SOUTHERN CAMBODIA

SOUTHERN CAMBODIA

SOUTHERN CAMBODIA is increasingly becoming a tourist destination in Southeast Asia. Henry Alford wrote in the New York Times, “To many Americans, Cambodia means only two things — the majestic temples of Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh. But there’s another Cambodia — the southern coast — that is beginning to emerge as a popular alternative to the heavily trafficked beaches of Thailand. Here, in towns like Sihanoukville — which, in its heyday in the 1960s, used to draw visitors like Jackie Kennedy and Catherine Deneuve — travelers are exploring the unusual pleasures that occur at the intersection of the luxurious present and the ravaged past. [Source: Henry Alford, New York Times, March 15, 2009]

“When my boyfriend, Greg, and I spent a week on the coast this November, we experienced two firsts, both involving tiny bubbles. First, we went swimming one night in Kep among phosphorescent plankton (it’s as if thousands of underwater fireflies are doing a nonstadium version of “the wave”). Later we went into a pharmacy in Sihanoukville and, for $2.80 for 20 tablets (U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere), bought one of the unheralded marvels of modern life: effervescent codeine.

“This was not the Cambodia I expected — the tiny bubbles Cambodia.... You’d be hard-pressed to find a town center, let alone a bricks-and-mortar store, in Kep’s bucolic center, but there’s a buzz of activity at the series of shacks along the water that form the crab market. Here fresh crabs are pulled out of wooden cages that you can see just offshore, and, for $7, cooked with curry and stalks of local Kampot peppercorns to produce an exciting variation of everything I’d ever eaten while wearing a lobster bib. Kep is also, oddly, without a decent beach After Kep, we spent a relaxed day in sleepy Kampot — a placid riverfront lined with colonial-era buildings increasingly being renovated by expatriates — pottering around the second-hand bookstore and taking in the view of Bokor Mountain.

“From Kampot we drove three hours to the coast’s most developed town, Sihanoukville, a drive during which we dodged cows, dogs and a monkey that had parked in the road in the manner of an irritable and recently deposed dictator. But the more common life-threateners were other human drivers, whose conception of the word “lane” can only be described as elastic. I asked Bon Thim if most Cambodians believed in reincarnation, and he said yes. I posited, “This may explain why they drive this way.” Equally thrilling to behold were the loads that we saw heaped onto motorbikes — huge, jodhpur-shaped bundles of firewood or morning glories; a bureau and a desk; four twin mattresses; an IV drip; a family of four. Bon Thim told us: “On New Year’s, when workers travel home, there is even more stacking. Sometimes 20 people stacked on the roof of cars or trucks. Sometimes driver has someone seated between him and his door.”

“In Sihanoukville, we reveled in the pleasures that the rest of the coast, however lovely, had denied us: white sand beaches, shopping, non-restaurant-based night life. The beaches ranged from the utterly pristine and private one at our hotel, the Independence — where Jackie Kennedy and Ms. Deneuve are said to have stayed and which earned the nickname the Ghost Hotel after the Khmer Rouge used it as a redoubt during their occupation of Sihanoukville — to the very crowded Occheuteal, lined with food shacks and vendors. During our visit to Occheuteal, I bought a bunch of litchis for a dollar from a woman carrying them on her head, but passed up requests to rent an inner tube (50 cents an hour), be massaged in my chair ($6 an hour), have my back hair “threaded” ($5), or hear a blind man sing (unspecified). Greg and I parked ourselves at one of the food shacks and started people-watching; we rewarded ourselves with mango shakes (mango ice and sweetened condensed milk are put in a blender and frothed to a fare-thee-well).

Any leg of the triangle that is Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville-Kep will take about three and a half hours by taxi and cost $30 to $60, depending on your negotiation skills.

SIHANOUKVILLE PROVINCE is a small southern province of Cambodia. The capital sits on a peninsula with beaches and tropical islands around it. Sihanoukville province is a very small province, covering only 868 square kilometers surface. It's located in the very south of Cambodia and is bordering to the North by Koh Kong Province, to the East by Kampot Province and to the West and South by the beautiful Gulf of Thailand.

Most parts of the province belong to the peninsula, which has some hills and some scattered forested areas. Most parts of the province are covered by rice fields and agricultural plantations. In the northeast part of the province is Bokor National Park, which sits at the southern end of the mighty Cardamom Mountains. The average altitude of the province is supposedly not higher than 40 meters above sea level.

The current population in Sihanoukville province is about 235,190 people or 1.6 percent of the country's total population. The population density is therefore 271 people per square kilometer. Because of the importance of exports to Cambodia's economy, Sihanoukville and its port are earmarked for further significant development by the local government and through international monetary support.

One major government objective is to make Sihanoukville a premier tourist destination as well as an International Offshore Financial Centre. The agricultural sector of Sihanoukville is not very developed as the rocky peninsula isn’t the greatest place for agriculture. Businesses in Sihanoukville are varied from financial activities to tourist and travel-related industries. Considerable international aid has been spent to improve the infrastructure in the province.

At the end of January, Sihanoukville begins to warm and continues to get hotter through July, reaching a maximum temperature of around 35 degrees C. After February, cool 'mango showers' occasionally blow in from the north. December through June is said by some local outfitters to be the best scuba weather with clearer (though cooler) waters. The cool season is from November to March with temperatures ranging from 20 to 28 degrees C. The hot season is from March to May with temperatures ranging from 26 to 35 degrees C. The rainy season is from May to October. Temperatures are 24 to 34 degrees C, with humidity up to 90 percent. The best beach weather begins with the end of the rains in November. The dry, warm, breezy weather that follows lasts through January. Night temperatures can get down to a chilly 20 degrees but the days hover around 28 to 30 degrees C. Many think December and January are best with their balmy temperatures and blue skies.

SIHANOUKVILLE TOWN

SIHANOUKVILLE TOWN (232 kilometers from Phnom Penh) is both a beach town and Cambodia's largest ocean port. Formally known as Kompong Som or Kampong Saom, it features white sand beaches, warm Gulf of Thailand waters and a laid back, beachy atmosphere in one part of town and rusting boats and docks in another part. For the most part Sihanoukville is a place to unwind by the beach, enjoy the fresh from-the-ocean seafood, take in a snorkeling or scuba trip, and generally slow-down, lay back and chill-out.

Sihanoukville was founded in 1964 to be the only deep-water port in all of Cambodia. It is named after King Sihanouk, who fought for the independence of Cambodia and was a central figure in the 20th century history of Cambodia. Sihanoukville is gradually being redeveloped as a tourist attraction, but despite the promise of massive Malaysian investment - a casino is planned for Naga Island - tourist numbers are still fairly low. Also its nice with sand beaches and several paradise islands have made it popular as a tourist destination.

Although tourism has increased over the past few years, the beaches of Sihanoukville are some of the most unspoiled in all of Southeast Asia. It is a prefect tropical getaway, filled with lovely beaches and facilities for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving or just sunbathing. Boat trips are also available to many of the nearby islands. There are several hotels and local restaurants serving fresh, delicious seafood on the beach. On the weekend, there are many local visitors from Phnom Penh to relax, swimming and enjoy fresh seafood.

Sihanoukville has a different look and feel than most Cambodian towns. Constructed as a port city in the late 1950s, the town is much newer, more urban and cosmopolitan than most Cambodian provincial cities. Nowadays, Sihanoukville is as much a beach town as it is a port town, catering to beach-going weekenders from Phnom Penh as well as a steadily increasing number of foreign visitors. Still, the pace of life in Sihanoukville is very relaxed.

Cows occasionally wander the main road, outside town foreign faces draw smiles and curious stares, and most of the beaches offer only beach umbrellas, thatched roofed eateries, and a growing number of restaurants, bungalows and hotels. Sihanoukville has a more than ample supply of accommodations, including a 5-star resort complex on Sokha Beach, several mid-range places downtown and at the beaches, a few 'upscale' three-star hotels, and dozens of budget guesthouses, especially on Weather Station Hill (Victory Hill).

Considering the moderate number of visitors to Sihanoukville, the town offers a surprising number and variety of restaurants and bars. Fresh seafood, especially crab, prawns and ocean fish, has always been one of the town's biggest draws, but there is also a wide variety of places offering foreign cuisines - Australian, French, Indian, German, Sri Lankan, British, Italian, pizza places, a couple of western bakeries and even a espresso coffee shop. And these days Sihanoukville offers a pretty good night life as well with a wide variety of bars staying open well into the wee hours, especially on Weather Station Hill, in the downtown area, and the beach bars on Ochheuteal, ‘Serendipity’ and Victory Beaches.

Orientation in Sihanoukville: Sihanoukville is not a small place and places of interest are spread out so the best way to get around is to hire a motorbike. Sihanoukville itself is east of the main backpackers' beach and close to the more mid-range Ochatial Beach. Due south of town is tiny Ko Pos Beach, which has a solitary mid-range hotel, and the larger Independence Beach, which has the crumbling Independence Hotel - slated for redevelopment.

Sihanoukville Attractions: Sihanoukville town is dominated by wide streets and new big concrete buildings, which have all but wiped any colonial architectural vestiges it may have once had. White-sand beaches that include Ohchheuteal, Sokha, Pram Pi Chan, and Deum Chrey are the town’s main attraction. These beaches are known for their quiet, cosy atmosphere and the large stretches of white sand and clear waters.

Beside the nice beaches and some very nice vantage points there isn't that much to see in the town itself. To catch a nice view on the city you best climb the small hill to Wat Leu. Wat Krom is another place of interest. It features a recently-built pagoda (the older one was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge) and houses a sanctuary called Yeah Mao, the guardian of the coast. Near to the town there are nice places for a detour such as the Ream National Park and the beautiful Kbal Chhay Waterfall. On National Road 4,Kilometer Post 135, Kompong Seila District, relax in clean, natural and private wooden cottages overlooking a spectacular vast green mountain range and forest.

