Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrKep is a seaside town on the southern Cambodian coast and the capital of its homonymous province. The town’s setting is quite idyllic, with verdant hills behind the town’s northern end and sparkling waters off the southern. Home to a short stretch of nice beach, a famous crab market and quite a few hiking options, Kep is ideal for those who want to beach-bum for a few days when visiting Cambodia. That’s to say, there really isn’t very much to do here except sunbake, stroll on the beach and eat copious amounts of grilled seafood. Despite this, Kep is still quite the popular hub due to its proximity to the capital city, Phnom Penh. Within merely two hours, you can go from the hectic bustle of the city to the super quiet vibe of the beach, making Kep the ideal spot for a little R&R.
Like most southeast Asian beaches, Kep does boast an unsightly amount of beach rubbish, although the kilometre long sandy beach is kept quite clean during high-season.
Boat trips to Rabbit Island (Koh Tonsay) are very popular and make for great day out and the adjoining national park offers easy and quite rewarding jungle walks, where you’ll likely come across some pesky monkeys.
Brief HistoryDeveloped in the early 1900s as a luxury getaway for the country’s elite (both local and French) Kep was a thriving hub for many decades, and home to some truly amazing, colonial-style mansions. Once the Khmer Rouge took over the region, however, the town was all but abandoned. Nowadays, Kep still boasts impressive looking mansions, even though now they are nothing more than crumbling shells of their former selves. Many believe the looting and destruction was caused by Khmer Rouge troops, yet in reality it was desperate locals who stripped homes bare and sold materials to neighbouring Vietnamese in exchange for food.
Being the closest to Phnom Penh, Kep was always considered the favourite of the three main beachside hubs (the other two being Sihanoukville and Kampot), yet due to its diminutive size it receded to second place once Snooky (as Sihanoukville is commonly known) was set for extensive development.
Once stability returned to this area of Cambodia, Kep’s seaside was once again restored, yet due to the rocky coastline, only a short section of the beach can ever be developed here. The imposing national park also makes the city wide spread, which is perhaps one of the reasons why it is not as visited as it could be, if only it were a single, compact, town.
HighlightsOne certainly would not fly half way around the world to visit a Cambodian beach, especially when one is just a step away from superb beach destinations like Koh Lanta and Koh Samui in Thailand. Nevertheless, Kep is still cheaper and more convenient to reach if you’re already IN Cambodia, and have spent days on a temple-athon in Siem Reap so at least, in this regard, it is quite ideal.
Kep may not be the most exciting seaside spot on earth, but there is still plenty here to keep you busy (or lazy) for quite a few days.
Kep BeachThe kilometre long stretch of sandy beach (made with sand transported from Sihanoukville) is the epicentre of all the action and a great place to indulge in some sunbaking, seafood feasting and relaxing. The seaside strip of road is lined with guesthouses, cafes and restaurants and you’ll also find a few covered hammock huts, where you can chill out away from the harsh tropical sunshine.
Crab MarketThis is Kep’s biggest claim to fame and a fun place to visit for lunch or dinner. The market is about 2kms west along the coast from the beach, and here you’ll find a strip of beach-hut restaurants and a fantastic (albeit a tad dirty) seafood market. The idea here is to bargain hard with fishermen for your fresh crabs , squid and stingrays, and pay a dollar or two to have the catch cooked for you by one of the many stall-owners who are adjacent to the restaurant strip. Cheap, delicious and fun, this is one of the best meals you’ll probably have in Cambodia. The restaurants, on the other hand, serve up some quite mediocre and overpriced fare, although their over-water location makes them the best sunset admiring spot in all of Kep. Make the most of the two and enjoy a sundowner in a restaurant before enjoying a (much better) dinner at a market stall. Don’t forget to try your seafood cooked in world-famous Kampot pepper , a locally grown spice which has been hailed as one of the best spices the world over.
Kep National ParkBehind Kep Beach and the main seaside street is the Kep National Park, a small but lusciously green hill which boasts commanding views of the coast and quite a few walking trails. Here, you can walk for an hour or an entire day, as the trails circumnavigate the whole hill and cuts across the middle of it. Bring lots of water and insect repellent and enjoy a walk through peaceful, natural surroundings. Pick up a map from the cafe about 200m into the walk and make sure you don’t miss Sunset Rock, the most stunning viewpoint of all. Feeling lazy? Rent a scooter and ride into the park instead! The trail is wide enough to accommodate cars and scooters, although the former must pay a USD1 admission fee.
Koh TonsayKep beach faces quite a few islands, yet the only one which you can visit is Koh Tonsay, also known as Rabbit Island. The others belong to either Vietnam or Thailand and there is currently no transport option to visit them from Kep, even if you have a valid visa for either country.
Rabbit Island is a tiny gem of just two square kilometres, home to half a dozen beach-hut guesthouses, a few lovely beaches and a mangrove forest to boot. Devoid of main electricity lines and almost everything else, Rabbit Island is one of the quietest and loveliest spots in the whole country, so consider staying over for the night before returning to Kep. Swimming in the dead of night, among the bioluminescent algae off the shores of Rabbit Island, is one of the most delightful Cambodian experiences you’ll find. The boat pier is right next to the crab market. Do note that things here are changing fast. Bulldozers have just arrived and mass development will no doubt follow. Get here before that does.
Food & ShoppingKep beach has all you’ll need for a short beach stay-over, including a decent mini-mart, cafes, restaurants and shops. This spot is popular with retired Westerners so you may be surprised to find Kep offers some very decent coffee and a great array of home favourites like fruit-filled Danish pastries and authentic Italian pizzas.
AccommodationSurprisingly, little tiny Kep boasts over 60 guesthouses, hostels and hotels and caters for travellers of all budgets. Some of the most deluxe are a little further out of town but boast private stretches of beaches, whilst the cheapest beds are found in guesthouses atop the shops on the main street.
How to get thereThe recently resurfaced stretch of road between Phnom Penh and Kep makes getting to beach infinitely easy from the capital city. Nowadays it takes just over two hours to cover the 165km distance. Incidentally, this is the same time it takes to travel to Sihanoukville, from Kep.
Kep is a half hour’s drive from Kampot and an equal distance from the southern border with Vietnam.
Minibuses ply the route from Phnom Penh ( $ 4.00 USD ) and all the way up and down the coast between Kep, Kampot ( $ 2.00 USD ) and Sihanoukville ( $ 4.00 USD ). Mini-buses are the cheapest option but also the slowest, taking anything between four and five hours to reach the beach from the capital.
A faster and much more enjoyable option would be to organise a share-taxi from your Phnom Penh hostel or hotel, where you’ll meet other travellers wishing to make the same trip. Aim to bargain the driver to about $ 20 USD per person.
Best time to visitWinter time is by far the most popular time to visit, with the months between November and March being somewhat cool, or at least, much more bearable than June or July.
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Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Apr 06, 2015