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A signature dish Mango salad with prawnsAussies call these old trains rattlers because they rattle, roll, bump, and screech. For some, this experience is tantalising, but not so for passengers on a mission.

We were on a train service from Phnom Penh to Kampot, a three-hour journey on a Motor Rail. It consisted of just one car nicknamed “Mexico.” Seats were allocated but first prevailed. This 7 a.m. departure started a two-night excursion to the RiverTree Villa & Resort sanctuary, a 15-minute drive from Kampot city centre.

Marketing Manager Sreyroth Sokun at the Seahorse fountain.

Marketing Manager Sreyroth Sokun at the Seahorse Fountain.

Jim, an Arizona expat, had been golfing in Phnom Penh and was heading home further up the line. “Yeah, it’s a great way for me to travel. They call it the Mexico Express because it was made in Mexico,” he scoffs.

The train was two hours late, a problem with the moveable stairs to access the train was locked under the bogey, and the driver had to go back and forth several times to dislodge them. Then there was the problem at two stations when the train’s gearbox was locked in reverse, ensuring the six employees were off and on the train like yo-yo trying to fix the problem.

The Mexico Express was never meant to be luxurious, but the expats, the locals, and the staff on board made it an exciting experience. However, you must have time to spare. Buses, taxis, and hire cars also take this route with little excitement.

Ly was happy to meet me and get out of the sweltering 39 degrees into the air con of the property vehicle. The resort is semi-hidden on two hectares and has 12 villas and 19 rooms. Each villa is a masterpiece of elegant design, with spacious rooms adorned with Cambodian art, luxurious amenities, and private balconies offering views of the river partly obscured by the trees (River Tree Villas) or the oval-shaped pool. The gardens feature orange jasmine, frangipani, bird paradise flowers, mangoes, coconut, and many Thnong (like Rosewood) trees. Guests are treated to unparalleled hospitality, with personalized services that cater to their every need. Indulge in a unique spa treatment, and enjoy gourmet dining with fresh local ingredients. Guests whose mission is to relax and enjoy quiet time can relish the serenity, luxury surroundings, friendly service, and safety. The River Tree Villas & Resort ticks all those boxes.

The local Cambodians and French top the visitation list, followed by New Zealanders and German guests, with Australians well behind.

River activities are a part of daily life at the property, with the accent on Kayaking and the daily sunset cocktail hour river cruises to take in the exciting locals who live on the banks of the river and watch the children swimming and playing in the water. There are specials at happy hour, discounts at the Spa and some of the menus and cooking classes are also discounted.

Sunset cruising

Sunset cruising

The resort also caters for those who crave nightlife. Like most of the bigger cities in Cambodia, Kampot has a Pub Street full of restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and an opportunity to study the passing parade. A free shuttle will take you there and pick you up. You can do the same in the daytime.

Kampot has a population of around 600,000, including many retirees, but it is not crowded. It is a pristine colonial town surrounded by mountains and rivers. It was a French colonial town from 1863 to 1953. The Seahorse Centre, a new water-spouting monument on the banks of the Kampong Bay River, has proved very popular.  Many locals objected when it was launched, claiming it was copied from a similar Singapore fountain. The majestic old building on the river, which was previously the fish market, is now operated by Starbucks. Kampot is well known for its Pepper and Durian and its seafood, including Samlor Proher (fish with lemongrass soup), chicken curry soup, and Cambodian rice noodles.

Cambodians claim Palm trees are their national identity, highlighting the extent of Khmer territory from ancient times until today. The trees are a great source of Cambodian farmers’ business and provide countless benefits from the roots upwards.

The resort is committed to sustainability and natural cresort’stion; a zero waste policy has been implemented since the beginning of the resort’s operation in 2022. The resort supports local initiatives and organizations that preserve the environment and promote sustainable practices. They use organic bathroom amenities and purchase eco-friendly products sourced from local produce to support the locals. Kampot is characterized by a humid climate with a high annual rainfall, which contributes to the formation of rich alluvial soils along the riverbank and provides an ideal environment to grow plants and support living species.

For specials, check out the website:  www.rivertreevilla.com.kh.




Written by: John Savage