For More on the Beaches, Wats and Waterfalls See Below.

New York Times on Sihanoukville: Alexander Lobrano wrote in the New York Times, “"It's the next Goa, the new Phi Phi. If you love the cusp, or that fabulous moment when a destination morphs from backpackers bolthole into a new compass point for monied bohemians, make tracks for Sihanoukville now," insisted my friend in Bangkok, and the idea of a cheap farniente week at the beach sounded ideal after a lot of temple climbing in Angkor Wat. [Source: Alexander Lobrano, New York Times, January 5, 2006]

“Heading south from Phnom Penh, it was a three-hour drive (there's no air service to Sihanoukville) past the pineapple and palm oil plantations that punctuate the flat Cambodian countryside before we reached the Sokha Beach Hotel on the Gulf of Thailand. Just off the lobby, a Filipino band was singing "Fry, robin, fry," their L-free version of that trashy '70s Silver Convention dance tune "Fly, Robin, Fly," and the music was so amped up I could barely hear the receptionist as we checked in. After registering, we were ushered into the bar and served sickeningly sweet antifreeze-green "welcome" drinks, which caused enough of a sugar rush to have me thinking I'd leave for Bangkok early the next morning and strangle my friend. Asia's next great beach destination indeed.

“A cardinal rule of good travel, of course, is never to jump to hasty conclusions, so after an unexpectedly good dinner of grilled, locally caught prawns in lemon-grass sauce and a nice bottle of white Rioja, we decided to check out the beach by the light of a full moon. It was stunningly beautiful, a perfect private scallop-edged strand of immaculate white sand, dotted with palm-thatched beach umbrellas and a backdrop of a pretty, manicured garden promenade that had obviously been based on a French colonial model, with S-shaped dark green benches like those in the Luxembourg Gardens, white cast-iron lamps with pearly glass globes and the zealous grooming that unfailingly distinguishes French gardening from the shaggier laissez-faire Anglo-Saxon approach to nature.

“The beach was even lovelier by day - basically empty and lapped by the warm, limpid aquamarine waters of the Gulf of Thailand. We quickly abandoned plans to explore Sihanoukville, which is often referred to as the "youngest" city in Cambodia since it was founded in the late '50s, in favor of a recurring triangle of idleness consisting of swimming, reading and napping, in exactly that order. The following day it didn't take long to see what there was to be seen: Downtown Sihanoukville is a dusty, noisy jumble of shops and modern buildings - interesting enough for being busy, friendly, completely unself-conscious and extremely cheap. The main attraction is the covered market. Otherwise, the only reason to linger is to check your e-mail in one of the many Internet cafés or maybe stock up on vacation necessities like white wine, bottled water and fruit.

“If this quiet beach town, popular with Cambodia's glamorous beau monde during the '60s before the country was devastated by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, is slated to become the next Phuket, the turning point came with the opening of the Sokha Beach Hotel in May 2004. Near Ochheuteal Beach, a blowzy backpacker's central, a nine-hole golf course by the Malaysia-based golf course designer Ted Parslow,” was slated to open in autumn 2006, “with construction of a luxury hotel to begin shortly afterwards.

What will really accelerate Sihanoukville's upmarket resurrection, however, is the opening of a lengthened and reinforced runway at the town's tiny airport next spring. Bangkok Airways, which ferries tourists from Bangkok to Siem Reap, gateway to Angkor, is planning service, and other regional carriers are interested, too.

In the meantime, Sihanoukville is on the cusp, a deliciously laid-back place for a time out during heavy-duty Asian sightseeing. If you stay at the well-mannered Sokha Beach Hotel, catch the current scene by spending a day at Ochheuteal Beach. Lined with Berkeley, California-style bars, cafés and guesthouses, it has a happy, hippie funkiness along the lines of Goa and pulls a young international crowd out to have a good time on a small budget. Ochheuteal is also the best place to shop for a value-priced day of diving in and around the islands offshore.

Otherwise, do a day trip to Kep - locally famous for its seafood and especially its crabs; Kampot, known for its sleepy French colonial charm and pepper plantations, or atmospheric Bokor, an abandoned 1920s vintage casino and hill station. Finally, watch out for the locally made palm wine (it packs a punch), buy the highest sun-protection cream you can find and bring a lot of books, because Sihanoukville is that rare and wonderful place where you will actually end up reading more than you than thought you would. Oh, and go now, too, so that in 10 or 15 years, when there are direct flights to Sihanoukville from Shanghai and Tokyo, Manchester and Amsterdam, and the beach is lined with brand-name hotels, you can say, "I remember this place when ..."”

SHOPPING, HOTELS AND RESTAURANTS IN SIHANOUKVILLE

Shopping in Sihanoukville: Sihanoukville does not offer souvenir shopping comparable to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, but Sihanoukville’s shopping opportunities are growing. Several convenience stores and small supermarkets are now scattered across the town, offering a good selections of all of the usual traveller's needs. And now there are even a few cool souvenirs to be had in Sihanoukville. There are some good T-shirts available at bars and guesthouses and some cool clothing and accessories for sale at places like Boom Boom Room. Of particular interest, the very popular NGO-based Cambodian arts and crafts association, Rajana, has just opened its first outlet in Sihanoukville, located above the Starfish Caf.

The Rajana shop has a good selection of Cambodian arts and crafts, jewellery, textiles, coffees, spices and more. (012-789350, www.rajanacrafts.org.) Another local NGO, M Lop Tapang, offers products made and marketed by disadvantaged women under the Mother Under the Tree, Snardai project. Available at Holy Cow, Starfish Caf, and Geckozy. A souvenir unique to Sihanoukville: scale model wooden Cambodian fishing boats handcrafted by a local French shipwright. The models are detailed wooden miniatures of fishing boats used along Cambodia's coast, and are accurate copies inside and out. Each is individually numbered. Available at Map Water Sports.

Henry Alford wrote in the New York Times, “To shop in a country where the average daily wage is less than a dollar a day is to suddenly want to pay retail. Some of the arenas of this strange inclination are more direct than others: both of the shopping haunts that drew our attention were charity-based. On the muddy, trash-flecked dirt road that leads to Serendipity Beach, the northwestern end of Occheuteal Beach, we found the Cambodian Children’s Painting Project, where kids who are kept out of school and forced into selling wares or themselves on the beach are given free language classes and painting lessons. We each bought a painting ($4 each, plus $1.50 each for frames). A few hours later we found ourselves at Rajana, a gift shop whose proceeds go to teaching young Cambodians handicraft skills. We marveled over the jewelry made from recycled bomb shells ($28 to $32) and key rings made from recycled bullets (95 cents), prior to buying lots of silk scarves ($6 to $30) and lemon-grass candles in bamboo holders ($1.75). Rajana (down the alley at 62 7 Makara Street; 855-23-993-642; www.rajanacrafts.org) in Sihanoukville is one of a chain of nonprofit stores, with wonderful textiles, and some clothing and knickknacks. The N.G.O.-run garden cafe downstairs serves good light meals, and is a fine place to cool off. [Source: Henry Alford, New York Times, March 15, 2009]

Accommodation in Sihanoukville: There is only one deluxe hotel in Sihanoukville - Sokha Beach Resort (5 stars). The town has plenty of places to stay in other lower categories. Accommodation here can get incredibly busy during public holidays and festivals, when it's as well to book if you want to stay at a particular hotel, though you are unlikely to be completely stuck for a place to sleep otherwise. Note that during peak season (Nov-March) and major holidays (particularly Khmer New Year), the hotels hike their prices 25 percent-30 percent above the normal price. It's worth trying to negotiate a more favourable rate if you plan to stay for a week or more, or if you arrive during the week (even during the peak season).

Alexander Lobrano wrote in the New York Times, "Sokha Beach Hotel, an 188-room, four-star hotel brought world-class comforts (satellite television, air conditioning, room service) to a place that had only had cheap and decidedly rustic guesthouses (Sokha Beach Resort, Street 2 Thnou Sangkat 4, Mttapheap District, Sihanoukville; tel. 855 34 935 999, fax 855 34 935 008, www.sokhahotels.com). The good-natured service at the Sokha Beach may still be on a learning curve, but the hotel is a bargain for what it offers (spa, huge pool, gym, tennis courts) - doubles go for $125 - and will likely only get better as the competition heats up. [Source: Alexander Lobrano, New York Times, January 5, 2006]

“The Independence Hotel, a seven-story modernist beauty with a few endearingly kitsch Miami Beach-style bells and whistles - a round dining room, two round ballrooms and a kidney-shaped pool - was designed by the French architects Leroy and Mondet and was one of the chicest hotels in Cambodia when it opened in 1964; locals insist that Jacqueline Kennedy, invited by King Norodom Sihanouk, was among its first guests. Abandoned during the war, it sits on a spectacular bluff overlooking Independence Beach and is getting a top-drawer, head-to-toe renovation that will make it an irresistible address for trendseekers in search of the latest esoteric.” The refurbishment of the Independence (Street 2 Thnou, Sangkat No. 3; 855-34-943-3003; www.independencehotel.net) was refurbished in 2007. You’ll need to take a tuk-tuk (about $5 one way) if you want to go into town or to the public beaches. Doubles from $140.

Other Hotels in Sihanoukville include: 1) Ramada Hotel & Resort: (tel: 034/393916) is a unique hill top hotel overlooking the ocean near the Port. Newly refurbished a/c rooms with all modern amenities. International restaurant. Swimming pool. Tennis courts. Range: $75 - $120. 2) The Reef Resort: (tel: 012/315338) is a superior mid-range accommodation, clean, air conditioned rooms with modern furniture, in-room safe, cable TV, wireless internet access in all rooms, swimming pool with Jacuzzi. Quality restaurant bar serving premium western and Asian dishes as well as a full range of fine wines, beers and spirits. Professional slate topped pool table and darts, friendly service. Range: $30 - $70.

