Kampong Cham is the seventh largest city in Cambodia, but a relatively small city. It has yet to be heavily visited like Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. It carries with it plenty of colonial French charm, and has a genuine "wild west" feel to it. Most travellers who do find themselves in Kampong Cham are in transit to elsewhere in the country, but those who choose to spend at least a couple of days in the provincial capital will enjoy the laid back atmosphere and quaint charm.
It is the capital of the province of the same name. Most of the 41,000 residents of the city (2010) are ethnic Khmer, but there is a sizeable Cham minority in the province's towns, including a disproportionately high number of Muslims and Christians.
Because there is little foreign investment and no large scale tourism, this city is very poor, with few modern buildings, though not lacking in French architecture from the colonial period. However, with the completion of a modern two-lane bridge across the Mekong, the city has begun a slow recovery from decades of decline. The people of Kampong Cham are, like all Cambodians, very friendly and open to engaging with tourists.
If projects seem to be improving the state of things here (relative to other Cambodian cities), it may be because Prime Minister Hun Sen and former Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara came from this province and the current governor is the PM's brother.
Kampong Cham has road links to major Cambodian cities, including Phnom Penh. The highway between Kampong Cham city and the capital Phnom Penh runs along the Mekong, and buses frequent this route daily, so you should have no trouble getting between the two cities.
Hwy 7 from Kampong Cham to Skun is in excellent condition and one of the best in Cambodia. Shortly after Skun however, the quality declines dramatically with frequent potholes and unpaved stretches. There is an alternative route to Phnom Penh east of the Mekong.
When travelling from Siem Reap, it may be worth going via Skun due to the better quality of the road instead of the Rte 71 short-cut.
To get from Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham, there are several bus options. The standard rules for buses apply here. Try taking an early bus, to avoid arriving close to or after dusk, when your choice of accommodation will be limited. The telephone numbers listed here are for locations in Phnom Penh.
- Sorya, ☏ . Approximately US$5, with buses leaving throughout the day at 06:45, 07:45, 09:00, 10:00, 11:30, 13:15, 15:00, and 16:00. Typically a 3-4 hr trip.
- GST, ☏ . Also US$4.50, but only leaving twice daily, at 09:00 and 15:00 with a 3-4 hr trip.
When departing from Kampong Cham, bus stations tend to be found near the roundabout on the main road in the city centre. One is southwest of the roundabout, on the right side. You buy your ticket at the counter.
- Bus Hoh Wa Genting, ☏ . Approximately 7,000 riel, with buses leaving throughout the day at 07:30, 08:10, 09:00, 10:00, 12:30, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00 for a 3-4 hr trip.
- GST Express, at the west end of the boulevard,
- Rith Mony, on Hwy 7 about 200 m from the Mekong bridge roundabout, has buses to a couple of destinations including Kratie and Phnom Penh. It is generally a bit cheaper than other bus companies but the buses are also a bit older.
- Capitol, US_4, runs two daily buses leaving Kampong Cham, from near Hwy 7 one block west of the Mekong bridge roundabout. Departing at 08:00 and 14:00 with a 15-minute break. Also takes about 3 hr.
Most minibuses and other non-bus transport leaves from or stops for a short time at the petrol station at the roadside of Hwy 7 close to the Mekong bridge roundabout.
Taxis are a less popular and more expensive method, costing about US$10-15 one way. These do, however, offer more comfort and speed than a bus usually does, but make sure the vehicle's air conditioning is functional before getting in.
Trucks are also an option, but with much less comfort than buses or taxis, and are not advised.
Beware that boat services may have been discontinued completely.
As for all of Cambodia, there used to be also two types of boats in Kampong Cham: the slow boats and the fast boats. The slow boats are obviously slower than the other option, but are safer.
- Slow boats don't have a pier, but simply land on the muddy river bank north of the bridge. Buy your tickets (for approximately 12,000 riel to either Phnom Penh or Kratie) underneath the huge cigarette advertisement. You can sit either on the roof or inside, and regardless of whichever you choose, you're in for a noisy, crowded ride. Get on the boat 1 hr prior to departure. To Phnom Penh the trip takes about 2-3 hr to Kratie about 5-6 hr, with both boats departing throughout the day.
- There are fast boats on the riverside road, 20 min north on Hwy 7. These are more comfortable. As a result of the competition with road transport, however, there are no scheduled boats going to Kratie and Stung Treng anymore. Occasionally, there might be a fast boat doing the run. Kampong Cham to Phnom Penh costs 15,000 riel, and takes less than 2 hr, while to Kratie costs 20,000 riel and takes 3-4 hr.
