Kep’s got Crabs
Continuing along the south coast of Cambodia, we took a mercifully short journey from Kampot, Cambodia to Kep. Although we enjoyed Kampot’s faded charms, it was dreadfully hot so staying at The Columns Hotel, despite its restored colonial beauty and comfortable up-to-date rooms, was a bit of a drag since it lacked one vital ingredient: a pool!
Our minibus, which picked us up right at our hotel and then spent an hour hunting down other travellers before departing Kampot, bounced over a largely unpaved dusty red trail through countless sad villages whose trees and huts were covered in road dust to eventually deposit us within 2o kms of the Vietnam border at Kep, a small town revered for its crab shacks (really more like wooden restaurants) hanging over the Gulf of Thailand. Our minibus carried us up a hill to our resort, The Kep Lodge, which was set a good piece from the main road and nestled against a protected jungle (at least for now in the land where corruption is the number one industry!)
Kep was once a resort town for the French Colonists who fled the heat of Phnom Penh to take in the ocean breezes at their mansions and estates. Vestiges of these buildings remain, mostly as ruins. Many new resorts have sprouted up from the ashes of the old, and Kep seems on the verge of becoming a huge destination should the Chinese discover its charms and abundant seafood. (Steps by the powers that be must be taken as soon as possible to deal with water pollution and plastic trash before it’s too late, however. We were dismayed by how dirty the ocean was along the shore.)
Kep Lodge turned out to be a very good choice even though it was a bit remote; we would meander down the dusty hill to the crab shacks for dinner and sometimes lunch, and catch a TukTuk back up for around three bucks so it wasn’t a hardship. Our blissful bungalow was set within a garden, featuring an outdoor patio complete with hammock. The resort’s salt water pool, which was conveniently located beside the open air restaurant and bar where we had our daily breakfast (included in the price of a bungalow which in our case was $60/night) kept us cool as the weather was smoking hot.
There’s not a whole lot to Kep; the town is more like a long boardwalk that hugs the coast as it winds around a landhead into the main town. It is favoured by Cambodians as a playground and especially as an escape from their busy, noisy capital, Phnom Penh. Our trip coincided with Chinese New Year which is celebrated in Cambodia even though they are not Chinese. Any excuse for a holiday I guess!
The crab shacks are the main event. The food we sampled at several of them was delicious but our favourite place was Kim Ly, because of its great service. The most famous dish is the green pepper crab, and of course we had to order it. The crab was sweetly delicious, the pepper sauce sublime, the portions ample and inexpensive – $10 for a huge platter.
Check out our video of the Kep Crab Market:
One morning, we decided to take advantage of the free bicycles available at Kep Lodge. Although a bit rickety, they quickly rolled us down the dusty lane to the highway where we could not belive the traffic pouring into Kep. Celebrations for Chinese New Year were in full swing; it seemed anyone who owned a Lexus SUV had come down from the big city. It was wall to wall down at the crab market next to the crab shacks and further along the road at the little picnic shelters which dotted the coast. Hundreds of families sat on straw mats devouring fresh seafood and everyone seemed to be in a fine mood.
Even though it was very scorchingly hot, we rode our bikes a couple of kilometers along the coast to a unique and somewhat tacky landmark out in the harbour – the giant Kep crab. Of course we had to ham it up a tad for the camera.
We rode on toward the main pier where long boats were shuttling folks to the nearby islands, which we were told were very beautiful and the beaches good. We decided against a day trip with all the weekend warriors from Phnom Penh and sat at a small hotel enjoying a cold Coke by the bay while chatting with the very earnest and pleasant young Cambodian manager who was the nephew of the owner.
I couldn’t properly enjoy the Kep “seafood fest” as I had come down with Cambodian belly so had to resort to a diet of boiled potatoes and white rice. (Doesn’t that sound good?) Elaine did a fine job representing us at the seafood table however, and Kep turned out to be one of those amazing places that you’ve never heard of – and that’s why we travel!
Check out our next appearances: Siem Reap (Angkor Wat temples) and Phnom Penh!
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