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Travel Report: Kep National Park, Cambodia.

Kep National Park.

Kep National Park.

August 2020. It was another Monday afternoon in Cambodia, which meant we were back in a tuk tuk for the forty minute drive into Kep from Kampot. After our adventures exploring Kep Beach, the abandoned colonial mansions and the Crab Market, our next project was an afternoon hike through Kep National Park.

Established in 1993, this is not your standard national park. In fact, it’s more of a protected wildlife reserve with half a dozen jungle trails up in the hills overlooking the town, beach and sea. Moreover, it’s the only national park in Cambodia that doesn’t require a guide.

Kep National Park Checkpoint 1.

Kep National Park.

While there are numerous entry points, our driver felt moved to drop us at Checkpoint 1, where a friendly guard accepted our $2 entry fee (yes, just a dollar each).

Visit Kep National Park.

Kep National Park.

It was a typically hot and humid day, but happily the trail provided excellent shelter from the ferocity of the afternoon sun. Besides some light reading, we hadn’t researched the park all that much. Somewhat foolishly, we figured on simply following the main eight kilometre trail that loops around the mountain. After all, we’d read that the park is well signposted and you can’t really get lost.

Kep National Park.

Led Zep Cafe Kep National Park.

Led Zep Cafe, Kep National Park.

Within just a hundred metres we came across the first of the park’s signature yellow signs at Led Zep Cafe. A Frenchman by the name of Christian Debinut launched this much-loved Kep institution after years spent hiking and mapping out the hill’s various trails.

Walking trails Kep National Park.

It’s that-a-way.

He launched Led Zep Cafe, Kep National Park’s most popular food and drink spot, in 2005. Over the following years Christian introduced the signposts, began offering free maps and oversaw a number of cleanup projects. Sadly, he’s since passed away and the cafe is now run by two of his closest Cambodian friends, Srey Pao and Lang Anika.

Hammock station Led Zep Cafe in Kep

Led Zep Cafe.

You won’t find much info about Christian online. Prior to our visit, I’d been expecting to see faded Robert Plant and Jimmy Page posters. Perhaps a Stairway To Heaven burger or some Beef Lok Lak served with A Whole Lotta Love.

But there’s nothing at all to reference Led Zeppelin the band. Rather, this is an understated, open air joint with tables, chairs and hammocks overlooking the sea. If you ever visit, their fresh lime juices and crepes come particularly recommended.

What To See & Do, Kep.

Le Bout du Monde Khmer Lodge Hotel Kep

Le Bout du Monde (Khmer Lodge Hotel).

Led Zep Cafe was a bit too busy for our liking, hence we opted to pay a visit to Kep National Park’s swankiest guesthouse, Le Bout du Monde (The End of the World).

Swimming pool Le Bout du Monde Hotel Kep

Kep National Park.

This French owned boutique hotel claims to be Kep’s first ecological lodge, offering a number of rustic bungalows and suites in a lush tropical garden. There was no sign of life that day as we wandered in through the open gate, following the garden path down to the vast swimming pool.

The End of the World Hotel Kep.

The End of the World Hotel.

Charmed by the beauty and perfect silence of the place, we decided to scale the wooden staircase up to the hotel’s restaurant and bar. There, we found ourselves greeted by a surprised looking Khmer lady and her dog.

“Do you have any guests now?” I asked, wondering how on earth they were surviving with virtually no tourists. “Mm.. maybe one or two” came her vague reply.

Sea views Kep Cambodia.

The view from Le Bout du Monde’s treehouse restaurant.

The views over Kep were so lovely we ordered a couple of lime juices and stayed for a bit. With a light breeze on our faces, the jungle and sea stretching out before us, it would’ve been easy to give up on the hike. Maybe just order a bunch of dishes and settle in for the day.

Kep National Park.

Hiking Kep National Park Kep.

Kep National Park.

Back on the trail and for the most part it was just us and mother nature. Sticking to the main path, we walked and walked and walked, looking out for the yellow signs. But they were few and far between and what we didn’t realise was that some of the main sights are hidden away in interior trails that run right through the jungle.

Walking in Kep National Park.

Kep National Park.

