The idyllic seaside village of Kep sits on the Cambodian coast only 26km (16 miles) from Kampot. Famous for its delicious blue crab, most tourists spend half a day in Kep, driving out for the morning or afternoon. But those willing to dig a little deeper – Kep offers a rare chance to hike through the jungle on well marked trails without a guide. For an independent outdoor lover visiting Cambodia, a visit to Kep National Park makes for an enjoyable day.
History of Kep National Park
The town of Kep is situated on a small peninsula jutting out into the Bay of Thailand. A small mountain looms above the sea, with houses perched around it’s base. Kep was once a coveted vacation spot for rich Cambodians and French Colonials, both for its beach and also for the many gorgeous art deco houses overlooking the sea. That came to an end with the onset of civil war and the subsequent Khmer Rouge genocide in the 1970s.
When the war was finally finished, Kep began the slow and arduous process of pulling itself back together. Part of this effort involved designating the mountains of Kep as a National Park. In 1993, the Cambodian government set aside 50 square km as protected land. But for many years, the park sat unused, forlorn and forgotten.
Then, in 2007, a French expatriate partnered up with the local authorities to begin building a network of trails in the park. Today, there are many kilometers of trails criss crossing the mountain; some accessible by moto or mountain bike and other single track hiking trails. All the trails are well marked, and maps can be found at Led Zep Cafe.
The trails in Kep National Park are not particularly challenging, but there are some steep sections. A basic level of fitness is needed. Remember that you are trekking through a jungle so use caution and don’t just blindly reach out to grab at trees or sticks – they just might be snakes.
I was lucky enough to visit Kep in May, 2017, and I loved the town so much I spent three days there. Here is a round up of my favorite trails for hiking and mountain biking in Kep National Park.
Best Hiking and Biking Trails in Kep National Park
Bopha Prasidh Road – 8km
This dirt road circles the park at the base of the mountain. Most of the road is raised up above the town, so you’ll get plenty of beautiful vistas of Kep, the sea, and even Phu Quoc island in the distance.
The trail is wide enough and smooth enough to be driven on a moto, as many visitors do, but I chose to ride my mountain bike around it. It’s also possible to walk the path as well.
At one point the dirt road spills out onto a paved road. Stay close to the mountain and you’ll head back up onto a dirt road again soon.
- Pros: Great views of the surrounding countryside and seashore, with chances to spot some wildlife if you’re quiet and lucky.
- Cons: Not a physical challenge, have motorbikes passing by every now and again.
- Best For: Mountain Biking or Driving
The Sunset Rock trail is a moderately difficult hike up to a rocky outcropping overlooking the Bay of Thailand and Vietnam’s Phu Quoc Island. To begin, take Bopha Prasidh Road until you find the transverse trail. In May 2017 the transverse trail was not marked, so keep an eye out for a very steep trail cutting directly up the mountainside. After a steep beginning, turn right at the sign for Sunset Rock. From here the trail levels out. Overall, the trail is narrow but well maintained.
- Pros: Stunning view of Kep and the ocean.
- Cons: Tons of mosquitos – bring spray!
- Best for: Breaking a sweat and getting an epic view. Bring a headlamp or flashlight if planning to stay for sunset.
This is the trail that takes you up to the summit of the National Park. Phnom Kep sits at just about 300m above sea level, so while it isn’t exactly the most rigorous climb, it’s still a fun hike. There are several different routes to get up to the summit. All begin with the transverse trail. From there, follow the signs to Phnom Kep.
I took the Sunset Rock and Little Buddha route up, which wasn’t very steep, then took the Stone Horse route down.
- Pros: Break a sweat and get to reach the summit
- Cons: No view from the top.
- Best For: Getting to say you bagged a peak in Cambodia. Just don’t mention the elevation.
How to Get There
Getting to Kep National Park is quite easy. If you’re driving into town on the main road from Kampot, follow the signs for the National Park from the roundabout where the road splits for the Market, Beach, and Park.
From there, the road heads uphill, the entrance to the park is behind the Veranda Natural Resort.
Entrance fee: $2 per day.
After you finish up exploring the park, head down to the crab market to taste some of Kep’s famous blue crab, pulled right out of the sea to order. Ride on over to the beach to check out how local Cambodian people like to enjoy the seaside. If you’ve got plenty of time and love urban decay, try to find some of the deserted mansions left over from Kep’s golden era.
If you’re coming to Cambodia, I highly recommend adding Kep to your travel plans. It’s an often skipped over town, but it deserves more visitors. I loved hiking in Kep National Park – I saw monkeys, crazy insects, and found some great photo opportunities. In my opinion, Keep is a hidden gem of Cambodia.
Have you been to Kep National Park? What did you think?
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Great post; I really like Kep especially the crabs! I’ve visited 3 times over the past ten years but only briefly and never to hike. It’s on my list to return after the wet season to do some hiking there and in Kampot! Will save this post for some inspiration!
The hiking is really fun! Its not super strenuous but makes for a good pre-crab workout 😉
Oh my god. The sign at the top is hilarious. What a beautiful park to explore!
I stayed for mere 4 days in Cambodia (Angkor Wat, not surprisingly), but felt like there’s much to see in Cambodia. This is an experience worth returning.
Many tourists to Cambodia do the same – a quick trip to Siem Reap, maybe a few more days on the beach – but there is SO much more to see in this beautiful country. I hope one day you can come back to explore.
Thanks for the tip! Hiking is such a great way to explore.
Refreshing to see something new coming out of Cambodia other than usual Angkor 🙂 loved it
Thanks for reading! There is so much to do and see here in Cambodia.
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I will be visiting the place sometimes next year. will look forward to that 🙂