Known as the St. Tropez of Southeast Asia during Cambodia’s French rule, Kep was a premier seaside destination back in the day.
Although Thailand’s beaches have always been choice destinations, its neighbouring country Cambodia is slowly garnering attention too. In fact, not too long ago during the French colonisation of Cambodia, Kep was a dream seaside retreat likened to the beauty of St. Tropez.
Unfortunately, the coastal town saw a decline in tourism and development during the Khmer Rouge era – although things are slowly picking up again, it doesn’t show the same glory days it once had back in the day. This, however, means good news to those wanting a quieter and less party-centric holiday compared to the likes of its neighbours including Phuket.
Holidaymakers here will be able to find a slice of paradise, plenty of unspoiled nature, and very little tourist traps – for now, that is. Read on for a comprehensive Kep travel guide on what to do, where to stay, and the best things to eat during your time here.
What To Do
Enjoy Kep Beach. There’s a reason why Kep was likened to St. Tropez, and it’s evident in the golden sandy beaches. The best part is that it’s rarely ever crowded and nobody is going to hound you every other minute for water sporting activities. But if you really want to be away from it all, take a short 20-minute boat ride to Rabbit Island where it’s even more tranquil. It’s not completely away from civilisation – there are still eateries on the island.
Whether or not the forest is your scene, you definitely have to check out Kep National Park. It’s not the largest, so it’s easy to traverse and see the many local flora and fauna there on a well-marked path within several hours. Phnom Chhnork Caves are also popular with the little tourists there, a well-connected network of Buddhist shrines and caves. There you’ll also see pre-Angkorian carvings and the 7th-century shrine to Shiva.
To get a feel of what the locals are normally up to in Kep, you’ll need to visit the Crab Market. It’s in the middle of the town area and bustling with activity especially in the mornings when the fishermen hawk their freshest catches. Crab is one of the main seafood items, hence the name.
Where To Stay
Want a slice of the French colonial high life? Then book yourself a stay at Knai Bang Chatt, a gorgeous oceanfront hotel with modern architecture and stylish interior. Three of the hotel’s renovated modernist villas were built in the 70s by pupils of iconic Khmer architect Vann Molyvann. There are four villas with 18 rooms in total, making for an intimate resort. The infinity pool is definitely one of the star features of the resort, boasting views of the Gulf of Thailand.
As for food, there’s The Strand, the hotel’s in-house restaurant that serves up seafood and steak with local produce. For something a little more casual, head to the Sailing Club where you can get cosy Khmer or Western-style food and cocktails during happy hour. Those thinking of reducing their carbon footprint will be glad to know that Knai Bang Chatt is awarded a Green Growth 2050 label. Also, 2.5% of the room rate goes directly to the hotel’s sustainability projects.
Another seafront hotel to consider is Samanea Beach Resort & Spa, hidden in a private botanical park in Kep. The luxury private beach resort only has 12 villas with either a sea or garden view. During your time here, you’ll be able to take in many different views: the Bay of Thailand, Phu Quoc Island, Bokor Mountain, a protected mangrove forest where you can walk through via a boardwalk, and a long wooden sea jetty for your social media purposes.
Similar to Knai Bang Chatt, this resort also ramps up its sustainability efforts by using only local materials for its structures, solar panels, wastewater treatment, and more.
What To Eat
With crab being one of the main draws of Kep, it’s definitely something you’ll need to try while you’re there. Head to Kep Sur Mer Restaurant for some of the best local-style crab dishes including pepper crabs, crab cake, and crab amok (a baked seafood dish). The restaurant is located in the Crab Market – easy access when you’re already there.
Another restaurant within the Crab Market worth visiting is La Baraka Lounge Bar & Restaurant. It offers more international flavours rather than local ones – think European with an Asian fusion. There are seafood bags, carpaccio dishes, pizzas, and also pasta. Paying homage to its former French colonial times is Le Bout du Monde, a French and Asian fusion restaurant within the hotel of the same name. The styles of dishes range from French to Cambodian and also Khmer cuisine. Dinner is a great time to go, as the sunset view of the Gulf of Thailand is beautiful and perfect for a romantic setting.