Wednesday, January 05, 2011


The bus to Kep was advertised as air conditioned, which was fair. It was also quite shabby, a bit grimy and the curtains were hung upside down. We were aware that the road wouldn't be fully paved but it was only a few short stretches and for most of it the bus belted along at a crazy 70mph that we wouldn't have thought it capable of. We bounced in our seats on every pothole, which was kind of fun.

Sometimes the road was dusty, the dust came into the air conditioning and we along with everybody else spent the next fifteen minutes with the nearest item of clothing clutched to our faces. We passed roadside shacks, pepsi bottle petrol stations, skinny cows with alarmingly visible rib cages, ponds with pretty water lily flowers, and horrendous amounts of litter.

After about four hours we reached Kep, passing the famous (or not) Giant Crab statue, and were dropped off in the town center, or as near as you're going to get in a small and scattered place like this. We were instantly assailed by tuk tuk drivers offering trips to Rabbit Island, trips to the pepper fields, trips to a cheap guest house they happen to know, pretty much everything except a nice non-bouncy sit down on the sea wall which was what we were after.

After a sit down and a sweaty walk around town we found ourselves a guest house for the next few days and began our stay in Kep. We've been having a great time here. It's very quiet for a seaside town - in the days of French rule it was Cambodia's most popular seaside town but after they left, the Khmer Rouge came along and tried to destroy the fancy coastal villas in an attempt to eradicate all trace of former days. However, they did a pretty poor job of it and today Kep is filled with the decaying shells of these buildings. Some are being restored as Kep slowly regains its tourism status, and those that are not often still have immaculately kept gardens.

We rented bikes for a day and rode them up onto Kep Mountain (which is only a little mountain, a couple of hundred metres high) to follow the 8km jungle trail. We didn't see any monkeys up there but lots of butterflies, all of which did a grand job of evading my camera, much to my annoyance. No tigers either. About half way round there was a sign directing us off the path to a cafe with refreshments. Dgym had been complaining about dehydration so we headed down the ladder and onto a steep path, assuming it was quite close. After a minute or two I spotted the cafe in the distance, a good km or two away at the bottom of the mountain! At that point we decided to turn back onto the path. Doesn't seem right to attempt to divert somebody down off a mountain for a quick drink - they'll probably need another one by the time they've got back up to the path.

Yesterday we caught a boat out to Rabbit Island which didn't have any rabbits but is shaped like one apparently. It did have some pigs, dogs and beach chickens though. The pier featured an artist's rendering of what the pier should look like. Bizarrely, this included business men in suits with briefcases waiting for smart looking hovercraft to ferry them across. It was clearly done by an artist who had never visited the location, or possibly even Cambodia, or been told anything about the location because I really can't imagine what you'd want a suit or a briefcase for on Rabbit Island, which is mostly full of palm trees, wooden shacks and people in bikinis.

We had a lovely day chilling out and reading on the beach and had some lovely coconut and pineapple juices with our lunch at one of the cafes.

The seafood is spectacular here - I've been eating a lot of crab (particularly good with local green peppercorns) and even Dgym couldn't resist the lure of a barbequed squid-lolly from the market. One particularly interesting market treat was a mysterious grilled banana leaf parcel. We speculated that it might be amok but weren't sure and bought one anyway - unwrapping revealed that it was a little sausage of rice, and biting revealed a tasty little Cambodian banana inside.

In general, the food in Cambodia hasn't been as good as Thailand and is usually a bit more expensive. It's harder to find a good fruit shake and there are no 7/11s selling weird purple bread and unidentifiable coconutty goop, instead there are pricier convenience stores selling mostly imported American stuff. However, there's plenty that makes up for that. People are very friendly here and always happy to say hello, including the kids who are adorable - tiny toddlers barely old enough to speak grinning and waving at you, and one little girl of about six walked up to me in the street, said hello, shook my hand and walked on again!

I should also mention the coffee. Mmm, the coffee. You don't see much Cambodian coffee outside of Cambodia which is a shame because I will miss it when we leave. It often has quite a distinctly chocolatey taste. If you ask for milk, you often get sweetened (condensed) milk which was surprising at first but it grew on me very quickly and I now opt for it over regular milk, not least because in combination with the chocolatey flavour, a cup of coffee becomes virtually indistinguishable from a dense, bitter cup of Italian hot chocolate.

1 comment:

Zoe said...

Ah you did Kep much more thoroughly than us. We stayed for quite a few days in Kampot, which we really loved, and took a moped out to Kep and back just for a day. Was all a bit too sleepy there!