Kep is a sleepy seaside town where everything takes its time to happen. Once a colonial French resort with upscale houses, now Kep holds still a laid back ambience and it’s growing day by day. Some travellers can find Kep a bit soulless because it lacks a centre, but I think this is perfect if you’re looking to relax for a couple of days.
My journey from Phnom Penh to Kep was spot on. I asked the driver to be left near the place I booked, and then got there by foot. I booked a double bed in a very nice bungalow in Khmer House Bungalow for 14$ a night. The location is off a couple of streets from the main road, so it’s a very quiet place. Also the young owner and his sister are very welcoming and I’m sure that they will make you feel at home.
Kep’s popularity is based on chilling rather than a lot of different available activities. If you decide to rent a bicycle and explore the surroundings like me, there is nothing much more to see once you reach the crab market. Along the way you’ll find a welcoming crab statue, a naked woman statue and the mini Independence monument.
On your way you can always stop and enjoy the beach if you want. Personally, I don’t think that the beach is worth it, but it is a nice break if you want to make a short break and relax. I would recommend you to follow the local costumes and don’t go to the beach partying and making a big fuss about it. Cambodians are shy and modest people so if you go to the beach with loud music while getting drunk, it will not be seen as something respectful from you and from tourists in general (yes, I’ve seen enough of this while there).
The crab market is right next to a series of restaurants where the specialty is, obviously, the crab with the world famous Kampot pepper. There is also a supermarket available where you can buy anything you need (the only place available in Kep for this purpose from what I could find).
Another touristic attraction in Kep is the Rabbit Island (Koh Tunsay), 20 minutes from the Kep beach, but I didn’t make it there.
On my second day in Kep, I rented a scooter at my place for about ~5$ for the full day and went exploring the surroundings. The first thing I visited was the Butterfly Farm, ~2km north through a narrow and bumpy road. This farm is a private ecological garden dedicated to preserve the local environment led by expatriate philanthropic people.
It is possible to park your scooter just outside, the entrance fee is by donation. I think anything between 1-2$ is a fair donation. You can see a lot of different butterflies, the garden if very well preserved, and you can also learn about their lifecycle from caterpillars to beautiful colourful butterflies.
For the rest of the day I ventured south to near the border with Vietnam. Try to head off the 1332 road (the main one), through the bumpy and dusty roads and you’ll be rewarded with small villages, warm people, and wonderful sights along with monasteries.
My next destination was Kampot, just 30 min away from Kep. I asked at my place for transportation for Kampot and it costed me ~3$ for the minivan. I got picked up at my place and was dropped of near a gas station just ~2km away from Ta Eng Guesthouse where I was welcomed with open arms by the lovely owner.
He’s not the best English speaker (he can speak a very good French), but was just enough to get by. His father is also a lovely person as I spent quite enough time chatting with him. My room was spacious and it had no AC, but for 8$ double bed it was quite good. They also have scooter/bicycle rental and its location is in walking distance of the city centre.
The centre is full of French colonial architecture and, like Kep, you don’t find that many things to do besides just chilling out on one of the many cafés scattered around town. However, just outside Kampot you can visit the Bokor National Park with evergreen forests and a wide variety of rare and threatened animals. The entrance fee is 0.50$ for scooters and 2.50$ for cars.
At the top of the National Park there are 2 interesting buildings that are worth visiting; a now demolished Catholic Church and a huge Casino. There is nothing left to be visited besides the empty shells of these 2 places, but up there you’ll have an amazing view over the park and to the Thailand’s gulf.
The roads are in very good condition and if you plan on visiting these sights you have to allow yourself at least 1 afternoon. If you have the time, do it in a full day because getting to the park and driving up/down it’s something that can take a while.
I had another day in Kampot, but unfortunately sickness got the best of us. However, I must say that the owner of Ta Eng was really nice and gave us some food and made himself available for everything we needed, so I ended up not doing much on this day. The next day we were feeling better and set off to Koh Rong Samloem, a long journey that included a mini van trip to Sihanoukville, and from there a speed boat to the island.
In the end, I really enjoyed those days in Kep and Kampot although there is not much to do/see around. If your time allows, I would say that you should stop for 2/3 days in here just to slow down your pace and relax.
How to get there and away
- Sorya bus from Phnom Penh to Kep.
- From Kep to Kampot it is just a 30 min ride. I arranged it from my Guest House.
- From Kampot to Koh Rong Samloem I arranged transportation from my Guest House, which consisted in a mini van to Sihanoukville + speedboat from there to Koh Rong Samloem.
What to do/see
- Kep Beach.
- Crab Market.
- Butterfly farm.
- Old Casino.
Where to sleep
- Khmer House Bungalow in Kep, 14$ for a double bungalow without breakfast. Location is ok (there is no downtown in Kep, so...). Scooter/Bicycle rental.
- Ta Eng Guesthouse in Kampot, 8$ for a double room without breakfast. Location is very good, walking distance from the city centre. Scooter/Bicycle rental.