These trails are so discreet we missed several of them altogether, while a later opportunity to cut in proved too wild. If only we’d come with long pants, long sleeves and maybe a stick, we could’ve made a fist of it. If you’re planning a visit, and want to see Sunset Rock, The Little Buddha and The Stone Horse, come prepared and look out for the little clearings between the trees. #regrets

Exploring Kep National Park.

Kep National Park.

Despite the disappointment of missing out on the jungle spots, we enjoyed our hike around the outer trail. After a while we came across this wooden gazebo, an opportunity to stop for a breather and guzzle some water.

It appeared to have once been a cafe of sorts. Indeed there were a few empty drinks cabinets and a serving counter covered in leaves and dead bugs. I guess Covid put pay to all that.

Views from the hiking trails of Kep National Park

Kep National Park.

Eventually, our efforts brought fine views through openings in the dense greenery. We were pretty far away, but there was the unmistakable outline of Kep Beach and the turquoise blue of Chhak Kep Bay.

The Arch Tree.

Arch tree Kep National Park.

Kep National Park.

At long last we actually got to see something mentioned on the yellow signs. This is the park’s famous Arch Tree, a towering beast with unusual, twisting branches.

Afternoon hike Kep National Park.

Kep National Park.

We also found a locked up ranger’s station tucked away behind the trees and bushes surrounding a large pond. It could have been a lovely spot to sit, had it not been for a conspicuous lack of benches and rampant insects.

Ranger station Kep National Park.

Ranger’s Station.

I was just concluding that the ranger had probably been furloughed when we came across a Khmer man walking down the trail picking up trash. Upon seeing us, he delivered a broad smile and a wave, though further communication proved impossible.

Park ranger Kep National Park

Kep National Park.

Luckily, he was with a young woman who could speak a little English. For reasons unknown, she was carrying a white flag over her shoulder. She too proved very friendly and genuinely wanted to help us find another route up to the interior jungle sights. Unfortunately, it seemed we really would have to retrace our steps for an hour back to one of the earlier clearings.

Kep National Park.

Friendly Khmer woman Kep.

Kep National Park.

Instead of going back on ourselves, Sladja and I were more interested in reaching a distant pagoda nestled in the hills. Consulting with Google Maps, it appeared to be a Buddhist temple complex called Samathi Pagoda.

Samathi Pagoda from Kep Nationa Park

Samathi Pagoda from Kep National Park.

It looked like a spectacular location, though from what I could gather we’d be facing a further hour and a half on foot. What we needed was a lift, which definitely wasn’t going to materialise on the national park trail. Thus we put our heads down and pushed onwards until we came out onto the long and utterly deserted Bopha Prasidh Road.

Bopha Prasidh Road Kep.

Bopha Prasidh Road, Kep.

We hadn’t had much luck that day. Having failed to access the interior trails, I could only remain hopeful that Samathi Pagoda would serve as a memorable victory to salvage the day.

After nearly two hours of walking, we cut ourselves some slack and called for a tuk tuk. Around five minutes later our chariot arrived and we rumbled off towards our next Kep adventure.

Tuk tuk Kep Cambodia.

Kep National Park.

Like this? Read more of my travel reports from Kep.

Or go further afield with my many articles from across Cambodia.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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  • nickreeves

    Ha, love the idea of the Led Zep Cafe…with no reference to the band!
    Fantastic! Good work!
    Have a great day.

    April 22, 2021 - 9:31 am Reply
    • Leighton

      I thought you’d get a kick out of that Nick. Thanks for reading!

      April 22, 2021 - 9:33 am Reply
  • Nora

    Interesting read with awesome pictures. Look forward to your next adventure.

    April 22, 2021 - 10:59 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you Nora, I appreciate that. Three more Kep articles coming to wrap up the series.

      April 22, 2021 - 11:09 am Reply
  • elizawrites

    I already wanted to go to Cambodia, but your post has fueled me even more. Thanks for sharing!

    April 22, 2021 - 12:51 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Eliza, hope you enjoy the rest of the Kep series.

      April 22, 2021 - 12:52 pm Reply
      • elizawrites

        I am really enjoying the series! Looks like you had a fabulous trip. Are you presently living somewhere in Asia? Or did you just see a break to go there last summer? I’m just curious if you don’t mind my asking.

