Kep, on Cambodia’s southern coast, is often overlooked by visitors over the more popular Sihanoukville beaches and islands.
For those looking for a little more tranquillity, Kep has it all! Kep is the smallest province in Cambodia covering 336 km2 (130 sq mi) and a population of 41,000 people. It is also one of the most recent Cambodian provinces to be created in 2008, separating Kep from neighbouring Kampot province.
During Cambodia’s colonial times it was a popular beach town for the French elite and the name itself comes from the word cape in French “Cap”.
Getting To Kep
Kep itself is only 2-3 hours away from Phnom Penh by taxi or bus and 30 minutes away from Kampot. The roads take you through traditional Cambodian provinces complete with ox, cart and waving children.
Kep may be the smallest province in Cambodia but is certainly one of the most picturesque. The coastal road has some stunning views as it snakes around the coast from the Crab Market to the Rabbit Island pier. All the time you will have the Kep National Park forest and mountains to your left, giving you a perfect contrast to the stunning seascapes on your right.
Rabbit Island Archipelago
Rabbit Island or Koh Tonsay in Khmer is a little-known island just a 30-minute boat ride from the mainland. Rabbit Island belongs to an archipelago of 13 islands all easily accessible from Kep although Rabbit Island is the only one currently offering accommodation and restaurants.
The pier can be found about 2 kilometres from the main town and beach and return tickets can be purchased at the ticket office or neighbouring shops for $8.
Accommodation on the island is limited to a collection of beach bungalows on the islands main crescent beach and pier. The bungalows themselves are delightfully simple and inexpensive with the cheaper ones going for around $5 a night!
The electricity is only on between 6-9 pm but most visitors will not even notice whilst they are busy exploring some of the region’s most pristine reef and beaches or swinging in a hammock relaxing. Most of the places to stay have restaurants serving delicious fresh seafood and other classic Khmer dishes.
For the traveller wanting to experience the more luxurious side of Rabbit Island take a tour from Knai Bang Chatt, one of the top hotels in Kep.
Here, you will be taken on a private boat from the hotel with a chef and butler who prepare a sumptuous feast on the beach for you before taking a slow cruise back to the mainland under the backdrop of the sunset.
Kep National Park
Another must-see attraction for the visitor is Kep National Park. It was established in 1993 and covers an area of approximately 50 km². The park can be accessed for $1 entrance fee next to the beautiful Veranda Hotel that sits just on the park’s boundary.
There are a number of trails and paths taking you through some incredible lush forest and breathtaking views of the Gulf of Siam, Phu Quoc and the Bokor mountain range. Pop into the Led Zep Cafe near the park entrance for a drink and a chat to the owner Chris who is responsible for many of the trails and signs in the park in addition to him being an expert on the local area and wildlife.
Crab and Pepper
Ask most local Cambodians what Kep is famous for and the answer will usually come back as crab or “kdam” in Khmer. So no visit to Kep would be complete without visiting its famous Crab Market. It is located just 1 kilometre away from the main town and beach and has many restaurants selling the freshest and cheapest crab you will probably ever eat!
With the backdrop of a beautiful sea view, you will see the crab pots being brought in and cooked in front of you to your liking. The best accompaniment to Kep crab is the equally famous pepper grown 30 minutes up the road in Kampot.
Both Kep and Kampot have protected geographical indication, a certification that safeguards these regional products.
Not far from Kep are many pepper farms offering tours and cooking classes. Here the traveller can learn the importance of pepper in Khmer cooking and learn how to cook with it as a fresh ingredient, something the most seasoned of chefs may not have ever used!
So with the Kep region’s stunning natural beauty combined with its famous foods, there really is nothing to wait for! Come to Cambodia and discover this incredible hidden gem for yourself!