La Plantation pepper farm in Kampot, Cambodia.
I was invited by the Tourism Authority of Thailand to explore the Southern Tourism Corridor from a gastronomy perspective, visiting —and tasting— Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The Southern Tourism Corridor is a tourism cooperation established in 2007. Southeast Asia is one of the most popular holiday destinations for South Africans, with its vibrant culture, iconic street food, world-renowned beaches and value for money attracting visitors from all over the world. But these destinations offer so much more outside of the popular, well-known locations where authentic food experiences can be discovered.
“Kampot is known all over the world for its pepper. Do not leave without trying their pepper ice cream: what a flavor explosion!”
Kampot, in Cambodia, used to be an important port city during the 19th century under French rule. It is a small city filled with French colonial architecture, but where you will even find a roundabout in honor of the durian fruit. This town has some sort of sleepy charm, mostly enjoyed by local tourists - visiting it is just so worth it.
Kampot is also known all over the world for its pepper. Pay a visit to La Plantation, one of Kampot's most famous pepper farms, at 'only' 140 kilometers from Phnom Penh. In this must-do, pepper tastings are provided, followed by a tour of the plantations that grow the pepper and produce the different variants of green, black, red and white, and even those fiery long peppers from Indonesia.
In addition to the shop and its array of pepper products for sale, there are two restaurants on the farm, one serving traditional Khmer (Cambodian, in the local language) dishes and the other serving food with a French flavor, but both using the locally-grown pepper in their dishes. Do make a point of trying one of the pepper ice creams, a flavor explosion!
Sunset in Kampot is best experienced on a river cruise. There are many boats available that will take you on a slow cruise on the Praek Tuek Chhu River. Enjoy the beautiful and lush scenery as the sun sets, and if you are lucky, a visit from local fireflies.
The Kampot Market is anything but sleepy. The vibrant sights and sounds are intoxicating and it is easy to spend hours there. Pass the clothing shops as you enter and walk towards the jewelry stalls in the back, where many artisans craft their own pieces. To the left of the jewelry section is the fresh food section, filled with traders selling the best products on seafood and meat. Food does not get any fresher, and for a Westerner the scenes might sometimes be uneasy, but this is real farm brought directly to your table. Here, going to the market every day to do your groceries is a way of life and not a trend.
Kampot might be famous for its pepper, but it is just as famous for its salt. Most salt fields are located outside of town, where the seawater is brought from the sea, which is about five kilometers away. The water is left to evaporate until the salt crystals form, and seeing that crystal shine at sunrise is well worth getting up early for.
One of the last nights of our trip, we were hosted for dinner by the Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia. Khmer chicken soup was one of the dishes of the evening, and it immediately made we want to stay much longer than what our schedule allowed. It had so much flavor, and it was as rich and comforting as a bowl of good chicken soup can be. I asked if the chef would be willing to share his recipe, and at the end of the dinner, he came out to share it with me — you will find it in my next story, here at Enliven.
Having the chance to experience something for the first time is one of the most wonderful things in life, and even though Cambodia is a well-known destination, it offers so much more to see —and taste— when veering off the usual routes.