The city centre is easily walkable and is found north of the highway. A couple of hotels and Western-style restaurants cluster around the river front and couple of streets further east, is the central market area.
Most of the sites worth seeing are however outside the city, so you're going to need some form of motorized transport.
An increasing number of visitors to Cambodia are buying their own motorcycles and then reselling them when they leave the country (or return home), and this is a great way to see Kampong Cham. Smaller 110 cc bikes are the ones seen driven by practically every Khmer in the city, while the larger 250 cc bikes are more often driven by foreigners or expats. The smaller bikes are cheaper, but less suited for long distance travel and are more susceptible to theft. It's your call, though most travellers end up buying 250 ccs. If you choose to buy a 250 cc, expect to pay anywhere from US$500-2,500, depending on the age of the bike.
Vietnam does not admit anything larger than 150 cc, but this will likely change in the near future. There are very few places to rent a motorcycle in Kampong Cham. A few are available from the Mekong Hotel (US$6) or Lazy Mekong Daze (US$5). Both are on the river front to the north of the bridge.
There are plenty of motodops offering their service for travel not only within the city, but to outlying areas of the province. For a scant US$4, you can be shown the temples at Nokor Wat, the endless jackfruit fields, and other attractions near the city. If your driver takes you to stalls or shops to purchase souvenirs, he will be receiving commission off of whatever you choose to buy. As usual, bargain with your driver. It's okay to set a price beforehand, but sometimes best to agree on the price afterwards.
There are tuk-tuks in Kampong Cham, but as the city is not nearly as heavily visited as others in Cambodia, such as Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, there won't be many of these, but if you arrive by bus there will be plenty waiting at the bus station.
Some of the larger hotels and guesthouses (such as the Mekong Hotel and Mekong Sunrise) have bicycles for hire. They're a good way to get to Wat Nokor and Phnom Pros/Phnom Srey as well as around the city, or for making a day tour to Wat Hanchey. Be sure to always lock your bike to a tree or leave it with someone trustworthy.
Kampong Cham isn't chock full of tourist attractions, but its colonial charm and atmosphere will endear itself to you. There are a few temples to see in the area, and one of the country's mass graves.
- Abandoned US Airstrip (A short distance west of town. To get there take Hwy 7 to Phnom Penh for about 3 km. Just before the factory on the left hand side (looks a bit like a prison) there is a dirt road going to the right between street vendors and two red-white striped poles. Follow this road for about 2.5 km.). Formerly used by B52 bombers. There is not much left to see apart from the pavement of the airstrip and two decaying buildings next to it, a pillbox and the control tower probably. Leaving the airstrip on the left (west) will eventually lead to Mountain Pros and Srey. Going right (east) to the end of the strip and turning right again will lead you back to Kampong Cham.
- Apsara Dancing (Traditional Cambodian dances). There are occasional performances at 17:00, mainly on weekends and holidays, behind (east of) Wat Nokor (Nokor Bachey Temple) by the children and teenagers looked after and educated by BSDA, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) located at the temple site and managed by the monks. Entrance is free, donations are certainly welcome. Performances seem to be mainly on request, and the children and teenagers will be very happy to show off their talents.
- The Bamboo Bridge and Koh Paen (a few blocks south of the bridge spanning the Mekong). A solid bamboo structure built on Koh Paen Island across the Mekong. On the other side are Cham and Khmer villages, entirely mounted on stilts. This is a great place to drive along if you want to check out the people. The bamboo bridge can even withstand trucks, so don't worry about whatever you're taking, just be careful not to fall into the river. The bridge is washed away as the river rises in the wet season, and access to the island is only possible by boat, but it is rebuilt again every dry season.Sometimes the locals might try to charge you a dollar for walking across, which is much more than the local toll.
- French Lookout Tower (on the other side of the river). Once used for monitoring river traffic. It's still standing but in a decaying state. You can climb the stairs inside the tower and have a good view on the bridge, the Mekong and the small village next to the tower. The stairs are difficult and dangerous to climb, and there is a hornet's nest at the top.
- Nokor Wat (follow the road to Phnom Penh for about 1 km and turn left when you see a dusty road going down through a gate (there's also a sign)). An Angkorian temple dating from the 11th century, containing a standard assortment of Angkor architecture. Some of the mausoleums are open to tourists and contain piles of bones and skulls from the Khmer Rouge's genocidal reign. Inside one of the buildings is a very elaborate series of wall paintings, depicting torture and executions (of a religious nature), followed by scenes of heaven and the afterlife. This is not always an accessible building, as a monk has to unlock it for you. He usually does, though your driver may ask you to refrain. The tourist police may ask you for money for their own purposes. If you are stingy, you can enter the temple from the other side for free. Don't miss the beautiful sunset in the old Angkorian ruins. The visit to this site can easily be combined with a trip to Pros and Srei Mountains.