3) The Snake House: (tel: 012/673805) is a unique, ornate bungalow/rooms set in a quiet, lush garden setting. Tastefully decorated, single and double rooms with all amenities and balcony. Swimming pool. Exercise equipment/gym. Next to the amazing Snake House Restaurant. Near Victory Beach. Range: $20 - $25. Bungalow Village: (tel: 012/490293) features Charming hillside bungalows surrounded by 5000 square meters of fruit trees, flowers and large boulders. All with veranda, bathroom, fan and mosquito net, some with sea view and hotwater. Very nice restaurant offering excellent Asian specialties. Unique open-air cinema. Base of Weather Station Hill (Victory Hill). Range: $6 - $15.

Restaurants in Sihanoukville: There is no shortage of restaurants in Sihanoukville; almost anything you want, you may get it. There are plenty of moderately priced Cambodian and international restaurants. Almost every restaurant offers Cambodian food. For the budget minded, check out the inexpensive Chinese places and the local food stalls and noodle cookshops next to the centre. It would be a shame to leave town without savouring the delights of a meal of seafood, which unsurprisingly, is Sihanoukville's speciality, priced by the kilogram and cheaper than anywhere else in the country. If you prefer informality, you can buy your own fish and seafood in the market, and any other accompaniments you fancy, and get them cooked up at one of the beach stalls. There are thousands of shacks offering tasty and reasonable barbecue in the evening right next to the beach.

Alexander Lobrano wrote in the New York Times, "Among the best bites in Sihanoukville, Chez Claude (Kam Pegn hill, Sihanoukville, tel. 855-12-824-870, entrees $5-$14) has superb views of the Gulf of Thailand from its perch on a hillside between the Sokha Beach and the Independence Hotels, and the kitchen prepares an impeccably fresh local catch of the day with a French touch. La Paillote is generally considered the best restaurant in town, with excellent home-style French and Cambodian cooking served in an open-air garden setting (Weather Station Hill, tel. 855-12-633247, entrees $5-$11). [Source: Alexander Lobrano, New York Times, January 5, 2006]

“Downtown, stop by the Starfish Café, where the American baker Deidre O'Shea has taught local women to make Western bread and pastries as a way of supporting themselves and earning money for the philanthropic projects the café oversees; in addition to fantastic brownies and cookies, breakfast and lunch are served, and excellent boxed lunches are available to go (downtown, behind Samudera Market, tel. 855-12-952-011).”

Chhner Molop Chrey (Krong Street, Mondul 3, along the waterfront of Victory Beach in Sihanoukville; 855-34-933-708) is a long-established seafood restaurant, serving fresh fish, shrimp and crabs along the waterfront. Dinner for two, about $16. [Source: Henry Alford, New York Times, March 15, 2009]

The Snake House is one of the most interesting places to eat. It's a restaurant and bar with Russian and International cuisine. An absolutely unique venue: a restaurant/herpetarium carved into the middle of a lush garden maze with dozens of terrariums containing rare and poisonous snakes, exotic lizards, and artificial tide pools. Reasonably priced international and Russian fare. Located between north and south Victory Beaches.

Villa Garden Restaurant & Bar is a nice international restaurant and bar located on the Ochheuteal Beach Rd. between Ochheuteal and Serendipity beaches. Brand new upstyle al fresco restaurant/bar at the DevaRaja boutique guesthouse, offering a unique and eclectic selection of western and Asian favourites and unique chefs choices and creations, many with an emphasis on seafood - shrimp scampi, crab quesadillas, Thai basil crab cakes and of course the daily fish special. Full bar with draft beer, cocktails and a new slate pool table.

Khmer Gourmet, located at the Weather Station Hill, offers delicious Vegetarian, Mexican and Organic food. All vegetarian dishes employing organic ingredients as much as possible. Lots of special Mexican dishes, wraps, veg chilli, veg quesadillas, breakfast burritos and more. Organic veggies, organic brown rice, coffees, teas, and sugar, sourced locally. Memorable homemade desserts. Quality ingredients and hygienic preparation guaranteed. Sometimes Live acoustic music.

GETTING TO SIHANOUKVILLE

Located in the southwest corner of Cambodia,, Sihanoukville can be reached via National Highway No 4. As Sihanoukville improves a lot in parts of trade, tourist business and other sectors, the road to Phnom Penh had to be rebuild properly. Now you can run the perfectly paved National Highway No 4 linking the capital with this seaside resort (230 kilometers). Alexander Lobrano wrote in the New York Times, " Heading south from Phnom Penh, it was a three-hour drive (there's no air service to Sihanoukville) past the pineapple and palm oil plantations that punctuate the flat Cambodian countryside before we reached the Sokha Beach Hotel on the Gulf of Thailand.” The province could also be entered directly through Koh Kong Province from nearby Thailand, as more and more tourists do. It’s doable either by the bumpy Major Road 48 passing the edge of the Cardamom Mountains or by speedboat from Koh Kong town, next to the Thai border.

By Bus, Shared Taxi or Minivan: From Phnom Penh: Bus relatively comfortable; a/c buses depart Phnom Penh several times per day (from 7:00am to 1pm). The price is around 12,000R -16,000R for the 4 hours ride. The buses start mostly at the southwest corner of the Central Market (Phsar Thmey). In Sihanoukville, all buses arrive and depart from the central bus station on Street 108. The Capitol Guesthouse in Phnom Penh runs daily minivans to Sihanoukville. They depart Phnom Penh at 7:00am and cost 14,000 riel one-way. Buying a round trip ticket will grant you a little discount. In Sihanoukville contact Capitol Tours on Ekareach in the middle of downtown. SHV to PP departs at 12:30pm.

Most shared taxis depart Phnom Penh before 10:00am, though you can still find one into the mid afternoon. The price varies between $3-5/person. Shared taxis offer a cramped and harrowing 2½ to 3½ - hour ride with 8 or more people stuffed in a compact car. Private taxis run about $20-$25. In Phnom Penh taxis wait at the southwest corner of the Central Market (Phsar Thmey). In Sihanoukville, Phnom Penh bound taxies wait on Street 108.

By Boat: There are daily boats departing from Sihanoukville (500Baht, 4 hours) around noon for Krong Koh Kong. Most foreigners are unfortunately asked to pay 600Baht or $15. It's worth the tour as you pass by some virgin beaches and nice costal formations. By Airplane: There has been a slight rumour in recent years, that the 13 kilometers airport near Ream has been renovated, but there are still no scheduled flights to Siem Reap for the temples-beach combo tour.

Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Train: Cambodia's single railway line runs for 160 miles between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville on the Gulf of Thailand coast. Completed in 1969, a year before the Cambodian civil war began, the train passes through lovely southern Cambodian countryside and is particularly beautiful after Kampot, where the tracks wind along the sea at the edge of the Elephant Mountains. Trains from Phnom Penh to Battambang Province depart from Phnom Penh about 5:00am or 6:00am with travel taking much of the day.

According to Seat61.com: “Until recently just one train service remained in Cambodia, from Battambang to Phnom Penh. Previously running every second day, in 2006 it went down to once a week, and in early 2009 it stopped running altogether. There are now no regular passenger trains in Cambodia, only buses. But Cambodian & foreign backers plan to bring back Cambodia's railways from the dead. Although there have been a few problems recently, a company called Toll Royal Railway (www.tollroyalrailway.com) has been given a 30 year concession to repair and operate the railway, and in 2013 it's planned to reopen both the Southern Line from Phnom Penh to Kampot & Sihanoukville (254 km) and the Northern Line from Phnom Penh to Battambang, Sisophon & Poiphet on the Thai border (388 km). Indeed, I have witnessed the new ballast and sleepers being laid between Sisophon and Poipet myself in late 2011. Thai and Cambodian governments have agreed to link their rail systems again for the first time since 1946, and we could see Bangkok to Phnom Penh passenger trains in 2014. One freight service is already back up & running, and the rehabilitation of Phnom Penh's historic main station is already under way. See the official Toll site, www.tollroyalrailway.com.

In 1994, three Westerners and 11 people were pulled off the train, near Kampot, and killed. The Westerners were abducted and held for ransom before being executed. For several years after that employees at train offices were forbidden from selling tickets to foreigners. Beginning in 1998, articles began appearing in magazines by travelers who took the train and lived to tell about it.

When the train was running there was a regular r service in diesel-powered trains. Scenery along the way included small colonial-style train stations, rice fields and sugar palm trees. The trains rarely topped 25 mph, allowing passengers ample time to take it all in. Occasionally there were minor derailments, but none caused serious injuries.

In 2000, an old pre-World War II steam engine was brought of the mothballs and restored for service and outfit with some carriages loaned by King Sihanouk and set up as a tourist train called the Pacific 231. This was train was considerably heavier than normal trains and special scouts were employed on the train to keep an eye for weak bridges and rotten ties that could cause the train to derail. There was an attempt to emulate the luxury trains in India and Vietnam and other places but effort fell short. Passengers served cocktails and meal had to hold on tight to their plates and glasses when the carriages swayed and wobbled. Safety stops were made every 30 minutes or so to make sure the joints on the wheels were not too overheated. In 2000, the train could be rented $3,000 for 100 passengers, with catering offered by the Hotel Le Royal.

BEACHES AND ISLANDS IN THE SIHANOUKVILLE AREA

Deum Chhrey Beach is located in front of the City Hall. Few tourists swim here because there is a big restaurant nearby. It is popular with tourists who like walk along the beach, however, because there is a picturesque park filled with statues, making site popular with photographers.

