The significance of Kampot province in the 1960’s

For a variety of reasons covered elsewhere, the government of Norodom Sihanouk, after 1959, became increasingly antagonistic to the US government and its ally in South Vietnam. This first became formalised in 1963 with Sihanouk refusing to accept financial aid from the superpower, and then in 1965 severed diplomatic ties altogether.

As a result the US could only guess at any involvement of the Cambodian government in supporting its communist enemy through the 1960’s. What was going on has since been characterised by the name the 'Sihanouk Trail’, which, like the Ho Chi Minh Trail, ran military and other supplies to the Viet Cong over the border into South Vietnam. 

Officlal US thinking can in part be tracked by now-released classified documents from the CIA. They are the main source of information used here to put together a year by year tracking in this theme. It shows what one part of the American intelligence community (the other was the military) thought was going on. 

One of the 5 US helicopters shot  down by the VC at Ap Bac (courtesy of

Relevant external events in Vietnam War (beyond Cambodia)

January - Battle of Ap Bac, where Vietcong shoot down US helicopters and kill 88 ARVN soldiers.

November - The assassination of President Ngo Diem occurs in Saigon after large protests of monks and students. US gives the okay and frightens Sihanouk. 20 days later JFK is assassinated in the US and Johnson (LBJ) becomes President.

Relevant events in Cambodia (beyond Kampot)

December - Sihanouk announces a refusal to accept US aid as one of several significant economic reforms. This involved nationalizing trade so that imports and exports should now happen only through a government body. The system could not handle the trade and so much of the rice wasn’t traded through the official channels, but sold illegally. This rippled through the economy.


Section of the Phnom Penh - Kampot railway completed this year



Relevant external events in Vietnam War (beyond Cambodia):

Relevant events in Cambodia (beyond Kampot):

April - Near Battambang, the Samlaut Rebellion leads to a further crackdown by Sihanouk and Lon Nol after a spontaneous uprising by villagers against soldiers. Left wing public figures, including left wing politicians like Hu Nim and Khieu Samphan, flee Phnom Penh for the jungle.

June - Sihanouk publicly recognises the NLF (front for the VC)

US President Lyndon Johson in 1964

Relevant external events in Vietnam War (beyond Cambodia):

August - Gulf on Tonkin Incident is used by US Presient Johnson to officially join hostilities against North Vietnam

October - South Vietnam declares they will now inspect all vessels from communist countries that use the Mekong, including those bound for Phnom Penh.

Relevant events in Cambodia (beyond Kampot):

Alleged that China and Sihanouk agree on arms being delivered to the Vietcong through Sihanoukville port. 

Events in Kampot

Border country


Given the end of freedom of navigation on the Mekong, this port now increases in importance. (2)

Kampot and coastal islands

Cement plant due to be completed this year, after starting in 1960 (1)

Nixon (left) won the election late 1968 and took over from LB Johnson (right). This would have dramatic consequences for the Vietnam War and Cambodia in particular

Relevant external events in Vietnam War (beyond Cambodia):

January - Tet Offensive all over South Vietnam. 200,000 NVA troops killed (US estimate)

November - Nixon is elected in US Presidential election

Mekong is closed for 50 days on early 1968, as well as in October 1967 for 20 days

Relevant events in Cambodia (beyond Kampot):

The relationship between the Cambodian government and the VC/NVA is reported to be under stress due to the latters support for the “Khmer Reds”.


Cambodian students storm the US embassy in April 26, 1965 (courtesy of

Relevant external events in Vietnam War (beyond Cambodia)

March - Operation Market Time begun which is designed to patrol and intercept any vessels off the coast of Vietnam (and later Cambodia). CIA documents state that Cambodia has “forfeited its claim of neutrality“ as it “ ... provides the VC with a decided military advantage and has a detrimental effect on the war effort in South Vietnam.” (coastal concerns document)

US bombing of sites in Cambodia began this year and continued until 1973

Relevant external events in Vietnam War (beyond Cambodia):

March - Operation Menu (covert US bombing campaign in eastern Cambodia). US soldiers peak at 549,000 men, Australia 7,600.

September – Ho Chi Minh dies

Relevant events in Cambodia (beyond Kampot):

There is a rice shortage across the country.

October - Sihanouk asked the ICC (International Control Commission) to stop its work in Sihanoukville now. (7)

December – bombing starts inside Cambodia


This map shows the waterways that were patrolled by Operation

Game Warden (courtesy of

Relevant external events in Vietnam War (beyond Cambodia)

US troops up to 184,000, ARVN, over 500,000.

Cambodian deserter reveals Sihanouk Trail workings

This report from the USMACV* Document Exploitation Center from December 1966 is based mostly on knowledge gained from a Cambodian Army deserter who turned himself over to the US – South Vietnamese authorities in December 1965.


The first page of the previously classified document


The source had good motivation to desert – he had embezzled $200,000 from his employer, the Cambodian state, six months before, as well as murdering someone for no apparent reason just a few weeks before he ‘came over’. His name was Than Ngoc Lac, alias Tep Ly, a 25 year old Khmer-Vietnamese naturalized Cambodian.

The information he divulged shed light on relations between Sihanouk and friendly nations (“Red China” and the Soviet Union) at the time (1965) as well as more fine grained details of how the Vietcong worked in Kampot province at the time.