together with some Westerners who run numerous bars, restaurants and various shops in town. The Chvea People seem to live mostly in certain villages in the surrounding countryside.
The place gives a rudimentary impression of Italian places after the last world war, with it's vibrant, chaotic flair and neglected state, without the rich Italian cultural heritage, though.
Impressions from Kampot
Hovering with the mouse over the slideshow shows an image counter.
1) A glance from the new road up to Bokor Mountain over the valley of Kampot.
2) The central durian roundabout in Kampot, which can be seen as the town's center.
3) The old market hall along the riverside, now a shopping mall with a number of small shops inside.
4) Restaurants along the riverfront.
5) A sideroad which splits from the main boulevard (left). Most of the buildings are meanwhile renovated.
6) Another streetcorner at the main boulevard where the renovation is not be done yet. That's how it looked all around in Kampot just a couple of years ago.
7) A traditional building at the durian roundabout. Looks as it has served once as a small stage. Now it's always empty.
8) One of the roads next to the fresh market. Apart from the prison it's probably the worst part in town (see below).
9) The state of the affair of the national road 33 to Kep in rainy season 2013; meanwhile it's sealed and fine. Still, many Cambodian roads look so. In rainy season they are dirty and slippery, mud is splashing from the wheels of the vehicles. In dry season the mud is changing into dust which fills the air, impairing the sight and meaning a severe threat to the health of everybody, particularly the inhabitants of the nearby dwellings.
10) Kampot's bus station after a rainy afternoon in August 2013.
11) In hotels and guesthouses one finds often paintings of the rural life in Cambodia. That's exactly how it looks in the countryside around little Kampot. 80% of the Cambodian People live a rural life as peasants.
12) Ox carts are still widely in use.
13) Rice paddies in June 2013. The building in the background is one of these swallow houses, where the birds are lured in by an imitating sound and then get bereaved of their nests. There is a great market for swallow nests, who gain high prices.
14) Rice is planted. The green bundles are rice seedlings.
15) A local's dwelling. They develop fast, these days. Kampot is a grand building site. In a couple of years it will be very urbanized here, following the bad example of Pakse in Laos and other places in booming Southeast Asia.
16) Salt houses, where the Kampot salines salt is stored before it get's furtherly processed (or directly sold, alternatively).
17) Salt salines on Fishing Island in the delta of Teuk Chhou River.
Cambodian village live as it looks still nowadays in many places, as it does around Kampot. More and more the old wooden cottages are replaced by new ones, built of concrete. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
20) A wooden bridge over one of the many rivers in the coastal stripe along the Gulf of Siam. Just a couple of years ago they all were seamed with mangrove forests, but the exploitation of nature is nowhere sustainable anymore in our times.
21) A temple painting, showing Buddha preaching to his disciples. Cambodian temple paintings have their own style, in difference to those in Thailand and Laos.
22) Bokor Mountain, seen from the coast. Fishermen bring huge nets out here with their boats and afterwards pull them slowly in again, with many hands.
23) The Teuk Chhou River seen from the new railway bridge, view to the north. In the background Bokor National Park.
24) A couple of kilometers north of Kampot town lies a small temple with access to the Teuk Chhou River. It's quiet here and possible to have a swim. The crocodiles which lived here once are all extinct.
25) Mangrove forest is seaming a canal on Fishing Island. It's secondary forest; mangroves grow much bigger, here they are all of the same, relative small size.
26) Some of the Chvea fishing boats at a wooden pier near the iron bridge to Fishing Island.
27) Sunset over Kampot's outskirts.
28 & 29) Sunset over the Teuk Chhou River at the river front directly in the town's center. At many evenings one can enjoy the spectacular sunsets here, always looking different, while walking along the river's wide boulevard or having a rest on one of the benches there.
All images and photocompositions by Asienreisender, 2013, 2014, 2015
Kampot and it's surroundings remind a bit to Southeast Asia how it was a couple of years ago. The infrastructure is far behind, cars are fewer than elsewhere, even motorbikes are not that many. A few roads are paved, but the surface of most of them isn't smooth. Many roads are dirt roads, means unpaved and dusty when it's dry, and paying it's name honour when it is rainy. They are punctured with potholes, many of them of the size of a crater. Heavily loaded trucks wreck the roads who lack a decent fundament.
Kampot Railway Station
Kampot's railway station. Due to inofficial information it will open passenger service between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville in 2014. As late as in 2016, the passenger service is running meanwhile. Additionally a few long trains, heavily loaded with goods, pass by every day. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
There are meanwhile three bridges crossing the Teuk Chhou River at Kampot. A new concrete bridge, opened in 2007, parallels the old, narrow bridge. The old bridge is a metal construction and looks like an old railroad bridge. It was destroyed in the 1970s and for a long time broken in the years of the turmoils after. On the river's ground are still the remains of collapsed parts. North of these both bridges spans a new railroad bridge over the river.
The railway station, in the northeastern outskirts of the town looks so messed up as I haven't seen another railway station anywhere else yet. It reminds more to a workshop with a lot of building equipment for railwork. The railroad is in fact very new. There are no passenger trains stopping in Kampot at this time.
The Railway Line
A train from Sihanoukville is passing through Kampot's outskirts. There are one or two trains per day, carrying goods only, no passengers. The operator who restores the line is the Australian corporation 'Toll Railway'. They got a concession in 2010 to run the line for 30 years. However, they promised to open it for passenger trains from 2012 on already, and still in mid-2014 it's delayed.
This line ends at Sihanoukville's commercial port and is connected via Phnom Penh with the Thai railway system at Poipet, what is, together with the Malaysian railway, the best in Southeast Asia. It's announced to run trains soon also to and fro Thailand. Additionally there is a connection to the Vietnamese railway system planned. If that comes true, the line will be part of the transasian railway. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
Provincial Kampot is pretty much off the track; the next and actually only big city in Cambodia is the capital Phnom Penh. The road connection between Kampot and Phnom Penh isn't that bad, at least if it's compared to other main roads in Cambodia, for example the road between Kratie and Kampong Cham. The bus, when making the detour via Kep, needs more than five hours for the about 170km. When driving straight on National Highway 3 the drive shouldn't extend four hours. However, coming in the rush hour of the booming capital can cost a lot of time.
As actually everywhere in Cambodia the electricity isn't stable, so there are breakdowns here and then. Power on - power off, power on - power off, power on - power off, power on - power off... that's the funny game. Most of the times it's just for a few seconds or minutes, but you never know - can be for many hours as well. In the case of a thunderstorm power cuts are more frequent, particularly in the easter outskirts.
A Cambodian army captain explained me that the electricity for Kampot comes, in rainy season, when Teuk Chhou Dam is filled with water, from here, while it's electricity in dry season goes exclusively to Phnom Penh. Kampot's power then comes from Vietnam. Remarkably, in that time are practically never power cuts.
The most roads in and around Kampot, including parts of National Highway 3, are lousy. The upper picture shows National Highway 33 to Kep. This part is at least smooth; a few hundred meters east the great potholes start.Dust Pollution is a heavy problem in Kampot, but nowhere more than on this road. After a rain shower the road is changing into a slippy mudfield, on which any vehicle splashes dirt around. Meanwhile, since 2015, this road is sealed.
The lower picture shows one of the main roads behind the bus station after a heavy rain shower. Where the potholes are the water is up to 60cm deep.
Images by Asienreisender, 11/2013
Well, there is a bus station with not too many buses coming in and leaving every day. Additionally to the buses there are cars who do collective taxi services. They get crammed with passengers. Two people share one seat. Once I have been in a car where five people were squeezed on the rear bench, two on the co-driver's seat and the driver had another passenger sitting on his lap. Sitting at the right end of the rear seat I could only manage the situation by keeping the window open and let my arm hang outside - there was no space left for an arm inside the vehicle anymore.
Concerning internet connections, it's not brilliant, but not too bad on the other hand. Some places have a lousy connection, slow and frequently interrupted; others have a quicker and more reliable access. However, it improved over the last years. There is a number of different companies offering internet services in Kampot. An alternative to a cable connection is using an USB modem with a SIM-card which shows relative good results. Though, it's not the standard of western countries or that of neighbouring Thailand. Nevertheless the quality of telecommunications is increasing rapidly. More and more telecommunication towers appear in the landscape, and along with the road improvements also better cable connections are provided.
At the great, central roundabout in Kampot there is an oversized durian monument placed. Durian is the Southeast Asian 'smelling fruit', a yellow - greenish fruit of the size of a bigger pumpkin and equipped with a kind of blunt stings. The surrounding agriculture produces large amounts of them and they fill the shops in and around the fresh market. The durian is the emblem of Kampot.