Henry Alford wrote in the New York Times, “Outside of the tinkly piano-bar womb of Sihanoukville’s two high-end hotels — the Independence and the Sokha — the town’s night life caters mostly to backpackers and beach bunnies, some of them just in from party capitals like Phuket or Vang Vieng, and eager to shimmer and effloresce over cocktails. A stroll down Serendipity Beach will bring you in contact with fire throwers, mystics, British Vogue photographers, sex tourists and many, many opportunities to indulge in something called a “vodka bucket.” Here is the youth of the world, working hard to forget the inequities of working for an understaffed and poorly run N.G.O.; here is the youth of the world, working hard to remember the name of the French dude they just made out with. The signs of these revelers’ impact on the local economy are not hard to find — certain beach bar/guesthouses offer a free night’s lodging to those of their young customers willing to hand out fliers on the beach for an hour; the business card for one local bar included a map which pinpointed the locations of 1) the bar 2) an A.T.M. and 3) the hospital.[Source: Henry Alford, New York Times, March 15, 2009]

Independence Beach gets its name from the deserted hulk of the 7 -storey Independence Hotel at the north end. Locals call this beach 'otel bram-pil chann (hotel 7-stories). It is labeled '7-Chann Beach' on the in-town street sign. Independence is more than a kilometer long, but the sandy area is much narrower making the beach best when the tide is low. The beach is wider and more tourists toward the northwest end near a small fresh water lake (which is the source of the town's fresh water and is rumored to contain crocodiles). At the other end is the beach's only hotel, Sea Breeze. Grass umbrellas and drink vendors only hotel, Sea Breeze. Grass umbrellas and drink vendors now line the beach from end to end but it is still much less frequented than other beaches. The road up to the old Independence Hotel is often frequented by a small troop of Rhesus monkeys but is currently closed while the hotel is undergoing renovation. Adjacent to Independence Beach is a lush green garden area, well maintained and decorated with statues. Thus offering so many great things this is one of the beaches in Sihanoukville that is surely worth a visit.

Koh Pors (about 1 kilometer from Lomhe Kay beach) is an island off the coast of Sihanoukville. The beach is flat and very quiet. It is attracts few visitors, because it is undeveloped. Those tourists who do visit the island travel in groups and bring their own food.

Koh Rong Island (at about 40 kilometers off the coast of Sihanoukville) is a Cambodian Island in the Gulf of Thailand that is deserted, undeveloped and untouched. The island is one of the most beautiful island of the Kompong Som Region. A snowdrift bay, covered by a crystal clear and turquoise water, stretches on several kilometers. At the center, a jungle with thousands of coconut palms and waterfalls invade the island.

Ochheuteal Beach is the most popular beach in Sihanoukville, offering the full spectrum of beach venues from upscale hotels and dining to laid-back budget beach bars and bungalows. Known as UNTAC Beach in the early 1990s, it is is long, sandy and narrow, with 'Serendipity Beach' at the northern end, a golf-course development at the southern end, and a cluster of mid-range hotels and restaurants near the MP base in the middle. Grass umbrellas, rentable beach chairs and little drink huts line the beach from one end to the other.

Situated on the beach are several nice hotels including the Seaside and Crystal, the mid-range Holiday, as well as some of Sihanoukville's better seafood restaurants, (Sea Dragon, Susaday, Sunshine and Les Feuilles), which are within walking distance of the hotels. Further south along the beach in front of the golf course develop-ment, a number of budget traveler/backpacker oriented bar/restaurant/beach hangouts have sprung up offering chairs, umbrellas, drinks and a chill-out atmosphere.

At Ochheuteal's extreme northern end, Serendipity Beach' is the only beach in Sihanoukville to offer bungalows and guesthouse rooms right on the sand. Over the past two years Serendipity's popularity has grown exponentially, as have the number of bungalows, hotels, and restaurants. The beach now offers several mid-range and budget places including Coasters' well-known bungalows, Uncle Bob's 24-hour restaurant and budget rooms, and The Beach’s mid-range rooms. There are also places popping up on the hill just above the Serendipity such as Diamond Guesthouse and closer to the traffic circle, Sanctuary Bar and Guesthouse. To get to Serendipity Beach follow Ekareach Street straight through the Golden Lion Traffic Circle and UP and over the hill.

Otres Beach (the next beach south of Ochheuteal Beach) resembles Ochheuteal in many ways. It is a three kilometer crescent of near white sand facing the southwest. But Otres is far less developed and touristed than Ochheuteal, offering a more leisurely, relaxed atmosphere. Forbes listed it amongst the Top 22 Beaches in Asia. Though much of the beach was recently closed for a development project, more than a kilometer remains open and retains the same laid back feel. There are no hotels, spas or large restaurants on Otres, just a string of beach-shack bars, restaurants and bungalows stretching along the sand from the intersection to the new development project.

Most all of the beach restaurants serve seafood and more, but each place has its own unique flavor. There are several bungalows and small guesthouses on the beach, most sitting right on the sand just a few meters from the water. Price and quality of the rooms and bungalows varies, so shop around for the room that best suits your budget and requirements. Bear in mind that the seclusion and lack of development that affords Otres its tranquil atmosphere also limits some services. After dark it can be difficult to travel between Otres and town.

To get to Otres: 1) The road from Ochheuteal over the hill through Queen Hill Resort allows easy motorcycle access but is blocked to cars and tuk-tuks. 2) By car or tuk-tuk from Ochheuteal: follow Polaway Street (1 Kanda Street) to the end of the pavement and turn left, cross the bridge and proceed about 500 meters to the next right turn. Turn and follow the rough road about 2.3 kilometers to the beach. 3) Omui Street from downtown is paved and in good condition. Follow to the Otres turnoff and turn left.

Sokha Beach (adjoining O'Cheuteal Beach) is a long beach though the water is deeper here. Also known as Serendipity Beach, it was once more crowded than O'Cheuteal Beach, because Cambodians prefer it to the other beaches. However, Oknha Sok Kung's Sokha Hotel Company recently took over operations at the beach. The company is building up the area in hope of attracting more tourists to Sihanoukville.

Sokha Beach wins many votes for the nicest beach in Sihanoukville, with its radiant stretch of fine white sand and shallow waters ideal for floating and lazy days. The beach is backed by the huge, sprawling Sokha Beach Resort, the first — though no doubt, not the last — truly flash hotel to plunk down in Sihanoukville. Although it's a shame to see one resort dominate the beach, at least they look after it well — the beach is near-always clean and the water sparkling. There is a very shallow drop off here, so you can wander a long way out into the water before it gets particularly deep, making it great for those with young children. While we personally had no problems accessing the beach without being a guest, there have been persistent reports regarding hotel security guards chasing non-guests off the beach. One option we guess is to approach the beach through the resort — one assumes the guards don't have identikits of all the guests — but one would have hoped this would not have been necessary in the first place. If you do get chased off, there is a very small patch of sand in front of Malibu and as they're a pretty cool lot running this joint we can't imagine they'd chase you off as well.

Sokha Beach Resort (5 minutes drive from the town of Sihanoukville) is set amidst 23.5 hectares of beautifully landscaped beachfront and garden with its own 1.5 kilometers pristine white sandy beach. All of the spacious rooms and suites are tastefully decorated for comfort in traditional ancient and modern Khmer design. You can also enjoy the magnificent views of tropical garden or the beautiful sea from your private balcony. Enjoy a luxurious private seafront view with perfect gourmet seafood, Chinese and Khmer cuisine and experience the romantic ambience indoor or in an al fresco setting. Indulge your senses in an exotic evening experience with singing and dancing with an extensive selection of worldwide fine wines available at the onsite Sokha Wine Bar. You can also find a number of more Restaurants and Bars available onsite for your dining pleasure. Rejuvenate your mind body and soul at the Resort's spa where you can discover the simple joys of life with endless pampering treatments from head to toe. The state-of-the-art gymnasium and the swimming pool at Sokha Beach Resort & Spa Sihanoukville is the place to unwind after a long day of work or pleasure.

Prampi Chaon Beach is short and narrow. The waves are bigger that at other beaches, making it popular with locals, who favor it most after Sokha Beach.

Prek Treng Beach (a few kilometers north of Sihanoukville) is also known as “Hun Sen Beach”. It is a long, narrow crescent of sand, a bit rocky in parts, offering comparatively warm shallow waters. Due to Prek Treng’s distance from town and complete lack of services (no guesthouses, restaurants, beach chairs, etc.,) the beach is usually deserted. There is a nearby development project promising a busy future for Prek Treng, but at the moment you can have the beach pretty much to yourself. Just remember to bring drinks and snacks as there are very rarely beach vendors available. To get there follow Hun Sen Beach Drive north a few kilometers past the port area. The beach is on the left just past the first bridge and before you reach the oil port.

Ream Beach (27 kilometers north of Sihanoukville) is an untouched beach located in the Ream National Park. The beach to the right is long and narrow and frequented more by fishermen than tourists. Behind the beach is a mangrove swamp, which attracts a wide variety of tropical birds. The beaches to the left nearer the Naval Base now have a few vendors selling drinks and renting tubes. There is a small $5 per night guesthouse run by the National Park. Check at the park HQ opposite the entrance to the airport.

The area of Ream Beach is not very large. It is also one of the few beaches that is landscaped by mountains and water falls, thus making the entire scene a treat for the eye. You can even see fishermen at work while you are relaxing. Since there are only a few small stalls you are is advised to bring your own refreshments.

Ream Beach is not difficult to reach because the road is pretty straight without much turns or twists. Take Route 4 to the Airport road 18 kilometers north of town. Turn right, go 9 kilometers to the ocean. Several kinds of transport can to ferry you to the beach.

Victory Beach is located in front of Koh Pors (Snake Island). Also known as Lomhe Kay, it offers a number of services, including comfortable restrooms, fresh water and good transportation service to Koh Pors. Thus, many local and international visitors go to this beach. There are many well organized kiosks along the beach, the waves are not big, and invironment is clean.

