By Steven King
If you long for an exotic, yet relaxed, and extremely affordable way of life then consider the provincial capital of Kampot right at the heart of Cambodia’s “Lost Riviera” along the country’s historic southern coastline.
Situated only a mile or so from the ocean, Kampot is a relaxing riverside retreat surrounded by a mesmerizing mix of mist-covered mountains, fertile fields, forests, and all kinds of fruit farms and plantations.
The city has been a favorite with foreign travelers for over a century dating all the way back to the colonial era when the French began cultivating the area into the country’s most prestigious coastal setting.
During the 1960s the Riviera continued to flourish attracting a who’s who from around the world including monarchs, heads of state, and glamorous icons such as Jackie Kennedy taking in the sights.
Fast-forward fifty years and the Kingdom of Cambodia has re-established itself among the top travel destinations in Southeast Asia, especially with Americans who account for more visitors to the country than any other western nation.
And amid this renaissance Kampot has once again regained its rightful place as one of Cambodia’s most popular coastal locations and not only with tourists but also for a growing population of expats.
Retire in Kampot
Despite officially being the largest city in Cambodia, Kampot feels more like a laidback little town in part due its countryside locale and curious blend of old-world architecture, traditional landmarks, and colonial buildings.
The riverside is at the very heart of life in Kampot appealing to expats and locals who soak up the area’s relaxed ambience and visual charm. The city center is very easy to navigate with many preferring to get around by foot or bicycle since so many places are conveniently located close to the river.
English is widely spoken in Kampot and has long ago replaced French as the most popular second language with it being commonly used by almost everyone working in tourism, hospitality, and among the newer generations who make up most of the nation’s youthful population.
Cambodia not only offers reasonably priced and accessible annual retirement visas but also has the unique advantage of using the U.S. dollar alongside its national currency. This makes it much easier for expats that run their own businesses as well as retirees who rely on income from overseas pensions.
In recent years several national, regional, and international banks as well as various microfinance institutions have launched full service branches in Kampot while also increasing the number of standalone ATMs at useful locations all across the city.
This means it is now very convenient for expats to access cash, open local accounts, apply for debit and credit cards, receive or send transfers internationally, and even use internet banking.
Kampot is blessed with a tropical climate which guarantees warm weather and sunshine every month of the year. This is a major point of appeal for those who are planning to escape the cold weather and freezing winters in their home countries.
January to April are generally the hottest months of the year with temperatures of up to 90 F. However, Kampot’s coastal location ensures there is a refreshing breeze from the Prek Kampong Bay and Prek Tuek Chhu rivers.
The rainy season usually runs from June to September and is an excellent time to visit Kampot as the surrounding countryside positively blossoms. The rains tend to stop from October and there is often a cool season during November to December where the temperature drops as low as 21 F.
If you wish to experience a colder setting all you need to do is take a 30-minute drive up to the Preah Monivong Bokor National Park in the Damrei Mountains, which is 1,000 meters above sea level. Not only are the views of the coastline outstanding but the park has a unique ecosystem with waves of fog continually rising up and rolling across the top of the mountain surrounding visitors with refreshingly cool white clouds and mists.
Lifestyle in Kampot
Kampot is among the most popular cities for expats living in Cambodia after Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Battambang.
The expat community has steadily grown over the past decade in-line with the accompanying increase in tourist numbers and modernization of local infrastructure.
The city attracts a wide variety of people from all backgrounds ranging from retirees living on social security, seasonal snowbirds, digital nomads, and all manner of entrepreneurs, especially those who have opened businesses related to the tourism and hospitality industry.
Many of Kampot’s best bars and restaurants can be found near to the riverside promenade where nearly every type of cuisine are available to choose from including French, Italian, American, Spanish, and much more.
Quite a few are owned by expats who specialize in the favorite dishes from their home countries and which also are well-known for having excellent Khmer and Asian fusion menus.
