Visiting Kep, Cambodia

It’s time for another guest post from my boyfriend Ian. This time he’s telling us all about Kep, Cambodia.

My journey towards the Vietnam border had taken me from Sihanoukville to Kampot. Next up was the coastal region of Kep. It is situated just 30 minutes away from Kampot and is often used as a day trip from there, or as the next destination for those heading across the border to Vietnam. The area boasts a small but pleasant beach, access to Rabbit Island (which is unfortunately rabbit-free), a national park and a crab market.

Although the area is most famous for crab, this local treat has come under some criticism recently due to over-fishing. I’m certainly no expert, but the minuscule size of the ones being sold at the market would suggest that not all is right here. With this knowledge in mind, I decided to treat myself to only one crab meal whilst staying there. This is a bit of shame, but luckily there are more sustainable and equally delicious options available here, such as squid and snapper. 

Situated next to the market is a row of crab shacks, each offering similar items at similar prices. Costs here are significantly higher than at the market however, but you do get nice views out for the sunset and a comfortable dining experience. On every menu is the local specialty that is crab with Kampot pepper, and that is what I opted for. Whilst the flavour was very tasty, the crabs were so small that there was very little meat to be had. At a cost of $5 USD, it was a bit disappointing. However, I certainly enjoyed the dish and the use of Kampot peppers was a delicious addition.

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Whilst most tourists understandably head to the nearby crab shacks for an easy sit-down meal, I wanted to get something nice and fresh from the market on my second day. There are dozens of similar grill stations offering squids on sticks, snapper, prawns and snakehead fish. If you are feeling confident, you can also join in one of the huddles of locals rummaging through crates of crabs. You pick the ones you want, agree a price, then pay one of the vendors to either boil or stir fry them for you. As mentioned, I’m no carcinologist so opted for fish. I was expecting to do the whole song and dance of haggling, which I find incredibly tedious, but luckily it was quiet when I went and the woman behind the grill didn’t try to rip me off too much. No doubt I was charged more than a local, but in the end I got the price down to $2 for a whole grilled snapper, rice and sweet chili sauce. 

Once my fish was reheated on the grill, I was given a little goody-bag to take away and enjoy. In the market you can take a seat at one of the many tables dotted around, but you have to buy for a drink to enjoy that privilege. Being a cheapskate I took my bag, walked a few minutes down the road and sat on a bench overlooking the sea. Opening my polystyrene box, I was greeted with a crispy, fragant fish ready to be devoured. It was only then that I realized I didn’t have any cutlery… Oh well, I’m a big hairy man, I’ll eat with my hands! Using my fingers, I ripped off a large chunk of juicy fish, dipped it in the sauce and proceeded to consume. I’ve had an affinity for eating with my hands since I visited Malaysia many years ago and ate curry with my bare hands, so this was incredibly satisfying. It was so tasty that a bunch of flies even tried their luck. Stupid beasts, this fish was mine! I swiftly batted them away, eating everything bar the spine and fins (not for lack of trying).

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For $2 you can’t complain

Kep’s glory days

Besides eating crab and relaxing on the beach, another interesting activity is exploring the abandoned villas scattered around the area. Formerly under French colonial rule, Kep was a major resort in Cambodia. In the 1950’s, Kep was a hotspot for well-to-do people such as royalty and celebrities, with the area full of stylish modernist villas that played host to fancy soirées. Unfortunately, by the 1970’s the town had been deserted and left to the Khmer Rouge. The villas were neglected, and over the following decades fell into disrepair, stripped of valuables and becoming overrun by nature. Whilst many are no longer standing, you can still find relics of a bygone era. Some even have bullet holes in the walls.

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In some instances, families have taken up residence in the villas, but the ones I explored were completely empty. At night I can imagine it to be a bit creepy, but during the day the only concern was possibly bumping into aggressive stray dogs. That or treading on one of the many cowpats on the ground.

Whilst I took it easy here and didn’t see everything, Kep is well worth a visit. Whether that be in the form of a day trip from Kampot or an overnight stay, it’s a destination you will enjoy. Its beach, whilst not especially spectacular, is pleasant enough and not as littered as you may expect. It’s a seafood lovers dream with plenty of dishes to eat, and there are lots of other activities you can try, such as visiting the national park, getting a boat to Rabbit Island, or visiting one of the many Kampot pepper farms. 

Additional information

Getting there: The easiest way to get to Kep is via one of the many bus companies. Tickets can be purchased online at Camboticket and cover various routes. 

  • From Phnom Penh – 5 hrs for around $7
  • From Siem Reap – 13hr sleeper bus for $18 
  • From Kampot – 30 mins for $3

Accommodation: I stayed at the Khmer House Hostel which cost around $9 a night for a private double room with en-suite and fan. The hostel offers a free breakfast, bike rentals, and has a restaurant on the premises. It is an easy 15 minute walk to the crab market and 25 minutes to the beach. It was a decent hostel, with the main issue being the poor quality internet. I did feel $9 was a bit expensive for what I got though. 

Where to eat: 

  • Crab Market – Probably the main reason people visit Kep, the market is a seafood-lovers haven that offers an array of choices. 
  • Srea Seafood Restaurant – Another crab shack near the market, this was where I had my crab dish with Kampot peppers. Aside from the slight lack of meat, it was very tasty. I opted for the small dish which cost $5, with large dishes costing $7.50.
  • Kep Sur Mer – This restaurant is owned by the hostel I stayed at, which offers you a free tuk-tuk ride there. It is located at the crab market so it was quite overpriced, but there are a lot of options and a reasonable Happy Hour. I got fried squid with Kampot pepper sauce which was inconsistent. Some bits were soft, others were poorly cooked and rubbery. The sauce was also not as flavoursome as the Kampot pepper crab at Srea. I only had the one dish there though.

Thanks Ian! If you have any questions about Kep, please leave them in the comments.

Ciao for now

The Curious Sparrow

Crab market

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