WATS AND WATERFALLS IN THE IN SIHANOUKVILLE AREA

Wats in Sihanoukville: Wat Leu (6 kilometers from Sihanoukville) is one of the five main wats in Sihanoukville. These Wats, or Buddhist temples, are scattered around Sihanoukville. Wat Leu, Sihanoukville located on the Sihanoukville Mountain is only the provincial town. Because of its hilltop location Wat Leu, is commonly known as "Upper Wat". Surrounded by a beautifully landscaped forest, it offers wonderful views of the town and islands nearby.

Phnom Leu (Leu Hill) is a nature and cultural site. Wat Leu on the mountaintop offer visitors a panoramic view of the beaches and Sihanoukville international port. Most visitors are local people who visit the site during national festivals.Wat Leu is not only a religious and historic site it is also significant from the architectural point of view. It is surrounded by a high stone wall. There is a three headed white elephant beautifully carved out of the stone wall with three statues of Buddha on the three heads of the elephant. The golden colored temple with thatched roofs and traditional design resembles the pagodas. In front of the stair case that leads to the temple's door there is a huge statue of lord Buddha made of black colored stones.

As you climb down the Sihanoukville mountain pay a visit to Wat Kraom, also known as "Lower Wat". The wat is located along Independence Beach right at the foot of Sihanoukville Mountain. Wat Kraom is located amidst the large landscaped forest. You can get a panoramic view of which from Wat Leu, Sihanoukville. Wat Leu is also ideal for photography. The tranquility and sacredness of the place attracts the travelers as well as those who are in search of peace.

Wat Kraom (3 kilometers from Sihanoukville) is one of the popular tourist attractions in Sihanoukville. It is known for its a unique and beautiful architecture. Dedicated to Ya-Mao, a local deity, it lies on a small hill on Santipheap St. overlooking the ocean. Apart from Wat Leu, Sihanoukville and Wat Kraom, tourists can also pay visits to Wat Otres, located behind Otres Beach and the 2 wats in Ream National Park. The Outer Wat is situated on the Road number 4 to Phnom Penh and the Inner Wat is located amidst the forest in Ream National Park.

Kbal Chhay Waterfall (in Khan Prey Nup, about 16 kilometers north of downtown Sihanoukville) is 14 meters high and is situated where three water sources come together. The multi-tiered waterfall became popular among Khmers due to it being a major location for the 2000 movie “The Giant Snake”, which is the most successful modern Cambodian movie. To reach the site from Sihanoukville, take National Road 4 toward Phnom Penh. About 7 kilometers out side of town, at mile marker 217, there is a sign announcing the site. Turn left and go 9 kilometers along a trail.

Kbal Chhay was discovered in 1960. Three years later, it was developed into a reservoir to supply clean water to the city of Sihanoukville. The reservoir construction, however, was interrupted due to civil war, and the site became a hide-out for the Khmer Rouge. In 1997, Kbal Chhay was marked for development, and a year later Kok An Company was awarded a contract to construct a road and develop the site for tourism.

Kbal Chhay Waterfalls are situated on the Prek Tuk Sap River located about 30 minutes away from Sihanoukville. These falls can be best viewed during the wet season which occurs in Sihanoukville between July to October. It is during this time that the Kbal Chhay Waterfalls in Sihanoukville is the most attractive with white froth of water cascading down. During the dry season the Kbal Chhay Waterfalls is almost non existent with water just managing to trickle down.

Kbal Chhay Waterfalls is actually a collection of three-meter- to five-meters-high waterfalls which originate from different sources along the mountain ranges. However, only three out of the collection can be sighted. Besides being just a picturesque sight, the waterfall is also a popular picnic spot where you can spend you day amongst the greenery and serene natural ambience. The area offers abundance of food and drink stands that offer refreshments if you need any.

KAMPOT PROVINCE

KAMPOT PROVINCE is located in southwest Cambodia. It has an 80 kilometer coastal strip on the Gulf of Thailand. The provincial capital, also named Kampot, sits near the base of the abundant green Elephant Mountains and the famous Bokor Hill Station. find quietness. The Kampot area also offers several other attractions including pre-Angkorian ruins and caves, jungle trekking, bicycling tours, river cruises, island trips, fishing trips, isolated beaches, pepper plantations, bamboo train rides and some beautiful rural countryside.

Kampot province covers 4,873 square kilometers. It is bordered to the north by Kampong Speu Province, in the east with Takeo Province, to the west with Sihanoukville and Koh Kong Provinces and to the South with the Gulf of Thailand. The East of the province consists of plains covered by rice fields and other agricultural plantations. The Western part of the province is the home of Bokor National Park, located in part of the Elephant Mountains, which is rich in lush forests and has a huge range of wildlife. The two highest points in the province are the Bokor Hill Station, which is 1,027 meters high, and a 1,050-meter-high hilltop further north. Some people say the countryside reminds them of areas in Vietnam where sharp limestone rocks shooting up from the flat plains.

The current population in this province is about 619,088 people or 4.31 percent of the country's total population (2007, provincial government data), with 299,814 male and 319,274 female. The population density is therefore 127 people per square kilometer. Most of the economy is agriculture-based. The province produces durian, mango and coconut. Kampot Pepper has been renowned for decades as one of the best peppers in the world. This pepper has a very distinct flavur and smell, especially when it is freshly harvested. The special climate and soil type of Kampot as well as the experience of several generations of pepper farmers make this pepper unique and much sought-after by gourmets worldwide. Sea salt products from Kampot are also well known. Some are exported.

Kampot is one of the cooler regions of Cambodia, due to its location next to the sea and high rainy mountains.The cool season is from November to March with temperatures ranging from 20 to 26 degrees C. The hot season is from March to May with temperatures ranging from 29 to 34 degrees C. The rainy season is from May to October. Temperatures are 22 to 30 degrees C, with humidity up to 90 percent. The best beach weather begins with the end of the rains in November.

KAMPOT TOWN (105 kilometers from Sihanoukville on the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville railway line) a small town on the Tuk Chhou River, five kilometers inland from the sea, famous for its seafood. Fishing and farming are the main activities; durians and melons grow in abundance. To the south end of town is a large dusty traffic circle with three hotels arrayed around it: the Phnom Kieu, Phnom Kamchay and Tuk Chhou. Each has its own restaurants; Tuk Chhou offers a seedy nightclub. Also on the circle is Prachummith Restaurant, close by is Amar Restaurant.

Kampot lies near the sea at the edge of the Elephant mountains. To the south near the river is the GPO and telecommunications building. At the north end of town, about 1.5 kilometers away, is the Central Market, with foodstalls. All Kampot transportation is concentrated within range of the market-cycle, motors, taxis, trucks, and buses. The railway station lies farther north, , but isn't used anymore.

There is little of interest in Kampot except to walk around town and look at crumbling French-built blue-shuttered shop fronts. In central Kampot you can find a market which can be very busy. The shops and stalls sell local daily consumer products, like fish, fruits, vegetables, meats and packed products. Most of the food and drink shops surround the market. To take something special from this buy some famous Kampot Pepper. Most of the handicrafts made of the sea shells and corals that are popular with tourists are made in Kampot province. These handicrafts are sold along the beaches and very popular with tourists. Corals are also popular with visitors. The coral is washed until it is white, and sold on the beach to local and foreign visitors. Because coral is rapidly disappearing from the sea and oceans, however, environmentalists discourage tourist from buying these souvenirs.

Previously Kampot was a stepping-stone to Bokor and Kep. You can reach Kampot by irregular plane service from Phnom Penh. It’s not advisable to get there by car. It takes about 5 hours to cover the 150 kilometers from Phnom Penh to Kampot. From Sihanoukville it is 105 kilometers to Kampot on a dirt road. The train that used to run from Phnom Penh to Kampot took seven hours. It used to be a frequent target of the Khmer Rouge.

Kampot is not far from where Khmer Rouge guerrillas ambushed the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville train with mines on July 26, 1994 and shot down 11 Cambodian and three Vietnamese passengers and abducted scores of people, including three young backpackers—a Briton, am Australian and a Frenchman, who were later murdered. Not far away is Ta Keo, birthplace of the Khmer Rouge killer and leader Ya Mok.

Getting to Kampot: Kampot may easily be approached directly from Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and also from Vietnam via the Prek Chak (Ha Tien) and Phnom Den international border crossings. In Kampot, taxis can be found at the taxi stand or you just tell your guesthouse or hotel that you wish one taxi, as they'll be friendly enough to help you organizing one. The National Highway No 3 from Phnom Penh to Kampot is definitely not in the best condition but it's a scenic trip about 155 kilometers in length. Coming from Sihanoukville you have to ride on the National Highway No 4 for about 40 kilometers turning at the junction East and heading the NH No 3 for another 75 kilometers to Kampot.

By Bus and Shared Taxi from Phnom Penh to Kampot: National Highway No 3 from Phnom Penh to Kampot is paved and in relatively good condition . This road is recommended over the alternative, National Highway No 2 to leading to National Highway No 3 via Takeo province. The buses to Kampot from Phnom Penh depart each day at 7:30am and midday around 1:15:00pm from the central bus station near the central market (Sorya Bus Company; No 168). The prices for a usual old air-con bus are around US$4 per a person and trip. The trip usually takes about four to five hours. Going from Phnom Penh with a share taxi you can find one at Phsar Dumkor in Phnom Penh or opposite of central bus station. The prices are 13,000 -15,000 riel/person or $22-$30 for a private taxi. The 3 hours ride is shorter as with the slowly bus.