Pepper of high quality is growing in the surroundings - Kampot and Kep peppers have a long and good reputation (see below). Pepper is a spice much longer in use in Cambodia than chili, which was introduced to Southeast Asia in the 16th century by Portuguese visitors. Besides durian and pepper there is rice, rambutan, grapefruit, pineapple, mangosteen, mongoes and other fruits cultivated in the local agriculture.
Kampot town has a fishing harbour. It seems that the fishing industries are mostly run by the Chvea. The fishing boats look similar to those one sees in Malaysia and partially in the south of Thailand.
Southeast and east of Kampot are great areas occupied with seawater salt salines. Kampot looks back on a long tradition of salt production. The medieval Khmer empire of Angkor obtained it's salt already from the Kampot salines. By the way, the salt in Southeast Asia isn't that strong as it is in Europe.
Kampot's Old Bridge
The old bridge over the Teuk Chhou River in Kampot. Image by Asienreisender, 5/2013
Kampot Provincial Museum
The upper bust is the finest piece in Kampot Provincial Museum. It's dated back to the 5th / 6th century. Teuk Chhou is given as the finding area, so it must have been found anywhere around Kampot. It's addressed with 'Surya', what means that this deity is representing the sun in hindu mythology. It's carved in sandstone and looks remarkably well for it's age.
The two lingas (hindu phallus symbols) are as well of pre-Angkorean age. The one with the basin is dated back to the 7th / 8th century.
The small statue bottom left is labelled as pre-Angkorean without any more detailled dating. It's a mail divinity.
The column bottom right is dated back to the mid-7th century.
All pieces have been found around Kampot.
Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 7/2015
The new Kampot Museum opened in January 2015. It's placed in the old Governor's Palace. Irritatingly, there are no opening times given and there is practically no soul one could ask for. Usually the museum is closed. On a Sunday in July 2015 I was so lucky to find an academic group from Phnom Penh gathering in front of the museum. I joined them and could have a look into the museum.
However, there is not much to see. A very few relics from the pre-Angkorean era and a number of collages with photos and very little text information are in the inner part of the basement. The outer part of the basement is used for more collages who describe the city development of Phnom Penh. That's all a bit disappointing; there should be much more material about Kampot.
Access to the first floor was barred.
The landscapes around Kampot were already inhabited in prehistorical times. Findings in Kbal Romeas, Phnom Chhnork and other sites prove that. Kampot's history is, insofar, among the longest in Southeast Asia. Pre-Angkorean and Angkorean history are other sections in Kampot's history. Kampot supplied Angkor with salt, for example. How long the Kampot pepper cultivation dates back is not clear. Historical records refer only back into the French times; nevertheless Zhou Daguan is giving witness of the use of pepper in medieval Angkor:
Pepper is occasionally found. It grows twisted round the stems of the rattan, fastening on like a hop vine. Pepper that is fresh and blue-green has the most savour.
Kampot's history stretches over the post-Angkorean centuries and became as a re-foundation in the colonial times the modern city what it was for some decades. A pretty, nice, tidy provincial town with beautiful buildings and a well-planned city design.
The representative plate on the outer wall of the town hall compound. Unfortunately the makers don't waste effort to display opening times. Image by Asienreisender, 2015
Unfortunally the Khmers lacked capability and esteem to maintain the place properly. Particularly in the 1970s the town fell into the hands of the Khmer Rouge (see: 'The Battle of Kampot'); it was widely destroyed and abandoned. Since the last years, at least, some restoration work happens.
Unfortunately the future doesn't look too promising. The place must boom, boom, boom for the sake of the industries, the economy, the rich. Kampot's surroundings will be covered under asphalt and concrete as any other place on earth who develops. Traffic will increase so much that the place will be completely spoiled.
After all, there is much content for a Kampot Museum and really no need to waste the limited space with Phnom Penh's development.
The Fresh Market
A market is a place where offer and demand meet. There are uncountable many different markets on earth in our times. Markets are even a fetish in our highly distorted social system. Markets are, of course, objects of manipulation. Cambodia's fresh markets are just one kind.
Kampot's Fresh Market
Seems to be that Kampot's fresh market occupies the largest block in town. In the old times it was still located at the river banks (see below). Around the market is the greatest traffic chaos compressed; particularly in the forenoons the roads are blocked with vehicles of all kind. The road in front on the photo is additionally part of National Highway 3, which leads from Phnom Penh through Kampot, crossing the new bridge and continues west to Sihanoukville. Trucks and other vehicles in great number pass through here as well and add to the jumble. Image by Asienreisender, 11/2014
Since Cambodia is, above all, a traditional and peasant society, on the fresh markets is dealt mostly with the products of farming. There are the seasonal vegetables and fruits, there is poultry, eggs, fish, meat of various kinds for sale. There are restaurants, cake stalls, rice sellers and shops who sell household articles of all kinds. There are shops with farming tools, there are shoe shops and shops with clothings. There are many shops with sempstresses, there are money changers and gold shops who make and sell jewellery. Meanwhile also shops with mobile phones and certain computer equipment appeared. Every day, from the early morning to early evening, seven days a week the market is running.
A glance on the fresh market. The south entrance is already blocked with dozens of fish saleswomen, inside are many more. Many of the products come directly from the producers, what at least excludes wholesalers and shareholders and their parasitism. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 2014
So, one can see such a Cambodian market simply as a kind of supermarket where one get's a great variety of goods with the only difference that it is not monopolized but in the hands of hundreds of little shop holders. All the different kinds of goods for sale are clustered in certain parts of the market. There is the vegetable submarket, the meat submarket and so on. And all the shops stand in competition with each other.
The 'production chain' of preparing geeze for sale. What happens in developed countries behind closed doors is often openly to see in the countries of the periphery. In fact, whats going on in western mass-scale lifestock industries is much, much, much worse... Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 12/2014
However, Westerners are since decades used to markets as a clean and mostly properly organized place. In fact, markets exist since thousands of years, and the really interesting thing about Cambodian markets is that they grant a glance into the past. Despite the few cheap high-tech items one gets here it's a place in more or less a condition as it has been in medieval times already. Masses of small shops, crammed with different goods, shop by shop by shop, the alleys narrow and covered with filth. An open drainage system of small canals is leading through the middle of the gangways, so that one has permanently to care not to step into them. The smell is horrible in the tropical heat. When it starts to rain, water is streaming and dropping everywhere. In a strong monsoon rain parts of the alleys are impassable because real waterfalls are pouring down and make it impossible to go through without being soaked immediately. The water level on the ground is rising then ten to twenty centimeters, and it's even more filthy and stinking. The shop owners then collect their items and pile them up to keep them dry, so far as possible. Electricity can collapse because the installations are not waterproof.
The worst parts of the market are the meat and the fish market. Fish is sold in a great variety and delivered every early morning from the fishing boats. That's mostly the business of the Chvea people. On the market the fish is mostly just thrown on the filthy ground in huge heaps. The customers point with their fingers on the kind they want and the fishwoman (it's exclusively women's work; they sit in a typical oriental manner on the ground or small stools) put them into a plastic bag on a scale. The stench is horrible and masses of flies are around. Besides, I never trust the scales on the market.
The meat market is not any better. Greater and smaller pieces of raw, bloody meat lie around in the open, covered with flies who are chased away with primitive fans. Occasionally a dog appears sniffling at the meat. The whole mess is so dirty that it wouldn't be acceptable as a lavatory - here food is sold.
Moreover, the small alleys are overcrowded with people. It's going on like in an ant heap, and as in any crowded place, nobody cares the slightest bit for anybody else. People block the way, lines are queuing here and there, people carry goods of all kind including loads of fish or half a pork over one's shoulder and making way through the crowd. "Ep-ep-ep-ep-ep!" they cry, demanding space. Sometimes someone is coming through here on a motorbike. Walking over the market is a slow and dirty undertaking.
Horrible to imagine the life of the people who have to spend here every day many hours and who depend on the income they make here.
Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital
The medical care system is bad in Cambodia, and many Cambodians loose their lifes due to curable diseases. Particularly the child mortality is high. Others suffer a life long for having had curable diseases in their childhood but no proper treatment, or no treatment at all.
These days, in December 2014, the Cambodian news are full with the story of a doctor in a village in Battambang Province, who transferred HIV/AIDS to over hundred of his patients. The latest number is exceeding 200 victims, and that's maybe not yet the end. Another example are the dentists, who often give maltreatments as tooth fillings without desinfection.
The general irresponsibility, stereotypy and deep lack of education in Cambodia is also reflected in the medical staff. Proper diagnosises are already a problem in many health institutions. Treatments based on erroneous diagnosises are the result.
