I had heard rumours of delicious fresh crab taken straight from the sea and doused in a traditional Kampot pepper sauce. So, when I got the chance to visit Mr Kimley’s restaurant in the laidback beach town of Kep in southern Cambodia, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
With a view of the ocean and the fishermen hard at work, I enjoyed a full crab—fried in the famous sauce—for just $9.50. Complimentary banana chips to start (a personal favourite) and fresh pineapple to end, the simple dish is definitely not one to be missed.
Kep is my favourite beach town in Asia. The beach is small but uncrowded and peaceful. The water is clear and perfect for a cooling dip in the warm afternoon sun. I came here to relax during a whirlwind trip around Southeast Asia and was quickly charmed by the laidback atmosphere and warm and friendly locals.
The fish market is just a five-minute walk from the beach. It’s right beside the sea and packed with both locals and foreigners buying freshly caught fish. The fishing industry is what this little town is built on.
A statue of a blue crab welcomes you to Kep—a reminder of what this town is famous for. Sela Cham Bdey, a nude statue of a fisherman’s wife, located on the pier, looks out to sea, awaiting her husband’s return.
Kep was founded as a seaside retreat for the French elite in 1908 and was a favourite resort town for high-class Cambodians during the 1960s.
In recent years, boutique hotels have sprung up around the crescent shaped, white-sand beach. This isn’t a party town but expats from the capital, Phnom Penh, regularly make the trip here to kick back on the beautiful beach with a cold beer or hike amid the butterfly-filled trails of Kep National Park.
While there I met an Aussie who was on his yearly motorbike trip around Cambodia. He comes to Kep and the surrounding area each year to relax.
Harking back to its pre-war heyday, ruins of luxurious villas are dotted around the town, now entangled by forests. There are around 100 or more old French villas, several of which have been restored.
I took the bus to Kep from the nearby river town of Kampot. The road has recently been paved and the $3 bus journey takes just under an hour (We stop on numerous occasions to collect packages and pick up and drop off passengers). The bus journey from Phnom Penh to Kampot costs $5 and takes a few hours, but we break up the journey with a stop half way to grab some food and stretch our legs.
Kampot is a relaxing river town with a growing expat community. Couples stroll the riverfront hand in hand, teenagers socialise and people of all ages eat and drink in the many bars and restaurants that line it. While the main town is set back from the riverfront, most expats and tourists spend their time by the water.
The waterfront is beautiful and I can imagine myself sipping a cold beer here while watching the sun set over the eclectic French Bridge. The bridge was destroyed under the Khmer Rouge and rebuilt in a mish-mash of styles. It’s closed to the public but don’t be surprised if you see locals climb the locked gates to cross the river.
Rikitikitavi, a hotel and restaurant, is popular with expats and I can see why…the atmosphere is friendly and the food is amazing. I got a spiced Khmer beef curry made with peanuts called Saraman. This is a traditional Khmer dish that included jasmine rice and pitta bread and cost just $10.50. The beef was melt in your mouth tender and the spices were balanced perfectly.
There are a few expat bars and some people I met make the two-hour journey from Sihanoukville to just bask in the laidback atmosphere of the town. I can see why, it’s a special place.
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