Kampot & Kep Informations
Kampot, capital of the province of the same name, and the coastal town of Kep are located on the southern Cambodian coastline, east of Sihanoukville and close to the Vietnamese border.
The two cities are close to each other and share most of the same tourist sites and attractions, although some are closer to one or the other city.
For example, Bokor Mountain is closer to Kampot and the boat to Rabbit Island leaves from Kep.
The beautiful beach of Kep, Rabbit Island, Bokor Mountain and excursions to the countryside are the most popular day trips.
There are also Angkorian ruins and caves to visit, jungle hikes, bicycle tours, river rides, secluded beaches, salt marshes, pepper plantations and much more to discover.
The beach of Kep is the most famous in the region. A single strip of sand one kilometer long at the tip of Kep, bounded by rocks at each end and bordered by a seaside road.
With its warm, shallow waters it is an ideal beach for swimming and is pleasantly peaceful; a good place to relax, enjoy a seafood platter by the ocean and enjoy the refreshing breeze
Stilt restaurants and seafood vendors offer their wares along the road behind the beach as well as on the beachfront beyond. The beach is usually busy on weekends with tourists from Phnom Penh, but is often deserted on weekdays.
The road through the center of Kep runs along the coastline to the beach and then back again. Sometimes, vehicles have to pay the entrance fee. Indeed, the road along the beach is one-way and the police sometimes enforce the law, mainly on weekends.
Angkuol Beach is the “other beach” of Kep; a long and narrow tropical beach about 25 km from Kep. This beach is very uncrowded, with only a few food and drink vendors and a few fishing boats. It is an interesting detour because it is ideal to take nice pictures of the rice fields and salt flats that you cross to get there.
Then there is the beach of Phnom Doung which is a small beach not frequented by tourists located about 9 km south of the city of Kampot.
The dirt road that leads from Kampot to the beach passes through typical local rice fields and salt flats.
Rabbit Island (or Koh Tunsay) is a small tropical island about 30 minutes by ferry south of Kep.
The island is currently undeveloped but projects are underway. For the moment there are only a few rudimentary bungalows and a few beach restaurants.
Secluded white sand beaches surround the island, with hills of coconut trees in the center.
Most of the services are located near the beach on the west side. The waters are relatively clear and warm, offering some snorkeling opportunities around the rocks. There is little coral but lots of colorful fish.
You can choose to stay on the island for a few days or take a day trip. The rooms/bungalows on the island cost about 10 USD per night. You can arrange your boat trip through your hotel in Kampot or Kep or go to the Koh Tunsay pier in Kep town. Boats are almost always available. A round trip to and from the island costs $25.
Architecture of Kampot and Kep
Kampot has been a relatively active city for centuries, but the location and layout of the present city were developed during the French colonial period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The majority of the buildings in the southern part of the city, along the river, were constructed during this period.
Although some of the buildings have suffered a bit from the ravages of time, Kampot’s architecture is pleasantly picturesque, a mix of small red-tiled shops and old government buildings from the French colonial era.
The southern end of town offers several buildings of European architecture, including the former governor’s palace (now the Kampot Museum) and the prison of the time. Most of the other buildings from this period are built in the classic two-story commercial pattern.
Unlike many other Cambodian cities, the commercial houses often have a distinct style and facade, giving Kampot a picturesque air.
Kep’s ancient architecture is also worth seeing, but more for its condition than for its architectural interest.
The seaside and mountain villas, built between the 1930s and 1960s, were abandoned during the war and most of them are deteriorating today.
With the development of the Kep region in recent years, the old buildings are gradually being destroyed.
Trips from Kampot to the old resort of Bokor in the surrounding mountains have long been popular.
A new resort casino and hotel has been developed in the last two years and the road to it has been improved, but the remains of the old resort are still there; a set of crumbling buildings at the top of the mountain, formerly a hotel, casino, church and royal residence.
