Although this was my third trip to Cambodia, I have never been to the coast before. So when we started planning our trip we were very certain that we wanted to see some of the country’s coast this time round. We were researching Sihanoukville, when we discovered that somewhat to the east of this famous beach city lies Kep.
Kep, allegedly, used to be the place to be from the thirties to the late sixties. The glamorous and wealthy of yesteryear all owned attractive modernist villas and enjoyed weekends of luxury in this see-and-be-seen coastal town. But then came the Khmer Rouge with their penchant for destruction and years of civil war and Kep was abandoned. It’s inhabitants fled or were killed and their villas used as target practice by distruction-crazed soldiers.
Recently, however, Kep has been having some sort of a revival. Its close proximity to Phnom Penh, loads of giant crab found in the bay and a need for less crowded coastal property seems to have caused a teeny tourism boom. A couple of very attractive guest houses have sprung up in the hills behind the town. Some new and some in renovated former villas.
We decided to stay spend our two nights on the coast at Veranda Natural Resort, a beautiful sprawling resort set in the hills behind the town’s crab market with views of the ocean and some Vietnamese islands in the distance. Our bungalow had two ‘rooms’. One was in the bungalow and the other was part of our veranda. There was also a hammock and we enjoyed lovely ocean views and were visited by a giant gecko on our second night.
The grounds at Veranda was something amazing. The province of Kampot where Kep is, is known for its rich soil and fresh produce and it was very obvious from all the fruits growing in abundance in our garden.
Bananas, mangoes, papayas, pineapples, chillies and guavas seemed to be growing wild.
There were numerous coconut trees as well as loads of jackfruit trees. Their enormous fruits dangling precariously from the branches.
And of course Kampot’s most famed export was also to be found in our garden.
Kampot pepper. Most definitely the best fresh pepper I have ever tasted. Spicy, but not overwhelming, and a floral hint that leaves you wanting more. We made sure that we ordered at least one dish with fresh Kampot pepper whenever we dined.
Whereas Kampot province is famous for pepper, Kep is nowadays famous for crab. Hence the statue in the first image. The crab is caught pretty much right in front of your eyes at the crab market. From the side the market looks like homes dropping into the deep ocean, but the water is actually quite shallow. While sitting inside any of the numerous restaurants in the market you can watch the ladies of the markets wading out into the ocean and dragging back the crab cages.
On weekends, day trippers from the capital flock to the market to dine on mountains of crab and buy some fresh crab to take with back to the city.
We came for lunch both days we were in Kep. The food was incredible. Both times we ordered the crab curry with fresh pepper. It was a divine dish. I literally sat with one crab leg for about 10 minutes, savoring the sauce, the meat and the pepper. I think I could happily eat this everyday. It was incredible. We also enjoyed some fresh squid and fish but nothing came close to the crab.
Sadly we had to leave for Phnom Penh again after only two nights for visa business. But I know that I will have to go back to Kep to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere, the abundance of fruit, and of course, the crab and the pepper again.