        April 22, 2021 - 1:01 pm
      • Leighton

        We got “stuck” in Cambodia last year when the pandemic broke out. In the end we stayed for about seven months, splitting our time between Siem Reap, Kampot and Kep. This article sums up our somewhat crazy 2020.

        April 22, 2021 - 1:27 pm
      • elizawrites

        Wow! Looks like a great place to be stuck. I am also “stuck” in Istanbul trying to return to China for work. It’s nice to get stuck in some places HAHA I look forward to more of your travel reports on Cambodia.

        April 22, 2021 - 1:31 pm
      • Leighton

        Ohhh, not such a bad place to get stuck in. Hope you manage to get back to China before the end of the year.

        April 22, 2021 - 1:56 pm
  • WanderingCanadians

    This looks like a great national park to explore. It’s too bad that the trails weren’t well signed and would have required some level of bushwhacking to explore.

    April 22, 2021 - 2:05 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      It’s my only Kep regret that we didn’t get to cut into the interior for those hidden spots. But hey, you live and you learn. Thanks for commenting!

      April 22, 2021 - 2:28 pm Reply
  • Jyothi

    Looks like you had a great trip! Great series, thanks for sharing!

    April 22, 2021 - 3:26 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you so much!

      April 22, 2021 - 3:30 pm Reply
  • Memo

    Well, you didn’t get to see all of your planned sights, but at least you can say you’ve been to the the End of The World for your loyal readers. Thanks for an enjoyable read.

    April 22, 2021 - 3:34 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      In some ways writing this one up was more satisfying than the actual experience, ha! Yup, to the end of the world… and back.

      April 22, 2021 - 3:36 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    I always love days spent in a national park- and this looks like an incredible park to experience! How lovely to get to explore the trails through that beautiful jungle. Really enjoying following along on this series! 🙂

    April 22, 2021 - 4:35 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for the kind words, Kep has been a really fun location to write up!

      April 26, 2021 - 10:37 pm Reply
  • Lookoom

    I’m not surprised that there were no people on the paths in the park, all the local visitors seem to come only for the coffee near the entrance. Visiting a nature park is not yet part of the mentality, too much effort.

    April 22, 2021 - 8:19 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      It’s true that we didn’t see any locals hiking. In fact, we bumped into barely a handful of people all day.

      April 22, 2021 - 9:59 pm Reply
  • travelling_han

    It looks lovely. I really can’t wait to get to Cambodia 🙂

    April 22, 2021 - 8:21 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Han! Cambodia won’t disappoint.

      April 22, 2021 - 9:55 pm Reply

    One of the things about exploring the world is that days that don’t turn out as planned almost always end up with an experience you remember, or at least give you a story to tell. A Led Zep cafe with no memorabilia? Still better than the Depeche Mode tribute bar we stumbled on in Tallinn, of all places…!

    April 22, 2021 - 8:59 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha, you’re quite right. And best of all, this particular didn’t-work-out-day led to the pagoda featured in my next post. Thanks for reading!

      April 22, 2021 - 9:53 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    Like the look of the Bout de Monde treehouse restaurant Leighton. The national park scenery is beautiful.

    April 23, 2021 - 12:14 am Reply
    • Leighton

      That was indeed a really nice hotel. Thanks for reading!

      April 23, 2021 - 12:15 am Reply
  • Rebecca

    Very interesting to see that not many people hike/check out the national park past the cafe. But it’s admirable you continued to venture the national park all the same! It’s definitely rewarding to experience less-tourists in the park, to have the place virtually all to yourself and enjoy the nature surrounding it. Thanks for sharing this adventure!

    April 23, 2021 - 5:33 am Reply
    • Leighton

      I was also surprised about how few people we encountered. Hope you get to hike it for yourself one day. And find all those spots we missed.

      April 26, 2021 - 10:39 pm Reply
  • Tobi Agbaje

    Great post – looks like a lot of fun!

    Tobi |

    April 25, 2021 - 1:03 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading and following!

      April 25, 2021 - 8:38 am Reply

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