By Bus and Shared Taxi from Sihanoukville to Kampot: The bus from Sihanoukville will take you north on the National Highway No 4 to Veal Renh (about 40 kilometers), than you'll turn east on National Highway No 3 in direction to Kampot. Both highways are paved and in comparative good condition. The trip from Sihanoukville to Kampot usually takes approx. 1-2 hours (110 kilometers). If you wish to go from Sihanoukville to Kampot by share taxi you can find one opposite the market (Phsar Leu) and at the downtown bus and taxi station in Sihanoukville centre. The prices are around 12,000 - 14,000 riel/person or $20 for a private taxi ($25 with a proper a/c).

From Vietnam to Kampot: The border to Vietnam (Ha Tien) is around 60 kilometers from Kampot. The easiest way to go there is hiring a moto tub or tuktuk (prices are around US$5 for a moto tub and US$10 to $14 for a Tuktuk for 1½ hour trip). The border was closed for a long time to international travelers but has recently opened (beginning of 2007). The border name for both sites is Prek Chak/Xaxia. Going to the border you'll have to take Road No 33 east from Kampot to the intersection of Road 31 at Kampong Trach town. Turn south on Road 31. The roads are all paved except the last few kilometers to the border, which are sealed. Both, Sok Lim Tours (Tel: 012-801348) and Marco Polo Adventure Tours (Tel: 012-883429) offer regular transport from Kampot to the border. If you're coming from Vietnam, moto tubs usually wait at the border crossing to take approaching travellers to Kep or Kampot.

KAMPOT AREA TOURIST ATTRACTIONS

Kep Beach, Rabbit Island, Bokor Hill Station, and countryside tours are perhaps the most popular day tours out of Kampot with tour operators offering competitively priced tours. With the exception of Teuk Chhu, the resorts in the Kampot area have not been renovated and are not well maintained. However there are tourists and researchers that visit them. Teuk Chhu Zoo (8 kilometers north of Kampot) is an Asian-style mini zoo set among gardens and fruit plantations at the foot of the Elephant Mountains on the west bank of the Teuk Chhou River. It is home to a wide range of fauna, including tigers, a pair of playful young elephants, lemurs. It is open daily from 7:00am to 5.30pm. Admission is $3.

Rikitikitavi (River Road, Kampot; 855-12-235-102; www.rikitikitavi-kampot.com) is on a balcony overlooking the river. A delicious fish amok — a kind of Cambodian curry that is steamed instead of boiled — is served in a banana leaf. The cook is a former sous-chef at the InterContinental in Phnom Penh. Lunch for two, about $15. [Source: Henry Alford, New York Times, March 15, 2009]

Teuk Chhu Resort (8 kilometers north of Kampot town) is a natural resort locating at Snom Prompi Village, Mak Prang Commune, Kampot District. The resort has water flowing from Phnom Dam Rey – Phnom Kam Chay. The water is cool and clear flowing down over the big rocks for year round. At Teuk Chhu resort, there are valuable and delicious fruit like durian, mangostreen, rambutan, mak prang, pineapple, grape fruit, custard apple and coconut.

Prek Ampil Resort (near Kampot off of National Road No. 3) is situated on beach rich in white sand, mangrove and coconut trees in Koh Touch Commune. At the resort, you can enjoy fresh seafood like crabs, cuttlefish, lobster, snail, and a variety of sea fish.

Kampong Trach Resort (38 kilometers east of Kampot town on National Road No 16) is situated in a rocky mountain known for its caves and natural wells, where people from Cambodia, China and Vietnam worshipped. There is one natural well that is 30 meters in diameter. Smaller natural wells have four-meter stairs and artistic stone shaped like animals or other objects. From these natural wells, there is a cave that goes through to the La Ang Viel Sre 100 and La Ang Thmar Dos. In the 1960s and 70s before the Khmer Rouge the area was used to make several films. At the front valley, there is Chinese and Vietnamese pagoda. In front of the cave, there is a Cambodian pagoda.

Bokor Hill Station (42 kilometers from Kampot town) was a casino and hotel resort for the rich in the old days before the Khmer Rouge. Perched on a crest of the Elephant Mountain overlooking the sea, it was founded by the French in 1922 during the reign of the King, Sisovath as a place to escape to escape from the heat and disease of the lowlands. The mountain of Bokor is 1,075-meter high. It has good weather and beautiful scenery with big trees and rocks shaped like animals. In Sang Kum Reas Ni Yum, there is a town. there. Seven kilometers from the mountain, there is a swimming spot called ‘Po Pok Vil’. On the top of the mountain there are beautiful views of Kampot town, Kep, Sihanoukville and blue water of the sea.

When visiting Bokor make sure you get an early start. The summit is reached by one of the worst roads in Cambodia and the journey of about 30 kilometers takes a lot longer than you would think. Heavily potholed and scattered with pieces of the original asphalt surface, it is best traveled by 4WD or motorbike. Spectacular views of the Gulf of Thailand glimpsed through the lush jungle. Abandoned buildings dot the roadside. The hill station buildings include a Catholic church and an old hotel, the aptly named and monumentally proportioned Bokor Palace, as well as a number of other crumbling dwellings. The view out to a sapphire sea across a vertiginous drop to dense emerald green jungle from what was the terrace of the Palace is remarkable.

It is easy to see the strategic significance of Bokor Hill Station, and even easier to see the scars of the many battles that have been fought there though the buildings, covered with red-pigmented lichen. Possibly the best known of these battles had the Khmer Rouge holed up in the Catholic church shooting it out with the Vietnamese in the Bokor Palace. It is only too possible to imagine this scene as you gaze across the windswept plains from the upstairs windows of the Palace, or wander through its echoing and cavernous ruins. But this only increases the fascination of the place.

The 15-minute drive from the hill station to the crystal clear waters of the popular Popokvil ('Swirling Clouds') Waterfall takes you past the abandoned and decaying grass huts of the Khmer Rouge families who once lived here. A 20-minute walk down a dirt track from the car park brings you to the first and more accessible of the waterfall's two spectacular tiers. But it's worth making the effort to get to the second tier. It's here that you find out why the falls are so named. Clouds of the finest mist hover over the falls to magical effect.

According to to the New York Times in 2009: “Visits to the top of the mountain are in a state of flux while the road is being built. You may be required to go with a ranger in his Jeep ($40, plus $5 park entrance; ask at the park entrance), or you may be able to go in a group tour (try Sok Lim Tours, 855-12-719-872; www.soklimtours.com) for $10, plus admission fee. A tuk-tuk to Kampot or Bokor Mountain and back will run about $25. The guide Toun Bon Thim can be reached at bonthim@yahoo.com.

Caves near Kampot: The caves of Phnom Ta aun are part of a limestone formation that include narrow caves, chimneys, and passages with rock formations. A bit more interesting are the caves at Phnom Sia. One cave contains a an elephant-shaped rock formation that is treated as a shrine. Limestone mountains (phnom) dot the landscape between Kampot and Kep. Many contain limestone caves, some adorned with exotic rock formations, and almost all containing Buddhist shines. Make sure to bring a flashlight (torch) and wear shoes suitable for climbing on rocks.

From Kampot, the first caves that you come across are the caves of Phnom Chhnork. The first of these caves have pre-Angkorian ruins within the limestone caves. Inside you will find various 5th century brick structures among the stalagmites and stalactites that are formed within the cave. You will also find 4th century structures which are from of the ancient state of Funan. A bit of carving is still visible. Inside cave you will also find limestone formations in the shapes of elephants. The entrance of the second cave lies about 300 meters from the first cave. To reach it you have to climb some rocks and go through small openings. You will find a small shrine too in the second cave.

Phnom K'Chnor, Kampot is a place where you can take your own car providedyou are very good in driving, but if you are not sure of driving then it is better that you take a trail bike. Always take the help of an expert guide before you set on a trip to Phnom K'Chnor. Those interested in going to Phnom K'Chnor should take the road that leads to Kep from Kampot and after traveling for 8 kilometers and take a left turn. Then you can travel down a dirt road for five kilometers which intersects beautiful rural farmlands. After sometime you would come across a railway line and after crossing the line You will find the way leading to the base of the mountain. Here You will find the shrine which is renowned as a healing center of Buddhist faith. There is no entrance fee. It is advisable that you do not visit the Phnom K'Chnor, Kampot during monsoon because the road is quite treacherous at this time.

Caves near Kampot also include the cave at Phnom Sla Ta'aun Plain which is smaller in comparison to the other caves but still is attractive to the cavers and climbers. The interesting things that you can find here are a small shrine as well as a huge rock that is balanced in a hole on the ceiling of the cave. Another interesting one is the cave at Phnom Sasear which is also known by the name 'White Elephant Cave'. This cave is located next to a beautiful pagoda. If you go up the stairs that rise from the side of the limestone outcropping then you would get a wonderful view of the countryside especially during the monsoon. In this cave you will find a shrine. This shrine is located at the base of a limestone formation which resembles the shape of an elephant.

Kampong Trach is the district of Kampot Province that borders Vietnam. The road trip from Kampot town to Kampong Trach town passes though some picturesque rural areas. There is a new side road to Kampong Trach town that skirts the base of Phnom Voar, (where the victims of the 1994 Khmer Rouge kidnappings were held). These mountain areas were one of the last Khmer Rouge holdouts. Kampong Trach town is small and relatively uninteresting. The area's main attraction is a series of limestone caves and tubes that have been carved into a nearby mountain. The roof of a large cave in the center of a mountain has collapsed, allowing a small, enclosed jungle to grow.

Pagodas and shrines have been built amongst the caves, providing for some excellent photo possibilities. Bring a flashlight and wear good walking shoes. From Kampot, take the Kep road, bear left at the White Horse Monument and follow to Kampong Trach. After a few kilometers the road changes to badly broken pavement. The side road mentioned above requires a left turn onto a graded dirt road about 7 kilometers past the White Horse Monument. It is not a straightforward route and it may be better if you go with a guide. Set aside the better part of a day for the trip to the caves and back.

