For the ultimate in relaxation, visitors to southern Cambodia need look no further than the Kampot River. Running through the middle of charming French-colonial Kampot, the riverway is actually part of an estuary, mixing fresh and saltwater depending on the tide. It is easy to take in the ambiance from a comfy chair at any of the riverside guesthouses, but best experienced through a leisurely float.
Many Kampot tour companies can arrange a boat trip upriver or out to sea. The pick of them all for sheer relaxitude is Bart the Boatman, Kampot’s resident dreadlocked expat, who operates a traditional Cambodia longboat that he expertly navigates into the narrow jungle waterways and mangrove patches. Several local guesthouses also rent stand-up paddleboards, perfect transport for the usually calm waters, provided you are not in a rush.
While heading out to the open water of the gulf has its appeal, I much prefer the upriver voyage, where you get a better taste of life along the river for the many Cambodians who call it home. There is also simply more to do – stop for a swim, get some grub and a beverage at a standard rural Cambodian place or one of several western-run guesthouses.
Backpackers and party-seekers will want to check out Bodhi Villa (near Kampot) and Utopia (well upstream), while those who enjoy the finer things in life are best served by a stop at the serene Champa Lodge. And for sheer river scenery steeped in the local culture, but with some western charm, stop in at the Greenhouse (also upstream).