Currently in Moraira, Spain

Kep, Cambodia – Beach nostalgia

Home » Destinations » Cambodia » Kep, Cambodia – Beach nostalgia
Last update: April 2023

The South of Cambodia has many hidden gem destinations. Or maybe not so hidden anymore since the tropical Islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem are starting to attract more visitors as of lately. And what to think of Kampot, the lazy riverside town? Once only visited by travelers in the know, now a favorite weekend retreat for Phnom Penh stationed English teachers and NGO workers.

Kep is also making grounds in the tourism realm, but for now remains relatively subdued. A stark contrast with the hustle and bustle of the previous century when Kep was an immensely popular jet-set destination. For sure the beachfront access will help Kep to regain popularity with domestic and international visitors in the very near future. You should come and enjoy the unique, tranquil atmosphere while you can.

Giant crab statue at Kep, Cambodia
Welcome to Kep, Cambodia

Traveling to Cambodia? Quick-check the up-to-date entry requirements


Beach town Kep was popular from day one. In the early 1900’s the French colonials built their holiday villas on a small strip of coastline overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. Kep sur Mer (Kep by the sea) was born. Due to Cambodia’s independence in 1953 the French were forced to leave and the villas residents were soon replaced by wealthy Cambodians. They added hundreds of new, lavish and grande villas and Kep was transformed into an extravagant holiday resort for the Cambodian elite.

Kep 1960's post card
Kep in the 1960’s

Demise of Kep

Decadent parties starring King Sihanouk and Western socialites like Jackie Kennedy and Catherine Deneuve continued throughout the sixties. Kep was the hippest place in South East Asia. Then, by military coup the reigning Cambodian royalty and nobility were ousted in 1970, starting the demise of Kep. Soon after, the Khmer Rouge gained popularity and took control over Cambodia in 1975 after winning the civil war. The rest is history.

Come back

The communist Khmer Rouge allegedly stripped and damaged the already abandoned Kep villas leaving them uninhabitable and to further deteriorate. To this day, hundreds of desolate and ruined art-deco villas still dot the landscape of Kep as a testimony to days of yore.

However, Kep is making a come back. It’s not by far the exuberant and decadent destination that it used to be, but both domestic and foreign tourists have found their way back and are starting to shake up things in sleepy Kep.

Abandoned villa in Kep, Cambodia
One of hundreds of abandoned Kep villas

True charm

So, what is actually the charm of Kep in the 21st Century. I have thought long and hard and concluded that it’s not the beach. Don’t get me wrong, the beach is nice, especially since it was replenished and extended with fine white sand. It’s still rather small though and at times plastic waste can be a problem.

Also, there is some, but no bustling night life (yet), which is so typical to popular beach side resorts. So what is it about Kep? In my opinion it’s the access to the interesting hinterland with pepper farms, caves and salt flats. Combined with sea breezes, excellent seafood and an ever so lazy atmosphere makes Kep a worthwhile destination.

Things to see/do in Kep

Kep Beach

1hr to whole day activity

First and foremost there’s the beach, about half a kilometer in length and 50 meters wide. During the week it’s peaceful and quiet and even the promenade lining the beach has but a few strolling visitors. What a difference with the weekend! Cars and busses blaring loud music are bringing group after group of weekenders from Phnom Penh. The beach is filled with families and expats seeking entertainment in the calm, cool water. Street food vendors on the promenade are doing good business.

Modern day Kep is very much alive….on weekends. So whether you are looking for hustle and bustle or tranquility, choose your beach time wisely.

View of Kep Beach
Kep Beach

Koh Tonsay

Whole day or multiple day activity

Just 5 km off the coast of Kep is Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island). The small and quiet Island is good for a day trip or even a couple days. There isn’t a whole lot to do, but that’s actually kind of the main attraction. A handful of nice beaches and a hiking trail around the Island with some wonderful sights of nature are all you need. If you stay overnight you should go for a swim in the evening and behold the bio-luminescent plankton.

Any guesthouse in Kep can arrange tickets for the 20 minute boat ride. Tickets are $8-$10 and the ferry leaves twice everyday. Alternatively, head to the Koh Tonsay Boat Terminal before 9am and find a private boat to take you. Normally it’s $25 for up to 6 persons and there are bound to be other people that would like to share.

Koh Tonsay Cambodia near Kep
Koh Tonsay

Accommodation on Koh Tonsay is usually basic and cheap. Beware that electricity and wifi is not available 24/7 and hot water remains an illusion. There’s a row of small bungalow resorts right on the main beach near the pier. Without a doubt Kim Vouch Ay Bungalow ($10-$15) is the best choice, but also usually fully booked. For stays during weekends and public holidays book far, far ahead. The Island’s restaurants are also concentrated along the main beach. They are cheap and delicious with generous portions.

