Cambodia is changing. The country is expecting an estimated 2 million visitors this year, the temples at Angkor Wat are overrun by tourists, and foreign investors are leasing tropical islands off the coast. But then there is Kampot, which seems in no danger of being despoiledat least not yet. Located less than three hours from Phnom Penh on Cambodia's southern coast, this charming townit was the country's main seaport until the early 1960slies sleepily on the wide and peaceful Pek Kompong Bay River, against the sweeping backdrop of the Elephant Mountains. The expatriate population numbers just 70 souls, up from 15 two years ago, and besides visiting a few cafés or restaurants, there is nothing whatsoever to do in the evenings. That's just how the resident foreigners like it, of course.
But there is change in the sultry air that hangs over Kampot's tree-lined riverfront promenade. With its French colonial architecture, serene natural beauty, lively Chinese quarter and friendly locals, the town has lately become a weekend getaway for Phnom Penh cognoscenti. On a recent Saturday night, all rooms on the Kampot riverfrontwhere several old buildings have been restored as small guesthouses and restaurantswere full and it was a struggle finding a bed elsewhere in town. This is a significant indicator, as is the slow but steady opening of new riverfront businesses (six in the past 12 months, including a salon offering traditional Khmer massage). Property on the river is still a bargain but has exploded in valueby around 500% in the past couple of years. Finally, that most revealing of harbingers, a sushi bar, is rumored to be setting up in a colonial-era building. When maguro appears on the local menu, can the spas and holiday villas be far behind?
by Kevin Doyle
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