In a nutshell
Back in the day, Kep was a popular resort destination for the rich and famous, many of whom built grand villas here to keep as holiday homes. Kep is now slowly making a comeback as a weekend beach destination for expats and locals living in Phnom Penh, but it still maintains its sleepy, laidback atmosphere during the week.
Why go to Kep
It’s perfect for visitors who want to take it easy, as there really isn’t much here in the way of activities. But if you love seafood, sunsets and hikes, then Kep is the place for you.
It’s only a 40-minute tuk-tuk or moto taxi journey away from Kampot, so it makes for a great day trip. However, there are also lots of accommodation options, particularly resort-style bungalows, and there is still enough to do here to justify a longer stay. Even if you just come for the food, it’s worth it; Kep has a surprising amount of choice when it comes to restaurants, and it’s famous for its seafood.
When to go to Kep
Although Cambodia is great all year round, Kep is a beach destination, so for maximum sunshine the best time to visit is in the dry season (October to April). That said, the National Park is at its most beautiful in rainy season, when the many waterfalls here are brought to life. You’ll also benefit from less crowds and cheaper rates if you visit in rainy season.
Getting in and out
As mentioned, getting here from Kampot is very easy and only takes around 40 minutes by tuk-tuk (USD8), bus or motor taxi (both USD4-6). Giant Ibis runs buses to Kep from Sihanoukville, which take little over two hours.
Things to do in Kep: Beach Time
We are not ashamed to admit that we spent much of our time in Kep relaxing on Kep Beach with a cocktail in hand! This is a popular weekend spot with locals and expats though, so if you want some peace and quiet, it’s better to head to Koh Tonsay (better known as Rabbit Island). It’s quiet and secluded, with little in the way of development, and the beaches are some of the nicest in the area. A boat trip to the island takes 30 minutes and will cost around USD8-10 return. There are also a few bungalows on the island if you want to stay a little longer.
Hiking around Kep National Park
If lazing on the beach all day isn’t your thing, then a pleasant hike around Kep National Park is just the ticket. The trail is 8km and takes around 3 hours, but it isn’t very strenuous and we easily completed it without breaking a sweat.
However, if you want to challenge yourself, there are also some smaller, steeper trails leading into the forest. Notable sights in the park include Sunset Rock, Little Buddha and the Stone Horse, monkeys, and waterfalls (only in rainy season).
Nature lovers will also love Butterfly Farm, which although small is a great and relaxing way to spend an hour. They also hold a variety of yoga classes here.
Visiting a Pepper Plantation
A visit to a pepper plantation is a must during your stay at either Kampot or Kep, although the best plantations are closer to Kep. Kampot pepper is supposedly the best in the world, and it’s unlikely you’ll find any other pepper quite like it.
We decided to visit Sothy’s Pepper Plantation and take a tour, which was a great way to find out how the pepper is produced. There was also the opportunity to take some home at a bargain price. Sothy’s is a really great choice because they are dedicated to organic, sustainable production.
Temples in Kep
Nearby, you can also check out Chamcar Bei, a hilltop temple with amazing views. We stopped off here in the evening to watch the sunset, and we were not disappointed. The best way to visit both the plantation and temple is to either hire your own motorbike, or arrange a tour with a tuk-tuk driver.
Exploring the town
Finally, exploring Kep itself can be quite the spooky adventure, thanks to all the old, dilapidated villas scattered throughout the town. They really do give a haunted feel to the town, and you may even spot some interesting graffiti.
Places to eat in Kep
Although Kep is a small and sleepy town, it has a good variety of restaurants to choose from regardless of your budget.
In terms of food, Kep is most famous for its delicious seafood, especially fresh crab. There are a lot of restaurants in the crab market, however many of these are no longer serving crab due to overfishing of local stocks. Why not try a more sustainable seafood option instead, such as goldband snapper, red snapper, calamari or tuna?
Many of the restaurants in the market are very similar in terms of quality and price, but there are a couple of standouts. Kim Ly is probably the most famous, whilst Holy Crab is very popular with expats. Our favorite was La Baraka, which not only serves seafood, but also wood fired pizzas and some classic French dishes. They also have an extensive cocktail menu and upstairs decking for watching the sunset.
Outside of the crab market, there are a number of excellent spots dotted along the Kep coastline. One of our favorite restaurants along the coast was Breezes (National Route 33a). It’s perfectly located, the prices are reasonable, and the food is exquisite. After lunch here, we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the beach beds outside the restaurant.
Sailing Club (Knai Bang Chatt) also has a lovely setting, as you can enjoy a meal on their decking that overlooks the ocean. They do a great Saturday BBQ and Sunday brunch, and of course, their seafood is excellent. They also offer a range of watersports, including sailing, kayaking and windsurfing. Next door, there is also The Strand, which provides somewhat more of a finer dining experience. Whilst it is a bit expensive, they often have special deals, such as three courses for USD25.
If you are on a super tight budget, Kep market has a range of stalls where you can get noodle soups and rice dishes for under a dollar.
Cafes in Kep
Kep also has a good selection of cafes, including Signature Café (Bus station), Le Pain De Jade (Seaside Road), l’Epi d’Or (Kep Beach) and Led Zepplin Café. The latter is located just before the entrance to the National Park, so it’s perfect for grabbing some takeaway lunch to enjoy during your hike.
Coffee lovers should head to Kep Coffee (National Route 33a), where they also serve some great homemade lunches and lots of tasty cakes.
Accommodation in Kep
If you decide to stay in Kep a few days, there are a number good options, from budget guesthouses to luxurious resorts. However, it’s worth noting that a lot of accommodation is clustered on a hill off of Kampot Road, and transport to the beach or crab market is required. The silver lining is that they have excellent views and many have pools!
For budget travelers, the best choice is Kep Lodge (1 Pepper Street, bungalow with fan USD28), which is about 1.5km from the beach. The rooms here have excellent views over the National Park, and the in-house restaurant gets rave reviews. It’s very popular with expats, so make sure to book ahead!
A good mid-range option is The Beach House (Kep Beach, double room USD50), which has great views of the beach and a swimming pool. Or, there are a number of reasonably priced resorts, including Spring Valley Resort (National Route 33a, superior double room USD55), Vanna Hill Resort (Phum Thmey, superior double USD50) and Veranda Natural Resort (Hillside Road, deluxe bungalow USD85). The latter is a bit pricey, but it’s the perfect option for families.
And finally, if you want to stay at the very best of the best, then head to Knai Bang Chatt (Kep Beach, double room USD226). The resort has everything to really help you unwind and relax, including a saltwater horizon pool, hammocks, massage salas, an open-air restaurant, a library, spa, yoga sessions and much more.
In terms of safety, Kep is generally a very peaceful and quiet town. The medical facilities here are very basic though, so for anything serious, you’ll have to go to Phnom Penh.