Cambodia’s smallest province in the coastal south-east of the country, Kep is a charming holiday spot known for its water-side life, seafood and coastal hiking.
Kep’s former heyday was in the first half of the 1900s, as a favourite holiday spot for French colonialists, and later, wealthy Cambodians, who made it the most prestigious beach town in Cambodia. It’s had a recent resurgence in popularity among those looking for a beach-side experience that’s slightly off the main backpacker trails. With a smattering of islands off the coastline too, Kep is a place to blend water-side adventures with laidback Cambodian life.
Make the most of seafood, sand and sun in Kep!
See and Do
Many people come to Kep for some relaxing time at the beach, which centres on Kep Beach. The 1km white sandy beach is in a pretty crescent shape and is popular with those who like to relax on the beach or go for a swim. A promenade behind the beach has various dining options, with all of them serving a variety of fresh seafood and Kep’s famous crab.
Those who want to do a little activity out on the water should head to The Sailing Club
at Knai Bang Chatt, where sailing courses are regularly run. It’s also possible to embark on other water sport adventures here, including kayaking, windsurfing and Hobie Cat Catamaran trips.
Kep’s islands offer a combination of tranquil beaches and rustic charm – perfect for a different look at Cambodia. Koh Tonsay (‘Rabbit Island’) is the most developed island and there’s a regular boat service here from the mainland at Kep. The beaches here are pretty and popular, with a few hammocks and chairs to enjoy lazy afternoons on. The beaches offer a slice of undeveloped island charm too, with a few wooden shacks selling simple meals of fresh seafood. This is also a place to have a wander and watch locals going about their daily lives, much of which revolves around fishing. For those feeling more energetic, it’s possible to hike around the entirety of the islands in around two to three hours. It’s also possible to hire snorkelling equipment to enjoy the colourful reefs and fish off the island. If you’re there in the evening, look out for the shining phosphorescent algae in the sea – it’s a mystical sight!
It’s possible to get to Kep’s other, much less developed islands from either Koh Tonsay or the mainland at Kep. Koh Pos
(‘Snake Island’) is home to a traditional fishing community and a pretty white sandy beach. Koh Svay
(‘Mango Island’) doesn’t have a beach, but there is a hill by the mango orchard that offers good views.
The best beach in Kep Province is said to be Angkaul Beach
, around 45 minutes outside of Kep town. At around 2km long and a little off-the-beaten-track, Angkaul Beach feels like a little Cambodian secret. There’s white sand, shallow waters for paddling and a few deck chairs and parasols.
Kep National Park is a key attraction in Kep Province. Covering an area of 50 km², there are several trails and points of interest ideal for day trips from the beach. The main trail is 8km long and it’s possible to undertake it on foot, by bicycle or even via moto. Pick up breakfast and a map – including details of the park’s trails – from Led Zep Café and embark on your own adventure. As well as the main circuit there are multiple trails that lead to the interior too. The Zeppelin-inspired ‘Stairway to Heaven’ trail is a particular favourite among visitors, as it leads to the Wat Samanthi pagoda and the Sunset Rock viewpoint. Throughout the trails there are stunning views over the coastline, islands and surrounding mountain ranges.
Kep Butterfly Garden
is another place to visit in the national park. As well as a dome housing a multitude of brightly coloured butterflies, there is a nursery showing all stages of butterfly development. The butterfly garden also has benches and koi ponds in quiet corners, perfect for peace and reflection.
Many people visit Phnom Sar Sear
from Kep – a series of three mountains with numerous fascinating caves. The most popular caves are Phnom Ach Prochiev and Phnom Dorei Sar, which also houses a mountain well. As well as caves, the mountain is home to nuns, monks and a Buddhist pagoda.
Culture and Arts
As a small and sleepy beach resort, the major pastimes in Kep relate to the beach, food and outdoor living. As such, this isn’t a destination for art and culture buffs, but there are a few points of interest worth noting.
