Kampong Cham is a sleepy little city on the Mekong River, located in Northeastern Cambodia. The city is basically the gateway to this lesser travelled area of the country, and many people just use it as more of a transport hub to go through to Kratie or the more remote Ratanakiri Province, however, Kampong Cham is worth spending a couple of days if you have the time. What you will find is a place with few tourists, friendly locals and a relaxing atmosphere.
Things to do in Kampong Cham
As far as tourist attractions go, there isn’t really a lot to see in Kampong Cham, which is perhaps why a lot of people don’t bother stopping here. Instead, it is the sort of place to just wander around and enjoy the atmosphere. It is likely that you will be the only foreigner walking down the street, so you can just watch the local people going about their lives. Enjoy the relaxed vibe, the old crumbling French Colonial buildings and the friendly locals that you’ll meet.
Like most towns in Cambodia, Kampong Cham’s central market is where all of the action happens. Psar Thmei is where you go to buy everything you need, from fresh produce to clothes and household goods, but don’t expect tourist prices and banter here. This is very much a local market, and you’ll generally need to speak a few words of Khmer to buy anything. When we wandered through the market, we were well and truly the only foreigners there and were the center of attention for all of the market stall owners, but never once got hassled. It was wonderful.
Each evening, stalls set up along the Mekong River where most of the guest houses are located. It’s a great place to sit and have a couple of beers with locals and expats as the sun goes down. The paved area between the road and the river also makes for a great spot to take a walk.
Most guesthouses will be able to rent a bicycle to you for the day for a dollar or two. I enjoyed my time cycling around town and along the Mekong River to some of the quieter outer parts of the city. I was greeted by lots of smiles and hello’s from local kids who had just finished school for the day.
From what I could see as I cycled around, there are a couple of islands in the Mekong River near Kampong Cham. Koh Paen is a rural, traffic free island that can apparently be reached by a ferry, however I couldn’t find the place that the ferry leaves from in Kampong Cham. It’s probably best to ask your guesthouse for more information on reaching the island.
Where to stay in Kampong Cham
Tourism is quite limited in Kampong Cham, but there are a few guesthouses and hotels, most of which are located in a small area along the Mekong Riverfront. It’s not far from the market and bus station.
The Mekong Hotel is the first place that we came to, and from the look of it, we thought that it would be out of our price range. We were wrong. We got a nice clean double room with fan and private bathroom for $8 per night. We had a balcony with a city view. For a few extra dollars you can get a room with a Mekong River view, and air con rooms are available for around $15 per night. I’d probably pay the few extra dollars next time for the view alone.
Where to eat in Kampong Cham
Like the guesthouses, most of the restaurants are located along the riverfront, some of which are also guesthouses, but there are plenty of cheap eats to choose from.
This is a great little place located on a street corner on the riverfront. Food and drinks are cheap and pretty good, plus it was popular with other backpackers.
Smiles is run by the Buddhism and Society Development Association and employs and trains orphans and underprivileged teenagers in the hospitality industry. This nonprofit restaurant is fantastic, the food is great and you are certainly greeted with huge smiles. Try the local Chicken Char K’day.
This little coffee shop is just around the corner from the riverfront and serves great coffee and eats. We had breakfast here a couple of times, and I spent a fair amount of time here with a nice cup of coffee while I got some work done.
There is plenty of street food and cheap eats at Kampong Cham’s central market. You’ll find all kinds of grilled meats on sticks, and there is a kind of food court area located on one side closer to the bus station.
Getting to and around Kampong Cham
We caught the bus all the way from Battambang for $10, and the bus ride took around 7 hours. If you are travelling from Phnom Penh, the bus ride is only about 3 or 4 hours and costs $5.50.
Walking or cycling is the best way to see Kampong Cham as the main part of the city isn’t all that big. The Mekong Hotel rents bicycles for $1.50 per day. Tuk tuks are also widely available for longer distances or if you don’t want to carry your luggage to/from the bus stop. Most tuk tuk rides will only cost a couple of dollars. Always agree on a price before you accept the ride.