The hospital's inauguration plate. Image by Asienreisender, 2014
Improving the poor situation in the south of Cambodia, was the official proclamation for opening 'Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital' in April 2012. It's primarily focused on treating children and mothers, but extended it's services to ambulant treatments for adults. Further extensions as e.g. a prevention unit are planned. The annual capacity of the hospital with it's 100 beds is the treatment of 50,000 children and the medical care for 4,500 births annually. Sonja Kill Hospital is among the most modern hospitals in Cambodia.
The hospital's construction is based on an initiative by Dr. Winfried Kill, an entrepreneur from Bergisch-Gladbach in Germany, and his wife. The hospital's name relates to the Kill's deceased daughter. It's placed at National Highway 3, seven kilometers west of Kampot, short before the entrance to Bokor National Park.
Sonja Kill Hospital is based on the idea to give quality treatment for an affordable price. That means in theory that those who have little money pay little, and those who can pay more get a higher bill. In practice it might be difficult to judge who is who. Since running a well-equipped hospital is expensive, SKMH depends on donations.
Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital
The hospital's main building with the reception desk inside. The whole compound consists of numerous buildings on an 70,000m2 areal.
However, despite the good intentions who came with the idea of the hospital, my personal experiences are that of a very buerocratic institution with a staff which deals the daily affairs with the typical Cambodian stereotypy. Long waiting times to see the doctor are somewhat most patients have to suffer worldwide, also here. After the treatment the waiting comes into a second round, for now the patient has to wait for paying his bill and to get his medicals, who have to be paid extra. Last time when I accompanied someone here that alone lasted about an hour. It came with a lot of running between at least three different desks respectively offices. The staff is doing nothing to hurry up the process.
While waiting for a long, long time (almost two hours), a Lexus pickup truck appeared in the entrance. It stopped, someone left it and the car kept staying there for ten, twenty minutes. The engine was running all the time. Not only the noise was disturbing, but also the fume which was blown by the wind into the waiting area, where a number of people sat. When I went to the receptionist and asked him if that wouldn't be anyhow odd, he first didn't react. I had to make three of four trials to get a first response. He didn't know what to do, so I told him to go and tell the driver (a Cambodian women was sitting all the time in the car, listening music) to use the parking 20m away. Again no response. I told him again. With a delay of about ten minutes he used his mobile phone to talk to the guard at the outer entrance at the road. The guard needed another ten minutes to appear and to speak to the woman. Only then she finally moved the car away.
That's only one of a number of experiences of that kind who I observed over the time.
While the Kill family has apparently withdrawn from the organization, behind is now an American organization called Hope Worldwide. A Christian organization.
Image by Asienreisender, 12/2014
Urban Development 2030
Kampot's urban development until 2030. All the area bordered within the new ringroad will be urbanized. However, the expectations are rather conservative and it's to expect that the wild growth extends all limits. Image by Asienreisender in Kampot Provincial Museum, 7/2015
The town's outskirts are going to be extended. Roadwork is under construction north of the railway line and south of town. A big ringroad is under construction, connecting National Highway 3 with National Highway 33 in a big bow around east of town. Besides the ringroad many more sideroads are under construction, and the roadnet will doubtlessly become denser. New industries get attracted. The expansion goes as far eastwards until the banks of another river. In the north and the south the road project is continued, so that the ringroad altogether will stretch from the river banks north of Kampot to meet the river south of town again. Also water canals are getting built there. Progress is steady. Kampot is massively expanding.
It's easy to predict that this wild growth will produce mostly dirty slums. To see how Southeast Asian towns grow, one has only to look at other examples, of who are many. That of Phnom Penh, Cambodia's big toilet, is only one.
The Eastern Ringroad
The new ringroad, yet unpaved, cutting through the rice paddies. Image by Asienreisender, 1/2014
The same road, seen from the other side in 12/2014. Things need time here, and still a last asphalt layer is missing. Industries will settle down next.
The road is an extension of the NH3 (national highway), named road 139A, connecting it with the NH33.
The kilometer stone is announcing Chaom Chau, 136km away. On the other side is Touk Meas, 53km, written. That's absolutely irrelevant, very small places far away. Useless information which does not help anybody. Actually Kep should be announced here, some 18km away. One sees these insignificant announcements frequently on Cambodian kilometer stones, and on any stone is another place's name written, so that drivers don't get orientation about their progress. Nowhere else in the world I have seen that kind of mess, and Cambodian administration proved once more totally incapable.
Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender.
Image right: The new ringroad is now merely two years old and there is not much traffic on it. Nevertheless, it looks if it were twenty years old, shows many potholes already and many patches have been applied on the surface to mend damage. The fundament is too weak for the trucks. Brandnew rubbish, a standard phenomenon in Cambodia. The building substance of whole Kampot and everywhere else in this country is of a very low quality. Image by Asienreisender, 1/2017
But urbanisation does not stop at the river east of Kampot. The countryside between Kbal Romeas and Phnom Chhnork (see below) is in an early stage of development as well. Along Phnom Chhnork a brandnew, yet unfinished canal, of which a small piece is to see on the image, runs over many kilometers through the rice paddies. Some seven or eight kilometers northeast of Kampot the Kingdom Cement (Chakrey Ting Cement Factory) is placed, apparently a new installation. It's eating up the close-by limestone mountain (right image). The detonations of explosives are to hear occationally in Kampot town. The bursted rocks are transported on a new conveyor belt to the factory. The limestone chalk is a perfect raw material for concrete.
Hog production in the countryside. Recently erected buildings, and there are more of them already under construction. Image by Asienreisender, 2014
A few kilometers south of the cement factory dirt roads curve through the savannah. A few years ago it was all still tropical rainforest, and it was even under national protection, as signs indicate; but the logging industries weren't prevented from cutting it all.
The next step is urbanisation, and here it starts with a great clay pit, which is eating up another mountain. Permanently trucks arrive and are loaded with clay. It's mostly used for land filling in the booming building sector. Not far away from that, stables in industrial size for hog production are newly opened. A dirty industry, in which the animals suffer a lot.
Images by Asienreisender, 2/2014
The International Village
Near kilometer stone three west of Kampot turns a concrete road northwards from National Highway 3. After another two kilometers there is an area where mostly Westerners live. It's called the 'International Village'. The infrastructure there looks poor, the roads are unpaved, there is no waste disposal service, water connections are not given. Living there requires to drill an own well.
The houses there look, despite the poor infrastructure, much better than in most other parts of town. Most of them are new, not older than a couple of years. Some are surrounded by high walls with glass shards on top of them; either the inhabitants are scared or they have what to hide.
There is a small supermarket, clean, neat, supplying goods for the western taste. Bavarian folks music is playing inside. Behind the supermarket is a small bar with wifi connection. Meanwhile, in 2016, it's turned into a billard saloon for Khmer youngsters. Farther behind are a few small houses, all tightly surrounded by walls; they are for rent. Next door there is a former snooker/billiard hall which is now a karaoke place, where the young Khmer can make the unavoidable hellish din.
Another resort with white, round-shaped bungalows and a pool with a terrace where guests can sit is on the other side of a dirt road. Not far behind, but far enough, lives a small Chvea community. They have a private Islam school there. There are reports that money from Saudi Arabia, Kuweit and maybe other Islamic countries is coming into Cambodia's Muslim communities for promoting Wahabism.
The surroundings to the north, away from the national road, are widely cleared land but not urbanized yet. Seems there is much land for sale. At my first visit I got immediately a plot offered.
Following the road which splits from the national road and heading farther north, one approaches the foot of Bokor Mountain. At the end of the dirt track which leads on a very sandy ground, lies a small and new buddhist wat. Surrounded by plantations a few tracks lead through the landscape. It's clearly an area with potentials for economic growth.
A Concept for a Village?
According to hearsaying there was a concept for the international village. It was meaned to attract Western/International inhabitants with purchase power to settle down here. To make it attractive, infrastructure improvements like paved roads and more was planned. The usual, ugly speculation wave run over the area, with the big local players and their corrupted affairs ahead of it. After several generations of buying and selling land, the real-estate prices rose considerably. The promised enhancement of the infrastructure is still delayed. The concept, if there really was one, is hardly to recognize.
However, it seems that the big business expectations don't fulfill. The lame global economy, rising mass unemployment in the West and the shrinking purchase power of the prospected buyers slow the development here down.
Kampot's 'International Village'
Placed at the foot of Bokor Mountain, Kampot's International community is a new outskirt which consists of some buildings scattered around. Kind of a 'center' is the billiard hall with a karaoke place next door.
A few hundred meters north of it a new plot is getting equipped with a well. The grounds are mostly sandy here; seems the sea level was once higher here than it is now.
