Kompong Cham was formally the third city in Cambodia, a travel hub in the centre of the country on the banks of the Mekong. With the increase in the tourist trade, it has been rather overtaken by Siem Reap at the Temples of Angkor and Sihanoukville on the coast. Kompong Cham in contrast has relatively little to offer a tourist. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our one-night stop over thanks to a local guide, Mr Vannat.
Our bus from Kratie was a full-sized coach with what used to be nice cushioned seats. But it blasted Cambodian pop music non-stop for the three hour journey, giving me a headache and Carl anger management issues. As we passed through the countryside the seats filled up and then plastic stools were pulled out and the aisles filled up with mothers and children – so many of them moving around the country – bags and young men.
Arriving off the bus in the Kompong Cham marketplace, we were set upon by the usual gangs of guides and hawkers, selling tours and hotels. We brushed everyone off, even the most determined man who saw we didn’t know how to get to our hotel. He followed us as we walked around and eventually we gave in and he took us literally around the corner to the hotel. Kompong Cham streets don’t make a lot of sense. He kindly refused payment, as much as we insisted, but gave us his card should we need a guide.
It was a beautiful day so we chose to eat at river-side restaurant Mekong Crossing. Sitting on the side walk to enjoy the sunshine, the guide appeared by our table. It was annoying and I hate encouraging this kind of pressure selling but we were in need of something to do that afternoon, and a guide. So for $8USD we hired Mr Vannat for the afternoon.
Mr Vannat took us to see Phnom Pros and Phnom Srei, temples still occupied by monks and with beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. Afterwards we visited Cheung Kok village, an ecotourism initiative intended to show tourists how a traditional rural Cambodian village works. How genuine it is, I am not sure, but despite the signs and the shop selling local craft, it felt sufficiently real, with chicken and dogs everywhere, cows resting under the houses and looms everywhere.
Our final stop was at Mr Vannat’s house, where he introduced us to his wife and daughter and then to his young grandson, who came home from school and took the opportunity to practise his English on the foreigners in the front room. We spent almost an hour looking through a picture book and telling him our favourite animals and foods.
For dinner we chose Smile Restaurant on the waterfront. Like Friends in Phnom Penh, it is a not-for-profit restaurant run by the Buddhism and Society Development Association, also promoting local charities and the crafts of local people. It was a big, open, popular with tourists but not made gaudy or tacky. The food was good, the cocktails decent and the service plentiful.
The next day we leapt onto a bus and out of Kampong Cham towards Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor. Kompong Cham a nice town for a one-night stop but you needn’t stay for too much longer than that.
Where we stayed: Daly Hotel
Where we ate: Smile Restaurant (recommend), Mekong Crossing (nothing to write home about)
Our guide: Mr Vannat. So well-known he is in the Lonely Planet. Phone: 012 995890, E: email@example.com
If you’re travelling to Cambodia, check out the other places we visited: Phnom Penh, Kratie, the Elephant Valley Project, Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor (check out our tips for visiting the Temples). We also bookended our trip with visits to Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.