Wildlife Parks Near Kampot are home to different kinds of animals like tigers (maybe), gibbons and birds like chestnut headed patridges, orange-headed thrush and plu pitta. There are also various species of trees and plants. Kep Thmey (8 kilometers from Kampot) is one of the most-visited tourist attractions in Kampot. It is a popular wildlife park. It is situated near Kep Thmey Village in Beoungtouk Commune in Kampot District in Kampot. The other wildlife parks in and around Kampot are Phnom Chhnok, Phnom Seda Orn and the Phnom Daung. The Phnom Chhnok is nestled in Bos Trobek Village in Trorpeang Pring Commune in Kampot District. The Phnom Daung is located in Beoung Tapream Village in Treuy Koh Commune. While the Phnom Seda Orn is nestled in Ang Kor Village.Kep Thmey, Kampot is home to a large population of animals and birds. Here you can catch the wild animals in their natural habitats.

Phnom Seda Classification Nature Wildlife and Preserve (near Ang Kor Village, 6 kilometers from Kampot town) is one of the most widely-known nature and wildlife preserves in Cambodia. If you are visiting Phnom Seda Orn, Kampot, you must also catch a glimpse of the attractions nearby, including Rabbit Island.

Rabbit Island is a major tourist destination in the Kampot area. This breathtaking island has endless white sandy beaches flanked by coconut trees. The azure waters lure you to plunge in. You can enjoy a number of water sports here. Snorkeling is the perfect option. rocks. You will get to see a variety of marine life among the rocks and reefs.

Prek Ampil (18 kilometers from Kampot town) is located on the coast in Koh Toch commune, Kampot district. It features a white sand beach with thousands of mangrove and coconut trees growing nearby, making the site ideal for visitors looking for a pleasant place to relax. In addition, there is an array of fresh seafood such as crab, cuttlefish, lobster and snails, as well abundant coconut juice. The waters off of Prek Ampil are rich in corals, a natural attraction that could attract tourists who enjoy snorkeling or scuba diving.

KEP

KEP (173 kilometers from Phnom Penh and 15 kilometers from Kampot) is a famous old resort town on the Gulf of Thailand that fell into decay during the Khmer Rouge period and has yet to be revived. Moss grows on the old colonial building. There are not many stores or vendors. The beach promenade is crumbling into the sea. The Cambodian tourism ministry is tryin to push it as a snorkeling and scuba diving destination.

A municipality in Cambodia with the status of a province. Kep is just a few kilometers from the border with Vietnam located and used to be Cambodia's most popular beach town. Many of Kep's mostly French villas are abandoned, but some of the town's former splendour is still apparent.

The sea is lined with huge sidewalks and some large statues that now seem largely out of place. The king built a palace overlooking the Gulf of Thailand, but it was never furnished and now sits empty. A good, paved road connects Kep with Kampot. The beaches have slightly darker sand than the beaches in Sihanoukville. They are mostly scattered with mangroves and black rocks. Koh Thonsay (Rabbit Island) is just a half hour boat ride away.

Taking a boat to the nearby islands is a breathtaking experience. Another trip, which must not be missed, is an excursion to the serene waterfalls of 'Tuk Chhou" situated about 10 kilometers from Kampot. Kep City is accessible by the National Road No 3 from Phnom Penh via Kampot province (173 km) or by the National Road No 2 from Phnom Penh via Takeo province.

History of Kep: The French established Kep City during the colonial time in 1908. During the Sixties, during the time of Sang Kum Reas Ni Yum, the city was developed as a beautiful seaside tourist resort for rich people and government officials. Today Kep is mainly popular to the domestic tourists, who choose Kep as their holiday destination. The town appears to be experiencing something of a rebirth, with several mid-range and luxury guesthouses and bungalows recently opened or still under construction. The seafood is cheap, plentiful and delicious - particularly the quite famous crabs. Kep is also home to an extensive national park covering some mountains with deep green jungle.

The story of how Kep got its name goes like this: There was a king named Sa Kor Reach, who put a sleeping spell on a commander at Angkor Thum, then stole the commander's white horse and fled together with his troops to the Southwestern seaside. When he took a rest at the seaside, he was almost overtaken by the commander's troops, who chased him from behind. Suddenly, he got on the horseback; the horse reared, and made him fall down on the ground together with the saddle. Then, he got on the horseback again and fled away without picking up the saddle. So that's why this area was called 'Kep Seh' meaning 'the saddle.'

New York Times on Kep: Henry Alford wrote in the New York Times, “In Kep, a tiny town on Cambodia’s southern coast on the Gulf of Thailand, two British women are staring at the ghostly remains of a bombed-out seaside villa. Originally called La Perle de la Côte d’Agathe, Kep was founded in the 1920s and was the resort of choice for French Cambodia’s jet set. But the Khmer Rouge had particular distaste for Kep and its sybaritic pleasures, and all but razed the town in the 1970s. One of the women points out a trail of wetness on the villa’s walls and floor where a dog has peed. “Oh, dear,” she tut-tuts. “It looks like the building is crying.” [Source: Henry Alford, New York Times, March 15, 2009]

“Less than a mile down the road, rising from the ashes of Kep like an extravagant bird-of-paradise, is the chic 11-room seaside hotel, Knai Bang Chatt, designed in the ’70s by a protégé of Le Corbusier. No one is crying here. All is luxury and escapism; lush plantings and an infinity pool are combined in a way that fairly screams “James Bond love lair.” Sprawled poolside is a muscular young Belgian gentleman engrossed in his Ian McEwan. The man idly smoothes out the waistband of his black designer swimsuit, the greatest irritation he will face all day. Tonight he will dine under a gorgeous palapa-style structure by the sea, and perhaps join other guests for a midnight swim in the Gulf of Thailand.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a town center, let alone a bricks-and-mortar store, in Kep’s bucolic center, but there’s a buzz of activity at the series of shacks along the water that form the crab market. Here fresh crabs are pulled out of wooden cages that you can see just offshore, and, for $7, cooked with curry and stalks of local Kampot peppercorns to produce an exciting variation of everything I’d ever eaten while wearing a lobster bib. Kep is also, oddly, without a decent beach — the sienna-colored sand at the half-mile-long town beach is clearly the world’s largest accumulation of Cajun rub — but you can take a 20-minute boat ride out to Rabbit Island, where a scattering of pale, tubby Britons and gorgeous Danish girls laze on good sand or on the porch of rented huts and sunning platforms, all amid a scrum of mangrove trees, chickens and slightly confused cows. We set ourselves beachside and Greg pulled out a cigarette pack emblazoned with the name of France’s handsomest-ever movie star — Alain Delon — which he’d bought for 30 cents in town. I thought, I am surrounded by at least three kinds of beauty.

“We also took day trips from Kep to a temple cave and to Bokor Mountain. Although taxis, motorbikes and tuk-tuks are plentiful and cheap in Cambodia, we’d decided to hire, at $45 a day, a kind and shy 28-year-old Phnom Penh driver named Toun Bon Thim to take us around in his car, including our subsequent nine-hour drive from the coast up to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat.

“When Bon Thim and Greg and I stepped out of the car near the trail to the cave temple, we were greeted by a small band of giddy and adorable Cambodian children who wanted to guide us. The kids — led by a hilarious 14-year-old boy in a T-shirt emblazoned “Parental Advisory” — led us through a muddy rice field to a steep set of wooden stairs (“203 steps. Easy!,” Parental Advisory coached me. “Easy for Mr. New York City!”). Soon we were peering down in a stalactite-dripping cave in which sat a very well-preserved seventh-century brick temple, about the size of four phone booths. Parental Advisory looked at my popped eyes and, aping the helium-pitched voice of a flip teenage girl, he exclaimed, “Ohmygod!” Suddenly I wanted to revoke every sarcastic comment I’d ever made about Angelina Jolie and her Cambodian child; I longed to take Parental Advisory back to New York with us, and turn him into America’s next comedy sensation.

“Although most of the two-lane roads that link Cambodia’s bigger cities have been improved and repaved in the past 10 years or so, anyone who jiggles his way in a Jeep up the 19-mile road that is being built on Bokor Mountain in nearby Kampot is vividly, if not violently, reminded of earlier road-based pittedness: by journey’s end you realize that if you were a gallon of paint, not only would you be thoroughly mixed, you would now be a solid. The top of Bokor Mountain is the site of an abandoned hill station, including an eerie, burned-out palace hotel and a Catholic church where sometimes the fog sneaks up on you so thick that you can’t see your hand in front of you. The site was the setting for the climax of the 2002 Matt Dillon crime thriller, “City of Ghosts.”“

Accommodation and Restaurants in Kep: Knai Bang Chatt (Phum Thmey Sangat Prey, Thom Khan Kep; 855-12-879-486; www.knaibangchatt.com) serves breakfast at a rough-hewn 24-foot-long table under a palapa overlooking the sea, where dinner (about $38 for two) is also served. Guests have use of Hobie Cat sailboats. Doubles from $150 — U.S. dollars are accepted at hotels, restaurants and shops — in the high season (October through March); otherwise from $110.

At the Veranda (Kep Mountain Hillside Road; 855-12-888-619; www.veranda-resort.com) doubles start at $25. The resort’s bar and restaurant, with the sight of gorgeous sunsets, is quite good, and serves mostly Western food (dinner for two, about $26). Doubles from $25.

