Kep: Cambodia's sleepy beach
January 1, 1970
by Penny Clark
Think “Cambodian coastline” and most people mention popular seaside town Sihanoukville, but travel seventy-five miles east and you will arrive at the sleepy town of Kep – a serene spot to relax by the sea.
Kep doesn’t have a town centre as such. Instead, activity tends to centre around the tiny, quiet beach, and I use the term “activity” very loosely here – the wide roads are practically empty, and the small beach has more than enough room for its trickle of visitors.
By the beach you will find a collection of hotels and restaurants, as well as an ABA ATM which accepts international cards. Kep may be secluded, but it has plenty of convenience for visitors.
Kep’s glory days were during the 1960s, and away from the beach, grand old houses still stand, devoid of any occupants. Despite this slump, Kep is now on the up, with new development to cater for the tourist trade. It’s not going to be quite this quiet forever…
Things to do
Visit the beach
Much work is put into maintaining Kep’s small beach. Rubbish is cleared each day, and the white sand is imported from Kep’s neighbouring town, Kampot. (Kep’s natural sand is not quite as attractive!)
It’s possible to hire out a deck chair, or you can simply spread your towel on the sand. Stalls with food and drink are available, and you will also see Khmer people enjoying their picnics.
Kep has a number of interesting statues. Visible from the beach is The White Lady, known as “The Woman Who Waits for Her Man” in Khmer. This normally naked lady has been clothed by some of the local people, who are quite conservative when it comes to female attire.
From the The White Lady, continue to walk away from Kep beach, and within half a mile you will see Kep’s famous Crab Statue. This statue reflects one of Kep’s main industries – crab fishing. More about that later.
Kep has a small independence monument close to Rabbit Island Pier. From the pier, travel east (in the direction of Vietnam) along National Road 33A and keep an eye out to your left – you’ll see it.
As you walk around Kep, look around and you’ll see more traditional statues here and there.
A popular excursion from Kep is a trip to Rabbit Island, or Toh Konsay, so-called because it apparently looks like a rabbit. I didn’t see it, myself.
What it does look like is a gorgeous, secluded tropical island. I would highly recommend a visit.
The 2 kilometre island takes roughly 3 hours to circumnavigate. Along the way you will find rocky volcanic coastlines and a few deserted beaches where a swim in the sea is irresistible. The snorkelling here is good, though watch out for sea urchins and jellyfish – I never saw any, though I’m told there are some.
Go to the establishments by the beach and you’ll find companies offering a morning or afternoon trip for $8. This will buy you a ferry there and back, plus transport to and from the dock. Transport for the boats leaves at 10AM and 12.30PM. The final boat returning from the island to the mainland leaves at 4PM.
If you want to stay longer, there are a number of options for charming but basic accommodation on Rabbit Island, all tending to range in between $5 – $15. There are also a handful of restaurants on Rabbit Island with friendly staff along the main beach. Don’t expect wifi or TV, but you will get phone service – and the coconuts are excellent!
The Oceanarium is Cambodia’s first ever aquarium open to visitors, and for $3 you can’t go too wrong. It is focussed mainly on conservation. You can find it on Rabbit Island Pier.
Kep’s National Park
If you’d like a change from the sea, head inwards and upwards, and take an interesting (uphill) walk in Kep’s National Park. Admission is $1.
Though much of the park is used for farmland, there are walking trails. The main loop is 8 kilometres long, and there are smaller trails too. Highlights include wildlife spotting (look out for monkeys), statue-spotting, and the eerie abandoned buildings, which are to be found on the hill behind the Spring Valley Resort.
A good tip is to visit the Led Zepplin Café, which has excellent information on the National Park. This cafe can be found just inside the south entrance of the National Park.
Getting to Kep
Bus from Phnom Penh: you can take a direct bus from the capital for around $4. The journey will take between 4-5 hours on relatively good roads, with a few bumpy bits. Your guesthouse in Kep will be able to help you with the journey back.
Private transport from Kampot: Kep is only 25 kilometres from Kampot, and the journey takes 35-40 minutes. For a tuk-tuk expect to pay in between $10-15. If you would like the tuk-tuk driver to wait and take you back, they are usually happy to do this for a couple of dollars more. The going rate for a one-way taxi journey is $20. Your guesthouse will usually be able to arrange a taxi for you.
Places to stay
A good budget guesthouse is Khmer Hands, which features a small arts training centre for local people. While being a couple of kilometres from the beach, it still has beautiful coastal views, very cute bungalows, a restaurant and complimentary wifi. A double fan-cooled room with a shared bathroom is $10 per night.
For a mid-level option try Champeysor Guesthouse, which is a couple of hundred metres from the beach, has attractive rooms, good wifi and friendly staff. A double room with a fan will set you back $17 per night.
One of Kep’s most famous spots is the Crab Market, which is just a few minutes’ walk from the beach. Here you can feast on seafood while hearing the crash of the waves, and watching the sun set over the sea.
Kep is famed for its crab-fishing, but be warned, unsustainable and damaging crab fishing methods are now being used. Fish is a more sustainable choice. We had a delicious red snapper at The Crab Shack. The whole meal cost us $13, and most meals we had cost from $9-13.
You will find more restaurants alongside the beach, offering both Khmer and western food.
Kep is not really such a “nightlife” kind of place! But there is some life after the sun goes down…
Head to the Tucan at the crab market for a few games of pool, and a nice atmosphere. The place is frequented by a mixture of locals and holidaymakers.
Kukuluku has a beautiful sea-setting and a small bar which plays good music. There is also a restaurant attached.
The Italian Corner, which is by Kep beach, is a restaurant that also has a small bar and a pleasant atmosphere.
Kep is just 25 miles from a quiet border crossing into Vietnam. Are you from Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden or the United Kingdom? Then good news! You can have 15 days in Vietnam without a visa.
People from some other Asian countries can also have 15 days or longer visa-free. Check in official Vietnam Embassy website for details.
If you want to stay longer in Vietnam you will need to arrange your visa before getting to the border. This can be done from your home country, or in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital.
That’s all for now!
Have you ever travelled to Kep? What were your experiences?