In fact, just a few decades ago, the whole area between Bokor Mountain and a varying mangrove belt along the coast and the short rivers who come out of the mountain, was covered with tropical rainforest. Like almost all of Cambodia's lowland forests it has been logged since. A large genocide of species. After the logging, with the first rainy season, the rich and very fertile top soil layer has been washed out and flushed out into the sea, being lost forever. What's left is a nutricious-poor, sandy and clayey soil on which a secondary vegetation starts to grow. If it can grow undisturbed, grassland and savannah develops. But, the landscape is chopped into pieces by a grid of irregular dirt roads and the railway track. It's getting more and more populated, and traffic is massively on the rise. Often, day for day for day, heavy trucks, loaded with clay and soil go to and fro, doing land filling for further building activity. The trucks wreck the dirt roads terribly, who are getting to be repaired then with a considerable delay.
Numerous fruit plantations have been installed in the area. To water them, a lot of ground water is pumped out of the ground all over the long months of the dry season. As a consequence, in prolonged dry seasons it can happen that wells for drinking water fall dry. A lot of pesticides are used in the plantations to kill insects. The heavy poison is penetrating the ground and spoiling the ground water. Those, who have gardens here, can hardly grow vegetables, for the soil is too poor. It requires measurements to improve fertility.
Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 12/2014, 2015
Kampot Special Economic Zone
The area west of Kampot is declared one of the notorious 'Special Economic Zones' in Asia. That means that big companies get great conditions for big investment. Usually it's low wages, no labour unions, no strikes allowed, no tax paid for up to 15 years and low standards (if any) for environmental protection.
One of the grand projects in 'Kampot Special Economic Zone' (KSEZ) is the construction of a city for a 100,000 people up at Bokor Hill Station (inmiddle of Bokor National Park), accompanied by a number of big casinos and hotels for the gamblers.
Additionally there is a coal power plant planned at the coastline, producing 3,000 megawat electricity, together with a concrete factory which originally would be run by a Thai investor, but who recently withdrew his plans for investment in Cambodia due to a possibility of political instability after the dubious course of the July 28th elections in 2013. Another company will fill the gap. A car tyre factory, a garment and a shoe factory, a rice mill and other (heavy-) industries are expected to follow. The rice mill is meanwhile already under construction (May 2014). Traffic will boost, and with it the transport infrastructure.
The construction of a new deep sea harbour in the 'Kampot Special Economic Zone' started in 2012 and will be allegedly ready in 2014. The overall investment is supposed to be at least 80 million US$, rather 100 million, while the port itself will cost at least 18 million US$.
The first step was the construction of roads and land filling. The port will be 12m deep and be able to serve big vessels of up to 20,000 tons. The main purpose of the harbour will be to transport mined products and metals.
Kampot's Deep Sea Harbour
Construction of the deep sea port is going on in a slow speed, as it seems. That's the skeleton of roads and piers who lead up to threee kilometers into the sea.
Soon after taken the images, the whole project came to a halt. For the next more than three years no progess happened. An article in the Phnom Penh Post on June 1st, 2016 announced the resumption of the port construction. The business tycoon Try Pheap, who is according to Global Witness involved in "large-scale timber operations in protected forest areas" (Phnom Penh Post), plans a 300 US$ investment into the port. Construction shall start already in 2016. The tycoon owns 300 hectars land along the coast in Kampot, while the port will consume 50 hectars.
Involved in the business is the Hong Kong based Hutchison Port Holdings Ltd. They run already almost 40 ports worldwide and are registered in the British Virgin Islands. An environmental assessment has already been done with the outcome that the megaproject will do no harm to the ecology. (There are companies who are specialized on environmental assessments in favour of grand investors. It's a similar thing with the assessments for the Mekong dams, who's heavy impact on the nature is just smoothed over with good words. These experts never see a problem, doesn't matter how damaging these projects are, because they are very well paid for not seeing huge problems.) The infrastructure, particularly NH3 and a number of more roads will be enlarged considerably. More big infrastructure will follow. Above all a new oil refinery which costs 2.3 billion US$ will be built.
Images by Asienreisender, 10/2013.
It's supposed that the port will change the economy and with it the life of many people in and around Kampot; additionally it will have an effect on the whole Cambodian economy.
The president of the KSEZ, Vinh Huor, stated following:
When our site is finished, Kampot will become a big economic region and it will not be a tourism destination. It will become a commercial area and more transportation developments will be needed in the future. (...) The main purpose of the port is for freight transportation of minerals that will be transported abroad for processing. It’s going to be a big port.
(Source: Phnom Penh Post).
Despite all the great political promises for a better future the first impact is already a damage of the fish populations along the coastline. That triggered a first resistance of the local population against the project which led to a delay of it.
There is another port in Sihanoukville with a capacity of 3,5 million tons. Yet it's the only deep seaport in Cambodia. In 2011/2012 the Sihanoukville Port turned over 2,8 million tons.
All these huge development projects will trigger a massive urbanization of the greater Kampot region with all the consequences - natural devastation, massive pollution, traffic chaos, population growth...
French Riviera City
Another huge and shady project in planning is that of a new coastal city, built on two artificial islands who first have to be constructed for the purpose. It's to expect that the project will harm the nearby mangrove forests and fish grounds. The so called 'French Riviera City' is planned by the recently (November 2015) founded Pallas Brilliant Investment and Development Co. Ltd. Behind it sticks one of the ministers in Hun Sen's cabinet and his wife; a number of other investors, an influencial businesswoman from Thailand and circles who are active in Dubai, are also involved. Despite the companies promise to show transparence for the project, little to nothing is known about the investors behind, and comments are declined by various key persons, according to an Phom Penh Post article on October 17th, 2016. The investment is said to have a volume of about 23.2 billion US$.
However, the realization of this project remains still doubtful.
Kampot pepper is famous for it's taste and quality. In the French colonial times the local pepper plantations alledgedly supplied any restaurant in France with Kampot pepper. And it's still a famous product of the region; a number of pepper plantations are around Kampot and Kep. But, what's actually the difference compared to other peppers?
Kampot Pepper Sorts
Kampot pepper fullfills WHO standarts since 2010 and is a world market product. Here are the three different colours of the product presented: black, white, red. Image made in a pepper plantation around Kampot by Asienreisender, 11/2013
Visiting a pepper plantation and having a guided tour, the question was answered by a pepper farmer. He argued it's the peculiarity of the Kampot soil. There is a high degree of a certain quartz in the local grounds. The pepper plants therefore are not different than elsewhere, the plantation owner said. Well, there are certainly different kinds of pepper.
However, there are still three different colours of Kampot pepper. There is black pepper, red and white pepper. Where are these differences coming from? It's not the case that the different colours come from different kind of plants, as one may assume on the first glance. When the pepper corns are getting ripe, part of one and the same bunch is already red, part of it is still green. They get picked then together. If the harvest would be delayed until the green corns get red as well, then the corns who went red first would fall down and get lost. So, the bunch is picked as a whole in time, and in a next step the red and green corns get separated. Both kinds get airdried for one week. The green corns change their colour to black when drying, the red corns remain red. To produce white pepper, part of the red corns get boiled for ten minutes in water; in this process they loose their skin. After that they get dried and gain a white color.
A Kampot Pepper Plantation
A pepper field on a pepper plantation around Kep. A number of pepper farms, organic and unorganic, are situated around this place. They offer simple guided tours for visitors to promote their products. Attached is always the unavoidable shop where one can buy pepper and other 'typical' Cambodian accessories, made-up as lifestyle products for the internationalized middle classes. Image by Asienreisender, 11/2013
Countryside in Cambodia, as it looks around Kampot. Painting seen in a hotel in Kampot. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
There are no big sights or cultural highlights in and around Kampot. Tourists come here for the natural surroundings and relaxation. The tourist attractions are mostly Bokor National Park and nearby Kep with it's seaside, as well as some caves.
The limestone mountains east of Kampot town look similar to the mountains around Satun, Trang, Krabi and Phattalung in south Thailand and Vang Vieng in Laos. Since the limestone is porous, there are many caves in them. The caves are home for legions of bats who leave them at dusk and search the wider surroundings. Many of them appear then in Kampot's outskirts and fly through open doors and windows into the houses. It's amazing how quick they can fly through rooms and doors, stairways up and down, without colliding with anything inside, to finally leave the house through the door or window they entered.
Teuk Chhou's River Mouth
The mouth of Teuk Chhou River, only a few kilometers south of Kampot town. The riverbanks are coined by secondary mangrove forest, behind the land is transformed into salt salines. In the middle of the mouth there is a flat mangrove island. The mountainous island behind that is of considerable size; it's Phu Quoc Island and belongs to Vietnam. Image by Asienreisender, 3/2014
One of the caves some ten kilometers east of Kampot is housing an old, pre-Angkorean shrine. It's situated in a mountain called 'Phnom Chhnork'. The shrine dates back to the 7th century CE. Since this time marks the transition of the declining Funan civilization to it's successor, the empire of Chenla, it's not clear for me to which of both it belongs. Presumably it was used by both as a sanctuary.
