KEP & AROUND
Set along the Gulf of Thailand and founded during the early 1900s, Kep is a small seaside town located along the Southwest coast of Cambodia. Soak in the sun on Kep Beach or take a short 20 minute boat ride to laze on the lovely white sand beach on Rabbit Island (Koh Tonsay). Explore the town’s old French colonial villas and the mansion on the hill, which once belonged to the former King Sihanouk. Visit the bustling crab market and sample some of Kep’s famous crabs.
Capture the breathtaking views by walking or cycling along the trail at Kep National Park. Explore the caves in and around Kep. The largest and most impressive one, Kompong Trach, has lovely limestone formations as well as a swimming cave just nearby. Visit a Kampot pepper plantation to see how this world famous pepper is grown and harvested or head to the lovely colonial riverside town, Kampot. Rent a boat to fish and catch crabs. Immerse in the countryside. Kep—a paradise for nature lovers.
Eating at the crab market – a row of wooden waterfront restaurants by a wet fish market – is a quintessential Kep experience. Fresh crabs fried with Kampot pepper are a taste sensation. Crabs are kept alive in pens tethered just off the pebbly beach.
KEP NATIONAL PARK
The interior of Kep peninsula is occupied by Kep National Park, where an 8km circuit, navigable by foot and mountain bike, winds through thick forest passing by wats and viewpoints. Quirky yellow signs point the way and show trailheads to off-shooting walking paths that lead into the park's interior. The 'Stairway to Heaven' trail is particularly worthwhile, leading up the hill to a pagoda, a nunnery and the Sunset Rock viewpoint.
Once a rather dreary stretch of grey sand, Kep Beach has been transformed into a squeaky, shiny white beach thanks to an ambitious importation of sand from nearby Kampot, which has the sand but no beach. Despite having to be regularly topped-up, Kep Beach is now a pleasant spot for sun worshipers.
This small and beautifully kept flower-filled garden is home to myriad butterflies. You can cycle or motorbike here, or hike here from the Kep National Park trail by taking the off-shooting 'Connection Path' track.
Salt is another of Kampot’s & Kep's important products. Vast salt pans (salt fields) stretch across much of the coastline south and southeast of Kampot & Kep. Ocean water is pumped into the pans from canals, then allowed to evaporate, leaving a thick layer of salt coating the ground. Workers rake the salt carefully into piles, collecting and moving it to storage.
Pepper grown in Kampot has enjoyed a reputation as the world’s best for decades. Chic Parisian restaurants in the 1930s wouldn’t serve anything else. It derives its flavour from a combination of the rich, mineral soils around Kampot mixed with the sea air, and the bat guano that is deposited in caves around the hills.
Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island)
Better known as Rabbit Island, Koh Tonsay is a lovely little island about 25 minutes away from Kep by hired boat, making it one of the most easily accessible of all the islands. It is also one of the least-developed, with no motor vehicles, no mains electricity and few residents, making it an ideal getaway from the grind. Definitely not flashpacking, Koh Tonsay will float your boat if you appreciate a good sunset.
It's not hard to see why travelers become entranced with Kampot. This riverside town, with streets rimmed by dilapidated shophouse architecture, has a dreamy quality; as if someone pressed the snooze button a few years back and the entire town forgot to wake up. The Kompong Bay River – more accurately an estuary – rises and falls with the moons, serving as both attractive backdrop and water-sports playground for those staying in the boutique resorts and backpacker retreats that line its banks upstream from the town proper.
BOKOR NATIONAL PARK
Bokor National Park is an unmissable trip out from Kampot. Explore the romantic, highly atmospheric old casino — a legacy from Cambodia’s colonial days — as well as impressive waterfalls (during rainy season), plus a stunning, winding journey that takes you more than a kilometre above sea level.
KAMPONG TRACH SARUS CRANE RESERVE
Anlong Pring Bird Sanctuary near Kampong Trach was designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and Cambodia’s second sarus crane reserve in 2011. The reserve covers 217 hectares of grassland, mangrove and salt marsh, in an area close to Kep and Kampot which is home to around 300 sarus cranes.
The Secret Lake isn’t named for its hidden location, but rather what hides beneath it. It is rather beautiful, set as it is within the countryside, but it is another Khmer Rouge horror site. Back in the days of the Khmer Rouge, the lake was built using forced labour by prisoners and captured villagers to create a dam. Thousands of the people were killed after they helped build the dam and buried in a mass grave at the bottom.
PHNOM TA-AUN & PHNOM SIA CAVES
The caves of Phnom Ta aun are part of a limestone formation. Narrow cave, chimney, passages with rock formations. A bit more interesting are the caves at Phnom Sia. One cave contains a supposedly elephant shaped rock formation that is treated as a shrine. Bring a flashlight.Limestone mountains (phnom) dot the landscape between Kampot and Kep.
DISTANCE TO KEP
Phnom Penh Airport: 150km (2.5h)
Sihanoukville Airport: 100km (2.5h)
Ha Tien Vietnam Border: 35km (45min)
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