Kep Crab Market
From the capital we moved on to the coastal town of Kep situated about four hours from Phnom Penh. Soraya transport will whisk you there for the princely sum of six dollars, on an air conditioned bus that just about hits the comfort tag, especially if you are partial to Cambodian karaoke blaring on the house entertainment system. As we’re travelling around Cambodia outside peak season, the bus was quiet so we bagged two seats each.
Kep is a small town perched on the Gulf of Thailand; once the number one destination for any French colonial (or invaders as they are known here) in the forties and fifties. Sadly the Khmer rouge emptied the town in the seventies, having set up camp in the hills surrounding this seaside resort, to fight the battles of the Khmer war.
The result was that the town was mostly forgotten, buildings abandoned and left to decay. Many of them are still on show, with nature taking its course as trees and shrubs weave their way through the emptied windows and doors of the once beautiful villas of the rich colonialists. Apparently, they are now owned by rich Phnom Penhers, who are awaiting the right price to sell.
The buildings were stripped of tiles and windows following the defeat of the Khmer rouge when the Khmer people returned home to their village to try and re-establish what life they could, after the devastation that took place. Cambodians took anything they could lay their hands on to begin rebuilding their lives.
Kep in 2012 is trying to re-establish itself. Many new resorts are popping up and you can choose to spend anything from ten dollars to over three hundred to stay here in this sleepy little village. We chose the lower end and for twenty dollars we we’re escorted to our own private bungalow perched just off the seafront. It was cute, well managed and provided a very comfortable stay for our three days here.
If you come to Kep looking for nightlife, parties, surfing or just about anything else that doesn’t involve eating seafood and relaxing in the laid back vibe of this village you will be sorely disappointed. Kep is about relaxation, taking in the fresh air, enjoying the seafood and gazing in wonderment at the abandoned buildings. The beach in Kep is small and we wouldn’t stay there for a beach holiday.
The modern day town governor is keen on his statues and dotted about the village you will find a plethora of ‘sculptures’. You have a very large blue crab perched on the seafront! A scantily clad mermaid that’s sits on the harbour forlornly waiting for the return of her sailor beau, and a whole range of religious deities dotted about at roundabouts in the town.
The main action, if you can call it that, in this sleepy town takes place in the crab market which doesn’t really resemble a market (merely a row of restaurants and bars). Crab features on all of the menus and rightly so given its caught by the basketful here. The signature local dish is a whole crab cooked in Kampot pepper which is a GI (geographically indication) crop here. You may think pepper is just pepper, but until you have tasted this locally grown offering do not judge. It does taste different and it’s delicious flavour complements the crab perfectly, and comes in a myriad of colours to accompany most dishes.
The bars and restaurants here all face out to the sea, so while you are ripping your crab claws to bits, you can listen to the waves slapping the boards under your feet. The crab and seafood here of are excellent quality, tasty and filling. John was in his element, wading his way through buckets of prawns and other local dishes.
Perhaps one of the best places to sip a cocktail and watch the sun go down is at the Sailing Club. This bar is attached to one of the more swanky hotels in the town, but the bar and the stunning views over the sea and the sunsets are available to all for the price of a drink. Kindly they offer a cocktail happy hours between 5 and 7 to coincide with this natural event. Sadly, the two nights we tried we were treated only to a cloud set, but it was still beautiful and romantic. During happy hour, cocktails work out a $2 each, and are extremely good.
We took a tuk tuk tour of the local villages trundling about 15 km outside Kep town to go and view a pepper farm where this local speciality is produced. The pepper fields were mostly bereft of pepper as the picking season had just finished, but the journey there and back made for some interesting insights into a more rural Cambodian life.
The kids in the fields and in the villages mostly waved and said hello as we bounced past on the tuk tuk and it was intresting seeing the local houses built on stilts to protect against the inevitable flooding that takes place in these parts.
Our driver was also a good sport telling us about his own family troubles at the hands of the Khmer rouge back in the day. His father was eventually moved to Siem Reap to help with the communist farming effort there and ended up walking all the way back to Kep. Nowadays that is a 12 hour bus journey, so god knows how long it took him on foot.
All in all a rather interesting few days at Kep, our bellies full of the most scrumptious prawns, shrimps, fish and crab, we moved on towards Sihanoukville in a minibus, which unless you want to pay for a private taxi is the only way to get between the two places . We saw on our travels a new rail line being built, which will link this sleepy town by train to Phnom Penh, at some time in the future. I expect the place to change, as access gets that little bit easier when the line eventually opens. So if this is a place where you want to live, get in now before all the empty properties are snapped up by speculators and returns to the swish seafront lodgings of yesteryear.
Sihanoukville and Otres Beach
Sinhanoukville is currently the main beach and sea resort in Cambodia. The beaches stretch about 15km down the Kampot provincial coast. You have a choice of beaches, Serendipity, Victory and a few others. We decided on Otres beach. It is the quietest of them all situated around 5km south of the main town of Sihanoukville. It has little else than some beach huts, guesthouses and a dozen or so beach bars/shacks.
We spent a bit of time in Shianoukville having lunch and stocking up on provisions, we found it a bit tacky. So before you leave, stock up on your dollars and provisions and head on down to Otres beach for your few days of relaxation and peace. The beach and sea are great, with many places to eat and chill-out. A tuk tuk from town is around $5, but John managed a return trip from town to the ATM and supermarket for $5.
In the end this is what we did, and despite a very rainy ‘rainy season’ few days we managed to catch a sunset, get a bit of sun on our backs,but most of all just relaxed and enjoyed he peacefulness of this place.
John having tried in vain to find some decent depilatory cream to remove his ever burgeoning back hairs decided to undertake a back hair removal treatment with threading. Which for me as the casual observer was fascinating to watch, but by the looks on his face caused him a little bit of discomfort. It certainly worked though and as the ‘beach therapist’ pointed out his back now resembled a baby’s bottom.
We stayed at the Mushroom Point beach huts. They came commended both from Travelfish and in a good few other forums on this area. It turned out to be a lovely choice.
The place is run my some charming Slovenians who have really created a little oasis in this tranquil place. Given its name it is themed around mushrooms. You stay in a a mushroom shaped hut, the lights and seats are all designed to look like a variety of mushrooms. It sounds tacky but they have pulled it off really well. The food is good and is a mix of western, Khmer and even some Slovakian dishes thrown in to the mix.
The owners have got it just right,not only the decor, but the staff are all really friendly, accommodating and not in your way if you just want to relax. It seems a real family run affair and the owners have managed to create a Khmer family around them with their staff, and it works really well. Mushroom hats off to them for doing it. They care about Mushroom Point and it shows.
We had a really nice time here, which is probably the right thing to do as we return to the tour trail with a few cultural days beckoning at Siem Reap wandering the temples.