Before the shrine was built, the cave was already inhabited since long. Ceramics who were found in the caves date back thousands of years into prehistoric times.
A few years ago there came barely a soul to the site, but now the entrance is made-up and the unavoidable cash-box is installed. Eager kids ask to guide one's vehicle if coming self-organized, and other kids ask quite sassy for "pay, pay, pay ticket!". Superfluous to add that the guys who charge entrance have no clue about the site's background.
Most of the touristic visitors go to Phnom Chhnork by an organized tour from Kampot town.
The Temple of Phnom Chhnork
Climbing a steep stairway outside of the limestone mountain leads to a large opening into a cave. Here is the little, brick built temple hidden. There is an ornament on the temple's outside showing a very similar style as to see at the temple on Phnom Bayang (The rose of Phnom Bayang). Here and there are chalk fossils in the stone. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 7/2015
Another great cave closer to Kampot is inside Phnom Kbal Romeas. It is easy to reach from Kampot on bicycle, following the national road 33 to Kep and having a left-turn where the road first time bends to the right.
The sign to Kbal Romeas cave. Seems it was used as a target for stones, thrown at it. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
In early November 2013 the site was under construction. It's actually a typical cave for these limestone mountains, and it was so far completely left in it's natural state till now. Means one has to bring a torch (best a headlight) and the climb leads over natural ground, rock and mud.
The historical background of Kbal Romeas cave includes findings of ceramic shards and other traces of human activities who date back several thousand years into stone ages.
Inside Kbal Romeas
Inside the cave a labyrinth opens. Partially the cave has large, bright rooms, partially one has to creep through very little clefts. Image by Asienreisender, 7/2015
The cave in which a shrine is placed is a huge stalactite cave, and one can climb deep inside. As always in these caves there are numerous bats living inside. Their excrements produce a strong, typical smell. There are always some self-declared guides around the main entrance who show one the cave for money. A guide can be very helpful when going the first time deeper into the cave.
There are several entrances into what is actually a larger cave system. It is possible to cross the whole mountain through the cave and leaving it at the other side through a kind of natural chimney. Climbing deeper into the cave requires some skills. Some parts are quite narrow and deep, some parts are steep and a bit slippery. After a certain narrow passage the cave is opening into a grand stalactite hall with siderooms and a couple of clefts to continue. There is partially a bit light from holes in the ceiling, but not much. It is crucial not to loose orientation in the cave and make absolutely sure to find the way back.
Although it's very quiet inside the cave and apart from the bats there seem not to be many animals. In a sidecleft, a kind of a pocket, I saw a bigger snake resting. The snake didn't care for me; probably it slept. Another peculiar animal I encountered was the spiderlike creature shown in the sidebar left.
Although no further equipment than a torch is required, I would say the difficulty level is middle. Having an accident in the cave can turn out miserable, particularly when one is inside alone and nobody outside knows about that. Not many people penetrate the cave deeper.
These limestone rocks and mountains are also water reservoirs with streams leading out of them.
View from Kbal Romeas Mountain
Climbing Phnom Kbal Romeas (mountain) offers a wide view over the surroundings. Here it's the north-north-east. The bigger mountain to the left is Phnom Chhnork. Image by Asienreisender, 11/2013
The Secret Lake
The so called 'secret lake' of Kampot (Khmer: Tomnop Tek Krolar) has been built as an irrigation reservoir in corvee labour under the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. The way from Kampot leads along the NH33 to Kep; behind the big river bridge some 5km outside Kampot the road turns slightly to the right; straight on leads a very bad dirt road, which is going straight to the lake.
When arriving the lake's shores the first thing which appears is a dam (Damnak Chang Aeur) which can be crossed on a motorbike. A bit further are some restaurants placed. One can laze out here for an afternoon or so. Food is expensive and, what I saw, of questionable quality.
Not crossing the dam but going straight on the dirt road leads through a picturesque countryside. After another left-turn one comes along some pepper plantations. Little urbanization happened here until now, but it's clearly ongoing.
The circumnavigation of the lake is not easy. One has to find a way zigzag through the plantations. Some of the dirt roads here end up at farmhouses. They are partially interrupted by deeper streams who are not always easy to cross with a motorbike.
The Secret Lake of Kampot
The lake near the dam. Construction stareted already in 1973 and went on until 1979. Only the oldest local people can remember the construction, and they were themselves forced to work on it when they were young, mostly teenagers. They lived under deprivation, starving and being the victims of mosquito-born diseases. Occasionally war planes flew over the site. The dam broke several times and had to be rebuilt. Tens of thousands of workers were forced to the construction. There must also be a mass-grave here, layed out after the death of around 10,000 people. However, I didn't find any trace of it. Additionally to the dam a number of irrigation canals was dug, covering the surroundings.
The reservoir is still used by local farmers, and gave them at least an advantage in the last big droughts of 2015 and 2016. The growing fruit and pepper plantations around are irrigated with lake water. According to the farmers, there is still enough water in the reservoir even in the driest times, but due to the growing industrialized agricultre it's questionable for still how long.
The dam's gates are old and rusty. It takes three men now to open the middle gate. The dams need restoration. The water department is informed, but except of talking they didn't take action yet. Image by Asienreisender, 7/2015
The Secret Lake seen from the northern shores. Why it is called 'secret' remains itself one. Image by Asienreisender, 7/2015
Teuk Chhou Zoo (Kampot Zoo)
Teuk Chhou Zoo (Kampot Zoo) is a refuge for animals who can not live in the wild anymore, because habitat loss is rampant in Cambodia. The zoo was opened in the year 2000. However, to maintain a zoo is a logistic and financial challenge. In a more 'traditional' (keynesianistic) and western way of thinking it would be the task of the state to finance zoos. But that's not the case here. Kampot Zoo is private property. It's owned by Nhim Vanda.
Nhim Vanda is a politician of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP). He was an elected parliamentarian for Prey Veng Province (east Cambodia) in the Cambodian National Assembly in 2003.
Teuk Chhou Zoo was in the last years repeatedly under critic. The animals were neglected, got too less food, cleanliness and hygiene were too low, the cages inapropriate, to few staff members worked here and medical service wasn't sufficient. In short words: the animals suffered rather more than less under the given conditions. It's also probable that some visitors provoke, disturb or even harm them.
Apparently an institution as a zoo is not running profitable, in fact it is rather so that a zoo makes deficits and needs additional money. Staff must be payed, lots of most different kinds of food has to be organized day for day, and maintainance and keeping all the many cages clean requires a lot of daily work. The entrance fees from the too few visitors are not sufficient. After reports about the zoo's conditions in the media like 'Phnom Penh Post' and others scandalized the zoo ('Kampot Zoo back in trouble' and 'The Zoo of Horrors'), volunteers and institutions like 'Wildlife Alliance' and 'Footprint' donated money and spent time and labour to improve the situation. Nevertheless, trouble occured between involved parties how to manage the place properly and to abolish nuisances. Volunteers seemed to be frustrated and stopped their support.
However, when visiting the zoo in June 2013 and September 2014 there was clearly improvement to see and the animals didn't look underfed. In 2013 I witnessed a feeding session of the tigers, who appeared very keen on the food. They need quite a lot of fresh meat. Though, in 2014 one of the adult tigers was not to see, the other one was placed in another, bigger place; therefore there was an adolescent in the smaller tiger cage. It was lying on a platform and appeared very aggressive. Repeatedly growling and spiting noisily at me made me very glad to have the iron grid between me and the impressive beast. The leopard lady in a nearby cage was aggressive as well, also growling at me and the male lion pretended two or three times to attack when I came close to the grid for making my photo click-clicks.
A Visit in December 2016
I paid another visit to the zoo after a neighbour told me, the zoo had been shut down. That is not the case, but things changed. It looks poorer now than before. Fewer animals are in the zoo than before, but the bigger ones like the tigers, the elephants, the leopard, some of the monkeys are still there. The lions have a cub now. Some of the birds are still in their cages, but many of them are away. Fewer cages, fewer animals than before. The place is suffering, it's filthy and looks neglected.
It seems also, they who run it change their 'concept'. The entrance road has been altered. There are two entrances at the time; one is the old one with the ticket box. A sleepy girl sat inside when I approached. Prices are like before: Cambodians pay 2,000 riel (50 US cents), Westerners pay generously more - it's four dollars. The poor Khmer like to go in with their Lexus trucks and, as permanent consumers, litter around. In many of the cages is litter thrown - an expression for how much some visitors appreciate animals.
