Kep is a quiet, coastal province just southeast of Kampot, which seems to be known chiefly for its seafood and the abundance of small, beachside resorts that dot the coastline. Signs as far away as Kampot city announced the direction to Kep Beach, so it was with some amusement that we discovered it to be a tiny strip of seaweed-laden sand only a few feet from the road.
We cruised up the coastal road, discovering a number of pleasant ways to sit and watch the ocean – raw wooden benches on the sidewalks, seaside bars and restaurants, and many thatched roof huts hung with hammocks. Welcoming all arrivals to the city was a magnificent crab statue sitting on a pier out in the water.
The Crab Market in Kep is well known in the area for serving freshly caught seafood, with crabs and local Kampot pepper being a particular specialty. Managing to duck into Sokheang Restaurant just in time to avoid a torrential cloudburst, I sat and thoroughly enjoyed a delicious plate of crabs with sautéed Kampot green peppercorns, making the kind of mess one would usually expect from a toddler’s first ice cream cone. They brought out a bowl of lemon water for washing, but I was mildly surprised they didn’t offer to simply hose me down. Meanwhile, we watched a small boat less than a hundred yards from the restaurant, pulling up the crabs they were serving for lunch. It doesn’t get any fresher than that!
Overlooking the coast is Kep National Park, a diminutive park featuring dense forests and a number of hills for gaining beautiful views of the coastline. In contrast to many of the other parks we’ve visited in Asia, Kep’s park is extremely well-marked and easy to visit without a guide, with maps and signs appearing regularly along the trails. This is thanks in large part to the proprietor of the Led Zep Café, who seems to be fanatical about ensuring all signage is painted and updated frequently. The café is a few hundred yards into the park, settled on the edge of a steep hill, and provides maps and snacks for hikers as well as delicious crepes and sandwiches for lunch.
Our hike through the park was very pleasant, with birds, squirrels and butterflies keeping us company for most of the walk. At one point, a troop of macaques shook the branches overhead and leapt gracefully over the path to reach the trees on the opposing side. Around nearly every corner, overlooks appeared, providing sweeping vistas of the ocean, the town below, and the surrounding countryside. While perhaps not the most spectacular trek we’ve been on, it was great to finally get out and do a little hiking on our own, and we thoroughly enjoyed the park.
Total distance: 6.4 miles