Living on the flood plains on the banks of the Mekong River can severely limit hill running options – it’s as flat as a pancake in Cambodia’s capital city. So I was pretty excited when we planned a weekend away, to the town of Kep on the coast near Viet Nam.
Friends who I had mentioned my love of mountain running to had spoke enthusiastically about Kep. “Oooh, there’s the National Park there and even a hill.” Hill… did someone mention a hill!?!!
I spotted the hill from far off as we rode the 5 USD bus to Kep, a 3 hour ride from Phnom Penh. It was a little less than 200 metres high. But beggars can’t be choosers. And it was definitely an incline.
I got up at 5.30am to give the hill a go. That’s the time I normally have to get up to avoid the heat in Phnom Penh. But what with Kep being on the coastline, there was a stiff cool sea breeze to keep away any chance of temperature hikes.
The National Park gates were less than 50 metres from our hotel. So I ran on through, and kept going, along a lovely big dirt road that wound itself slowly up to the summit. It was nothing like the mad ascents of Nepal. Rather it was like a gentle incline found around Dublin’s Phoenix Park. But what Kep National Park has that neither Nepal nor Ireland have is the view over the crystal blue ocean, with palm trees slowly swaying and paddy fields green with fresh rice laid out below.
The summit itself is just a bend in the road before the track heads back down the other side. The first day, I ran out for 30 minutes and then turned around and came back the same way. The second time I kept running and found myself doing a circuit of the hill. My advice – do the out and back. The 8 kilometre circuit soon goes through the gates and out along houses dotted along the road. It proved to have too much traffic and too many buildings to cope with whilst I was on holiday. Instead, if you run as far as the second gate and turn around, it means you stay within the forest, under the shade, on the quiet road, with a nice ascent and descent on both sides. It also gives you around an 8 kilometre run but without having to disturb the locals (or their hungry dog population).
After a morning run, we headed out to Rabbit Island to lie on the beach for the day. Another bargain, at 9 USD for the boat ride out and back, and the taxi to and from the port. Perfect way to put your feet up after your first hill run in months!