Kampot & Kep
Less frequented by tourists than other areas in Cambodia, a visit to Kampot and Kep is perfect if you’re looking for some rest and relaxation.
The sleepy riverside town of Kampot has a relaxed atmosphere and boasts some of Cambodia finest, if a little dilapidated, examples of French colonial architecture. The somewhat shabby nature of these old buildings only seems to add to the towns charm. Kampot is an excellent base to explore the regions famous pepper farms, as well as Bokor National Park, and the coast east towards Vietnam, including the peaceful town of Kep. Between the two of them, Kampot and Kep are the producers of a culinary delight. Make sure you try some fresh Kep crab with Kampot pepper!
Most people travel to Kampot or Kep from Sihanoukville via bus or taxi but you can get buses to Kampot from most Cambodian cities including Phnom Penh. When travelling to Kampot or Kep try and get a big bus / coach if possible. Mini buses are often overfilled meaning an uncomfortable and possibly unsafe journey.
Kep and Kampot are about 25km apart, a new road connects the two and it’s a journey of 20 – 40 minutes to get from one to another. Tuk tuks will usually charge $8 – $10 for the trip but be prepared to bargain a little or pay a bit more.
A note on leaving… Travel agents will offer you a coach for a larger fee. However if you are travelling elsewhere in Cambodia from Kampot or Kep the chance of getting a coach is very low and you will more than likely be stuffed into a cramped mini bus. There’s no point in paying the extra amount just for this to happen.
There are larger Sorya coaches available from Kampot to Phnom Penh and from here you can make your way just about anywhere. If you are going to Sihanoukville consider a shared taxi, it may only cost a few dollars more than a minibus when the fare is shared but will be a damn sight more comfortable!
Because of its small size you can get around anywhere in the centre of Kampot for a dollar or two. If you need to head out of town across the river for accommodation it takes around 10 minutes by tuk tuk and will cost about $4. Kep is even smaller so you probably won’t need to use tuk tuks that often. But some parts are a little spread out, from the main Kep beach to the crab market takes about 2 minutes by tuk tuk and costs around $2.
You can walk around the main town of Kampot with relative ease. This sleepy town doesn’t have much traffic and it’s paved riverside promenade made it a pedestrian friendly place. Kep is a bit more spread out but most of it is within walking distance. From the main Kep beach to the crab market is a 10 minute walk but its probably best to take a tuk tuk after dark because there is very little street lighting.
Motorbikes can be rented for around $7 per day for a small 125 cc or around $14 for a 250 cc. Remember to keep an eye on your moto and don’t fall victim to any rental scams.
Not to miss
Kampot is world famous for its pepper, which is particularly suited to the areas soil type and climate. You can hire a tuk tuk to take you to a pepper farm and back for around $20.
If you want a cheaper option then there are numerous mini bus tours to pepper farms in Kampot, if you ask at your hotel they will usually be able to book something for you.
But going by tuk tuk is definitely the best way to see the stunning Cambodian landscape plus your not waiting for anyone else. Your tuk tuk driver will usually act as your guide – most are enthusiastic to show off their country and their local knowledge means you will often see more than you would on a group tour.
Starling pepper farm is a great visit – it’s a particularly scenic journey to reach the farm and you can stop off on route at a ‘secret’ lake. Learn about the cultivation of this renowned Cambodian export, a favourite in luxury Parisian restaurants, whilst taking in the beautiful surrounding countryside.
Every night at sunset Kampot offers a really special view. Walk to the river to watch a flotilla of fishing boats make their way out to sea as the sun sets over a stunning backdrop. It’s a really beautiful sight.
Bokor Hill Station & National Park
Although it has lost some of its previous charm, Bokor National Park and hill station is still worth a visit. This 1581 square km national park became famous for the once abandoned French hill station located here. Travellers would stay in the only guest house located at the park to view the eerie yet fascinating abandoned hill station and accompanying church and buildings.
Unfortunately the park is now home to an enormous, ugly casino that blights the summit, the Thansur Bokor Highland Resort. The completion of a new road, open to the public, means its now much easier to travel through the park and reach the aforementioned casino. This extensive development project, including a golf course and numerous holiday villas led to the guest house closing and the hill station has had refurbishment works ending it’s dilapidated charm.
The old church is still as it was as are some of the hill stations employee buildings and these are interesting to have a look round in. Putting the hill station and the casino aside, the park still boats some stunning scenery especially as you drive up the hill with rainforest on either side. The climate becomes refreshingly cool when your high up in Bokor and on a clear day you can see some spectacular views from the summit.
