Most visitors to Kep do little more than eat crab, laze on the beach, and enjoy sundowners. But if you’ve already exhausted all of those options, just turn around and you’ll see that right behind you is a jungle — Kep National Park — that’s home to walking and trekking (or moto) trails, tranquil scenery, and lovely vistas.
We’ve been to the park a few times and have always meant to explore, but didn’t get around to it until now. Recently, however, we managed to roll out of bed at 7 a.m.(!) and take hugely enjoyable early morning hike that was well worth the early start and sore feet afterwards.
The main entrance is just behind Veranda Natural Resort, but there is an access point behind Kep Lodge too. The entrance fee is $1 for foreigners, and even though there’s an unmanned barrier behind Kep Lodge, a ranger will probably find you and take your entrance fee later on.
The main circuit around the park is an easy eight kilometer track (about five miles). It’s possible to take a moto around it, but where’s the adventure in that? On foot we passed the Led Zep Cafe — the owner has been a driving force in maintaining and opening new trails through the park — and planned what we’d have for our breakfast on the way back (they open at 10 a.m.) as we’d have earned it by then! You can also read the history of the park there and pick up a map for free with a purchase of 2,000 riel ($0.50).
The trail is well marked, with reassuring yellow signs pointing the way. Shortly after Led Zep you can choose to follow the main trail in a nice circuit, or you can take the interior trails — we braved it and headed into the jungle along the Transverse Path.
We’re not trekkers and it was a bit steep, but the trail has been very well prepared so it wasn’t too scary (if a little sweaty). It was well worth the effort, though, as we got to enjoy the early morning tranquility and see some of the local wildlife — namely squirrels and birds, but there are monkeys in the park too.
On our walk we visited the Little Buddha, Phnom Kep and Sunset Rock but there are several other places along the trail to visit if you have the time. Sunset Rock offers great views over the town and coastline — it was the highlight for us — it’s a 15 minute walk from the Nun’s Path/Stairway to Heaven entrance point if you fancy watching the sun go down from there, but remember to take a flashlight for the walk back.
At the Nun’s Center near the antennae we had a bit of trouble with some dogs, but we got through unscathed — we had to threaten to throw a stone, though, so if you’re scared of dogs, it might be best to go another way. There’s an old temple there that’s worth a look and a new pagoda further down the road. On our visit there was a guy there who seemed to be waiting for tourists, and as he’d missed his chance to sell us a bracelet he just brazenly asked us for cash.
From there we took the Nun’s Path back down to some dodgy concrete steps at the bottom and onto a main road — this was probably the hottest part of the trek as it was completely unshaded — we did get to see some old villas that we would have missed otherwise, and played our “which one would we have” game that we like to do in Kep.
We spent three-and-a-half hours in the park; the canopy keeps you shaded for most of it and as it was early we only saw the other people the whole time. If you go, bring plenty of water and wear decent shoes. If you’re going for sunset it’s probably a good idea to take some mosquito repellent.
Kep National Park is beautiful; and we wish we had visited sooner! We’re not avid trekkers but we found the walk hugely enjoyable and challenging in a pleasant way, and the scenery and views are breathtaking.
Sadly, as it was a Khmer holiday when we visited, the Led Zep Cafe was closed when we got back so we didn’t get to try any of their tasty-sounding breakfast options or enjoy the view. Next time we’re in Kep we’ll be sure to revisit for a hike and cross our fingers that they’re open.
Led Zep Cafe
Open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Kep National Park, Kep
T: 088 952 5358