The site was built by the French authorities in the early 1920s to complement the resort of Kep. At the time, Bokor was a fashionable getaway for local officials and foreign visitors; a classic colonial “mountain resort” to allow foreign visitors used to more temperate climates to escape the tropical heat.
The old buildings were abandoned in the 1970s, leaving ruins, remnants of another era, often shrouded in fog and clouds.
One thing that time has not changed is the absolutely beautiful view of the sea and the fresh (sometimes cold) air coming from the mountains.
Bokor is surrounded by jungle and excursions beyond the site, such as trekking, can be organized by local travel agencies.
The price is about $10/person for a full day including a sunset cruise on the Kampong Bay River.
The trip from the base to the summit takes 30-45 minutes.
Caves near Kampot
Limestone mountains (“phnom”) dot the landscape between Kampot and Kep. Many offer limestone caves, some with exotic rock formations, and almost all containing Buddhist shrines.
Be sure to carry a flashlight and wear appropriate footwear for climbing on rocks.
The caves of Phnom Chhnork (Chhgnok)
The main cave is located about 100 meters up the mountain, at the end of a long staircase, and has a pre-Angkorian ruin about 50 meters inside, amidst stalagmites and stalactites that slowly grow with time.
The ruin is a small brick alcove structure built in the 4th-5th century CE and is associated with the state of Funan.
Some of the sculpture is still visible. You can also have fun looking for the elephant-shaped limestone formations near the cave entrance.
A second cave is located about 300 meters from the main cave in the same outcrop. There are very few formations, but it is quite deep and you have to climb over piles of rocks and pass through small openings.
Phnom Kbal Romeas (Phnom Sla Ta'aun)
Phnom Kbal Romeas (Phnom Sla Ta’aun) is relatively flat, but it contains some interesting structures. Observe the huge rock balanced in a hole in the ceiling, some old shrines, hidden at the bottom of the hill and many stalactites.
You will also enjoy an excellent view from the top.
Caving in Phnom Kbal Romeas: Climbodia offers caving and climbing. Well placed Via Ferratas take you into the belly of the hill and abseil down into a labyrinth of caves.
Activity accessible for all skill levels.
Phnom Sasear Cave
Phnom Sasear Cave, also known as the “White Elephant Cave” is located next to a colorful pagoda. The stairs up the side of the outcrop offer a beautiful view of the countryside, especially during the rainy season.
The cave contains a shrine at the base of a limestone formation said to resemble a white elephant.
The countryside around Kampot and Kep
The provinces of Kampot and Kep offer beautiful rural landscapes just outside the cities; bucolic landscapes, rice fields and water buffaloes with white egrets on their backs, pagodas and small villages with traditional houses on stilts.
The drive from Kampot to Kep alone offers beautiful rural scenery.
Half or full day tours by tuk-tuk or cab are one of the most popular activities from Kampot and Kep as well.
The itineraries are by no means over-touristic, offering a good overview of the typical Cambodian countryside as well as specific points of interest in Kampot and Kep.
Organized tours in the area usually include visits to salt marshes, two or three nearby caves, including an Angkorian-era ruin at Phnom Chhnork, a pepper plantation (The Plantation) to discover one of Kampot’s most important crops, and perhaps a stop at the “secret lake” along the way.
Tours also usually include a visit to Kep, a seafood tasting at the crab market and time on Kep beach.
Other destinations and additions to a full day tour may include a trip to Rabbit Island from Kep, or a visit to the Kampong Trach cave, or perhaps a sunset cruise on the Kampong Bay River from Kampot.
The Kampong Bay River, which runs through the city with the Elephant Mountains in the background, is an important feature of Kampot.
For many locals, the river is their source of life and dozens of fishing boats travel up and down the river in the morning and evening.
Any trip to Kampot would not be complete without the river experience. Several agencies offer different tours and prices start at a few dollars per person, depending on the duration and what you want.
The beautiful colonial-era governor’s palace on the riverfront has been transformed into the Kampot Museum. Recently opened, and while there are posted hours, the actual hours of operation seem rather irregular.