- Phnom Hanchey (25 km north of Kampong Cham). Temple on a hilltop. The view of the beautiful Cambodian landscape on the way there makes it worth it! If you can make it up very early (around 05:00) you'll see a gorgeous sunrise over the Mekong.
- Pros and Srei Mountains (Follow Hwy 7 to Phnom Penh for about 7 km and turn right when you see the hill on the right side, a gate and a road leading to the top. This is Mt Pros. Take the road leaving to the right at about half way to the top of Mt Pros to go to Mt Srey.). West of the city are a pair of "mountains", with temples on top of them. It makes an easy ride on a bicycle, but road traffic can be heavy by Cambodian standards. Mt Pros has a dull peak and is approximately 30 m tall. There are a series of temples at the top, with the centrepiece being a five pagoda temple. There are outlying temples, most of which are ruined and falling apart. Sip sugar cane juice from one of the many stalls on the top while watching the monkeys fooling around and stealing bananas from the vendors tables. The Mt Srey has 308 steps running up it, with a ruined temple at the top. There are no monks at this one, but there are several women and old men who collect donations from visitors. Between the two mountains lies one of the country's many killing fields where the Khmer Rouge dumped countless bodies, though in this case it's nothing more than a cement shed and a pile of bones.
- Wat Maha Leap (about 20 km from Kampong Cham on the other side of the river). One of the few remaining wooden pagodas in Cambodia, it is really quite beautiful. You'll probably need a local guide to find it, or ask your tuk-tuk driver. Nearby is a village known for its weaving. You can see silk being weaved and dyed and, of course, there is always some for sale.
Kampong Cham is a sleepy provincial capital, and as such there isn't a whole lot to actually do, and those seeking plenty of activities to keep themselves occupied will become bored within a day.
- Buddhism and Society Development Association, 5, Nokor Bachey Temple, Ampil Village, Ampil Commune, Kampong Siem District. A registered NGO running several charitable projects for the local community. This includes Mekong Kampuchea's Kids Project (a street children's theatre), Natural Resource Management and livelihood project (food security and livelihood for single women and the poorest of the poor), Education Project (School For Life, vocational training and life skills), Health Project (HIV/AIDS Prevention and Harm Reduction Drug Abuse Project), and as well as a Social Accountability Project (good governance). There are opportunities for volunteering.
Kampong Cham features a few markets, but the best is the one the locals use. It features all sorts of food, ranging from standard mangoes and other fruits, to pig heads and live fish. As with all other food places in the area, use common sense when buying here, as there are health hazards to the unsuspecting Westerner. It's just down the road from the Mekong Crossing restaurant, but stalls only open during daylight hours. Some food and juice stalls stay open until late, around 21:00.
- Cambodia Public Bank (5-7, Ph Angduong, coming from the bridge turn right at the roundabout from where it is about 200 m) exchange money and has an ATM accepting Visa, MasterCard and Maestro. This is the last ATM when heading north until Pakse in Laos.
- Canadia Bank, not to be confused with Canada, this bank is wholly Cambodian-owned. This particular branch doesn't take baht, and exchanges money at a slightly poorer rate (approximately 4,000 riel to the US dollar) than you'll get at your guesthouse or on the street. They will cash traveller cheques and offer free advances on MasterCards. Best to avoid unless you need to replenish your supply of US dollars.
- Acleda Bank (31-33, Ph Khemarak Phomin) also has an ATM but doesn't yet accept international cards. They can change dollars and Thai baht only, but they accept traveller's cheques. Western Union services are also available.
- Money changers are available throughout the city, particularly in and around the markets - look out for packets of money on display. They will give you a slightly better rate than the banks but you have to ask around for the best deal. Some of them do also change other currencies than dollars such as Thai baht and Vietnamese dong. Occasionally, other western currencies are changed as well but expect a poor rate. It is not possible to change Lao kip.
- Internet cafes, there are a couple of Internet cafes around town, especially on Ang Duong St between the market and the bridge over the Mekong. The going rate is 2,500 riel per hour.
The Western-style restaurants cluster at the river front. Budget travellers can get a variety of local foods in the food market just south of Psar Thom. At the north end of Psar Thom are a couple of local restaurants. Beware of hygienic conditions though. Self-caterers find fresh fruit and vegetables at the market, other ingredients can often be found in the surrounding shops. Flour is hard to get.
