Kep – abandoned villas and green hills of the Kep National Park

Kep is a peaceful, coastal town famous mostly for the crab market as well as the vicinity of salt fields and pepper plantations. Kep is divided into a few different zones located quite a large distance from one another. There is a beach in Kep but for some reason it doesn’t appeal to Western tourists and is used only by the locals. The tiny Kep National Park with a few nice walking routes is easily accessible from any part of the town.

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Kep has a feel of a small town but spreads over a large area, all around Kep National Park

ARRIVING AT THE BEACH

An already pricey minivan from Otres beach unexpectedly dropped us at the Kep Beach rather than in Kep town. As we were in no mood to pay more for a tuk- tuk, we just walked along the sea the remaining 3 km to our accommodation. It started raining soon after we checked in. Due to the weather, we got stranded at our cosy, hippie, budget accommodation for the rest of the day. It wasn’t such a big deal, considering we had already seen the Crab Market and driven around that area a few days earlier.

KEP ON A BUDGET

Kep turned out to be much smaller and less exciting than Kampot. Personally, I preferred Kampot but I believe choosing between the two depends on your taste and what you’d like to do.

Just like in Kampot, finding a cheap accommodation was a piece of cake. We stayed in a rather basic room in a hippie hostel overlooking cow pastures and the sea further in the distance for barely $4 a night.

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View from our budget guesthouse: cows and sea in the distance

Shopping and eating out posed much more trouble than in Kampot, though. The Kep market (not to be confused with Kep Crab Market) was very small, almost empty and didn’t offer very much in terms of meals.

WALKING ALONG THE COAST

We had just one day of reasonably good weather in Kep and we were determined to make the most of it. In the morning, we ventured out for a short walk along the sea, past a broken pier and very poor looking dwelling shacks literally on the sea.

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There is a reason for building houses on stilts

Walking the dirt roads along the coast, we could have a good view at the steaming hills of Kep National Park. The flooded landscape with lotus ponds here and there looked quite lovely. Unfortunately, after an hour or so it started raining heavily again so we had to retreat to the hostel. We waited until 4 pm until the rain turned back into a drizzle.

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Lotus pond and Kep National Park in the distance

AN EVENING WALK IN THE KEP NATIONAL PARK

This time we were hoping to get nearer -if not inside- the Kep National Park itself. We started with the Independence Monument, set dramatically between the sea and the mountains.

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The striking silhouette of the Independence Monument

A very good, wide and completely deserted tarmac road led us along the edges of the park, past dozens of abandoned villas, presumably French ones. Sometimes all that was left was a gate and an orchard. It was quite a pleasant stroll with good views at the forest -clad hills on one side and sea with its numerous islands on the other.

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Only fences left from what used to be a residential area in the French colonial times

As the rain finally stopped completely, we decided to carry on past a new pagoda to the points described on the free tourist map as the Nuns Temple and the Sunset Rock. It was already dusk and with the weather so unpredictable we were hoping Google was correct showing it would be only a 15 minutes walk.

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The view from the path towards the Sunset Rock

The first section of the road leading up was cemented, later turning into a well-maintained dirt path. We were the only people around and the sounds of the jungle combined with a thin mist and gathering darkness created a special atmosphere. The path led us to a clearing with a new shrine and, a little bit higher up, to a small temple and a cluster of huts.

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A temple in the middle of the forest

Just as we were approaching the temple, two dogs came out barking at us. As they appeared rather aggressive we were relieved to see a nun coming out of the hut and calling the dogs. Not risking any more canine encounters, we turned back. Only on our way back did we notice a small sign on a tree next to a narrow path climbing steeply through the jungle. It said ‘Phnom Kep – 100 meters’, phnom meaning hill in Khmer. I assume that path would have taken us to the Sunset Rock we were looking for but considering how muddy the path was, how bad Sayak’s sandals were and how late it was getting, we deemed hiking unwise. It was a shame, as we were so close! The path we took led mostly through a thick forest though there were moments we could glimpse the sea and the islands.

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Sunset through the Lady and the Dolphin statue

We then took the road leading straight to the sea. The sky wasn’t very overcast at that point so we could see the red hue in the horizon. I assume the sunset must have been visible from the Crab Market but was it obscured from the view at the Dolphin and the Lady statue where we were standing by a small peninsula. It was a long walk home from there, thankfully, along a well-lit main road.

GOODBYE CAMBODIA, HELLO VIETNAM

It was our last night in Cambodia. Dreading that in south Vietnam we would experience exactly the same weather as in Kep but without any alternative choice, we got the tickets for a morning minivan to Ha Tien, the nearest town just across the border.

PRACTICALITIES

How to get to  Kep?

A bus from Phnom Penh should take around 4 hours and cost ca. $7. More expensive minivans connect Kep to Kampot and Sihanoukville (including Otres beach).
You could also take a minivan from Kep to Ha Tien in Vietnam which is just 30 km away.

Prices [in USD as of July 2018]:

$8 minivan Otres beach- Kep beach
$7 minivan Kep town- Ha Tien (Vietnam)
$4 basic room with a shared bathroom in Kep town
$3 cheapest meal at the guesthouse
$2 laundry
$0.75 noodles at Kep market

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