I was going to lump Kep in with Kampot, but we adored Kep just as much so I thought it rightfully deserved its own post. Kep is only 15 miles away from Kampot and unlike Kampot, actually sits right on the sea. We set off under sunny skies on our favorite Asian transport – our own two wheels – and headed down a paved road past cows, green fields, and mountains. We knew we arrived when we could smell the sea in the air. After a scoot around town and some time lounging on the seaside promenade watching the locals swim in the sea, we concluded that it doesn’t get much sleepier than Kep. It’s the type of place that makes you want to sit still, to slow time down and linger.
So we did. Kep has a collection of seaside cafes all serving one thing: crabs caught by local fisherwomen in the waters right out front. We found one with cushy seats by the water and plopped ourselves down for a leisurely lunch. While waiting for our crabs, we watched women in floppy hats wade out into the waters in front of us and trap more of the day’s catch. Before we left, Sean never ate seafood. But it is hard to resist seafood as fresh as this, and somewhere between the red snapper in Essaouira and the tiger prawns in Fort Cochin, he’s become a convert. When the crabs arrive, we devour them. They’re fried whole with fresh green peppercorns from Kampot, and dressed with a black Kampot pepper and lime marinade. I think it goes without saying that they are sublime.
There was talk of staying for sunset and having more crabs for dinner. There was more talk of spending the next night in Kep. In the end, we did neither and left Kep behind in its sleepy solitude.
I don’t think Kep will stay this way. As Cambodia distances itself from its turbulent past, somebody’s going to want to come in and make money from Kep’s seaside location. As it stands now, though, Kep is quiet. Unlike so many other places in Southeast Asia, you can hear yourself think there. The main sound in Kep is simply the waves rolling into shore. The quietness is peaceful, but there’s sad undertones. Back in its heyday, Kep was the coastal stomping grounds of French colonists and Cambodian elites. The grand mansions and villas that are left are mostly charred shells. Some say the Khmer Rouge burned them down as part of their genocidal crusade and particular hatred of the elite. Others say it wasn’t the Khmer Rouge directly, that the locals looted the mansions and villas to survive. Either way, it seems odd that there’s hardly anyone around to appreciate Kep’s beauty. I’d like to keep Kep for myself, but I know sometimes it’s better for places to move on.