Kampong Cham used to be known by travellers only as a stop between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap or Mondulkiri and Kratie. However, it’s quickly putting itself on the map as a culturally rich city with natural beauty and charm. Located only 2 hours from Phnom Penh and nestled on the Mekong River. Furthermore, Kampong Cham with its relaxed countryside atmosphere is becoming recognized as an ideal place for a mini-break away from the city.
Wat Nokor Bachey is one of the most well-known attractions and is a culture lover’s dream. This 11th Century Angkorian Temple is open for exploration.
Kampong Cham is graced with colonial architecture and boulevards stretching along the riverside. Here the slower pace enables visitors to take in authentic Cambodian culture. The residents are genuinely friendly and enjoy meeting visitors and it’s the perfect place to sample local delicacies. Also, there are a surprising number of western options available in town.
Keep your eye out for restaurants that are associated with reputable NGO’s. Such organisations train underprivileged Khmer so your dining experience contributes to a good cause.
The land here is fertile, it consists of lowlands and lush jungle with a number of rubber farms and cashew nut plantations.
Kampong Cham enjoys warm to hot weather all year round, although, December and January are slightly cooler.
Rainy season: May – October (27-35c)
Cool season: November – March (17-27c)
Hot season: March-May (28c -36c)
Kampong Cham translates to “Port of the Cham’s”. Cham relates to the ethnicity of the locals who populate the area. The Cham people originate from Southeast Asia and practice Islam. The province is rich in history, both ancient and modern. In 1177, during the Khmer Empire, the Cham battled with King Jayavarman VII for control of its territory. The temples Bayon and Banteay Chhmar in the Angkor Archaeological park have depictions of these mighty battles carved into their walls.
Kampong Cham is also the setting of a famous local legend. The story tells of a Cambodian boy who was swallowed by a fish while being washed in the river. The fish swam all the way to China and was caught by local fishermen who discovered the living boy inside. The Emperor then took the boy whom he raised as a son, thus making him a prince. When the prince grew up he returned to Cambodia along with ships full of Chinese people who then inhabited the land now known as Kampong Cham.
Wat Maha Leap
Wat Maha Leap is a beautiful wooden pagoda around 20km from Kampong Cham. The pagoda is famous for the stunning blue artwork on its ceiling, and stunning painted pillars. A favourite of the locals is the sweet nectar from the nearby palm trees. Nearby is Prey Chung Kran, a weaving village, and is worth a visit if time permits.
Phnom Bros and Phnom Srey
In Khmer “Bros” means male and “Srey” means female. These male and female mountains are famous mountains located at Kro La Commune. Phnom Bros is also known as Wat Sovan Kiri Rotanak. Its female partner is 1000 metres to the North. Both mountains have recently constructed temples at their peaks.
The legend of Phnom Bros and Phnom Srey goes like this. Two teams, one consisting of men and the other of women, were competing to see who could build the highest mountain before the sun rose.
The challenged started because men were required to go to the woman’s parents to ask for permission to marry and the men wanted to contest this. To trick the men, the women lit a fire to make them believe the sun was coming up. They promptly stopped building and hence the women won the competition. Because of this men still need to ask for permission. Phnom Srey is the tallest of the two mountains.
Phnom Hanchey is a hilltop temple with glorious views over Kampong Cham. To watch the sunrise from this temple is a wondrous sight. It is highly recommended that you arrive before dawn when making plans to visit in order to take in the spectacular sunrise.
Nokor Wat is an Angkorian era temple built in the 11th century. It also plays host to traditional apsara dances performed by youth from a local NGO.
Old French Lighthouse
Located near Phnom Hanchey is a French lighthouse that once was used to monitor the busy traffic on the river. The climb is suitable for higher fitness levels but the reward is sweeping views over the local villages, and bridge over the Mekong river.
Ko Paen Island
Ko Paen is a lovely rural island on the Mekong River which can be reached by an equally popular bamboo bridge which was built by hand. In the wet season, a boat is needed to reach the island. Ko Paen is rich in farmland and has its very own “beach” made up of sandbars that appear during the dry season.