Kep is an adorable little town on the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand. It’s a quick 30 minute bus ride from Kampot. Many people rent a motorbike from Kampot and drive out to Kep as a day trip. Which really is enough time because there is not a whole lot to do. It’s the newest and smallest province in Cambodia and has a population of about 40k. Under French rule it developed into Cambodia’s most prestigious beach town. During the Khmer Rouge years, many of the unique French mansions and villas were destroyed and still lie deserted. The town has a National park with trails for hiking and trekking, a paved coastline that makes for a nice motorbike ride and they are most well known for their fresh crab market.
I arrived in Kep just before noon on a Sunday and it was beautiful clear blue skies and seriously hot. The guesthouse I stayed in was about a 20 minute walk outside of the main city center and I was the only one staying there at the time. I knew I wanted to rent a motorbike so I could see the surrounding mangroves and the national park. My guesthouse was renting them for $2 more than in town, and I’m not down with that, so I packed a day pack and headed out to explore.
The sandy beach on the coast of Kep is a popular Sunday hangout for Cambodians. You can tell they come in large groups of family and friends and they set up along the paved road that stretches the coastline. They head down to the fresh crab market and load up on food and snacks and become beach bums for the day. Sundays are the one day that Cambodian’s have off, and you can tell Kep is the place they go. The paved path plus thousands of happy Cambodians along the beach makes this little town unforgettable.
I walked the entire strip of beach, which starts at the Kep fresh crab market. What an experience going in here on a Sunday right along with the locals was. There were rows and rows of fish stalls selling crab, squid, shrimp and everything else. The buzz from the people, all the good and bad smells, the guarantee of a great feast ahead and the noise of the sea was truly intoxicating. I walked each row just watching the people and all the creatures. Taking mental notes about how this all worked. I felt like an idiot, but can you eat all of this raw? No one speaks any English so I’m left with pointing and awkward hand signals to communicate. Which, by the way, is my favorite form of communication.
I bought some squid and shrimp skewers and pointed at the little makeshift grill the guy was working with and he grilled them up for me. Then he pointed at a bottle of sauce, why not? I gave him an awkward thumbs up and was smiling elatedly because I knew I was about to eat some fresh, succulent yumminess. I continued to wander through the market as I ate my food. I noticed some locals having crab fried up and I got in line. In the back of the market, on the rocky sea coast, there where fresh pots of crab being pulled right out of the water. You choose right from the pot. So I grabbed 2 blue crabs ( Kep’s famous for them) then turned around and gave them to a beautiful Cambodian woman with a wok, on a makeshift fire. She fried it up with a famous pepper sauce made from the pepper in the sister city of Kampot. Best crab ever! Messiest crab eater ever. Don’t care.
After my seafood feast I decided to walk it off along the beach. It was such a beautiful day and the beach was crowded with kids swimming and making sand castles while the adults hid in the shade, so they wouldn’t get a tan. Cambodian music was playing, food was being served and consumed, street vendors were everywhere cooking up anything, almost everyone had a beer or cocktail, cards were being played for money and kids were running around high on sugar. It was great! I was in culture heaven. Several locals stopped me to say “Hello”. There’s a few piers and monuments all over. Hammocks and beach bungalows line the entire beach front.
Later in the afternoon I found a little shop renting motorbikes for $5 a day. I got on my motorbike and cruised farther out of town. I drove to a few of the small villages outside of Kep and Kampot. My motorbike had no fuel gauge so I kept stopping to buy gas because I was afraid of running out. In these little towns with no gas station for miles and miles, they sell gas out of glass bottles that they refill. It makes me laugh. One large 1.5 liter bottle of gas for .50 cents. Before sunset I decided to get dinner and head back to my guesthouse before it got dark. I headed straight back to the market for a second round, where I found the market nearly shut down. However, there were several restaurants with seating right on the ocean, so I picked one and ordered another crab and pepper sauce and devoured it as the sun was setting next to me.
The next morning I still had my bike so I drove up to the national park. They have a trail that you can ride through the park on. It’s not at all easy, especially during rainy season. The path was rained out in many spots, there were potholes galore and large puddles littering the trail making it quite difficult to get through. I was worried about it raining again so I didn’t want to stop and do the few trails through the park, I just didn’t want to spend that much time there. There were several viewpoints along the main trail that I stopped at but was disappointed with each one. There was a lot of overgrowth and no view, that I could see.
After leaving the national park I decided just to drive all day. I explored all around the outskirts of Kep and back into Kampot Province. I saw several different small villages, some I just drove through others I stopped for a walk around. I saw the miles of drowned salt flats. I stopped in a dirty, poor beachside community that smelt terrible. I didn’t stay long there. It was great to walk through the villages where the kids run to great you and stare in fascination. After riding all day I was exhausted and returned my bike and walked back down to the crab market for my final crab dinner. After dinner I decided to get a few beers and go watch the sun set on the coast. It was a gorgeous sunset which made for a great farewell to Kep.
That night I did some research and decided to spend one night on the nearly deserted Rabbit Island off the coast of Kep. I suppose I could do nothing for a day, right?
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