Beaches are boring places. Luckily Kep is more than a beach. Practically right behind the beaches ringing the peninsula is a small mountain. On this mountain is Kep National Park, a jungle preserve.
Cambodia is a poor country. It can designate areas as protected on a map, but it lacks the money to enforce the protection. Illegal logging is rampant. It also lacks the resources to set up the fancy visitor centers and trails that we enjoy in our national parks in the US. You normally have to hire locals to guide you along the unmarked tracks.
Another reason Cambodia’s national parks lack formal trails is probably because Cambodians have not “discovered” hiking yet. This is likely because hiking in Cambodia is a ridiculously sweaty uncomfortable experience. They’d much rather picnic in the shade by the beach.
The Squirrel Association To The Rescue
Due to the lack of funding and interest from Cambodians, Kep National Park has been neglected. Thankfully there is no illegal logging, but the government just doesn’t have the resources to encourage people to visit.
Luckily, a local expat has stepped in. The owner of the pleasant Led Zep Cafe formed “The Squirrel Association,” and set about making trails, marking them with signs, and mapping them. Without him there would probably only be one flat, easy trail around the mountain. This trail actually has some pretty good views. But where there is a mountain, it’s more fun to climb it, right?
So I cut in at the clearly marked Traverse Trail, and headed straight up the mountain. I climbed the steep trail through the dense foliage, and got pretty sweaty. I figured at least I would have a nice view to look forward to at the top.
Once I reached the top, the only view was of the thick trees. Pictures of dense trees are not very interesting. I could have stayed on the top in the thick of the jungle, but instead I headed down the steep trail to the other side of the mountain.
The Jungle Trail
I arrived back on easy main trail, and enjoyed the nice views. Folks say the end of the main trail is not interesting, so my plan was to hike the Jungle Trail.
The signs clearly marking the start of the jungle trail warned that it was extremely difficult. I hiked out of the Grand Canyon, so how hard could it be, I figured.
It was crazy hard. In fact, it wouldn’t even be a trail if it wasn’t for the heroic efforts of the Squirrel Association. They installed knotted ropes on the steep cliffs. You have to use the ropes to pull yourself up. It’s more of a climb than a hike. I got even sweatier, but I fought my way to the top. I looked forward to the views.
Once again, the only views were of more trees. So I made my way to the Sunset Rock. This rock did have a decent view out to the sea. After a rest here, I hobbled down the Nun’s Trail and the Stairway to Heaven, then walked back to Led Zep Cafe for some lemon juice and crepes. I wanted to support their efforts a little.
I hoped nobody noticed that my clothes were totally soaked in sweat, both my shirt and pants. Back in my bungalow, I had to take a shower with all my clothes on.
Kep National Park is a great way to spend the morning. But get an early start. It’s hot in there!