One of the most visible pieces of art in Kep is the Sela Cham P'dey Statue
, on a piece of land jutting out into the sea. This is a statue of a nude fisherman’s wife looking out to sea, waiting for her husband to return. It pays tribute to the strong fishing traditions of the locality.
There is also a fun statue of a crab
to be seen on a standalone platform over the water in Kep. Well-known for its crab delicacies, this statue is a nod to the food many people come to the locality to eat.
Architecture fans should go on a stroll or take a tuk tuk ride around the town at Kep, as there are still some magnificent French colonial mansions and villas standing. Some are abandoned, but they give a feeling of the town in a former era. Pay a visit to the Don Bosco Birth House Monument too, which is a reproduction house of the location where the 19th century priest, educator and writer was born.
For handicraft shopping, take a stroll around town and stop off at some of the shops which sell a range of goods, including local hand-made crafts. The Signature Designer Shop
and Kep Souvenir
are two shops that tend to sell some local crafts.
Festivals and Events
As a seaside resort for Cambodians as well as international visitors, many people choose to spend public holidays in this area. The main event is Khmer New Year
, which usually falls in April each year. In Kep, people descend on the beach and the Crab Market to enjoy being outdoors and to indulge in delicious food. Unlike in cities and towns across Cambodia, most restaurants and bars are open in Kep during Khmer New Year because it’s such a popular spot to visit.
(‘Soul Day’ or ‘Ancestors Day’) is another public holiday when people flock to Kep. This is a 15-day Buddhist festival which usually falls in September or October each year. During this time, Cambodians pay their respects to deceased relatives and people bring food offerings to temples and pagodas. In Kep, there are a lot of people out and about enjoying the beach, the water and the seafood.
Many people also take boats out to Kep’s islands on public holidays such as Khmer New Year, for general festivities and karaoke on the beach.
The Sea Festival
takes place in a different location along Cambodia’s coastline each year, and Kep is sometimes the location for this. The event includes sporting activities, music and a range of festivities along the coastline.
Kep has captured the imagination of so many over the decades that there is even an annual Kep Expo
in Phnom Penh celebrating the locality. It features an exhibition of photographs, music, films and special archives, as well as workshops on subjects such as architecture. There is also a book all about Kep for those who want a memento to take home with them.
Food and Drink
This region of Cambodia is world famous for a variety of black pepper known as Kampot pepper, and it’s possible to visit local pepper farms in Kep and neighbouring Kampot Province to find out more. One of the pepper farms in Kep is Sothy’s Pepper Farm, where you can take a look at the farm, learn more about Kampot pepper and buy some to take home from the on-site shop.
The other reason people come to Kep is for the crab, and the Crab Market is the place to go to try it. The fish market is next door to a row of restaurants serving up fresh crab seasoned with Kampot pepper. Locals and visitors alike flock here as it’s like nowhere else in Cambodia.
Many people enjoy dining by the beach in Kep for the views and to feel the coastal breeze, and there are plentiful options by Kep Beach. A little further along the coast, Coconut Beach isn’t so much a beach in Kep as there’s no sand, but it is a spot where there are a number of low-key food shacks serving delicious seafood. All restaurants in Kep serve crab as well as a range of other fish, including red snapper, gold band snapper and tuna. Since Kep is a Khmer holiday resort too, most restaurants have a range of Khmer dishes on the menu too.
For international flavours, Koki
serves proper hand-made pizzas, while the Kep Lodge Restaurant and Bar
serves Swiss specialities such as fondue, as well as Khmer cuisine.
For high end dining in Kep, Strand
is a great option, with the opportunity to have a romantic meal on a dock directly over the sea. The restaurant at Veranda Natural Resort
in Kep National Park is also of excellent quality, with stunning views over the surrounding natural vistas an added bonus.
For drinks in the evening, Baraka, Be Be Bar and KepaCabana are the most popular spots.