Kep and Koh Tonsay – a secret beach paradise in coastal Cambodia
Kep is a quiet little town on the southern coast of Cambodia next to the border with Vietnam. It has a lovely French charm and lots of French owned guest-houses and hotels. Boasting perfect sunsets over placid waters and golden beaches with dense green jungle clad hills all around. Most visit for just this however, word has gotten out that this little town and the coastline around has some of the best seafood in the area. Served in low-key places, street-food and beach-side shacks serve surprisingly delicious dishes based on the local seafood, vegetables and spices. Pepper grown in Kampot is king, playing and important role in many local dishes. Amok, the Khmer national dish, is at its finest here. A rich and tart coconut curry with a floral spicy taste from the local chillies, fragrant with the local fish or seafood on hand at the time.
The message is: get some food in Kep. The restaurants are somewhat better than in a lot of other places in Cambodia, with most of them offering the famous local crab with fresh peppercorns. Go to the crab market for some absolutely delicious fresh crab that doesn’t cost much compared to most other places in the world with crab that good. Sit right on the water and take your pick from any of the restaurants. Look for a busy one to assure freshness, especially in low season. Try the crab fried with black pepper and some steamed rice for max $9 for a large portion. Stay in a comfortable French resort style villa with doubles starting around $25 dollars in Kep town. A quick look on Tripadvisor will reveal some of the better offerings.
However, the real star of the area is Koh Tunsay, a tiny island off the coast of Kep. Reachable by ferry in about 45 minutes, it is the best place to enjoy the local area and the best beaches that it to offer. There is no Internet and power from only 6-10 in most places. The ideal place to drop out and chill out without emails and worries.
Stay in the VIP bungalows in the middle of the beach where the ferry will drop you off. They have singles starting at $10 and doubles that can sleep four easily for $15. They have mosquito nets with holes in every room and reasonable ‘en-suite’ however there is little better on this island. The accommodation is all basic yet sufficient. Be prepared with a head-torch or some candles for those dark, quiet, long nights. There are a lot of bugs and nasties but thats the trade off for quiet, tranquility and undeveloped beaches
Rabbit island as it is called is isolated and out of the way. It is underdeveloped, almost intact in its rugged beauty and white sands. The interior is jungle clad and hilly, with many coconut palms swaying in the breeze and some footpaths offering up the possibility of exploration. There is one in particular which goes all the way round the island. This ‘jungle-walk’ can be done without guides with some common sense however, someone can take you around. Ask at any of the hostels.
Take a boat trip to Koh Po or Pou island, a short ride away. The trip lasts about 4-5 hours, so leave at a decent time to make it back for the sunset at Koh Tunsay. The trip involves some fishing first, before the captain takes you to a shallow reef for snorkelling. After this, the boat goes to Koh Po for a saunter around the island before taking a trip to a beautiful white sand beach. A perfect way to spend the day.
The crab is arguably better on Koh Tonsay than in Kep, maybe due to the baskets just in front of the restaurants in the water where they keep the still alive crab. As fresh as it gets. Try them fried with black pepper, or barbecued and with green pepper. Expect to pay about $4 a portion.
The beach is lined with trees interspersed with hammocks and loungers, creating alternating areas of shade and light that offer nice sunbathing possibilities for all. The restaurants will all serve iced coffee and tea for about $1.5 or a beer for $75. Most have happy hour for cocktails and beers all day.
Getting to Koh Tunsay the cheapest and easiest way, and leaving again involves gathering a group before departures. Find three to five others and rent the whole boat for the way there and back, for a day trip or a week for $30 dollar. You must all leave at the same time or you will have to pay extra on the way back. Leaving can be a hassle, with the boats waiting for a full complement for hours before leaving. When you rent the whole boat, you can leave as soon as you want. For one person the ticket is $7-10 dollars depending on your haggling skills. Going alone or in a couple can mean waiting for ages to leave again. That isn’t necessarily the worst however…
Drive to Kep in around 45 minutes from Kampot or take a tuk-tuk for $12 in 30 minutes to an hour. Taxis will do it quicker for $20. Buses run from Kep to all the nearby tourist destinations along with regular transit to the Vietnamese border. A trip from Sihanoukville by bus will be around $7, same with Phnom Penh and will take 3 and 4.5 hours respectively. Minibus will take less time but will cost $12 from Phnom Penh and $11 from Sihanoukville. Taxis from Phnom Penh will cost about $50 and take $3-4 hours. From Sihanoukville it will be 1-2 hours by taxi and cost between $15-$40.
Lets us know if we missed something or you know a cool new spot, just pop a message in the comments section below. Regarding Southern Cambodia, why don’t you check out our other articles on the area by clicking on this link. Otherwise we have a cool article regarding the general aspects of saving money while travelling that you can find by clicking on this link here.