Kep was once considered the gem of South East Asia. It was a playground of the rich, who flocked to the area in the 1960s and 70s to enjoy the clean air, stunning views and magical ambience. While many of the villas from that era have been reclaimed by the jungle, Kep is once again emerging as a top destination in the region. This is no surprise given the outstanding natural beauty of the area. The unspoiled lush forest of the national park, the stunning views of the Gulf of Thailand, and an abundance of tranquil beauty spots make Kep well worth adding to your itinerary.
Kep has a unique atmosphere that is hard to describe, a kind of magic that you have to experience for yourself. It is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of life and to just be. With that in mind, there are still plenty of things to see and do in Kep. So let’s explore the top 7!
1. The Crab Market
Kep has a reputation for being one of the best places in the world to eat crab, a fact celebrated by the iconic, giant crab statue found on a platform just off the coast in the centre of town. One of the main attractions in Kep is the crab market, a bustling, traditional seafood market where the friendly vendors sell an incredible array of seafood straight out of the sea. In fact, if you are an early riser you can head to the market at sunrise to watch the day’s catch being brought in by a multitude of tiny fishing boats.
Don’t expect any glitz and glamour at the crab market, it’s a thoroughly authentic outdoor dining experience, with small tables to eat nestled amongst the vendors. We would highly recommend the experience, but if you are looking for a more luxurious and relaxing place to eat, there are plenty of nearby restaurants along the coast where you can enjoy an incredible view of the sea.
2. Kep Beach
If you want to take a swim or just enjoy the view, Kep beach is a great place to hang out. The sea is generally calm and the perfect temperature for swimming. What the beach lacks in size, it makes up for in atmosphere, which has made it a popular tourist spot for many decades. On clear days, it offers a stunning view of the Gulf of Thailand with various small islands. As the sun goes down, you may notice the sky transform into a stunning display of purples, reds and oranges.
The beach is a completely different experience depending on if you visit during the week or on the weekend. During the week, it is often practically empty and offers the perfect chance to relax and take a swim. The weekends are a much more social affair, with locals flocking to the area to escape the heat of Phnom Penh. Families sit and eat together, children play in the sand, and food vendors sell a variety of snacks. Given the incredible friendliness of the Cambodian people, you are sure to make a friend or two.
3. Kep National Park
Kep national park comprises almost 70 square kilometres of lush jungle that is easily accessible with a road circling the park which branches off into numerous hiking trails.
More adventurous tourists can search for many hidden gems such as a magical clearing with a Buddha statue, a functioning Buddhist nunnery, and the famous “sunset rock” which offers an incredible view of the surrounding coastal regions. Actually, we would recommend not to stay there for sunset unless you want to walk home in the dark! But the view is not to be missed.
The trails are generally well maintained and marked. It is certainly possible to get a little lost, but as long as you stick to the paths you will always be able to get back to the road without too much hassle. If you are going to explore, we recommend allowing yourself a few hours.
While you can walk around most of the park without bumping into a single person, if you visit Led Zep café, you will likely find it full of trendy young locals from Phnom Penh who have made it a popular hangout spot.
4. Wat Samadhi
Built on top of a hill in the jungle, this little-known Buddhist temple offers a spectacular view of the salt fields and coastline stretching towards Vietnam. There is a drivable trail heading right up to the temple, but we recommend engaging your leg muscles and climbing the large staircase. The atmosphere up there really feels sacred, it is rare to see anybody there, not even a monk since they conduct their ceremonies in the smaller building at the bottom of the hill. The temple doors are generally open and you can find huge statues of the Buddha and colorful depictions of his life on the walls and ceiling.
5. Rabbit Island
Many visitors to Cambodia flock to the Islands near Sihanoukville, but not everybody knows that there is an easily accessible island just off the coast of Kep. The journey to Rabbit Island takes about 20 minutes. Return tickets are around $7 with morning and afternoon options available. It is also possible to charter a private boat.
If you are expecting an island full of cute fluffy bunnies, you will be disappointed since the name comes from the shape of the island, but it is still worth a visit! It has a pleasant stretch of beach with several restaurants serving fresh seafood and there is basic bungalow accommodation if you would like to stay the night. It is possible to walk around the entire island in a couple of hours. We would recommend exploring since there are many secret beaches away from the main strip.
Rabbit Island can get quite busy on public holidays, so check before you visit.
6. Angkul Beach
Until quite recently, this beach was only accessible by foot, but now you can is a bumpy but pleasant dirt road which follows the coast from central Kep, taking around 30 minutes to get to this secluded beauty-spot. The beach itself is not spectacular, the sand is largely covered with undergrowth, but the views and surrounding nature make it worth visiting. Driving to Angkul beach is like a trip back in time, through salt fields and tiny fishing villages. There are shaded seating areas and a couple of basic restaurants at the end of the beach. It is a great place to spend a relaxing afternoon.
7. Just explore!
One of the best things you can do in Kep is to rent a bicycle or moto and just explore. There are all sorts of hidden things to discover: crumbling mansions from the French era, secluded beauty spots, enormous statues and tiny cafes and restaurants in places you would never expect. Even people who have visited Kep many times say that they are still always finding something new.