Last time we checked Tuk Tuks couldn’t make the climb up Bokor Hill so the easiest way to see it is probably as part of a tour. Most of the tour companies in Kampot offer day trips to explore Bokor and often include extras such as a boat ride on your return to Kampot. Buffalo Tours in Kampot offer a full day experience from 8.30am – 6pm that includes visiting just about everything on Bokor hill as well as a trip to a nearby waterfall and ending with a 2 hours river cruises all for $13.
Dinner at the Kep Crab Market
If you’re a foodie then you have to visit Kep crab market for a seafood feast at one of the restaurants that stretch out on long piers. Get a table right at the end if you can for beautiful sea views while you eat.
The speciality here is Kep crab with Kampot pepper and in our experience it’s always been delicious.
Other Attractions & Sights
Tourism hasn’t taken off in Kampot or Kep to the extent it has in Siem Reap or Sihanoukville making them great places to visit if you want a few days of calm and relaxation.
Both Kampot and Kep have national parks you can visit and enjoy the lush countryside. If you’re in Kep relax at Kep beach – its small but usually quiet and clean or take a boat to Koh Tonsay / Rabbit Island where you can spend the day of stay for a few.
Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island)
Rabbit Island lies just 20 minutes off the Kep coast and has one of the nicest beaches in the area. White sand, lots of coconut trees, and about 6 basic guest houses which also offer fresh seafood make Koh Tonsay one of the most popular places to visit in Kep.
As tourism grows in Kep and Kampot this island will see increasing developing so visit it now if you’re a fan of the rustic. You will be dropped off by boat on the main beach where the islands guest houses are situated. From the southern end of this beach, walk for 10 minutes to find a fishing hamlet and a couple more smaller sand beach.
You can walk around the entire island in about 2 hours or just relax on the beach and have a swim.
How to get there:
Take a tuk tuk to the pier in Kep City and from here you can catch a boat to the island for around $7 / $8 if you book at a travel agent this will often include your transport to the pier.
Kep National Park
The Kep National Park occupies the interior of the Kep peninsular and you can explore it via an 8km trek circuit that runs around the edge of the park.
The main entrance is just behind the Veranda Natural Resort and you’ll need to pay a small entry fee of a dollar that goes towards maintaining the park. The trek circuit includes some beautiful view points to Kampot, the islands and to Vietnam. It usually takes between 2 to 3 hours to complete the circuit. The park is well signposted with maps and information points, all of which are looked after by the owner of the Led Zep Cafe, the only restaurant directly on the trail. The Led Zep Cafe boasts a superb view of Kep and serve a range of western dishes and coffee.
In addition to the main circuit there are now many smaller paths which lead directly into the jungle. You’re unlikely to get lost as most are well sign posted so go explore! Most of the trails are manageable in flip flops and sandals, but some are more challenging and may require covered footwear – use your common sense on the day to decide what’s doable in what your wearing.
The Caves of Kompong Trach and Phnom Chnugk
Kompong Trach and its caves are about 35km north-east of Kep. The town itself doesn’t have much to offer and only has a few basic guest houses.
Inside the limestone cave you find a big reclining Buddha as well as some smaller statues. Located about 10 minutes from the main cave is another cave with a small lake inside. Although it’s a bit of a journey you can take in the scenic countryside on the way.
There are also the smaller Phnom Chnugk caves closer to Kampot. As you drive towards Kampot, turn right just before the big bridge and you’ll reach the caves. Inside is an old Buddhist shrine said to date back some 1300 years.
To get there either hire a tuk tuk driver for the day or book a tour with your hotel or a travel agent. Tuk tuk round trips usually cost around $20.
Food & Drink
As with most of Cambodia, the food and drink prices in Kampot and Kep are very reasonable with some unique eating experiences on offer.
Kampot in particular has a good variety of restaurants offering a variety of Khmer, French and other western dishes. Have an authentic experience at the Khmer Root Cafe who serve traditional Cambodian dishes in a relaxed atmosphere. The food is great and amazing value for money. If you have been travelling for a while and are missing a taste of home then check out O Neil’s Irish bar on the river front. The staff are very friendly, they do a good barbecue in the week and its a great place to have a drink and meet fellow travellers.
As for Kep the crab market is a must visit to try the areas delicacy; fresh Kep crab with Kampot pepper.
Most accommodation options in Kampot are situated in the main town centre but there is also a cluster of guest houses on the other side of the river. For those on a budget you can stay at the ‘certificate of excellent’ winning Magic Sponge for $4 and make sure your there for the hotels ‘Monday Madness’ – one free draft beer for every dollar spent on food!
Accommodation in Kep is fairly spread spread out – most of the hotels and guest houses are scattered from Kep beach to the crab market and beyond generally located either next to the coast or on the edge of the national park.
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