l Explore the South-East part of Cambodia: Kep – Kampot Travel Guide

Explore the South-East part of Cambodia: Kep – Kampot Travel Guide

Cập nhật: 01-01-1970 12:00:00 | Blogs about Cambodia | Lượt xem: 1172

The 443-km-long Cambodian coast is divided between four provinces: Koh Kong, Sihanoukville, Kampot, and Kep. Among them, Kep and Kampot are the two places that clearly represent the French colonial past. At a time when Sihanoukville and the neighboring islands were still unexplored and Koh Kong was a frontier territory in the hands of smugglers, Kep and Kampot were the seaside pearls of this ​​Indochina area.

The Khmer Rouge period marked the dramatic decline of these places, but today they have risen from their ashes and regained the charm of yesteryear. In addition to quiet beaches and rural hinterland, Kep and Kampot are also famous for their gastronomic specialties, such as Kep crabs and the renowned Kampot pepper.

During a Cambodia tour, a trip around these two colonial cities is a must to dive into the heart of Khmer history. If you are planning a Kep – Kampot or Kep Kampot Phnom Penh travel, feel free to check out the Kep – Kampot travel guide and map below for some useful suggestions.

Kep, a seaside resort of the French in Cambodia

So, is Kep worth visiting? Don’t worry much about that. Even though the city is not big, there are still many interesting things to discover in Kep. If you want to disconnect from the world and relax in a tropical landscape, Kep, among the outstanding travel destinations of Cambodia, is truly the ideal place for you.

History of Kep province

Kep (or Kaeb, which means “Saddle” in Khmer) is Cambodia’s smallest province with an area of only 336 km². The city of Kep was built in 1908 during the French colonial period and originally named Kep-sur-mer, or “Kep by the Sea”. In the 1960s, it was upgraded to a beach resort for the French and Cambodian elite.

People tend to believe that most French constructions and resorts in Kep were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge years, but in fact, it was the poor Cambodian locals who stripped down the villas to exchange valuable parts for rice and cash.

Now, Kep is one of the fastest developing touristic areas in the whole country with more than 60 guesthouses, hotels and resorts. Despite the dark past, it’s not hard to see vestiges from the golden age of this lovely coastal city today, especially the symbols, signs and buildings that belong to the French colonization.

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Things to do in Kep

Relax on Kep beach

Although this city does not have a real center and no longer has the architectural heritage it owned in the golden years, it is still a pleasurable and relaxing place with crystal clear water and a stunning beach. Needless to say, sunbathing on the snow-white sand or taking a walk while watching the sunset will be a wonderful experience on your Cambodia vacation.

Stop by the Crab Market

Apart from basking on the beach, the most recommended experience in Kep is absolutely wandering around the renowned Crab Market, located right beside the Fish Market. To be honest, there is no better place to interact with the locals and enjoy a myriad of delicacies at a low price than this fantastic market. The crabs here are expertly prepared in an infinite number of different ways, with a creativity that can amaze even the best chefs in French.

Visit Kep National Park

Kep National Park stretches over 53km2 on a small mountain rising from the city center. Since 2007, local authorities and foreign owners of Led Zep café have created and maintained a network of trails throughout the park. Thanks to an 8-km long road surrounding the mountain, you can now reach its peak easily by bicycle or motorbike. From here, you will be able to see some fascinating places such as Kep beach, Kampot, the ocean, and even the island of Phu Quoc in Vietnam.

Take an excursion to the surrounding islands

There are several islands and islets around Kep that are worth competing with the Thai ones. Among them, the most touristically developed is Koh Tonsay, aka the Rabbit Island. Koh Tonsay offers some beautiful beaches, seaside restaurants, possibilities for water sports, rustic bungalows where you can relax and stay overnight and, above all, the chance to have fun in the jungle that covers this island almost entirely.

Other noteworthy islands are Koh Pos the Snake Island, which is admired for its practically deserted beach, and Koh Svay – the Mango Island. All these islands can be easily reached by boat through excursions that cost between $15 to $50.

Kampot, an effortlessly enchanting colonial resort town

Located 25km northwest of Kep is Kampot city – the capital of Kampot province. This quiet town is best known as a starting point for hikes to the Bokor mountain and its appealing river scene. With a charming and peaceful beauty, Kampot is a great escape from the big cities of Cambodia.

History of Kampot province

The first time the name Kampot was mentioned in the Cambodian Royal Chronicles was in 1771, when Khmer prince Ang Non II used it as a base for his hostilities until obtaining the throne in 1775. Years later, in 1840, Kampot was put in the public eye again as it became the very first international seaport of Cambodia. 

Just like Kep, Kampot used to be a colonial city under French rule after Cambodia became a protectorate of France in 1863. In the 19th century, Kampot experienced its golden age and served as the administrative center in the border area under the control of the French colonial government. However, after the foundation of Sihanoukville in 1950 and the advent of the Khmer Rouge, this place lost its centrality and was relegated to a marginal role.

Through many historical fluctuations and innumerable ups and downs over time, the city of Kampot has not developed much in terms of infrastructure and still retains almost its original appearance. It can be clearly seen through the Old Bridge that crosses the Kampot River, and the buildings with typical French colonial architecture that are now turned into headquarters, restaurants and café.