Beside the official entrance is now a second one, a dirt track, who meets the other one some 100m upwards. Entering the zoo from here is for free for anybody. No control. Don't ask me about that. We are in Cambodia here. Maybe they are undergoing the dissolution of the zoo.
A choice of the animals in Kampot Zoo. There are many more, and there is quite a variety of species. Not all of the animals are of Southeast Asian origin, but the most. The lions are not endemic in Southeast Asia, but appear in west Asia down until south India. There is also a dromedar in the zoo.
Click the header to enter a collage of the animals of Teuk Chhou Zoo.
Teuk Chhou Rapids
The road which leads to the zoo continues to the Teuk Chhou rapids. The rapids are some eight kilometers north of Kampot town. Short behind the zoo the road is normally blocked with a bar. There is somebody who is charging exclusively Westerners 4,000 Riel respectively one US dollar for passing through, although it's a normal road and frequently locals pass by to and fro all the time without being stopped.
Two of these horsemen are placed in front of the shrine. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
What we have here is a typical tourist trap. The first time I was there I refused to pay. The cashier wasn't very amused about the refusal and didn't let me in. The next time when I came the cash box was not occupied. I went through and had a look for the rapids. There is a non-paved big parking with a number of huts one can rent for having picknick. Some very simple, dirty foodstalls are on the parking and others are seaming the road, together with a small temple or shrine where somebody was sitting, encouraging me to enter. He was waiting there to cash entrance or a donation for visiting the small and meaningless building. While I was looking there, some of the kids around bothered me playing with my bicycle and tried to steal the key of the lock of it. It wasn't easy to get them on distance, and none of the local shopkeepers there bent a finger to help me, including an indifferent uniformed guard who was posted there. The foodstalls charge 50% to 100% more for their dishes than elsewhere, without offering anything better than one get's in others of these simple street restaurants. Certainly they have to pay officials extra for being allowed to run their businesses there.
After visiting the rapids, who are all but impressive, I continued following the road streamupwards. It's leading a few hundred meters further to the north, to Kamchay Dam and the new, Chinese-run hydropower plant, run by Sinohydro Corp since December 2011. There are some bigger buildings at the river banks with a gate and a small guardhouse at the entrance. I went there to have a look and stood there for two or three minutes. Suddenly a professional thug ran out of the guardhouse and shouted at me. He immediately tried to push my bicycle back, what was thwarted from my side by pulling the breaks and making me heavy. "No! No! No!" the thug shouted at me, pointing with his index finger back to the road. I took my time turning and continuing the road.
Kamchai Dam with an electric power plant, seen from the eastern side of Teuk Chhou (river). It's running since December 2011. The whole site is barred with fences and guards are posted all around. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
As I heared from a Cambodian official from Phnom Penh, the power plant is not producing Kampot's electricity; it's transfered to the capital. Kampot's supplies are imported from nearby Vietnam. Another officer told me that the dam is supplying Kampot's electricity in rainy season only, and in dry season, when productivity falls short, Kampot's power is coming from Vietnam.
Not much further up the road there is another roadblock with a guardhouse and a few more thugs. One of them shouted at me to stop and to turn; another of them carried a machine gun. There is no way, so far I see, to continue further on.
What for a contrast to comparable places in Thailand, where the guards are always friendly and one normally can go almost everywhere in peace.
Cambodian Landscape with Sugarpalms
Closely south of Kampot: a typical Cambodian landscape, coined by rice paddies and sugar palms. In the background Bokor National Park. Image by Asienreisender, 5/2013
Wherever people settle down, they need water. The best places are therefore riverbanks. The south of Cambodia has a lot of smaller rivers who drain the plains and mountains further inland. Some of them are, although at their mouth very broad, merely a very few kilometers long. That's very well to see from Bokor Hill Station or, of course, on maps. Any of these rivers is accompanied by a village or town, and the most favourite spots are close to the coastline. That's so for Kampot, Sre Ambel, Koh Kong and many others. Among them is also Peang Pour, a small nest along the NH3 on the way to Sihanoukville, still in Kampot Province.
Peang Pour is coined by colourful stilt houses who are built along a riverbank where was mangrove forest before. There are Khmer People living, not few Chinese, some Vietnamese and, closest to the sea, there is a Muslim community. They are presumably Chvea People with Malay roots, mostly fishermen families, and every house seems to have an own fishing boat.
The Village of Peang Pour
Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, April 2015
Map of Kampot
Map of Kampot town.
Safety in Kampot
When thinking about safety the first thing comming in my mind here is traffic. Every day I witness a number of very weird events on Kampot's roads. Driving is without rules and everybody moves as it pleases him or her, following rather spontaneous impulses. Traffic rules are obviously unknown. You never know what's coming next on the roads here.
If there are any rules, then the basic traffic rule is, as bigger and stronger a vehicle is, as more rights it possesses. Weaker ones have to move out of it's way. Being a cyclist or even a pedestrian means to be at the bottom of the hierarchy. Motorized drivers expect a walker to jump aside to give him space. Stronger vehicles also not seldom cut other vehicles way. Looks sometimes like an assault, forcing someone to break heavily. At crossroads the drivers frequently cut the curves.
The anomic, risky driving activities on the rotten roads mark clearly a major safety risk.
A Motorbike Accident
A motorbike crash a bit outside of Kampot on National Highway 3. It's a typical appearance, often seen. When a driver enters a road, he or she doesn't check if there is anybody approaching. The driver just enters the road and relies on his good luck.
Although many Cambodians are afraid of traffic accidents, it wouldn't cross their mind that their own behaviour could have something to do with the occurance of accidents. For them it's all caused by the forces of supernatural powers. It's kharma. Besides, the consumption of alcohol and drugs does not enhance the locals driving skills. Image by Asienreisender, 10/2013.
Hygiene is another point of concern. The most restaurants are very unhygienic. The kitchens look awful and almost any place is besieged by flies. Food remains are around everywhere, much ends up on the floor, spit out or thrown away, and floors are seldom cleaned up.
Masses of flies, particularly in restaurants, are certainly no indicator for advanced hygine.
Therefore the risk for mosquito transferred diseases is relatively small in Kampot. Malaria seems to be on a very low level, dengue and chikungunya are rather endemic in more urbanized places.
Because the Cambodian society is a peasant society, there are masses of dogs around. In general they don't mean any harm and are much, much relaxter than Thai dogs, but there are always exceptions.
Dog's aggression level is highest at around dusk. When they come in packs they feel most brave and it's difficult to control them all when they approach and attack. It can be worst at nighttime, when there is nobody on the street anymore, but the beasts are active in a great number.
'Wow wow wow wow wow - 'man's best friend' in action. Dirty, noisy, dangerous, dogs are at least an annoyance. Being bitten can cause dangerous infections; rabies is just one example. Image by Asienreisender, 3/2014
Besides the dogs sometimes give noisy concerts at nighttime. One might start with a few initial barks, some neighbouring dogs answer. Barking, howling, barking, howling. Ceasing. After a short break the same performance starts again. And again and again... That can last an hour or two.
Street criminality seems to be on a relatively low level here, at least for Cambodian relations; it's defenitely much lower than in Sihanoukville, Siem Reap or Phnom Penh. Nevertheless it's advisable to be very careful. Everyday I witness dubious, low and mean behaviour in all-day interaction, and many locals give a very bad impression. It's known that many families in Cambodia sell their children for 200 dollars or less into slavery. Burglaring and theft happens frequently, and to be safe in a building requires barred doors and windows.
It's also advised, when travelling in Cambodia, to make sure not to arrive after sunset. The Cambodian society is highly depraved.
Kampot's rotten prison, established in the time of French administration. In former, colonial times it was housing a garrison. Nowadays it's said there were in average two Westerners in the jail. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
Land prises rose massively in Kampot center in the last years. A square meter costs now roughly between 200 US$ and 400 US$. Due to this significant rise, a private company purchased the whole, large block with the old prison and demolished most of the buildings. The prisoners, 360 men and 14 women, have been sent to a new prison, run by the same company, about 17km outside of town. The displacement happened in November 2015. Interestingly, no offical, including Kampot governor and the director of the prison, were willing to tell the company's name to 'Cambodia Daily, when being asked for it at the time. Anything is shady here, very shady... Image by Asienreisender, 8/2016
On February 9, 2013 there happened a murder in Kampot. A French woman of 25 years, Ophélie Begnis, got brutally killed, probably raped and her corpse was found next day drifting naked in the river of Kampong Bay. Her face was horribly deformed by hits from a machete. The news reported much on this event and the only suspect whom the police arrested was a Belgian expat who lived here already for a couple of years. Nevertheless, the story remains dubious and there seems to be little, if any, hard evidence against the accused.