Rikitikitavi is one of the highest rated places for food and drinks overlooking the river. They have a very popular two-for-one happy hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. which is an affordable chance to enjoy two of their famous local cocktails for only $4.
The Kampot Bloody Mary is a “must do” as it’s prepared with locally sourced tomatoes, tamarind, limes, and Kampot pepper then mixed with imported Stolichnaya vodka for a zesty and fragrant twist on the classic drink. Follow this with a dinner of traditional Cambodian Amok Curry with steamed coconut chicken and jasmine rice for only $6.25.
For an equally popular but more western eating institution try the Rusty Keyhole which is famous for having the “best damn ribs in Cambodia”, a statement that has been substantiated by many a happy expat since the bar and restaurant first opened over twenty years ago.
Now operating in several locations their Sunday Roast Dinners are equally well received with portions priced as low as $5 for a plate stacked with pork, beef, or lamb plus plenty of vegetables and sauces.
Expats are spoiled for choice when it comes to shopping for fresh seafood, meat, fruit, and vegetables at Kampot’s traditional markets such as Psah Samaki (also known as Kampot Market).
The number of western style grocery shops and minimarts is continuing to grow with locally owned drink shops expanding their offerings of imported produce and international treats with all manner of canned and frozen goods, condiments, dairy products, and even cured meats.
The standard of healthcare in Kampot has greatly improved since the opening of the Memorial Hospital in 2012. The hospital is well-staffed and provides an extensive range of inpatient, outpatient, laboratory, and 24 hours a day emergency and ambulance services.
In addition there are a selection of independent health clinics operated by both expat and Cambodian doctors with trained nurses and other medical staff. The most popular dentist for expats is the Piseth Dental Clinic and there are various options in regards to pharmacies.
Marany Pharmacy has been established in Kampot the longest, stocks a wide-range of imported medicine, and has English speaking pharmacists as does the new branch of U-Care, the nationwide pharmacy chain that chain recently opened in the city.
Cost of Living in Kampot
Kampot is an excellent choice for those seeking an affordable coastal retirement destination in Southeast Asia.
It is especially enticing for expats on limited incomes or social security who want to experience the good life for less with the benefits of a considerably upgraded life of luxury compared to the high cost of living back in the U.S.
A single person can live in comfort from as little as $800 a month while a couple could maintain a very nice standard of living spending less than $1,100. This level of budget allows for an active social life, regular splurges on imported western and local luxuries, access to unlimited mobile internet, and frequent use of air-conditioning.
Property rentals are very aﬀordable in Kampot with a variety of houses and traditional apartments available for almost immediate tenancies. Many buildings have been renovated to better fit with western standards so it isn’t hard to find somewhere conveniently located with all mod-cons. Most will come fully-furnished with air-conditioning and distinctive features like balconies and excellent river or mountain views.
While there are now a larger range of rentals that are listed online, the best option for finding suitable accommodations is simply looking out for properties with “for rent” signs and telephone numbers in the preferred area of the city you would like to live.
A one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with separate kitchen and air-conditioning starts from around $300 a month to rent on a six or twelve month lease while a larger two-bedroom, two-bathroom villa with a nice garden and private parking can be found starting from $400 a month.
This is an example of a monthly budget and typical costs for a couple living in Kampot:
|Rent (Furnished Two-Bedroom Apartment)||$300|
|Electricity with Regular Air-Con Usage||$80|
|Cooking Gas and Water||$10|
|Groceries and Household Items||$250|
|Entertainment (Dining Out and Social Activities)||$250|
|Mobile and Internet (Dual 4G Voice and Data Plan)||$8|
|Premium Cable TV & Media Streaming Account||$7|
|Transportation (Tuk-Tuk, Motorbike)||$20|
|House Cleaner—Weekly Maid Service||$25|
Things To Do in Kampot
Kampot’s stunning natural environment and riverside setting makes the city into a laidback destination popular with tourists and expats alike.
It is a place where you can feel free to experience life at your own pace with all that Mother Nature has to offer along with plenty of modern conveniences to ensure a standard of living that’s comfortable and affordable.
