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Aside from eating crab, the few points of minor interest in and around Kep are sufficient to fill one long day or two slow-moving ones.

Kep itself has three main attractions aside from the beach. While ostensibly a national park stretching across some 5,000 hectares (including Ko Tonsay and Ko Po), the vast majority of Kep National Park’s gazetted area is being used for farming and whatnot so it’s hardly a repository of abundant wildlife and untouched natural beauty. That said it does remain a pleasing area to go for a walk and a number of small trails can be followed with relative ease. Most guesthouses should be able to supply you with a map and a guide if required.

Another of Kep’s tourist mainstays is the mermaid statue. The white concrete mermaid, with absolutely gravity-defying breasts, sits just to the east of the Beach House on Kep’s main beach. Every now and then a bunch of social conservatives kick up a storm about the statue’s nudity and drape her with garments — most of which disappear within a day or two.

Atop the hill behind Star Guesthouse are several of Sihanouk’s decaying old mansions. Head up the wooded road to the left of the bus station for a few hundred metres. There are three buildings in total, all designed by famed Khmer architect Vann Molyvann. Squatters have taken over one of the structures, restored it slightly, and charge $1 entrance fees to those who want to poke around a little.

Further afield, the district of Kompong Trach was once a Khmer Rouge stronghold — it was in this area that three Western travellers were kidnapped by the Khmer Rouge off the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville train in July 1994 and were murdered late in September the same year. Today the threat of the Khmer Rouge has gone, and a trickle of tourists visit the district to explore a small set of mediocre caves in a limestone outcrop. The centre of the outcrop has collapsed creating an atrium-like effect and a bunch of small pagodas and shrines have been built through the network of caves. Kids will happily lead you through the caves for a token fee.

Past the caves are some pepper plantations that can be visited in what is referred to as the Khmer Rouge Mountains. These are actually just hills where ex-Khmer Rouge were resettled, given farmland and told to start growing stuff. Their pepper is outstanding — we mean it — outstanding. Depending on the farm you go to, generally two grades are available — 1 and 2 — 1 is by far the better pepper and well worth the extra money. Prices start at around US$8 per kilo (some haggling is acceptable) — a bargain compared to what you’d pay in Phnom Penh — though you will of course need to carry it around with you.

In the opposite direction, heading east of Kep towards the Vietnamese border, there’s an isolated pagoda that offers breathtaking views of the surrounds. While the pagoda is no great shakes, the views, especially at sunset, are terrific.

Both motodops and tuk tuks can be arranged to cover all of the above — you will need to bargain to get a reasonable fare of somewhere between $3 and $5 for the entire trip.

Most visits to Kep include a trip to Ko Tonsay, or Rabbit Island. For an overnight stay, the many bungalows lining the main beach cost $5, or $7 if you want a private bathroom. These are basic one-room affairs with a mattress, mosquito net, and no electricity. Many nights are quiet, supposedly, but on our visit a large group of young Cambodians brought their karaoke machine and crooned pop tunes until wee hours of the morning. This is the only place in Kep with a nice beach — nicer than any we’ve seen in Cambodia, in fact, because it’s uncrowded, unlittered, and sandy — and the island’s pepper crab and squid are the best we’ve ever tasted. You can hike around the entire island in about three hours, spotting remote fishing families, protective dogs, and a few birds here and there.

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