The province of Kep is the smallest and least populated region in all of Cambodia. Covering 336 km² with a population of just over 41,000, Kep is tiny compared to Phnom Penh’s 679 km² area size and 1.5 million population.
Kep town, which sits right on the southern coastline, is located 30 km northwest of neighbouring Kampot. The two regions are connected by a paved road suitable for all modes of transport.
Historically, Kep town and the entire province flourished. The French founded it in 1902 and built beautiful colonial buildings (mainly villas). The French enthusiasm for luxury made it one of the most inviting destinations in Cambodia.
And now? Well, it is quite different, mostly as a direct result of the Khmer Rouge.
The once-beautiful colonial buildings are vacant and dilapidated, and the overall landscape is a little rough around the edges. It all adds up to the mysterious vibe of the province. Cambodian locals still see it as a peaceful seaside retreat, especially on the weekends and during holiday times.
Neighbouring Kampot is the more common destination for travellers
Backpackers and foreign travellers tend to favour neighbouring Kampot and only visit Kep for its beachfront for the day — though it’s worth pointing out the beaches really aren’t as impressive as, say, Sihanoukville’s or the beaches found on the Koh Rong islands.
There’s not as much of a party scene in Kep either — it’s a bit quieter and more modest. There is for example no central town area, so most eateries, bars, and pubs are sporadically placed across the huge beachfront.
If you love fresh seafood (crab!), Kep is still a great place to visit. But for most travellers, Kampot is a more popular place.
Where to stay in Kep
Although Kep has a reputation for being small and modest, there are many places for you to stay.
Most options for accommodation are on the seafront which wraps around the entire town and surrounding areas. You’ll rarely find anything further inland.
This is a blessing, really. Witnessing the Cambodian sunrise and sunset from the balcony of your guesthouse or hotel is something else — though, of course, it doesn’t replace watching it from Kep Beach with a cocktail in hand!
And because there’s such a large number of accommodation spots all around the town, you can find something at all levels of comfort.
Location #1: Kep’s eastern side is for budget travellers
Budget-friendly hostels and guesthouses are pretty common, especially around the eastern side. You can grab a 6-person dormitory for as little as $3-$4 per night at a guesthouse. Private rooms can cost upwards of $10 per night with or without shared toilet/bathroom facilities.
This area of Kep is actually very convenient if you’re looking to take a 25-minute boat over to Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island) from Koh Tonsay Boat Terminal — it’s very close! Read on to find out more about Rabbit Island below.
Location #2: Go west for luxury hotels and the famous Crab Market
The west side of Kep is where you’ll find the famous Crab Market, as well as some pretty incredible seafood restaurants next to it overlooking the sea.
You’ll also find luxury resorts and villas aimed at family holidaymakers as opposed to backpackers.
Prices vary between $30-$100 per night (sometimes more). You’ll find some budget accommodation, but don’t expect as much choice.
Location #3: Relax on the newly upgraded white sands of Kep Beach
Kep beach is probably the most desirable area to stay — the beach is there, after all. However, there aren’t as many accommodation options, which is very surprising. You’d think there would be, right?
There are only three or four places directly on the beachfront. The prices are much higher than in the east, and you’ll be looking to pay anywhere between $20-$60 a night for a private room.
If you want cheaper, simply venture further north up the road. You’ll find a few hostels and guesthouses there, although you won’t be as near to the beach. Expect to pay anywhere between $6-$8 in a shared dorm.
Top things to do in Kep
Kep and neighbouring Kampot share many things to do, being in close proximity. The Bokor National Park, for instance, spreads across both provinces, making it easily accessible from both towns.
As well as the amazing things to do in Kampot, there are also cool activities to do in Kep itself.
Kep Crab Market is where to find some of the freshest seafood
Kep is well-known for its crabbing industry, and no surprise a whole market dedicated to crabs exists in the region.
The market is located on the eastern shoreline of Kep, which runs alongside Chhak Kep Bay. Every morning, when the sun rises you’ll find fishermen and market stall owners reeling in their crates of crab fresh from the sea, ready to sell.
Once you’re there, you’ll notice crab isn’t the only thing on the menu. There’s a maze of sellers offering an assortment of seafood, fruits, vegetables, and drinks. Weirdly, clothes, hats, and accessories are also available as well. Not something you’d expect!
Visit Kep National Park for hiking trails and spectacular views
Compared to Bokor National Park further to the north, Kep National Park is relatively small, however, it does spread right through 65 km² of Kep Province.
Established in 1993, you’re totally free to roam through the park’s endless paths and hiking trails to catch a glimpse of Phu Quoc and the Bokor Ranges, as well as Vietnam, in the distance.
The park is very well maintained too, which will make your hike more enjoyable. Some of the paths are paved, whilst others are dirt tracks. Each walking trail is signposted to stop you from getting lost. The Stairway to Heaven trail is particularly amazing — it’s not quite so overgrown as you’d find with the others around the park.
There is a $1 entrance fee but the views and nature around you are well worth it.
Hop on over to Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island)
Rabbit Island is only a 20-25 minute boat ride away from the coast of Kep — it’s a very easy trip and won’t take a chunk of time out of your day!
Thanks to a lack of development, this small island, only 2 km in size, has kept its peaceful remote aura. There are no high-rise buildings spoiling the lush green scenery, nor will you find much in the way of modernisation — everything you see is authentically Khmer.
Although Rabbit Island might sound tempting, it isn’t the same paradise you’ll find on the islands further north around Sihanoukville. Rabbit Island offers only a small beach strip that isn’t particularly interesting or close to the phenomenal islands Koh Rong Samloem or Koh Rong.
In our honest opinion, we would rather spend some extra time at Koh Rong (Samloem).
Can’t resist seeing every island Cambodia has to offer?
Then you can take a boat from the Koh Tonsay Ferry Terminal found in the eastern area of Kep. One-day return tickets are $7 through your accommodation/hostel tour operators or $20 for the whole boat with 8-10 of your travel buds.
If the island exceeds your expectations, you can find a small number of beach chalets on the west side of the beach. These typically start from $10 or so per night.
For a full rundown of things to do in Kep, take a look at our picks in Kampot. We’ve listed ten of our favourite places to explore regardless of whether you’re in Kep or Kampot.
How to get to Kep
The easiest way to get to Kep is by bus from either Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville. The journey from Sihnaoukvill will take 3-4 hours, while the journey from Phnom Penh takes about an hour longer.
Note that most buses go via Kampot, which means the journey to Kep will take 30-60 minutes longer as the bus operators often make a stop in Kampot before continuing to Kep.