Kep and its surrounding areas offer some of the best and lesser visited attractions on Cambodia’s south coast. What Kep lacks in energetic party life it makes up for in scenic coastline, virgin rainforest forest and much more!
Kampot Salt Fields
Kampot is not just famous for its pepper, as many people might think, but also it has an abundance of salt too! You can find the vast salt fields between Kampot and Kep and on the other side of the river from Kampot town where huge amounts of salt is produced every year.
It is also important to remember that the salt that is harvested here will go on to have iodine added to it or “iod” in Khmer. This plays an important role in stopping intellectual and developmental disabilities in millions of Cambodian children.
The salt fields are close to the ocean so water can be let in from the ocean to the fields. The fields are then blocked from the ocean, and the water allowed to evaporate, leaving salt crystals behind ready to be harvested. This process is repeated many times until enough salt can be raked into piles ready for collection. Salt production is in its height from around the beginning of December through to April when it is the dry season and salt can be collected without disruption from the weather.
The raw salt is then collected and piled up in warehouses in the salt fields. It is then delivered to the salt factory, where it is cleaned, iodine added, and finally packaged in bags of various weights ready for shipment throughout Cambodia and the rest of the world.
The Salt Exhibition Centre has just opened about 5 minutes outside of Kampot, towards Kep. You can tour the museum and buy a $2 bag of salt, that comes with a presentation. The centre is located on a salt field and is a great place to stop and enjoy a beautiful sunset across the salt plains into the ocean.
Kep National Park & Butterfly Farm
Kep town is surrounded on one side by the glimmering coast of the Gulf of Siam to one side and the Kep National Park to the other. 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.
Kep Butterfly Farm is one of the newest attractions for tourists in Kep and one that is already proving popular with visitors to the region.
Kep Butterfly Farm is located in the Kep National Park in the heart of Jasmine Valley where you will be surrounded by lush forest and striking views down to the sea and Gulf of Siam.
As you walk or drive around the Kep National Park road you will see the butterfly farm set in colourful gardens on your approach. The farm is a private ecological garden that is dedicated to preserving the local environment in addition to creating employment by training local Cambodians to farm rather than take butterflies from the wild.
As you enter the butterfly farm you will be amazed by not just the huge variety of butterfly species but also by the sumptuous gardens that surround you. The staff are well informed and friendly and are happy to answer any questions you have or to show you around the farm.
An important part of the visit is to see the life cycle of the butterflies from caterpillar to chrysalis and eventually to fully fledged butterflies. The staff will explain to you the importance of the various food sources different caterpillars need in order to make it to the next stage in their development. This is vital in the successful farming of the butterflies to satisfy the international export market. As you walk around the farm you will have many opportunities to photograph these stunning creatures up close.
Entrance to Kep Butterfly Farm is kept free to all visitors although donations are appreciated to keep the farm and its training scheme well funded. So please take the time to visit Kep Butterfly farm and immerse yourself in the beautiful natural setting and an incredible number of rare and colourful butterfly species.
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!
All the restaurants near the crab market have the backdrop of a beautiful sea view, from your table you will see the crab pots being brought in and cooked in front of you with many different accomplishments to your liking. As most locals and previous visitors to Kep will tell you, Kep crab is equally famous as the deliciously aromatic pepper grown minutes up the road and 30 minutes away 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!
Buying Crabs from Kep Crab Market
For better value and for the crab connoisseur try buying crabs directly from the sellers in the market and pier as opposed to dining in one of the restaurants. The experience can be slightly intimidating but here are some tips below to help you get the best crab for your money!
Many tourists don’t like to bargain for a better price but this is an important part of how Cambodians do business and the first price you hear was given with the expectation that you will try to lower it. Of course, if you can speak any Khmer at this point it really helps, try learning the basic numbers and money nominations such as “mouy murn” which means 10,000 riel ($2.5) in addition to “t’lay na” which means “very expensive”.
Prices do vary depending on the time of day and the time of year you are visiting, some days there are simply more crabs caught than other days so don’t assume you are paying too much if the price has fluctuated. Keep a smile on your face, keep the bargaining fair and you will always get a good price.
Another good tip is to see how the locals inspect crabs before buying them. The first thing is to know how to sex the crabs as the females have delicious roe inside and the males slightly bigger claw meat. Females have a larger apron that is also darker in colour than the males.
Cambodians tend to prefer the female crabs for their roe so sometimes better deals are to be had on the male crabs for sale. Even if you are not confident that you know what you are looking for, get your hands in there and start inspecting the crabs as it will give out a message that you’ve done it before and will help you get a better price! Sometimes it is hard to find the larger crabs which are easier to eat than the small ones as they are quickly bought up by one of the many hotels and restaurants offering fresh crab in Kep. If that’s the case simply ask one of the sellers for “kdam tom” which means big crab so they can hunt some down for you!
It costs 3,000 riel ($0.75) to boil a kilo of crabs or 5,000 riel ($1.25) to stir fry them from one of the many vendors in the crab market. After cooking you can either take them back to your hotel or sit at one of the drink sellers tables and eat your crab with a cold beer overlooking the sea.
The crabs you buy on the pier or from the sellers at the market will be fresher, tastier, and better value than the ones you’ll get at any of the local restaurants and you’ll get an authentic Cambodian experience thrown in during the process!
Kep Beach & Rabbit Island Archipelago
Kep beach is located right in the heart of Kep town just half a kilometre from the crab market. Although it is a small beach the sand is beautifully soft and white in addition to it being kept spotlessly clean by the local Kep residents. Kep beach is a great area for swimming, bathing or as a fantastic viewpoint over the Gulf of Thailand and the 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.