Kampot Boat Accident
Only very few years ago, a first restaurant boat service started on Teuk Chhou River in Kampot. Every evening, provided there are enough tourist guests aboard, the boat went riverupwards. A trip to see some fireflies and having a bath for those, who like it. After a time, a second and a third and more of these restaurant boats appeared.
In November 2016 one of these boats sank on such a tour and four people died. The event throws a light on Khmer mentality and security standards. The boat was constructed of the remains of three old boats, who weren't fit anymore. The assembling was of low quality. The boat was permanently leaking water, and so it was when the river tour started. Additionally were too many people aboard, between 70 and 80, although it wasn't good for more than 50, maximal 60 people. There havent' been enough and proper life vests on the boat.
Four people died in that accident. The skipper, realizing the disaster quickly, jumped over board and run away. Running away is the standard pattern of Khmer wrongdoers when he/she caused serious trouble to others. The drowned tourists where from Kampot and Phom Penh, and their families might have killed the skipper. Killing for revenge is a traditional Khmer custom.
The Cambodian police is not equipped for such cases; they have no proper boats and are not capable of diving. They lack proper diving and other equipment. Means, they ned help from outside. It took them as long as until the next afternoon to find the missing corpses on the ground of the river (the accident happened in the evening the day before).
Officially, the tourist department is controlling the boats; now a provincial committee is supposed to control them. Control is a big and hollow word here, in a society completely irresponsible and careless.
Another happening in November 2016 was the murder of a local tuk-tuk driver. He was found dead in the lotus pond behind the city hall. The papers are full with reports of killing and severe traffic accidents due to careless driving in Kampot alone.
A Sketch of Kampot's History
Records of Cambodian History after the decline of the Angkorean empire from the 14th century on are rare. From the late 18th century there is a royal dynastic record, but it's more about family history and Cambodian politics in general. Rural Cambodia and the coastal regions are barely mentioned.
The Salt Salines of Kampot
Kampot's salt salines along the coastline are an old cultural landscape. Salt production is manifactured today still like in the old days. Salt water is contained in rectangular shaped basins, drying in the sun. The concentrated salt is piled up in small heaps then. A carrier comes with her or his (mostly: her; it seems to be 'women work'), two baskets on a bamboo stick and carries the salt into the salthouse. Later it's carried away by a lorry and further processing happens - at least partially. The salt on Kampot's market looks sometimes so rough that it might have been left in the state of the affair we see here.
The image depicts salt salines southeast of Kampot close to the seaside. The houses are all salthouses; non of them is inhabited. The framed image bottom left shows the inside of the salt house behind. The framed image in the middle shows a woman piling salt up. The little girl right is watching the photographer. She belongs certainly to one of the three women who were working there at the moment of the shots.
Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 2014
Kampot was always far from the capital as the center of the state. Kampot region was known as a salt supplier for ancient Angkor. As a town it has no long record. The coastal region was not under much control of the central government, for most of the time there was no land traffic connection to the capital and it was the territory of pirates and bandits.
Saoch, Native People
Aboriginal people, Saoch, who lived in what is nowadays Kampot Province. Photographed by Adhemard Leclerce, a French colonial resident of the time, in the late 19th century. Image by Asienreisender, Kampot Museum, 7/2015
While Cambodia was declining and loosing territories to Siam and Vietnam, Kampot came under Vietnamese control in the first half of the 18th century. Vietnamese presence was weak, they even had to employ Cambodian mercenaries for their support. On what is now the fishing island there was the house of the Vietnamese governor placed. A Vietnamese fortification was built in Kampong Bay (Kompong Bay). The place was mostly inhabited by Khmer, but also by a number of Vietnamese, a Chinese community and a thousand Malays.
The Vietnamese presence led to two insurrections, of whom the second one in 1741 was supported by the Siamese and proved successful. The Vietnamese were driven out and after that Kampot remained in the hands of Cambodians. In the following time the Cambodian king Ang Duong let construct a road between the capital Udong (Oudong) and Kampot. A journey on this road lasted eight days on an oxcart and four days on an elephant.
Ferries on the Teuk Chhou
Before the new bridge was completed in 2008, people had to help themselves crossing the Teuk Chhou River. Even logboats were still in use. Built from a single treelog they were the first vessels who were invented in human history, many thousand years ago. Images by Asienreisender, 2007, on a boat tour riverupwards; photocomposition 2015
At around 1800 some 3,000 people lived in Kampot, and the first Westerners settled down here, namely a French priest who built a small church at the right bank of the Theuk Chhou River. He managed a parish of 30 Vietnamese families who were Catholics. On the other side of the river was a royal garden which sent durians, pineapples, mangos and other fruits to the palace every year.
Trade flourished, and in the following decades it came very much in the hands of Anglo-Chinese merchants from Singapore, who were welcomed by the Cambodian king. Kampot was in that time the only connection of inner Cambodia with the seabased trade. British merchants paid a visit to Kampot in 1854 and met the notables of the place. In 1863 Cambodia became a French protectorate.
Since France had occupied both, Vietnam and east Cambodia, the former border between the two countries didn't exist anymore. The Mekong River was now promoted by the colonial regime as the favourite trading route in the region. This lead to a decline of Kampots trading position, and of the meanwhile 5,000 inhabitants 3,500 left the place.
In 1885-1887 there was a great insurgence in Cambodia against the French rule. The French military tried but couldn't reestablish control over the country; after two years of guerilla war they had to agree to compromises with the insurgents. In Kampot were only three Frenchmen stationed and they were easily driven out by a hundred isurgents. When the French navy and later marines came back there were struggles who last for two years. At the end the French army succeeded in a small battle in 1886 and reestablished French rule over Kampot.
The Colonial Governor's Residence in Kampot
The old, colonial governor's residence in Kampot. Now, in the second half of 2013, it's under restoration. It's planned to establish a Kampot museum inside. In January 2015 the new Kampot Provincial Museum opened in the building. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 2013
Kampot's population in the second half of the 19th century was very much dominated by Chinese. Henri Mouhot wrote after his 1859 visit that 90% of the inhabitants of Kampot were Chinese, and that was in accordance with other reports. It seems the Kampot Chinese were somewhat different from the Chinese elswhere in the Cambodia of the time. They were seen as a potential threat for the French rule, and, in fact, the uprise of 1885/87 in and around Kampot was triggered and forced mainly by Chinese. The Kampot Chinese were very aware of what was going on in other parts of the world, particularly the Japanese-Russian war (1904-05), the Chinese revolution of 1911 and the events of the First World War. The French administration tried to restrict information access from outside, but failed, for the Chinese business networks to other countries and China were also a mean of communication and couldn't be controlled.
Kampot, January 2007
Within a very few years practically everything on this photo has changed. The boulevard is paved with tiles, the green removed, the sidewalks renewed, the housefronts restored, the old market (in the background) has been thoroughly restored - there was the fresh market inside it in 2007.
The image was taken from the rooftop of a former guesthouse. In the building is since 2014 a branch of the ABA Bank. Image by Asienreisender, 1/2007
There was also an empoverished lower Chinese class of coolies and plantation workers in and around Kampot, who were seen by the French administration as vagabonds and (potential) criminals. Sanctions were set on them, arrests happened not seldom.
Besides there were also conflicts among different Chinese groups, as well as activities of Chinese secret societies. Generally, the Chinese societies were very intransparent for the French administration and the colonial rulers got little information about what the Chinese discussed and planned in their inner circles.
The coastal line between Kampot and Kompong Som (now: Sihanoukville) was notoriously a stronghold for pirates and their activities. Henri Mouhot mentioned that for the time around 1860, and although it decreased until the First World War, piracy was then still existent. The Elephant Mountains along the coastline provided many hideouts for the pirates, and they used hill and mountain peaks to watch the sea on the search for commercial ships as a prey. Also banditry on the coastal land route happened often. Gangs of bandits robbed travellers, whole villages and plantations.
Later, in the 1970s to the late 1990s the Khmer Rouge used the same area as a base for their activities against the Cambodian government and the local population.
In 1872 Kampot got a telegraph connection to Phnom Penh; additionally a new road was built. The travel time decreased to three-and-a-half days. Later the road was paved to introduce automobiles. The road was named Route Coloniale No. 17; after the Cambodian independence it became renamed into National Route No. 3, as it is still today.
What is now the old market in Kampot is a construction first established in 1905, together with the boulevard and the basic shape of contemporary Kampot. In the next years a waterworks (1907-1910) and electricity (1925) were installed.
