We had booked two tickets to Kep from Kampot for 3USD per person. A tuk-tuk picked us up from our hotel and took us to the bus company. While we waited outside for the bus to arrive we met a lovely couple from Australia who had just retired to Cambodia. At this point we had no idea that they would end up being our travel companions during our two day stint in Kep.
After a 15 minute wait the bus finally arrived. It was a mini bus designed for about 10 people but only 4 passengers boarded. We were stoked! This meant we had a bit more arm and leg space for the 30 minute journey. We all spread out into different rows and spaced out seats. About 10 minutes into the journey the bus driver stopped to pick up one more passenger from their hotel.
Now this is where things took a turn. Rather than putting the new passengers backpack in the back of the van with the rest of the bags, he decided to put the bag in our sitting space. To clarify, he decided to put it in MY space and was adamant about me moving over all the way so I sat squashed next to Pete. That was not going to fly. So while the bus driver continued the journey I decided to move the backpack in between Pete and I.
This was the worst move I could have made in the eyes of the bus driver. He started yelling at me to put the bag back. I kept asking him why and he kept yelling. We moved the bag closer to us to try to reach a compromise. This made him stop yelling but he made a point to let everyone know he was pissed off. How did he make his point? You may ask. Well, he decided he would now drive like a bat out of hell! Whipping around cars and curves, braking erratically, speeding like a nascar driver. We were all holding on for dear life. Needless to say we made it to Kep in record breaking time! We got out of the van, looked at the Australians and we all joined in nervous, uncomfortable laughter while discussing how angry I made that driver by moving a backpack.
What it really boiled down to was not the fact that I moved the backpack. It was that I undermined the driver in where the best place for the backpack was. I embarrassed him. If there is one thing we learned about Southeast Asian culture, it is that they don’t like confrontation and embarrassment; one must save face in public.
So we said goodbye to our Australian friends and headed up a hill towards our accommodation, Casa Kep. We thought we had booked a guesthouse but when we arrived it became apparent we had booked more of a homestay. We don’t have a problem with homestays. We’ve stayed at quite a few during our travels. However, we prefer lodging with a bit more privacy. The most awkward part of our guesthouse was that we had to cross through the living room/office area to get to our ‘private’ bathroom, which was located right next to the owner’s bedroom. This was not the most ideal situation, but we made do.
Now came the real question of what in the world do we do in Kep?
Since we arrived on a Sunday, there were tons of out-of-towners in Kep for a day at the beach. This means loads of stalls set up to provide beach mats and snacks. We decided to check out the scene.
I want to say it was a great vibe and we grabbed a mat, laid out on the beach and ate some delicious snacks.
But that would be a lie.
It was crowded. There was trash absolutely everywhere, all over the beach, all over the streets. Since most people get seafood takeaway and bring it to the beach for a picnic, there were crab and shrimp shells everywhere. Therefore, the smell of hot, old seafood trash was hard to escape. The idea of soaking in the rays on a nice beach was no longer an option for us. Not to mention the water off Kep was pretty brown and on this particular day the waves were too massive to enjoy.
So we decided to skip the beach and look for some delicious seafood. In case you did not know, Kep is famous for their pepper crab.
We made our way up the street to where the restaurants and seafood market were. We went restaurant to restaurant stepping over and around trash which blew through the street like leaves in autumn. We looked at every single menu, comparing prices. What did we find? Overpriced meals. We couldn’t justify it. We made our way to the seafood market. Everyone will tell you the seafood market is cheap. Well, this holds true if you are comparing it to western prices. If you are comparing it to Cambodian prices, it is not that cheap. Since we were on a budget we decided to skip the seafood market for lunch and maybe come back for dinner.
Out of all the restaurants in Kep, the one with the best prices is easily the Arts Café. If you are a budget traveler, this is where you want to eat.
We parked ourselves at the café, ordered a couple Khmer coffees and shared what was honestly one of our favorite meals in Cambodia. It was pork and rice served with a side of pepper lime sauce. Oh. My. God. We still dream about that sauce. Hands down one of the best things we ate on our travels!
After our incredible lunch, we made our way back to our guesthouse for a little afternoon nap.
When evening came we decided to give the famous pepper crab at the seafood market a miss, and it wasn’t because of the price.
