Exotic Breaks: Kampot, Cambodia

This country is one of the year's must-see far-flung destinations. Andrew Spooner explores the faded grandeur of Kampot

The mist is swirling as we arrive, the thick jungle dripping with sticky moisture. The road to the top has been a mess of potholes and muddy rivulets; a 15-mile journey has turned into a two-hour epic. The dense cloud clears and I glimpse a giant, weathered edifice: Bokor. "This used to be a Khmer Rouge camp," says my Cambodian guide and driver, Cheung Try.

Once, the remote destination of Bokor was one of the jewels of French Indochina. Set on the edge of a 4,000ft plateau at the centre of the Elephant Mountains, this leisure complex of grand casino and hotels was the resort of choice for well-to-do French colonialists. The altitude created a cooling climate, offering relief from the heat of Phnom Penh.

The casino is big, cast over four floors, with terraces, balconies and ballroom. The walls are riveted with bullet holes and worn into a greying organic state by years of damp. "The Khmer Rouge used to shoot at the Vietnamese from here," says Try.

To get to Bokor most visitors base themselves in the small town of Kampot, 20 miles to the east of Bokor and three hours to the south of Phnom Penh. "Kampot used to be the most important port for the French in this part of Indochina," says Try, as we arrive in this dreamy riverside town. "Some of the buildings are very old," he adds, pointing to a factory building which he claims was built in 1820.

I don't know if Try's dates are right but what is apparent is the mouldering charm of the run of French villas, shops and walkways. There are even mini boulevards and an abandoned covered market. The town feels like a decaying open-air museum.

My room for the night is at the Bokor Mountain Lodge, a delightful old French villa set by the Prek Kamping Bay River and run by a New Zealand Maori expat, Eric Karatau. "I took this place over about six months ago, so we are still getting things together," says Karatau.

What is already together is the location. With a soothing breeze off the river and great views back to Bokor and the Elephant mountains, I feel ready to unwind. "This is a great riverfront," says Karatau. "There are quite a few places opening and foreigners moving in. We're getting a bit of an international vibe going."

The riverfront is lined with antique French villas, some still abandoned. Several have been taken over and turned into eateries and bars complementing Kampot's languid atmosphere.

Despite its lazy feel, Kampot is still an important trading town, and the market doesn't disappoint. There are smiling ladies lounging in hammocks proffering rumps of pork and buffalo; tiny Khmer tobacco sellers, just about visible behind mountains of leaves. Buckets of exotic fish and acres of fresh fruit add astonishing colour

I head for the river with goodies bought from the market. The dramatic skyline evokes memories of Bokor's dark beauty and Cambodia's painful past. As I soak up the view and the juice from a fresh mango, local children begin to tease me mercilessly. It is moments like this that make travel worthwhile.



HOW TO GET THERE

Travelmood (08700 664556; travelmood.com) offers return flights to Phnom Penh with Malaysia Airlines from £629. The Bokor Mountain Lodge in Kampot (00 855 33 932314; bokorlodge. com) offers rooms from £8 per night. Andrew Spooner travelled in Cambodia with Red Raid motorcycle tours (motorcycletourscambodia. com), which offers motorcycle rental from £22 per day and organised tours from £50 per day.

Further reading 'A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam' by Norman Lewis (Eland, £12.99)

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
i100
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    Day In a Page

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?