The city still has old-world charm with its wide riverside boulevards and colonial buildings creating a historic ambiance that goes hand-in-hand with the welcoming and foreign friendly nature of the local people.
Even though Kampot has begun to expand due to a rise in tourism, the city still feels a lot more like a town but has the benefit of upgraded infrastructure and other developments. This helps make it a great place to visit, live, and explore with an ever-growing variety of things to do for visitors and residents.
1. Restaurants and the Riverside Promenade
Many expats in Kampot say they rarely eat in anymore since eating out is just as inexpensive and offers such idyllic views of the river and mountains.
Families and friends go for evening strolls on the riverside promenade before heading across the street to the rows of colonial-era buildings now renovated into relaxing restaurants, eateries, and craft brew pubs catering to all kinds of flavors and tastes.
Even at higher end places like Rikitikitavi or The Fish Market, the cost of a meal for two with drinks will only cost about $20.
2. Kayaks, Kiteboards, and River Cruises
The river is definitely the center of Kampot but it is not just a place for something to eat.
Boats are available to charter for fishing trips and travel to the islands in nearby coastal waters. Kayaking, paddle boarding, and kiteboarding are very popular with packages for people of all ages and ability.
Kampot’s Villa Vedici resort is the only operator in Cambodia licensed by the International Kiteboarding Organization.
Also, each evening a large selection of boats line up by the riverside promenade for special sunset cruises and cocktail happy hours. Prices start at an extremely affordable $5 per person.
3. The Magical Mystical Mountain
What really makes Kampot standout in a nation filled with sensational sights is having the magical and misty Bokor Mountain on its doorstep. The 549-square-mile national park is located atop the southeastern section of the Cardamom Mountains and dominates the view from the city.
Reaching as high as 1,081 meters above sea level, sweeping waves of fog cover the mountain’s palaces, pagodas, statues, and shrines complementing the nature that thrives in the surprisingly cool, temperate climate.
Originally developed as a resort by the French it became known as Bokor Hill Station before being abandoned by its colonial investors.
They left behind a fascinating time capsule that is now the number one tourist attraction in Kampot.
A new access road was built in 2012 and some historic buildings have been magnificently restored including the reopened “Le Bokor Palace” resort ensuring the mountain retains its shroud of appeal.
Expats regularly visit to enjoy the cool weather, hiking trails, unparalleled ocean views, and explore the old ruins.
4. Rural Railways and Art Deco Architecture
The most scenic transport option from Phnom Penh to Kampot is the southern railway line which opened a new passenger service in 2016 following major refurbishment.
The 160-mile network links the capital to Cambodia’s “Lost Riviera” with stops in Kampot and Sihanoukville.
The service departs from Phnom Penh’s exquisite colonial Railway Station several times a week and leisurely takes passengers into beautiful areas of countryside they’d not otherwise experience. Even the arrival at Kampot is impressive due to its Art Deco Railway Station.
Other notable architecture includes the market, the old cinemas, hundreds of Sino-Khmer and colonial buildings, and the statue of Kampot’s signature Durian fruit.
5. Pepper Plantations and Countryside Delights
The province is incredibly rich in agriculture with exceptional soil perfect for growing delicious fruits and other treats, especially the Kampot Pepper plantations.
Widely championed by famous chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Rick Stein, and the late Anthony Bourdain, Kampot Pepper burst onto the culinary scene upon gaining geographical indication (GI) status a decade ago. Its unique flavor has made it one of the most expensive peppers in the world but expats pay only a fraction of the price locally.
Free plantation tours are a good way to spend a day in the country with local guides available at places like La Plantation. Kampot has many other rural delights to see from lakes to nature trails to the distinctive Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple and more.
For an exotic and affordable coastal destination, there’s lots to like about Kampot. It has much to keep you entertained with all the benefits of an area bursting with nature yet offering modern convenience and luxuries at prices so low you have no reason not to indulge.