The journey from Sihanoukville to Kep was an interesting one. At first there were only a handful of us in a mini van, then we had to stop and switch vans for the remaining part of the journey where around twelve of us was squashed into a seven seater – apparently this is normal on longer trips.
As we drew closer into the heart of Kep, the roads became much smoother, they were newly tarmaced and the sidewalks were paved like back home. The architecture of the buildings reflected Rococo-esque style; a result of the previous French occupation. Many of the houses had elaborate detailing on the roofs and walls, they were brightly coloured and had well kept land – much unlike the tin houses seen on the islands and around neighbouring town Sihanoukville.
Kep is the getaway destination for local Khmers, like Blackpool is for northerners, or Cornwall is for the southerners. It’s a little seaside town teeming with street vendors offering durian ice creams, sugar cane and souvenirs. Crazy ladies run into the roads to coax the money men in their range rovers to their restaurants, and monkeys enjoy being barricades in the middle of the roads.
There are so many hidden gems here. I would definitely recommend just hiring out a moped and exploring the backroads; have a gander up into the butterfly valley, see the paddy fields. There are statues and religious monuments dotted about the seafront and further back are amazing pagodas and buddhist monasteries – they really are a sight to see.
The Samathi pagoda was a favourite of mine, we had so many questions about the statues guarding the temple, stairways, the writing… Unfortunately there was no one to ask. However a group of small children welcomed us and opened the gates, but alone at the top of the **mountain** , it made the mystery of the pagoda even more intriguing. Regardless, it was stunning and the view was quite literally breathtaking.
The crab market is also a must do in Kep. Pools of fresh crab skittering about outside the restaurants emphasise how fresh the food here really is. You can see crab traps littering the ocean near the restaurants and happy hour for drinks go down well. We dined in a restaurant that was quite literally on top of the sea and the waves were crashing underneath us.
Fresh crab is generally pricier anywhere in Cambodia ($10 on average – a jump considering the $3 meals we have been used to) due to the high demand and tourist attraction. Me and Jake shared a main dish which turned out to be two crabs anyway, and simply ordered an extra bowl of rice. Shenang (tasty in Khmer).
Kep is a very small town, so I wouldn’t say spend much more than perhaps two or three days here. It’s enough time to feel like you don’t have to rush and still be able to see and do anything at your own pace.
Eat: Fresh crab from the market. Expect to spend around $10-15, but the experience and taste bud orgasm is so worth it. Also try traditional Khmer dessert, a banana and coconut stew thing that is high competition with homemade apple crumble and custard.
Drink: In all honesty, everywhere is pretty much the same here, but happy hour was around five to eight in the evening and no where particularly stood out.
Do: Kep Butterfly Garden! Plan ahead and go on a sunny day. The zoo’s out here aren’t particularly nice to go to, and after seeing the Snake House in Sihanoukville, I’m steering well clear of anything that is not a genuine animal sanctuary. The butterflies here are in an amazing garden run by a local NGO charity that helps support personal growth of Khmer people. You can choose to have a guide or simply walk around and enjoy the garden. There’s also a treetop bar where you can contribute the the charity by buying food and drink. The view is worth the sketchy stairs.
Stay: At Captain Chims, great budget rooms that are affordable and clean. There are two in Kep: the one closer to the pier is cheaper with rooms averaging $7, but there is no hot water or small luxurys like decent sheets. For the other Chims, you turn right as you leave the pier and it is about five minutes down the road, rooms averaging at $10 with air con.