Upon further research that day we found out that waters around Kep are completely overfished. Crabbing in Kep is 100% unsustainable. Before the tourism and population boom, there used to be an abundance of large crabs in that area, which could be sold at the market for cheap prices. But now, the waters are overfished and there are not that many crabs around. So the fishermen take whatever they can get, which means a lot of adolescent, small crabs sold for a higher price.
We did not want to contribute to this unsustainable practice. So we decided to try out a bazaar taco restaurant located by the beach. It was dirty, a massive rat ran past our table and the tacos were subpar, which on some level we expected; although we always hope to be pleasantly surprised. We decided to finish our day with a glass of wine at another restaurant nearby.
So, what did we think of Kep after the first day? We hated it! It was dirty, stinky and weird. We hated that we had one more day there. We felt depressed and ready to leave. But our visas for Vietnam only began in two days. So we had no choice but to stick it out until we could cross the border.
The next day, we made a plan! We would not sit around and mope. We would try to make the best of Kep. So we made an action packed itinerary and rented a scooter from our accommodation for 6USD.
First order of business was breakfast at Arts Café. We had our favorite pork and rice dish and a couple Khmer coffees. Then we cruised over to the local side of town. Now, we have to admit, on our way to the local side we saw some decent beach areas where you could rent hammock spaces and mats. This area looked A LOT better than the overcrowded touristy side.
The local side of Kep is quite small, which made it easy to find a print shop. We needed to print out our Vietnam visas for our trip across the border the following day.
After completing our printing errand, it was time to discover what else Kep had to offer. We cruised through an area of Kep which was originally where the French built their mansions and homes during their occupation. After the French departed and Khmer Rouge took over, this area, which was once known as the ‘Cambodian Riviera’, was destroyed. The Khmer Rouge destroyed anything that represented wealth. This was also a bit of a fighting ground as you can find the ruins which remain riddled with bullet holes. It is a really interesting area to drive through. You can see only the relics of what used to be large and extravagant French plots.
We’re not going to lie; we can see why the French would set up shop here. It is a truly gorgeous area! It is set up on lush green hills overlooking the ocean. We loved this area. We loved the history, the ruins and thriving green scenery.
Just past the ruins, up in the hills we found a butterfly farm. Why not? We said. We parked our bike, paid the 2USD entrance fee and walked around the beautiful grounds. They had a medium sized enclosure where there were loads of gorgeous butterflies fluttering around the plants and flowers. We enjoyed being there, it was calming and beautiful.
After our time at the farm we walked up to the Kep Mountain Lodge which sits just above the butterfly farm. They had some tables set up outside with a great view of Kep. We ordered a couple beers and enjoyed the scenery.
We then headed to the Kep National Park. Our plan was to do a bit of a hike around the forest and finish our time at the Led Zep Café for a sunset view.
Well we kind of ended up doing the opposite of that. As we cruised up to the park the first thing we saw was the Led Zep Café. Man oh man did they have an incredible view! So we decided to get a coffee and a lime water first so we could take in the view. Afterwards we did a pretty short hike through the forest.
In retrospect, we should have woken up earlier, completed the circular hike around Kep National Park and then done our other activities after.
But we didn’t and time got away from us. So we did a short walk then hurried over to the Knai Bang Chatt Sailing Club for their half price happy hour which goes from 5pm-7pm. We decided we would enjoy our sunset at this super posh, gorgeous club for delicious cocktails instead of watching the sunset from the national park.
That was our best idea yet! The sailing club is ridiculously beautiful and their cocktail list was incredible. I got their lychee lime fizz and Pete could not resist their long island. We had a couple drinks there while pretending we were one of the affluent guests. Once the happy hour concluded we cruised back to the Arts Café for the third time for dinner.
Who did we see? Our Australian friends from the bus ride over! We grabbed a table next to them and more drinks started to flow. We chatted, joked, shared stories and drank until the café literally shut down and kicked us out.
So, how was our second day in Kep? Incredible!
We had the best time exploring the ruins, looking at butterflies, walking around the national park, taking in the view from Led Zep Café, sipping posh cocktails at the Sailing Club and finishing the day with great company.
Our advice to you if you are travelling to Kep, is to avoid the beach, the crabs and the touristy side. Rent a motorbike and check out all the places we went on our second day.