Pepper farms

Half day activity including transport

The area around Kep and neighboring province Kampot is strewn with pepper plantations. Visiting a plantation is easy to do and most of them will welcome visitors with open arms. Some of them, like La Plantation and Bo Tree Farm even have guides at the ready that will gladly show you around and explain the production process. The tours are absolutely interesting and free, but of course they hope that you might purchase some products. And why not? The pepper is excellent and make a great souvenir.

To find the pepper farms, venture into the countryside North of road 33. The small road 1333 has a whole bunch of farms in a row and to the east of the secret lake is where some of the bigger plantations can be found. Most convenient would be of course to arrange a tuk-tuk through your guest house.

Harvesting Kampot pepper in Kep, Cambodia
Harvesting pepper
Drying Kampot pepper in Kep, Cambodia
Drying pepper

Motorbike tour around Kep

Half day to whole day activity

It’s such a joy to drive in the Kep surroundings. This province offers some of the best rural countryside in Cambodia and what better way to explore it than on your rental motorbike. You don’t even have to go far, the fun already starts in the outskirts of Kep town.

Witness rural life in the villages with traditional stilted houses. Take in the sights of small picturesque lakes and beautiful landscape with limestone outcrops popping up out of nowhere. See water buffalo and Asian cows roaming around the rice fields and visit some of the countless small pagodas .

Cow blocking the road in Kep, Cambodia
Watch out for obstacles

While the Kep countryside can also be enjoyed with a hired tuk-tuk, a motorbike gives you an unequaled sense of freedom. Get lost while driving and find yourself off the beaten path. Literally every random left or right turn seems to lead to somewhere new and surprising.

Kep National Park

Half day activity

The Kep hill and its surroundings in the middle of the peninsula are granted National park status. It’s not exactly pristine nature, because of its close proximity to Kep town, but still it’s a nice jungle area. There are small tracks sloping up and down and an 8km trail with signs going around the hill. The trail is good for a 2-3hr trek or up to 5 hours if you include the sloping tracks. You might even see a few monkeys, or lizards, or snakes. Admission to the park is $1. Well, if there is any staff present that is.

View from Kep Hill, Cambodia
View from Kep hill

Kampong Trach

Half to whole day activity including transport

On road 33 from Kep towards the Vietnamese border, just before it meets road 31, take a left into the countryside to find Kampong Trach. A large karst rock formation provides beautiful views of the area and houses an interesting cave network and cave tubes, as well as natural swimming pools. Allow yourself to be guided for a small fee by one of the kids hanging around at the caves .

Kampong Trach near Kep, Cambodia
Kampong Trach
Natural pool at Kampong Trach near Kep, Cambodia
Natural pool at Kampong Trach


Half day to whole day activity including transport

Nearby riverside town Kampot is definitely worth a visit. Similar to Kep it’s another favorite weekend retreat for the Phnom Penh expat community. The distance between the two towns is a mere 25 km. Thus, it’s easy to travel by tuk-tuk, motorbike or even bicycle for a half day trip or a whole day if you add a visit to Bokor mountain.

Travel Insurance

No, don’t skip this part, even if you think that travel insurance is boring. Healthcare in Cambodia is hopelessly underdeveloped and you’re a million miles away from decent medical care. Any serious ailments or injuries will most likely involve costly medical transport to Bangkok or Singapore, payable upfront if you lack proper insurance. Better have that wealthy uncle on speed dial.

Always make sure to travel with the right insurance. One that also covers your medical care abroad and includes evacuations and repatriation. Don’t just assume that adventurous activities are covered under your normal insurance. Read more about travel insurance or at least get a non-committal and instant quote in under 30 seconds.

Where to stay in Kep

Kep has a lot of accommodation options in the budget and mid range spectrum, lets say starting from $10 to around $50. Many of the accommodations are concentrated near the crab market on road 33A leading up to Kep beach. Another cluster near the beach itself and in Kep town. As new guesthouses and small boutique hotels seem to open up by the dozen, you won’t have any problems finding your accommodation in Kep.

Note that Kep accommodation development is nothing like Sihanoukville where impersonal high rises seem to be the norm. Instead, Kep opts for a small scale, stylish and tranquil standard.

Raingsey Bungalow
Mid Range = from $30 to $75
Stay here if you appreciate more comfort and style in a boutique resort. Very nice bungalows in a beautiful garden surrounding the small pool. Staff is excellent and of course all bungalows come with free wifi and aircon.

