Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Kep, sun, sea sand and crabs (edible crabs that is)

welcome to Kep!

This is a bit of a change from Phnom Penh, Kep is a cape that juts out into the Gulf of Thailand, with a white sandy beach (man made we understand), backed by jungle clad hills and fronted by a gently lapping, warm sea. The hot temperatures are slightly offset by the gentle sea breeze, but we're glad we have air-con and a swimming pool.

The little orange pin is Kep, Phnom Penh is at the top,the black line marks the border with Vietnam. The island SW of Kep is Phu Quoc and is owned by Vietnam,much to the consternation of Cambodia.Not hard to see why
Our little resort and the forested hills behind
Behind us on the forested hill is the Led Zep cafe, the French owner a bit of a local character by all accounts (we didn't meet him), has put up a number of walking and cycling routes in the hills one of them going to one of the peaks. No Led Zeppelin music was playing when we visited but it was adorned with photos of many heavy rock bands and had a fabulous balcony with great views down and out to sea, very pleasant to sip a cold drink and watch the world go by. We've done the bike circuit we've been to the top and I walked over to the butterfly farm in the heat while Jackie went back to sit by the pool.

Sunset over the Gulf of Thailand
Kep is famous for its edible crabs but also all types of sea food, so we chose a place close to the crab market. Nearby Kampot is famous for pepper so the very local delicacy is crab cooked in Kampot peppers and, we both have say it does not disappoint! Fabulous is the word! On one restaurant visit with a table next to the beach we ordered, the guy rolled up his trouser legs, waded out into the sea, collected several from a crab pot, cooked them in Kampot pepper and delivered them to our table within 20 minutes, while we watched the sun set over the sea with a couple of beers. 
Our waiter wades out to get the crab dinner...
However the best meal was a seafood platter of crab, prawns and squid all cooked in Kampot pepper, so much so we intend to have it again tonight. Price of this amazing meal? $7.50 with beer at $0.75 per can. Eating in the market is even cheaper, but a bit more rough and ready: choose your fish, crab whatever and they reheat it (its already been BBQ'd) on the BBQ someone else brings you beer and you eat in amongst all the hubub on plastic chairs and shared tables. We had an amazing fish one night, as long as the distance from my elbow to fingertips for $4.00, so much we could barely finish it!

His catch, soon to be our dinner
Crab cooked in Kampot peppers - heavenly!
The place we're staying in, Le Kep Bungalows is 600m back from the sea and crab market, is a brand new place with a pool surrounded by bungalows. We stayed in a really nice one for 5 days at $25/night and have now upgraded to one at $35/night for our last night as it was the only one they had left. This one is fabulous!

So other than the walks, bike rides (the bikes are free for guests), swimming and eating we've chilled! Kep is a place to do this, its got a laid back rustic charm and is, for the moment, very underdeveloped but for how long?

Forgot to write about the monkeys! They live in the hills and come down into the town for food from the locals. Here's one with a baby clinging on
One of the many (300?) decaying villas
It's obviously got a dark past though, walking round we can see that once it was a luxurious resort with large villas set in spacious walled grounds right along the seafront and back through a network of roads but they are now in ruins. How this happened we're not sure, but trawling the internet and talking to people it seems the blame may lie with the Khmer Rouge. One site I went on ( says that the first buildings were constructed by the French and it was they that constructed the curved beach, promenade and lighting but King Sihanouk continued development having a place of his own by 1970. 
And another
The different accounts of the destruction range from the Khmer Rouge, who kept some buildings to process fish and destroyed all the other villas as being part of the unwanted bourgeoise society, killing the owners as found. Other accounts blame it on the Vietnamese when they invaded the country in 1979, others that poor locals dismantled them to use the materials for their own buildings. Whatever the reason, they sit behind their sturdy walled gardens on substantial plots gracefully decaying and disappearing beneath undergrowth and regenerating forest.

The white sandy beach of Kep
On the summit walk
It is incredible, sitting as many of them do, in prime locations right on the seafront that they haven't been redeveloped. We suspect its just a time factor, the Khmer Rouge was only officially disbanded in 1998 and there's just not been enough time yet. What's here is quite new and is rapidly developing. One would guess its an investors dream right now, buy one of the prime location ruins now before the prices go up too much, its only 160km from Phnom Penh, with its international airport. We like the small town, laid back rustic feel with so much nature all around, but what will it be like in 10 years time?

Waiting for drinks in Led Zeps Cafe
Look at this handsome fellow
Just up the coast is Sihanoukville, the major seaside resort and, by all accounts it is now what Kep might become and the reason we came here and not there. Come and sample its simple appeal and fabulous food before its gone!

You'd think with all the seafood it would be a cats paradise but there are barely any to be seen, there are a few dogs though. Cutie dog joined us for dinner last night, in the market, I was aware of a gentle paw on my leg from quite a big dog who looked at me with big puppy dog eyes, I told him to sit, which he did even though French would be his second language here! So, who needs 10 fingers I thought, I'll give him a prawn head. Never has any dog taken food so gently, he was so good, even licking the fish off my fingers as they seemed to forget to bring us a finger bowl!

Run, run!
In the butterfly farm
Happy New Goat! Tomorrow, 19th February, is Chinese New Year Day and it will be the Year of the Goat. There might be a big party on the beach tonight, there were lots of marquees going up this morning!

Independence monument in Kep, a half size copy of the one in Phnom Penh, but there's nothing around this one, just sadly neglected gardens and ruined villas

These guys get everywhere!

Mrs. C by the pool

Night time view of the gardens at Le Kep Bungalows

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