At Kimly (to the left of the restaurants at the crab market along the waterfront in Kep; 855-12-435-096), the crab with Kampot pepper is the local specialty. The shrimp tom yum soup and the shrimp with Kampot pepper are also worth trying. Dinner for two, about $20. [Source: Henry Alford, New York Times, March 15, 2009]

Kep Beach is a single, kilometer-long crescent of sand near the tip of the Kep peninsula. Dining platforms and seafood vendors line the road behind the beach. Busy on weekends but often deserted during the week, the road through Kep traces the coastline to the beach and then circles back on itself. Cars and vans must pay admission to drive the loop (2500R - 5000R). Motorcycles and pedestrians are free. Be aware that the loop is a one-way street and the police do occasionally enforce the law, levying fines against violators. According to the New York Times: At Massage (Champey Inn, 25 Avenue de la Plage, Kep), the setting (under a palapa, and not too far from the sea) is especially nice. Expect to pay $10 for traditional hourlong massage; $15 for oil massage.

Koh Ton Say Resort (4.5 kilometers from Kep Town) is a resort locating to the southeast of Kep town. It has two beaches suitable for swimming because they have white sand and shallow water. In the sea are a variety of fish, plants and coral. The name ‘Koh Ton Say’ comes from the word ‘Rum Say’ meaning ‘spread out’. It is said when the King, Sa Kor Reach, was desperate and hopeless as his troop and parties deserted him, he lead his remaining troop across the sea to an island in front of Kep town, then his troop spread out there. So that Cambodians called the island ‘Koh Rum Say’.

Koh Ton Say has a two-square kilometer land area. In the past, prisoners were sent here for correcting and defending the island. The tourist infrastructures at the island was constructed during the Sang Kum Reas Ni Yum era. These include a path for horse carts around the island, a wood motel and restaurant, clean-water system and administrative buildings. But, because of the decades of war and upheaval, these infrastructures have almost completely been destroyed. Nowadays, the island settled by seven families, who earn their living by fishing and maintaining coconut plantation.

TAKEO PROVINCE

TAKEO PROVINCE is often referred to as the cradle of Cambodian civilisation. Takeo province has several important pre-Angkorian sites built between the 5th and the 8th century. The low-lying area seems to include much of the surrounding province area, which is probably why a kingdom that once had its heart here was referred to as Water Chenla. There seems to be water everywhere in the surrounding countryside during the rainy season.

The man-made beauty mostly comes from a series of canals and waterways that were cut through the surrounding countryside, many a very long time ago, connecting towns, villages, rivers and Vietnam. Nearby Angkor Borei town (connected by water to Takeo town) may have been the heart of the Funan Empire, which is called the Cradle of Khmer Civilization by Cambodians. Much older than Angkor, the Funan empire had its heyday between the A.D. 1st and 6th centuries and stretched across a vast area, from South Vietnam through Thailand, down through Malaysia and into Indonesia. Bold, silver and silks were traded in abundance in the kingdom, or, as some say, the series of fiefdoms.

Although Cambodians claim Funan was created by Khmers, neighbouring Vietnam argues that they were the people of origin. Archaeologists from the University of Hawaii have made research trips to Angkor Borei in an attempt to piece together the history and story, and story, as well as relics, of the Funan period. In an odd recent twist, Reuters reported in November 1999, locals saw the research team digging up ancient relics and figured the stuff must be valuable, so they started digging and looting objects from the area. Fortunately, the Cambodian government seems to be moving in on the problem quickly to try to save what they can of this important piece of Khmer heritage.

That was not the first time the locals have created problems in the piecing together of ancient history. Much of what did remain in the form of ancient ruins in Angkor Borei was destroyed not too long ago in the modern past. The officials that runs the museum that's dedicated to the history of the Funan empire told me that much of what was still standing from this period (from parts of ancient walls to partial structures) was thought to be useless by locals and was bulldozed and razed to make way for more useful modern day structures! Talk about having a bad track record. Fortunately artifacts and history have been put together in the museum.

Takeo Province is full of other interesting sights as well and because of the short distance and good road from Phnom Penh, all are great day trips form there. Some sights can be combined in a day trip. If you have a bit more time, spend an evening in Takeo town and take in all the sights.

The current population in this province is about 924,758 people or 6.4 percent of the country's total population (2007, provincial government data), with 445,000 male and 479,758 female. The population density is 259.5 people per square kilometer. Takeo's economy consists basically of fishing and rice and fruit agriculture. Especially the rural households depend on agriculture and its related sub-sectors.

Geography and Climate of Takeo Province: Takeo province is 3,563 square kilometers in area. It is located in the south of Cambodia, bordering Kandal Province to the north and east, Kampong Speu to the West with and Kampot and to the South with Vietnam. The low-lying area seems to include much of the surrounding province area, which is probably why a kingdom that once had its heart here was referred to as Water Chenla. There seems to be water everywhere in the surrounding countryside during the rainy season. Most of the province consists of the typical Cambodian wet plains covered rice fields and agricultural plantations. The province also features one of the biggest rivers of the country—forming the provincial border to the East— the Tonle Bassac, also known as the “Red River.”

In Takeo, the cool season is from November to March with temperatures ranging from 22 to 28 degrees C. The hot season is from March to May with temperatures ranging from 28 to 36 degrees C. The rainy season is from May to October. Temperatures are 24 to 32 degrees C, with high humidity.

Takeo Town is the provincial capital of Takeo Province. It is an easygoing place that possesses a fair amount of natural and manmade beauty. The natural beauty is in the scenic river and lake area that faces a pleasant town parkway. There is a pleasant little place to stay overlooking the river and lake area.

Getting to Takeo: Phnom Penh and Takeo province are linked by the National Highway No 2, which remains in reasonable condition albeit with a few potholes to slow the velocity down. It is about a two hour ride for motorbikers. If your motorcycle has a mechanic problem, head back to Phnom Penh, as it's only an hour away. Call your rental outfit in Phnom Penh (always carry theft rental agreement) and they will come down to perform motorcycle surgery or haul the bike back to Phnom Penh.

By Bus: Hour Lean and PPPT bus companies both run air-con buses between Phnom Penh and Takeo (6000 riel, 2hours, 77 kilometers). They leave from the Central Station just southwest from the Central Market in Phnom Penh. In Takeo you may find the buses to Phnom Penh in front of the Phsar Leu. Both buses have to pass Tonle Bati and Phnom Chisor, both interesting sides of attraction. By Shared taxis or Moto: The price for a share taxi from Phnom Penh to Takeo is around 6000 riel, by minibus around 3000 riel. Travelers continuing by road to Kampot should take a moto (5000 riel) for the 13 kilometers journey to Angk Tasaom and then arrange a seat in a minibus or shared taxi (5000 riel) on to Kampot. For 1000 riel you can get anywhere in town. The daily rate is US$ 5 plus fuel for distant sights.

Angkor Borie (in Takeo Province) is a town in the area of several ruins and archaeological digs. The area contains artifacts dating from the Funan (4th/5th century) and Water Chenla (8th century) as well as the later Angkorian period. The prasat ruins on top of nearby Phnom Da are 11th century Angkorian. There is a small museum in the town.

Chup Pol Temple (three kilometers from Takeo town) is a sacred site popularly known as Chu Pol temple. It is located in the wonderful Doun Peaeng Village. This village is situated in the Baray Commune region in the Doun Kae District. The reason for the popularity of this site is not just the fact that it is a historical edifice but also because it is very conveniently located.

Bavet (48 kilometers from Svay Rieng provincial town and an hour by car from Ho Chi Minh City) is located at the main international border checkpoint between Cambodia and Vietnam. It is widely used by people traveling between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City. Bavet's main attractions are casinos in Cambodia that are within short walking distance of the border. These casinos are very popular with foreigners crossing the border. There is also a market, Psar Nat, where goods are transferred between Cambodia and Vietnam.

Makoto Ota wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “The crowds of Vietnamese trying their luck at the casinos that have sprung up in the southeastern border town of Bavet are a tangible example of the widening social divisions in their home country. While some of the people crossing the border for the casinos in Cambodia (gambling is illegal in Vietnam) are betting millions of dollars, others stay there for the free food— a mixture of haves and have-nots that has become more evident since Vietnam introduced its "doi moi" policies of economic liberalization in the 1980s.[Source: Makoto Ota, Yomiuri Shimbun, February 2, 2008]

In the early 2000s Bavet was surrounded by rice paddies. By 2008 it had seven casinos, and was illuminated round-the-clock by neon lights. More than 90 percent of the 7,000 visitors the casinos receive each day are Vietnamese. Food and drink is free, while complimentary accommodation is available next door for those placing a certain amount in bets. A man from Ho Chi Minh City, identifying himself as Quon, was playing baccarat at a table lit by chandeliers. "I never keep track of how much I bet," he said as he placed another 500 dollars bet after having just lost 500 dollars. "Probably several thousand dollars a day," the 45-year-old Quon said.

The average monthly income in Vietnam is about 150 dollars, though some of the guests clearly earn far more than this. The 32-year-old Vietnamese assistant manager of the Le Macau casino, the oldest casino in the area, said: "Betting tens of thousands of dollars is nothing special here. I know one customer who spent 2 million dollars."

The casinos have benefited from the money flowing out of Ho Chi Minh City. "I made a fortune thanks to my connections with the [Vietnamese] government," one patron said. "I bought some real estate after obtaining some useful information and sold it on. With the surging property market, I knew I'd make money."

But while some Vietnamese have benefited from the emerging market economy, many have been left behind, and have even abandoned their hometowns altogether for Bavet. A 50-year-old man identifying himself as Tieng came to Bavet with his wife from the southern province of Tay Ninh in Vietnam eight months ago. Tieng said that back home he worked irregularly as a day-laborer, earning about 37 dollars in a good month. But he said that he now earns enough to make a reasonable living through gambling, having three meals a day at the casinos and sleeping on a sofa. "I can earn 10 dollars a day," Tieng said. "Everything I earn is profit, because we don't need to pay for food." Tieng said about 20 Vietnamese have left their hometown because of poverty and settled in the casinos, adding the number of "settlers" has been growing as rumors of easy money spread.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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