I really enjoyed my time in Kep, a sleepy little seaside town in Southern Cambodia. Kep’s really popular with holidaying Cambodians, but as it’s a little off the standard Siem Reap – Phnom Penh – Sihanoukville route it’s largely ignored by backpackers. I took a tuk tuk from Kampot to Kep (15 miles) My first impression was that a little slice of (a crumbling) France had upped roots and moved to Cambodia. I loved it immediately.
Take a boat trip to Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island)
Koh Tonsay – better known as Rabbit Island, is a little dot of an island off the coast of Kep. I’d never heard of it, but as soon as my guide suggested a boat trip out to the island, I was all ears.
Koh Tonsay is about a 30 minute boat journey across from the mainland. It’s pretty blustery and I got absolutely soaked. But it’s definitely worth the ride over. The beaches were completely empty and the island was entirely unspoilt.
The island has no electricity at night, and a smattering of little beach huts are the only available accommodation ($5 a night) It’s definitely a back to basics kind of destination. I didn’t stay the night as I was only on a day trip, but I spoke to a couple who’d been there for a week and had completely fallen in love with it – it’s easy to see why. Sadly I never did find out why it was nicknamed Rabbit Island, but there are definitely no bunnies there.
Eat some of the tastiest (and cheapest) seafood in the world
Kep is famous for its excellent and super fresh seafood. As I absolutely love calamari I thought I’d give it a go. Oh my days. Best calamari I have ever eaten, enormous pieces drenched in lime juice and packing a punch thanks to some seriously spicy Kampot pepper – and for just $2. I couldn’t leave Kep without trying the crab – even if it did mean eating two whole mains – it was incredibly tasty and well worth the food baby. The little shack I ate in was perched a tad precariously over the seafront, with great views of the crab vendors wading around in the sea on the search for crabs. I also wandered around Kep’s market to watch the locals haggle over the day’s catches, and gawked at some of the completely bizarre specimens out on display.
Check out the architecture
Kep is visually really interesting. It’s surrounded by the crumbling remnants of old colonial French villas, and its streets still have a French feel to them, with wide tree lined boulevards and vendors selling snacks under brightly coloured umbrellas. Sadly most of Kep’s once grand buildings are now little more than scorched shells – blown apart and littered with bullet holes. They’re a very poignant reminder that the town was nearly decimated during the Khmer Rouge rule.
Kep was once the playground of famous and rich Khmers, and as a result of that was brutally set upon by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. But you easily get a feel for what Kep used to be – a chic, fun beach resort with beautiful food that could drag you all the way from Phnom Penh.
The beach is quite honestly, rubbish, just a little strip of sand that was completely underwater when I was there, but there’s a lovely view off the main promenade which more than makes up for it – you can see Vietnam’s Phu Quoc from the shore.
Kep’s a fantastic little town with a unique personality, and well worth a day trip from Kampot.
Have you ever been to Kep? Did you love it as much as I did?
Great write up!
Spent some time in Kep back in May. Loved the place (and Kampot). Been to Cambodia a few times but never the coast, was a great trip. Morning walk around the National park, Crabs galore, bike rides out to the salt flats and fishing villages – brilliant place!
Thanks Darren! It’s an excellent little town, glad to hear you liked it as much as I did.
Rabbit Island is called that because it apparently looks like a rabbit on the map the best place to eat is with Grandmother (everybody on the island calls her that.) She even features on Rick Stein’s South East Asia series, where she cooks him her speciality, Kep crab with Kampot pepper.
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