Cambodia is a very beautiful country. Between the landscapes, the food and the people there’s lots to love about this part of South East Asia. We spent a month travelling around and could have spent way longer. Of course the biggest attraction in Cambodia is the spectacular Angkor Wat Complex in Siem Reap, but there is so much more to discover. Riverside Kampot and seaside Kep are two towns in the south west region of the country and definitely worthy of being included on your South East Asia backpacking itinerary.
From natural attractions to cultural activities, there are lots of things to do in Kampot and Kep. Thanks to new government policies and a society very much wanting to create an identity aside from the horrific Khmer Rouge genocide that took place through 1975 - 1979, tourism has been growing year on year in this once off limits country. Owing to its stunning landscapes and relatively safety from the chaos of the millions of unexploded bombs left over from the Vietnam war in the north east of the country, the south west has also attracted substantial expat communities.
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Best Things to do in Kampot
We’d recommend spending at least 3 or 4 days in Kampot and hiring your own transport to get around. We hired a motorbike and it cost around £7 ($9 USD) per day and with helmets and insurance included.
Go Up Bokor Mountain
Within the spectacular landscape of Bokor National Park lies a mesmerising ghost town of french colonialism remnants. Wandering around the abandoned and dilapidated buildings of the Bokor Palace Hotel, Bokor Hill Station, the Black Palace and Catholic Church that were also Khmer Rouge strongholds is a fascinating and eerie experience. The panoramic views out to sea from near the Lok Yeay Mao monument are also phenomenal. A trip to Bokor Mountain is a fun and thrilling day, and simply has to be included on your what to do in Kampot plans.
It is best explored under your own steam too rather than with a tour group because you can stop off whenever you want and the roads, although windy and steep in some places, are in good condition due to a huge new casino and hotel complex development. There’s no ‘person’ entrance fee to the park but you will need to pay around 50p (70 cents USD) per motorbike. There are sellers with bottled petrol in the park if you need it but it’s cheaper to fill up before, we spent about £5 ($6.50 USD) in petrol the day we went to explore Bokor Mountain.
Visit Popokvil Waterfall
Whilst you’re in Bokor National Park, be sure not to miss stopping off at the Popokvil waterfall. There are some really pretty picnic spots and it’s a great place to cool off on sunny day. Entrance to the waterfall is approximately 50p (70 cents USD) person. We were told that the rainy season is the best time to visit the waterfalls to see them at their most spectacular with swirling clouds of mist. On your right before you get to the waterfalls is a nice jungle hike if you fancy a walk.
Try Stand Up Paddleboarding
Owing to its riverside location, stand up paddleboarding has become one of the top things to do in Kampot. Exploring the mangroves and riverside villages makes for a really relaxing few hours. SUP Asia offers 2 and half hours with a lesson at $25 (around £19 GBP) each, or some hostels alongside the river also rent boards for slightly cheaper but you won’t likely get a lesson. The boards are huge but there’s no guarantee you won’t fall in, so if your balance isn’t great and you aren't a good swimmer insist on a life jacket.
Take A Fire Fly Cruise
We didn’t do this whilst we were in Kampot because the week before we arrived one of the boats running the evening cruises had sank and there had been a couple of fatalities. To put some context to that, the people that died were apparently elderly and were physically unable to get off the boat. However it is still one of the most popular things to do in Kampot and as with anything you get what you pay for with the 3 hour boat cruises ranging from as little as £5 ($6.50 USD) up to around £70 ($91 USD). Of course accidents happen everywhere but just check the reputation of the provider and condition of the boat before you board.
Take A Trip To A Pepper Farm
Kampot pepper is renowned as the best pepper in the world and during French colonisation of Cambodia, no respectable restaurant in France would be seen without it. There is a smaller pepper market in the centre of town if all you’re wanting to do is pick up some of the famous peppercorns, be warned though it’s not cheap - a small bag was around £8 ($10.50 USD). Or another idea of what to do in Kampot is to visit one of the organic peppercorn plantations for a guided tour to see the crops, harvesting and sorting for yourself.
What To Do In Kep
It’s an easy 45 minute ride from Kampot so you can just visit Kep for the day, like we did. Alternatively you can stay over either on the mainland or on Koh Tonsay Island, there’s not really much to do for more than a couple of days.
Chill On The Beach
Topped up with white sand from other nearby beaches, this small beach is an idyllic spot for lazing in the sun with a book and chilling out for an afternoon. The water is calm and lovely for a swim too. It can get packed on weekends so if you have the option, visit the beach in Kep during the week.
Eat Some Tasty Crab
Kep is a fishing village and has a well renowned crabbing industry. So well renowned that big fishing international haulers have started wading in on the waters and affecting the sustainability of the crabbing. There is, however, a small local market at one end of the town where you can buy a few crabs, have them prepared and cooked while you wait and enjoy them sitting on the small pier. They are delicious! If you like seafood - this one of the MUST things to do in Kep.
Take a Trip To Rabbit Island
Koh Tonsay is known as rabbit island, not because it is overrun with small furry animals but rather because of it’s shape. We didn’t make it over but from our experience on other Cambodian Islands understood it to be a real back to basics kind of place, with limited electricity and no internet. You can either just take a day trip over or explore for longer and stay overnight on the beach in one of wooden stilted huts. It’s a 25 minute boat ride from the ferry port, tickets cost $8 return and the beaches are said to be more even more beautiful than the mainland. We really wish we’d had time to go so be sure to put this on your list of what to do in Kep.
Hike In Kep National Park
If stuffing your face with crab and relaxing on the beach gets too much for you and you’re looking for more active things to do in Kep, check out Kep National Park. Just behind the small town is a vast jungle with some awesome 5 mile hiking routes. The entrance is behind Veranda Natural Resort, the trails are well marked and the extra fee is $1 (75p GBP). We didn’t eat there but heard great things about the Led Zep in the park which is open 10am-6pm. The trails are best tackled in the morning before it gets too hot and remember to take plenty of water.
Let us know in the comments if you enjoyed this area of Cambodia as much as we did - or if you found any other cool things to do that you think should be included on this list!