- Destiny Coffee House, Shop 12 Vithei Pastuer (Near the river front, opposite Sophary Internet on the road between the food market and the riverbank), ☏ . 07:00-16:30. Run by a community-based NGO that enables rural youth to access employment and high quality vocational training. The cafe serves fresh and vibrant quality food that is a relief to the travelling foreigner! The coffee house also has a reputation for its delicious home made cakes and cookies (~US$1.50), as well as its real espresso. The décor is clean and crisp, and the complimentary Wi-Fi makes it a great place to relax. Some travellers report that it is frequently closed. US$2-4.
- Hao An (on Monivong Blvd), ☏ . Large restaurant, very tourist friendly, and serves plenty of genuine Khmer food, as well as other Asian cuisine. Excellent place to lounge about and drink beer and good for shared dishes. US$2-3.
- Lazy Mekong Daze, Ph Sihanouk (River side). Very similar to Mekong Crossing. The style of the place and its menu targetsmainly foreign customers. French owner, Frank. Try the Mekong fish with lemon sauce. Has a free pool table and good music. In the tourist season they run a sunset cruise and also have a couple of bicycles and motorbikes for rent.
- Mekong Crossing (corner Sihanouk and Pasteur St), ☏ . A popular restaurant run by an American expat, this small place serves up a variety of Western foods, including burgers, pasta and pizza. The Khmer food is heavily Westernised. Free Wi-Fi.
- San Te Hap Restaurant (SE side of the market in front of pharmacy). Cheap, tasty tofu and seafood dishes for around. Try the seaweed curry. 2,000 to 4,000 riel.
- Smile Cafe, ☏ . The smartest eatery in town. Run by a local NGO, Buddhism and Society Development Association, (BSDA) as a training restaurant for orphans and vulnerable youth, it serves tasty Khmer and Western dishes and the décor is a cut above everywhere else. The food is good quality, but many of the Khmer dishes are quite similar. Try the delicious fruit shakes. There is a relaxed atmosphere in the restaurant, with a few sofas having a view of the Mekong. If you’re around with your laptop, it's one of the few eateries in town offering free Wi-Fi. Prices are reasonable, and you're helping a good cause. US$2.50-5.
- Spien Thmei Restaurant (New Bridge Restaurant), Ph Preah Bat Sihanouk (fown the road from the Mekong Hotel). Standard Khmer and Asian restaurant. It's quite large, with oversized doors that never close as long as it's open, though without a doubt you'll remember this place for its wacky menu. The food is of great quality, but rarely matches what's on the menu. Still, since it's good food regardless of what arrives at your table and you aren't charged more (or perhaps because the staff don't speak much English), be a good patron and don't complain.
All the Western restaurants on the river front also serve beer and often cocktails, have happy hours, and often offer discounts.
- Riverside beers, in the late afternoon and early evening, food and drink stalls set up shop here opposite the Mekong Hotel right on the river front. Trees line the side of the road, making it a great place to pitch up a hammock, crack open a bottle of Angkor beer, and strike up a conversation with any of the motodop drivers who will congregate here (of course they'll be asking you what your plans are and where you're going the next day). Beers are 2,000 riel a pop, and any of the stands will stay open as late as you want to sell drinks to you.
- Fresh sugar cane juice is sold on every corner in the city centre area. Some of the sugar cane presses are engine-driven, others require manually turning the wheel. It's fun to watch and makes a refreshing drink. Try out a few vendors since the taste is always a bit different (about 1,000 riel a glass).
There are hotels and guesthouses offering decent accommodation options. Although a large number of guesthouses can be found around town, the decent places are concentrated at or close to the riverside. For US$5 you can get a fan room of a comfortable size with TV and private bathroom with water. There are many more guesthouses than mentioned here, especially near the market. They are sometimes, but by no means always, cheaper than a fan room in a hotel but offer tiny and dull rooms in some cases more often rented out by the hour than by night. They are rather a last resort if everything else is fully booked or if you are really on the cheap of the cheap.
- Bophear Guesthouse, Rue Pasteur. Cheap, but not the cleanest room in town. US$3 without bath, US$5 with bath.
- Kim Srun Guesthouse, Ph Sihanouk (River side), ☏ . Rooms come with fan, cold shower and TV. While the windowless single rooms are merely OK, the double rooms are much better value. Compared to other guesthouses the rooms are large (about the size you can expect in the hotels around) and there is a nice balcony with good views of the river. From US$4.
