Just 20km from Kampot lies Kep, a small seaside town famous for its crabs.
We arrived via Tuk-Tuk, as it was only around half an hour drive and $10 from Kampot. We were surprised when we arrived, I expected a small seaside town but there isn’t really any town per se – what is there is all quite spread out and it wasn’t easy to find out where to go to eat, aside from the famous crab market. It was also unbelievably quiet, we seemed to have arrived in the lowest of low seasons.
After spending the first afternoon swimming and relaxing, the next day we rented a motorbike and went to see some sights. We started with a pepper farm. We chose Sothy’s pepper farm as it was recommended, and it was interesting to see the pepper growing and taste the different types, but the tour lasted about 5 minutes as the farm was very small and some visitors who arrived after us were getting impatient waiting for their tour. There are plenty of other farms on the same road who don’t benefit from having a huge sign on the main road so it might be an idea to visit one of them instead.
We then tried to go and see the salt flats. Locals channel sea water is channelled into fields, which then evaporates leaving sea salt behind. It is apparently a stunning sight, but we just couldn’t find them! We turned off the main road, and drove through village after village to where the map said they would be but nothing. It wasn’t all bad though, as we saw some stunning scenery around the villages, with kids running out to say hello to us. It’s a nice experience to get lost sometimes.
What I most wanted to see was some abandoned villas. Built by the French, they were left to fall into disrepair, and later stripped of anything valuable by locals to sell, leaving them in the dilapidated state they are in today.
While not as easy to find as I expected (they aren’t all in one place!) we did manage to find a good number of these mansions. Some were secured and only viewable from the road but a few could be accessed – you’re probably not supposed to but we didn’t get told off.
It was fascinating to walk around the shell of what was once a glitzy mansion, now slowly being consumed by nature. Dangerous too, as a lot of the concrete was not structurally sound, with holes into basements and stairs which look like they could collapse at any minute.
Some have had giant insects added by ROA, a Belgian street artist, which looks awesome.
We did briefly check out the beach but we weren’t impressed. A lot of this was down to the low season – plenty of rain and rough seas. In fairness it did have lovely sand which had been imported from Sihanoukville. In the high season it’s probably really nice.
What Kep is most famous for is it’s crab, so we had to try some. We went to Holy Crab, one of the nicer restaurants around the crab market area. The terrace stretched out over the sea and you could sea crab cages set up to catch them – can’t get much fresher than that!
Katy had the classic flower crab with Kampot pepper which was delicious and I had flower crab with red curry paste, which again was delicious but I didn’t think through how messy crab is to eat in the first place, let alone covered in curry. I’m surprised we weren’t billed extra for the amount of napkins we used! Both tasted incredible though and I’m glad we tried some.
As soon as we started eating a huge storm came in, battering the exposed restaurant. Even with the blinds down, water was spraying through and leaking through the roof. We moved to 4 different tables to try and stay dry. Just typical of our travels, where bad luck seems to follow us around, but it was amusing.
We had some lovely meals at our hotel, but aside from that we found it genuinely difficult to find anywhere else to eat. Because our resort was up in the hills our only realistic choices at night without taking a scooter out were neighbouring resorts – every single one of which had their kitchens closed because they had NO guests. It was bizarre and frustrating.
Some places are fine in low season. Kep was not one of them. We really wanted to like it more but the deserted feel and rubbish weather didn’t leave us feeling particularly sad to leave, but I’m sure we would have loved it in high season. Go visit, just not in June…
Where We Stayed
We stayed in Kep Lodge. The only reason we could afford to stay here was because of the extreme low season they had a 3 nights for 2 offer on. The usual price is $37 per night but with the deal we hit our ideal maximum of $25 a night. For that price, including breakfast it was a good deal, but I don’t think I would have been so happy if we had paid full rate.
The room was basic but comfortable, but the main draw was the lovely saltwater pool with amazing views. There were also lush gardens surrounding the rooms so it was very private, and had a great restaurant with waiters who were insanely friendly and always wanting to chat to you.