Kep and Kampot are neighbouring towns, situated on the southern coast of Cambodia, not far from the Ha Tien border crossing in Vietnam. The two towns were our first stops in Cambodia, and wow, what an introduction to the country. Kep is an idyllic seaside town that backs onto a lovely national park, and Kampot is a lazy riverside retreat, a backpacker haven with bars, restaurants and a thriving cafe culture.
We made our way to Kep from Phu Quoc. Phu Quoc is a beautiful Vietnamese island which is actually situated closer to mainland Cambodia than to mainland Vietnam. Unfortunately, despite the close proximity, there are no direct ferries from Phu Quoc to Cambodia, so it was back to the Vietnamese mainland to cross the border.
We booked an inclusive service from Phu Quoc to Kep with Ha Tien Mekong Travel (HTMT), which cost $19 per person. The route involved a ferry to Ha Tien on the mainland, then minibus transfers to and from the border. We were pretty miffed at having to wait 2 hours in HTMT's offices in Ha Tien, but apart from that it all ran pretty smoothly.
Our Cambodian visas cost $37 + $1 'health check' fee. You'll need a spare passport photo for your visa or you will be charged an extra $2 'processing' fee. To their credit, HTMT sorted out our visas for us before we arrived at the border, making it a hassle free crossing.
Kep - Crab City
Kep is a fantastic little town that is best known for its crab market, but it also boasts a national park and a great beach (complete with resident monkeys, who chased us down the road when they spotted we had tasty jackfruit). Kep is upmarket Cambodia, swayed more towards posh resorts than backpacker hostels. Many of the resorts are owned by french expats, who seem to be driving tourism in this direction. So we didn't find the area particularly cheap.
Hayley and her beloved jackfruit
Sea food galore at the crab market
A fresh catch of blue crab
We stayed at Tree Top Bungalows, which is located on a hillside 15 minutes walk from the crab market and beach, and has panoramic views over the ocean below. We could even see Phu Quoc on the horizon and the sunsets were stunning. Our accommodation was basic: a shed with a bed and use of a shared bathroom. But it was pristine inside, quaint, and happily only £6.50 a night; far cheaper than other accommodation in the area, and even had a resident gecko. Hayley managed to continue her animal cruelty streak by squashing a friendly tree frog in the door of the bathroom. Luckily it escaped unharmed.
Our shed with a bed, dwarfed by the other bungalows
Kep National park
Arriving in Kep, we were perhaps most looking forward to spending the day trekking in Kep National Park. The park has an 8 kilometer easy path through the jungle which offers some fantastic scenery. The park is also home to lots of wildlife including long-tailed macaques, scorpions and snakes; although the best we saw were a few giant millipedes.
Half way around the route you can divert of the main path and down into Jasmine Valley where there is a small resort offering cold drinks and further down there is a butterfly farm. The butterfly farm was excellent! Entry is free, but there is a donation box, which quite rightly was full.
Hayley contemplating life
Giant millipede... similar to a snake
Hayley's best butterfly snap
The Kep/Kampot region is famous for its pepper. The industry was almost decimated in the 70's during Cambodia's dark period, and much of the knowledge of how to grow organic pepper was lost. Happily, the industry is now on a fierce revival. There are now over 300 pepper farms dotted around the area. We chose to visit Sothy's Farm, a few miles north of Kep.
Sothy's Farm is a must visit if you are in the area! We were treated to a free tour that lasted around 1 hour. We got to try the different peppers and learn about how they are organically grown and the history of the industry. They have a small restaurant on site serving up great pepper heavy food. To get there we rented a moped for $5 for the day. Alternatively Tuk Tuks from Kep cost around $15-$20.
This is what pepper looks like on the plant
Cooking up a fresh batch of pepper tea, using the power of the sun
Kampot is about 30 minutes by moped from Kep, and since we already had the moped, we thought we'd check it out. We also had an alterior motive for going to Kampot: All of the ATM's in Kep charge $4-$5 to withdraw cash, which we found hard to stomach. We'd read in the Lonely Planet guide that Canadia ATM's offer free cash withdrawals, and there was one in Kampot. Unfortunately though, this no longer seems to be the case, and in the end we had to swallow hard and pay the fee. Still, it was worth a shot!
We spent the afternoon in Kampot, got a great lunch at the Rusty Keyhole and strolled around the streets and river bank. In contrast to Kep, Kampot definitely has a strong backpacker vibe, with lots of restaurants, bars and cafes. There didn't seem an awful lot to do there, other than relax with a cold one (or few). If we had more time we would have liked to visit Bokor National park, which is just west of the town.
The Kep/Kampot region is a must visit in Cambodia. Whilst food and accommodation in Kep are expensive, there's loads to see and do. We especially enjoyed the national park and discovering Kampot Pepper.
We'll continue searching for an ATM in Cambodia with free cash withdrawals...