The museum promises a look at the history of the Kampot region, with local artifacts, old photographs and maps. Open Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends from 3:00 to 6:00 pm, and also mornings on weekends. Located on the road along the river at the southern end of town.
Kampong Trach is the district that borders Vietnam. The road from Kampot to the main city passes through picturesque rural areas. A new secondary road leading to the town of Kampong Trach runs along the base of Phnom Voar (where the victims of the 1994 Khmer Rouge abductions were held).
These mountainous areas of Kampong Trach were one of the last bastions of the Khmer Rouge. The town of Kampong Trach is small and relatively uninteresting. The main attraction of the area is a series of caves and limestone tubes that have been dug into a nearby mountain. The roof of a large cave in the center of the mountain has collapsed, creating a small enclosed jungle.
Pagodas and shrines have been built among the caves, providing excellent photo opportunities.
Kampot pepper, grown in the province of the same name, has been internationally recognized for more than a century as one of the highest quality peppers in the world; its distinct flavor and pugnacity, its intense yet light taste with fresh, lingering aromas have long been prized in the finest French cuisine.
It is also featured in local cuisine, such as Pepper Crab (local fried crab with peppercorns).
Most half- and full-day tours from Kampot and Kep include a stop at at least one pepper plantation. There are at least a few farms in the area, two not far from the road to Kep, and one in Angkor Chey.
When visiting the plantation, you can see the different growing methods and types of pepper, and there is usually a store where you can buy Kampot pepper directly from the source.
In the early 20th century, Kampot plantations were in full operation and Cambodia was exporting more than 8,000 tons of pepper per year. By 1960, there were more than one million pepper poles in Kampot. But the wars of the late 20th century put an end to regular production for almost 30 years. Production was revived in the late 1990s. Pepper plantations once again dot Kampot province.
Kampot pepper comes in four varieties: green, black, red and white, all of which come from the same plant but differ in maturity and preparation. Green pepper is harvested young and is usually used fresh in cooking. The classic black pepper is left to ripen to dark green, harvested, dried and ground, and is perfect for the table. Red pepper is prepared in the same way as black pepper, but is allowed to over-ripen before being harvested. Finally, white pepper is a red pepper from which the outer shell has been removed. It is often used in blends.
The salt mines
Salt is another important product of Kampot. Extensive salt marshes stretch along much of the coastline south and southeast of Kampot and are usually included in most tours from Kampot and Kep.
The salt marshes consist of large areas of hard soil divided into rice field-like swamps. Seawater is pumped into the pools from canals and then allowed to evaporate, leaving a thick layer of salt on the ground. Workers carefully rake the salt into piles, collect it and transport it to storage.
The salt pans are easily accessible east of Kampot city along the road to Kep. The road south of Kampot to Phnom Duong beach also passes through salt pans. The salt pans only operate during the dry season.
Trekking in Kep
For a fairly straightforward trekking experience, a small road loops around Kep Mountain through the jungle of the national park; a small mountain near the tip of the Kep peninsula.
The gently sloping road passes some ancient pagodas, passes through light jungle where you may spot monkeys or other wildlife, and offers many scenic views along the way. Kampot and the Elephant Mountains can be seen from the northwest viewpoint, and the trail on the east side of the mountain offers stunning views over the valley to a pagoda on the next mountain and the beaches in the distance.
For the more adventurous, several hiking trails lead from the road to the top of the mountain and up the other side.
Most of the trails and most of the road are in good condition, although some parts are narrow and overgrown. This is suitable for hikers, mountain bikers and scooters. Access to the trail is easiest from the hillside road next to Veranda Resort. When the ranger is present, there is an entrance fee (US$1). Located on the side of the mountain, 100 meters from the trailhead, the Led Zeppelin Cafe is a nice place to relax with a drink and enjoy the view.
It also has trail maps and useful information.
Kampot & Kep Location
The location is not always 100% accurate and is given as an indication.