Exploring Kep Cambodia

Arrived in Kep yesterday after a four-hour bus ride from Phnom Penh.  The bus had A/C, the road wasn’t too bumpy, and the passengers were interesting. Only complaint was the Chinese kung-fu movies playing continuously during the trip – with Cambodian subtitles.

I met a European professor on the bus who lives in Phnom Penh and teaches German and Italian there.  He was fun to talk with and was on his way to the beach at Sihanoukville.  I sat next to a quiet Cambodian teenage boy who got off at a small village just before Kep.  The bus was only supposed to stop one time but when we reached Kep it had stopped at least ten or more times to drop off and pick up Cambodians living in villages along the way. Glad I wasn’t in a hurry!

Kep is a sleepy seaside fishing village  (see December 15th blog) – surrounded by rich jungle vegetation. It has some upscale luxury resorts and spas but I opted for a low-key place called Raingsey Bungalow – no fancy amenities but a beautiful swimming pool and nice bungalows with high ceilings and A/C. They have a little spa where you can get massages and treatments. There are several Americans (from NYC) staying here as well as French and German tourists.

The Cambodian staff is friendly and last night one of the house boys gave me a ride on his motorcycle to a nearby restaurant at Crab Market along the coast – the restaurant was his brother’s place. It’s about a six block walk to shops and restaurants and since it was pitch dark along the road I decided not to walk without knowing the terrain.

Today I visited Crab Market again. In the market fresh crabs sell for an unbelievable $1.25 each. The fishmongers cook the crabs in massive steaming pots while customers wait. They also sell chickens roasted on the spot over a bed of coals and large, fresh succulent banana prawns which are kept on ice, waiting to be selected and cooked.

“A delicious stick of baby squid, char grilled, is as little as 500 Riel ($.12), depending on their size and the time of day. Early in the morning the vendors know they have a good chance of selling them and are not so keen to discount their wares. After all, at that time of the morning, the vendors can barely cook these strange kebabs fast enough to keep up with demand. Most of the women are relatives of the fisherman who return periodically in their colorfully painted boats to unload more sea bounty from the holds into the baskets of their waiting families.” Their very cute children are running around as well – mostly being naughty. The crabs sit in traps near the shore until a customer buys them. Sometimes prices change, depending on how much they catch that day. Quality is another variable – tied to the time of year and weather.

“Customers can sit at tables in the market and watch life on the seashore unfold (my absolute  favorite), sipping a cold drink and dipping their food into bowls of flavorful sauces garnished with fresh Khmer peppercorns. Many buy rice, crabs, and sauces and continue around the corner to sit on woven mats under shady trees. Tarps are laid out all along the beach for picnickers, some of whom take a swim between courses or simply enjoy the sparking sunshine  and view across the ocean to the many small islands just offshore.”

Kep is an altogether delightful and unique seaside community! It’s very quiet but in a good way and is a nice change from the constant action in Phnom Penh. Next I visit Rabbit Island for snorkeling and hiking – tomorrow or the day after – lost track of the days of the week some time ago… Kep is a bit intoxicating.

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