Now that I know I’ll be leaving Cambodia at the end of the year, I have a sudden urge to visit all the places that I was too busy traveling outside of Cambodia to actually visit. This weekend, I hit Kep, a sleepy coastal town, with some friends for a fun-filled mahjong weekend. Bus tickets from Phnom Penh run about $4 for the 4 hour ride. We booked the scenic Veranda hotel with its huge saltwater pool and delicious homemade fries with garlic mayonnaise. There’s even a bakery on site. The hotel is known for its tastefully decorated eco-friendly bungalows, each connected by wooden walkways, but far enough away from each other that you could stay there all weekend and never hear another guest (although how they felt about us shuffling mahjong tiles may be an entirely different story!)
Another plus is its proximity to the Crab Market, a row of wooden shacks built right along the water, serving up the freshest seafood at rock bottom prices. An order of crab sauteed with Kampot pepper corns will send restaurant staffscurrying to haul crab pots right out of the ocean, filled with blue crab and cooked to order. For our meal of crab, shrimp and a fish hot pot with lime leaves and lemongrass, we each paid just over $5. Amazing.
While Kep is right on the coast, its lack of clean white beaches coupled with unappealingly brown water, sends most beach lovers to nearby Sihanoukville. But what Kep lacks in scenery, it makes up in charm. Forested hillsides overlooking the Gulf of Thailand make for quiet, secluded getaways for folks tired of the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh.
While most people go to Kep for the quiet (there are also some kid friendly shops [string your own pearl necklace!] and a playground), other options are taking a boat to nearby Rabbit Island with its clean beaches and Full Moon parties.
Travel tip: Carry around a couple of your hotel business cards when you’re out and about. You’ll never know when you might need it, especially in a country where you don’t know the language. We had such a great lunch at the crab market, we got them to deliver dinner to us at our hotel (which had terrific, but slightly pricey, food in its own right. Try the spaghetti carbonara!). But the whole grilled chicken and huge portion of seafood fried rice was too good to pass up. And giving them the business card along with our phone number and time we wanted delivery made it super easy.