The beach town of Kep does not have as much tourism and development as Sihanoukville, further up the coast, but it was Cambodia’s first beach resort destination. As early as the turn of the century, Kep was the beach destination of choice, for Cambodia’s wealthy, who built luxurious seaside villas there, and for weekend throngs from Phnom Phen. The French also appreciated the natural beauty of Kep, and in the 1920s, built the Bokor Hill station, which was a mountaintop resort, in a dramatically scenic location overlooking the entire Cambodian coast. The area near Kep was the scene of heavy fighting during the Khmer Rouge period, and all the villas were destroyed. The gutted out Bokor hill hotel structure still stands with ghostly elegance (it was featured in the movie “City of Ghosts”), shrouded in fog, and is a popular tourist attraction.
As with Sihanoukville, further to the north, the bulldozers of the developers haven’t yet stuck in a big way, and it is still a quiet little seaside community, but development is rumored to be coming soon, beginning with the renovation, and reopening of the historic Bokor Hill site. Kep has no large hotels whatsoever, but it does have several very nice seaside bungalow and guesthouse establishments.
The principal beach at Kep, while scenic, is not as long or as wide as the beaches at Sihanoukville, turning into a narrow rocky strip at high tide. One thing that Kep beach has that is without equal, is the fresh seafood served by the beachside restaurants. The crab seasoned with pepper from the nearby Kampot region is a delicacy that is becoming world-famous as the word is spread by travelers lucky enough to have visited Kep.
As with the other Cambodian beach towns, the best beaches of Kep are to be found offshore. Rabbit island is a small island close to shore with a couple of beautiful beaches and rustic accommodations for those who want to stay the night.
To get to Kep, you must first get to the town of Kampot; from there, you can get a taxi for the thirty-minute trip on to Kep, or a recommended option is to rent a bicycle in Kampot and take a memorable two-hour ride to Kep. Along the route to Kep, a recommended side trip if you are on a bicycle, or have a taxi driver who speaks English, is the Phnom Chhnork caves, one of which contains a ruin made of brick, with Sanscrit carvings, that dates from the time of the Roman empire. There is a regular bus service to Kampot from Phnom Phen and private or shared taxi and minibus service from Sihanoukville.