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Things to do in Kampot

Catch the Crab Shuttle

A great way to take in the picturesque scenery of Cambodia’s pristine coastline is to take the Crab Shuttle, which runs regularly between Kampot and Kep. After boarding the boat early in the morning, travelers can bathe in the sun and enjoy the relaxing sea breeze of the Thai Gulf. If you are lucky enough, you can even spot schools of flying fish as they glide through the waters. The price per person is $10 one way, $15 return, and $45 for a 4-hour journey that includes a BBQ seafood lunch.

Drop by a pepper farm

Kampot is known locally for durian farms and worldwide for pepper plantations. Kampot pepper is the only food product exported from Cambodia to the world, so there’s no surprise that visiting pepper farms are a well-liked activity here. There are numerous pepper plantations around Kampot and most of which always welcome visitors, but the most popular ones are Sothy’s Pepper Farm, La Plantation and The Vine Retreat. And the best thing is, their tours are totally free of cost.

Go see the salt fields

Did you know that hundreds of thousands of Cambodian children have been saved thanks to iodized salt delivered from Kampot factories? To go to the famous Kampot salt fields, just cross any bridge, turn left and continue for about 15 minutes. This is where the locals bring salt water from the sea and collect the solidified salt when it’s all dry. The process of traditional salt harvesting is super interesting to see with your own eyes, and you can also learn about the varieties of salt from the hard-working salters as well. But before you go, please keep in mind that the wet season isn’t the best time to explore such places because there won’t be any activities to observe at all.

Explore Bokor National Park

The easiest way to get from Kampot to Bokor National Park is to drive, which costs $5 – $8 and takes less than an hour. After passing 8 km on Road 4, you will see a large plaque welcoming you to Bokor National Park on the right side. At the end of the road is Bokor Hill Station – a collection of buildings created by French colonists as a settlement in the 1920s.

Bokor National Park’s entrance fee is $0.5 for motorbikes and $2.5 for cars. The 140,000 hectares that make up this park offer breathtaking natural views and an amazing variety of wildlife, ranging from foxes, tigers, snakes... to one of the largest herds of elephants in Cambodia. There are also waterfalls, exotic flora and long jungle trails to explore here.

Visit Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple

Located only 8 km northeast of Kampot, the Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple dedicated to Shiva is definitely a must-see in any Kep – Kampot tour package. As the only cave temple in Cambodia, this Hindu cave complex was built in the Funan style and has a history of over 1,300 years. It’s not very big, but you will be delighted with wondrous elephant-shaped stalactites when you come here, not to mention the stunning views of the hills around Kampot.

When to visit Kep and Kampot

The best time to visit Kep and Kampot varies depending on the purpose of your trip. According to experienced guides, the greatest period to rejoice in the sea of the Cambodian coast is the middle of the dry season (November to February), when you can fully enjoy the beaches and the pleasant temperature, which ranges from 25 – 27°C (77 – 80°F).

The months from June to October, however, are preferred by those who love to explore the countryside and the inland forest. This corner of the country is always a colorful and luxuriant Eden during this time with abundant rains and an average temperature of 27 – 29°C (80 – 84°F).

How to get there

You can either visit Kep first or Kampot first depending on your preference, given that these two cities are not too far apart. If you are traveling from Phnom Penh to Kampot – Kep, you can easily reach your destination by bus, motorbike, private taxi and collective taxi. The price varies from $5 to $40, and travel time is about 3 to 4 hours. Another popular choice is catching a bus from Sihanoukville, which takes about 2 hours and costs $7 – $8.

From Kep to Kampot and vice versa, a bus ride costs only $3, and a taxi or tuk-tuk should cost around $20 for a 30-minute journey. Of course, you can also take the Crab Shuttle suggested above for a great experience with views over the coast, but remember to book a seat at least 2 days in advance.

What to eat in Kep - Kampot

Kep crab

Kep has a well-deserved reputation for some of the freshest crabs in the whole world. In addition to the above-mentioned Crab Market, you can easily find crab in every corner of this city, both raw and cooked. There are countless delicacies made of crab you can munch on, but the most popular one tourists must try is kdam chaa – a very simple yet tasty dish based on fried crab, flavored with pepper from nearby Kampot and seasoned with other ingredients such as cornstarch, lemongrass, garlic, onion, and sesame oil… However, be aware that the best crab is always exported or sold to luxury Phnom Penh restaurants, so be careful not to give in to offers that are too cheap.

Kampot durian

Besides pepper, another highlight that draws attention to Kampot cuisine is durian – a sweet, custardy fruit that’s affectionately called the “King of Fruits” throughout Southeast Asia. You may haven’t heard of this fact yet, but it’s hard not to notice the distinctive durian roundabout in the middle of Kampot. There are about 1,300 hectares of cultivation land for durians in this city, and their total yield is about 12,280 tonnes per year. Despite the stinky smell that can be really unpleasant for many, durian’s flavor is particular and intense enough to make it one of the most prized fruits in the whole world.

Seafood

Since Kep and Kampot are both located by the sea, these two are undoubtedly good places to enjoy ocean-fresh seafood produced in the area. Apart from crab, these coastal cities also offer many other tempting seafood-themed options for you to freely choose from, including various kinds of shrimps, squids, octopuses and fish. You can either buy fresh ones at a local market and get your seafood cooked right there, or head to a well-known restaurant for some extraordinary cuisine and service.

Cambodian street food

The street is always the best place to get a taste of the most authentic gastronomy in every country. In Kep and Kampot, you can effortlessly sample some of the best Cambodian foods at mobile stalls or local markets for incredibly low prices, and they include all the main Khmer cuisine classics you’re looking for. Some must-try dishes you should not miss are fish amok, chive cakes, fried egg noodles and rice porridge.

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