This former bolthole of Phnom Penh’s wealthy urbanites is now a chilled-out seaside escape, offering crab markets, crumbling villas, island day trips and unbeatable seafood.
Three and a half hours’ drive south of Phnom Penh, not far from the border with Vietnam, coastal Kep is one of our favorite destinations in Cambodia. During the 1960s, this was a getaway for Phnom Penh’s elites, and their grandiose mansions still stand along the seafront today, waiting like faded Miss Havishams for the return of the glory days. They might not have to wait long, either, because Kep is on the up — although these days it’s less about glamourous riviera living and more about low-key relaxation in this seductively sleepy seaside town.
A combination of superb boutique hotels, lovely countryside, and delicious, fresh seafood is what draws Cambodians and foreigners alike to Kep today, and we find it a particularly welcoming change of pace after the crowds of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. There’s not much of a beach to speak of (while we’re in town, we prefer to relax poolside), but there are plenty of rural hikes and cycle trips on your doorstep, easy day-trip opportunities to Bokor National Park, and plenty of little palm-fringed islands to zip to if you’re looking for a bit of sun and sand. This is also the best place in the country to visit Kampot’s pepper plantations, where you can try all manner of varieties and decide for yourself whether it deserves its reputation as the best in the world.