Saravoan Kep
Mid Range = from $30 to $75
Just steps from the Kep beach with stunning views. We didn’t actually stay here, but had some drinks in the hotel bar. Several guests commented that they were very happy with their stay and the service. They all mentioned they would book there again next time around. recommends

Khmer Hands Bungalows
Budget = from $10 to $30
Our favorite place when in Kep. Beautiful bungalows and a gorgeous main building that hosts the elevated restaurant. Rooms are basic, but in excellent condition. Owners take pride in their resort and it shows. 5 min by tuk-tuk to the crab market and 10 min to Kep beach. This place sells out fast.

Where to eat in Kep

Crab market

The famous crab market of Kep is an absolute must visit. And of course you will have to sample the fresh crab, preferably combined with pepper from neighboring Kampot. The crab market is located on the Western waterfront of the peninsular tip. Know, that you won’t be alone since the place is teeming with domestic and foreign visitors, especially on weekends. Despite the tourist crowds, the crab market manages to hold on to its small town, albeit somewhat chaotic charm.

Seafood galore

While they name it ‘crab market‘ it’s not just crab on the menu. It is seafood galore, shellfish, shrimp, squid and hundreds of different fish. But back to the crab, you buy your crab by the kilo (bargain, bargain). The crab ladies will pull in the cages from the sea where the crabs are kept alive and cook them right then an there for you. Next, find a seat at one of the market tables and other vendors will offer rice, vegetables, dips and drinks for sale. So, dig in, it’s delicious and as fresh as can be.

Update – February, 2019

The growing popularity of the market and the high demand for crab has unfortunately lead to non-sustainable methods of crab fishing. Local fishermen increasingly use trail nets, affecting the sea grass beds and coral off the coast of Kep. As a result major breeding and nursery grounds for all kinds of marine life are rapidly being destroyed. Maybe the consumption of locally sourced crab isn’t such a good idea anymore. Don’t worry, you can still visit the market and have your pick from hundreds of other delicious, but non-threatened seafood options.

Seafood Restaurants

On the road from the crab market towards Kep beach, along the waterfront are about two dozen seafood restaurants. They all know how to cook up a great seafood dish, which is no wonder with such fresh ingredients. Holy Crab restaurant is very good and creative, but my favorite pick is restaurant Magic Crab. Fresh and good quality ingredients don’t need a lot of hassle. Magic Crab certainly understands this and keeps its prices reasonable as well. Both restaurants source sustainable crab from outside of Kep.

Knai Bang Chatt Sailing Club Beautiful sunsets, good food and cocktails in a chill atmosphere with your feet in the sand. That just about sums up this establishment. It’s an institution amongst the Phnom Penh expats that use Kep as their weekend retreat, and expats always know the best places. As posh as it gets in Kep, which is reflected in the pricing.

Knai Bang Chatt seafood linguine in Kep Cambodia
KBC Seafood Linguine
Knai Bang Chatt seafood platter in Kep Cambodia
KBC Seafood platter

Chankiri Restaurant Need a break from seafood, but don’t want to go back to burgers or pizza? Chankiri is the answer, although they have some excellent seafood of course. Contrary to most Cambodian restaurants that serve Western food with a Khmer twist Chankiri has a different approach. They offer Asian dishes with a Western twist, but only to balance flavors and presentation. I’m convinced! As posh as it gets in Kep, which is reflected in the pricing. Worth every penny though and you deserve it!

Chankiri Restaurant dish in Kep Cambodia
By Chankiri Restaurant in Kep

How to get to Kep

Multiple minivans and busses leave from Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville to Kep every day. For bus/ferry/train schedules and tickets within Cambodia I always use the transport planning tool below from to book online.

Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). The tool is incredibly easy to use, just fill out your place of departure, your destination and travel date. It will show the complete schedule and ticket price of all related transport. Make your choice and book instantly.

Getting around

Unless you stick to the beach area Kep is less convenient to walk around. So, renting a motorbike ($6-$7) or bicycle ($1) makes sense even for traveling within Kep town. Of course tuk-tuks are abundant with short trips costing $1.5-$2.

Tuk-tuk rides from Kampot to Kep are between $10-$15 one way and $15-$20 for return trips depending on you negotiation skills. Use the popular taxi-apps Grab or PassApp if you want to avoid all the bargain hassle.

* affiliate links disclaimer

You might also like…

Link to Kampot, Cambodia Travel Guide
Link to Koh Rong & Koh Rong Sanloem Travel Guide
Link to 11 Most Wonderful Things to do in Kratie, Cambodia blog post
Link to Koh Kong, Cambodia Travel Guide
Link to Angkor Wat - Overrated blog post
Link to Bicycle your way to Silk Island blog post

Save this article to Pinterest for later? Click on the save button in one of the images below.

Share this article on Facebook and save to Pinterest