“Until about two years ago, the only place to eat in Kep was at the Crab Market.”
When I heard this months ago, I envisioned a typical Cambodian food market with its basic stalls and unusual smells, but on the shore. It would have some Cambodian BBQ grills with fresh squid and fish skewers. Some crabs boiling in pots. Maybe some other typical market fare, and a few of the ubiquitous stands selling drinks, phone cards, and snacks. And it sounded pretty good, but not worth a trip down.
But this past weekend, with a friend visiting from California who had already been to Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, I thought we’d give it a shot. It was nothing like I expected. The crab market is a row of atmospheric restaurants with attractive bars right on the water. Sure, some are older and look a bit sketchy, but many look like they’ve had a recent remodel and most are wafting fantastic food smells. They have light fixtures made out of crab traps, beautiful furnishings, and an unparalleled view.
It’s true there isn’t much beach, but there is a pleasant paved walkway all along the shore for several kilometers, dotted with amusing statues. There are also dozens, if not hundreds, of platforms slung with hammocks for lounging and picnicking — the favorite Khmer way to enjoy a day by the water.
The accommodation choices were also a nice surprise. We’d intended to splurge a bit since my friend is just here for a quick vacation. For $30/night (bargained down from $35), we stayed at Vanna Resort, and were treated to the view in the photo up top at sunset — from our hammock on our balcony overlooking the pool.
The town still has a unique vibe. Tropical foliage dominates, giving it a wild jungle feel, which is broken up somewhat eerily by the presence of large decrepit shore-front mansions left over from French rule. Then there are the huge concrete hotels in various stages of construction, jutting out with bizarre Romanesque columns and gaudy arrogance. All this, looking out over a well paved street with few cars, running along a picturesque coastline dotted with the occasional wading fisherman. All in all, a foodie or photographer’s dream.
I hope the ATM machines and strip malls leave Kep alone for a bit longer.Details: Sorya bus from Phnom Penh (bus station next to Central Market) to Kep/Kampot leaves daily at 7:30, 9:30, 12:30 and 2:15. Cost 15,000 Riel (USD $3.75). We stayed at Vanna Resort, which included free breakfast and was in a great location. We could walk to the crab market or up to the fancier Veranda Resort to enjoy their restaurant/bar.