- Leupviraksa Hotel (coming from the bridge over the Mekong, turn left at the roundabout from where it is about 150 m)). The standard is almost identical to the Mittapheap Hotel. It is mainly the view from the upper floor rooms that is better. The drawback is its location a bit outside of the centre. The rooms are OK and come with a fan, cold shower and TV and optional air-con and hot shower. US$5-10.
- Mariya Hotel and Restaurant, Riverside, 11th Village, ☏ . Hotel facing the Mekong with cosy rooms and a decent, if slightly pricey restaurant. Staff are friendly and willing to help with travel plans, but may push their own services first. Lobby has comfortable chairs, book exchange and free Wi-Fi. US$25.
- Mekong Hotel, #56 Samdach Pann Rd (from the roundabout at the bridge, head north until you get to the food market, turn right until you get to the riverbank, turn left, and it's the big yellow building), ☏ . Good quality and good value for money. Rooms have fans, TV and a private bath with hot water and optional air-con. Sometimes tour groups fill all the rooms, but in general you don't need a reservation. Most rooms are doubles. Make sure you ask for a view of the Mekong, as the only view from the windows on the other side of the building is of piles of garbage. Price for a refurbished, air-conditioned room with a view of the Mekong is US$15. US$8-18.
- Mekong Sunrise (at the river front 50 m south of Rue Pasteur, or 200 m north of the bridge), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Places to relax on sofas and hammocks on the balcony. And a good view on the Mekong. Owned by a friendly Frenchman who will give you good advice. Rooms are clean and spacious, with free Wi-Fi. Double room with a huge private balcony on the top. No air-con or cable TV, but does have a PlayStation. Bikes and motorbikes for rent. The restaurant is the only place you can drink a draught beer on the riverside. A good variety of food: the traditional Khmer foods, sandwiches, salads, crepes, omelette and a few Western foods. The kitchen opens on the dining room so you can also take a cooking class, and see the kitchen is clean. Free Wi-Fi and free pool table for guests. With shared bath (hot water) US$5, double room with private bath US$7.
- Mittapheap Hotel, Ph Kosmak Neary Roth (between the roundabout and the river side). The outside of the hotel looks better than it is in the inside. Still it is one of the better options in town. The rooms are of a comfortable size and come with a fan, cold shower and TV and optional air-con and hot shower. US$5-10.
- Monorom Hotel (pink building behind the Mekong hotel). This place seems to be very popular, but probably not for the quality of the rooms but rather the massage services provided. The staff hardly speak any English. It might be a place to consider if the other options are full. US$5-10.
- Monorom VIP Hotel, Mort Tunle St 11th, ☏ . High quality, spotlessly clean, spacious and inviting rooms. The best rooms look like little palaces, with beautiful Khmer-style furniture. Stunning views of the river, even better than the views of Mekong Hotel. US$25.
- Rana Country Home Stay, Srey Siam Village (7 km over the bridge in Kampong Cham, on the main highway to Kratie), ☏ . 07:00-12:00. Traditional Khmer house. Home cooked meals with home grown food in a country setting. A couple of pleasant walks can be taken from there. Phone or email in advance to check occupancy due to small number of rooms. US$22.
- Serey Pheap Guesthouse, 110, Hwy 7, ☏ . Very large and good quality rooms. A quiet, family-run establishment with helpful staff. US$3-4.
- Spean Thmey Guesthouse, Ph Sihanouk (river side). The rooms are basic, but OK. US$3-5.
Since many travelers who pass through here are on their way north to Kratie and other areas, the best thing to do is to simply hop on a bus to wherever it is you are going. If you have your own transportation, just get out and drive. Hwy 7 is in good condition all the way up to the border with Laos.
- Bicycle and motorbike, Kratie is about a 100-km ride from Kompong Cham along the Mekong. It is mostly a dirt road in good condition so it is possible even by bicycle to reach Kratie in one day. Otherwise stop in Chlong for the night. Take Rte 223 north out of Kampong Cham up to Stung Trang (Preaek Barang), then take the ferry over the Mekong (1,500 riel) and continue along Rte 338. It should also be possible to first cross the bridge in Kompong Cham and take Rte 338 from there but this stretch of road is in a very bad condition (although the first few kilometers are smooth) and not recommended.
Border crossing to Vietnam
The border from Trapeang Phlong in Cambodia to Xa Mat in Vietnam is open to international tourists. On the Cambodian side you have to organise your own transport either all the way from Kampong Cham or take first a Kratie bound bus to Krek and then a motorbike for the remaining 14 km to the border. On the Vietnamese side there are regular public buses running to Tay Ninh a few hundred metres from the border. Visas are not available at the border and the formalities may take a while. People in Kampong Cham may tell you that this is not an international border.