A three-hour drive from Phnom Penh down National Road 3 is Kampot, a sleepy province well-known for its beautiful countryside, salt fields, water sports, seafood, colonial buildings and Bokor mountain.
The province has retained a relatively large expat community of mostly older foreigners, many of whom run art galleries, cafes, restaurants and guest houses in Kampot town.
This means that unlike places like Siem Reap town, Kampot town is better known for its calm, local style living that winds down when the sun sets, putting off many younger tourists from visiting who become most active after dark.
For this reason, in 2014 some Kampot locals came up with an idea that would breathe a bit of life into the sleepy town in the evenings while still staying true to the province’s laidback charm.
Located some 30m from Kampot Fish Market are 10 colourful boats docked in a row on the river, waiting to take tourists to see the golden sunset above the mountains, touch the underside of an old bridge, spot the dancing lights of fireflies and have a drink as they relax cruising through the lights of the town.
Among those operating the evening cruises is Lovely Boat, with its two tiered boats starting operation five years ago.
Decorated with plants and colourful lighting, the boat can carry over 100 passengers, many of whom are foreign tourists.
“We have more people on public holidays and weekends, with local and international tourists split 50/50. During dry season, the number of visitors will also rise,” says Lovely Boat’s owner It Sary.
“We charge 10,000 riel [$2.50) for local people and 20,000 riel for foreigners. The price is fixed no matter whether it’s the weekday, weekend or a national holiday.”
As the boat slowly leaves the dock at sunset around 5:30pm, the dry season’s heat has already subsided, a gentle breeze blowing and cooling down passengers, some of whom sitting at tables on the first floor, while others sit on the more laid back upper-deck for the 360 degree views.
As the boat moves slowly along the river, tourists sail past Kampot’s iconic Old French Bridge, some hidden riverside bungalows, floating kiosks, colourful kayaks and pedal boards.
Onboard, a range of food and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are served to compliment the scenery.
In a thrilling moment, the boat moves past a low-clearance metal bridge, with those on the top deck sitting inches from the structure.
After an hour, the engine is turned off, leaving the boat floating on a particularly picturesque and secluded section of the river where fireflies emerge as night falls, filling the sky with their mesmerising light display.
“During the dry season, especially when the weather is really hot between March and April, you cannot see as many fireflies as the other times. But after the hot months, here you will see many fireflies glowing as if they were decoration lights on a Christmas tree,” Sary says.
Encouraging tourists to venture to the quiet, tranquil province, Sary adds: “I would like people who come and visit Kampot to take some time for this short cruise. It’s the most enjoyable way of seeing Kampot at night time.”
Lovely Boat operates two cruises each day, from 5:30pm to 7:30pm and from 7:30pm to 9:30pm. On the later cruise, when the boat returns to the dock, passengers can remain onboard until midnight to enjoy the food, drink and music.
For more information, Lovely Boat can be contacted by telephone (077788088 or 0977974777).