Kampot's Old Market Place
Kampot's old market hall. Until recently it was a rotten ruin, although still in use as a fresh market. Meanwhile the fresh market moved to the northeastern edge of town, while the old market building got restored. Now there are some modern shops and agencies inside, and still some vacancies. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
A peasants hut near Kampot. For a considerable part of the Cambodian People the living conditions didn't change much, compared with those centuries ago. They live in the same simple kind of housing, self-made of materials from the nearby surroundings, they lack electricity and access to clean water. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
Kampot town in the first half of the 20th century was a colonial administrative center with a Khmer quarter, a Chinese quarter and a Malay quarter. There were very few Europeans, namely French, living in Kampot. It had a vivid, lively center around the market place, but just a few meters apart the liveliness paled out. When Cambodia gained independence in 1953, Kampot town had merely 5,000 inhabitants.
Nowadays Kampot is clearly a French colonial heritage. It dates back to the 1880s and became it's shape in the years before the First World War. The former Kampot of the time of king Ang Duong, which served as Cambodia's seaport in the 18th and the first half of the 19th century, extinct after the French colonial administration used the Mekong River as the main waterway, connecting Saigon and Phnom Penh with the oversea trade routes. The old Kampot was situated on Fishing Island in the delta of the Teuk Chhou River. The new, French designed Kampot was constructed at the eastern banks of the river.
Henri Mouhot's Historical Record
In 1859 the famous traveller Henri Mouhot arrived on boat in the port of Kampot. It was on his second journey coming from Bangkok via Chanthaburi. He gave a description of the Kampot of his time in his publication. It is remarkable, for it represents one of very few pieces of written information on Kampot around the mid 19th century.
At that time nowadays Kampot didn't exist; the settlement Mouhot mentions was situated at the western banks of Teuk Chhou River.
Though Komput is now the only port of Cambodia, it is far from being as full of life and bustle as Bangkok, for the town boasts only 300 houses at most, and a population scarcely equal to that of Chantaboun. All its little commerce is supplied by Lower Cochin China, the ports of which are almost always closed against Europeans, so that rice, which is imported in a sort of contraband manner, some tons of gamboge, a little ivory, fish taken in the lake by the Annamites, a small quantity of cotton, and the valuable wood above mentioned, constitute the whole of the commerce of the town; and I venture to predict that, when the ports of Annam are thrown open to Europeans, the Chinese merchants will abandon Komput altogether.
It will not probably be long before what remains of this unfortunate land will fall under the dominion of some other power. Possibly, France has her eyes fixed upon it, with the view of annexing it to her possessions in Lower Cochin China.
The comparative exemption from heavy taxes and duties which the Cambodians enjoy, when compared with the Siamese, made me imagine I should be able to live here in comfort and abundance; but I was disappointed.
Almost every vice seemed prevalent at Komput — pride, insolence, cheating, cowardice, servility, excessive idleness, are the attributes of this miserable people.
There are few travellers in Europe, America, or probably anywhere else, who have not had cause to complain of the offensive manner in which custom-house officers perform their duties, and often exceed them. In Europe they earn their daily bread by annoying in every possible way the unfortunates who are compelled, for the sake of peace, to submit to their insolence and tyranny: here they gain it by begging; they are licensed beggars. "A little salt-fish, a little arrack, a little betel, if you please", — such are the petitions; and the more you give, the less strict will the search be.
After arriving in Kampot, Mouhot saw the king of Cambodia on one of his ships on Kampot River (Teuk Chhou River). The king was accompanied by one of the famous pirates of the time. Mouhot described the circumstances as follows:
Behind the king's boat, in no apparent order, and at long intervals, followed those of several mandarins, who were not distinguished in any particular manner. One boat alone, manned by Chinese, and commanded by a fat man of the same nation, holding in his hand a halberd surmounted by a crescent, attracted my attention, as it headed the escort. This man was the famous Mun Suy, chief of the pirates, and a friend of the king. I was told that, two years before, he had been compelled,
owing to some iniquities not very well known, to fly from Amoy, and had arrived at Komput with a hundred followers, adventurers and rovers of the sea like himself.
After having remained there for some time, keeping the whole place in terror, and extorting by menaces all he could from the market people, he conceived the project of seizing upon and burning the town, and putting all the inhabitants to the sword, intending then to retreat with his spoils, if not strong enough to hold his ground.
Fortunately the plot was discovered, and the Cambodians from the neighbourhood were armed and assembled in readiness to defend the place. Mun Suy, not liking the aspect of affairs, embarked with his band in his junk, and fell suddenly on Itatais. The market was sacked in a minute; but the inhabitants, recovering from their surprise, repulsed the pirates and drove them back to their vessel with the loss of several men.
Mun Suy then returned to Komput, gained over by presents first the governor and afterwards the king himself, and
ever since has carried on his piratical acts with impunity, making his name dreaded by all around. Loud complaints arose from the neighbouring countries, and the king, either overawed by the pirate, or for protection against the Annamites, appointed him commander of the coast-guard. Henceforth, therefore, he became a licensed robber, and murder and rapine increased to such a degree, that the King of Siam sent a naval expedition to Komput to capture the malefactor and his gang. Two
only were taken and executed. As for their leader, he was hidden, they say, in the palace.
The king of Cambodia at that time had a residence in Kampot. When he saw Mouhot from his boat he became curious and wanted to talk to him. He suspected Mouhot being a western agent for colonialism, what was correct, but not as he thought for the French army. The episode is interesting for it gives an insight into the setting of the time.
The favourite wife of the king of Cambodia, after a sketch by Henri Mouhot.
The king was expecting a visit from me, and had sent several persons to find out who I was; his idea being, that I was an officer of the French army in Cochin China, despatched from thence to gain information about the country.
We proceeded a mile and a half up the river to Kompong-Bay, which is the Cambodian part of the town, and the residence of the governor, and where his Majesty and suite were encamped.
When we arrived he was holding a kind of levee, in a building constructed of bamboo with some elegance, and covered with red cloth, but the interior of which looked more like a theatre than a royal abode. Finding at the door neither sentinel nor porter, we entered without being announced. The king was seated on an old European chair, with two officers on each side of him, who from time to time offered him, kneeling, a lighted cigarette, or some betel, which they kept always ready.
At a little distance stood his guards, some holding pikes ornamented at the top with white tufts; others with sheathed sabres in their hands. The ministers and mandarins knelt a few steps below his Majesty. On our entrance, chairs similar to the king's were placed for us close to him. Like his subjects, he generally wears nothing but the langouti, the native dress. His was composed of yellow silk, confined at the waist by a magnificent belt of gold studded with precious stones. At Cambodia, as at Siam, it is necessary to offer presents, if one desires to gain the royal favour. I had accordingly brought with me an English walking-stick gun, as a gift for the king. It at once attracted his notice.
" Pray show me that cane," he said, in Cambodian.
I gave it to him.
" Is it loaded ? " asked he, seeing it was a fire-arm.
" No, sire."
He then begged for a cap and snapped it; unscrewed the barrel and examined it with great attention.
" If it would be agreeable to his Majesty," I said to M. Hestrest, " I shall be happy to offer it to the king."
The abbe interpreted my words.
" What did it cost? " asked the king.
" Sire, I dare not ask M. Mouhot. In Europe no one tells the price of what he gives."
The king then begged to look at my watch, and, after inspecting it attentively, again asked the price. The abbe then alluded to my design of visiting Udong, the capital of Cambodia, and of journeying through the country.
" Go to Udong; go about," said the king, laughing.
" Very well." He then asked my name, and tried to write it; on which I drew out my pocket-book and gave him one of my cards. He seemed to wish for the pocket-book, and I presented him with it.
" Sire," said M. Hestrest, " as M. Mouhot is going to Udong, perhaps your Majesty will deign to facilitate his journey."
" Willingly. How many carriages do you want? "
" Three will be sufficient, sire. "
" And for what day? "
" The day after tomorrow, sire."
" Take a note of that, and give orders about it," said the king to his secretary. He then rose, and, shaking hands with us, retired.
However, it turned out that the king of Cambodia had a weak memory and forgot the promises to equip Mouhot two days later.
The Battle of Kampot
In around March 1974 Kampot became the theatre of a battle in the Vietnam War. Khmer Rouge troops approached the town and launched an artillery bombing. The place was defended by government army troops who suffered low discipline. Many soldiers deserted and gave way for the Khmer Rouge to conquer the water works. The cut-off of the water supplies caused half of Kampot's population to flee the town.
After being reinforced, the government troops launched a counter-attack, but the Khmer Rouge were enforced as well. The whole battle stretched over five weeks and ended with the final capture of Kampot by the Khmer Rouge. Both sides, the communists as well as the government troops suffered heavy casualties. Due to the destruction of parts of the town a number of local people got homeless. So, Kampot came into the hands of the Khmer Rouge one year before Phnom Penh (what was on April 17th, 1975).