Calm Kep

December 15, 2015

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Three years ago, almost to the month, we visited Kep in Cambodia on holiday. Sometimes a place just gets under your skin and fills your thoughts regularly with beautiful memories.

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Fast forward two years of slogging away at work, and almost a year of the highs and lows of backpacking and here we are again. In calm Kep. A place famous for it’s crab market, where crab fishing takes place in the shallow waters just out from the decking of the restaurants. What could be fresher than that.

Three years ago we spent every lunch and dinner in the shacks by the water, and it’s no surprise that things have changed a little. The rusty metal sheets have turned into actual plastered walls and cocktail bars have sprung up at the entrances. We enjoyed a few really nice meals at the waterside eating a lot of seafood, but we expanded our horizons this time and went out in search of more Kep experiences.

There are people in the Kep who don’t serve crab as they argue that it’s being overfished, or ‘overcrabbed’ if you will. A favourite lunch spot this time was a place called Breezes.

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Idyllic place with a really well thought out menu and such a friendly Swiss couple that run it. Nice spot to read a book and drink a lime juice!

Kep is a place for relaxation, there’s a beautiful national park to get lost in with hidden little luxury places in the jungle.

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We didn’t manage to get to the butterfly garden, but by all accounts it’s magic. It’s a bit further into the park than we ventured.

There a cheap places to stay, our favourite is Visal Sak, but there’s also the luxury Kep experience. Resorts are peppered all over the hillside jungle of the national park.

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We stayed in Darica for one night, it has a beautifully made palm thatched roof and a swimming pool.

Of course, Kep is a luxury travel destination. In a strange kind of way though: the crowd is a little older and there’s not any of the buy one get one free tourism that you find down the road in Sihanoukville. That’s a good thing.

The strange thing is that Kep province is pretty poor. Now that we’ve been on the road nearly 10 months we notice how tourism fits in with the local community, if it does at all. This is somewhere where it doesn’t really. The vast majority of the tourism in this place is owned by foreigners, not that many Cambodians could afford to buy a hotel and we’ve heard that their mindset is much more ‘make money fast’ rather than ‘build a sustainable business plan’, that’s the effects of war and hunger.

People queue up in the morning to be driven out to factories, plantations, and salt farms.

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Others sleep off the heat of the day hoping to get a fare.

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The salt farms are to the east, close to the Vietnamese border.

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Sea water is let in to these fields, creating a shallow lake that evaporates in the intense heat of the summer. The salt is left behind and placed in the barns. We saw so many kids wandering around this area on the way through from the border.

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Some of them working.

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The surrounding areas are busy with farming, and people ferrying goods around on their motorbikes.

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This is in Kep’s destroyed mansion section, see the next post for that.

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It has a small market too where locals and expats go to shop.

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Kep is essentially a sleepy waterside retreat, a beautiful place with opposite realities depending on which side of the fence you’re sitting on.

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But can’t that be said of the rest of the world in many ways, you either have enough money to do what you want or you don’t.

Across the water from Kep is a string of Cambodian islands, and the massive Vietnamese Phu Quoc Island.

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We enjoyed Kep again, it was great to be here. The road has gotten a lot bigger and busier and there’s more examples of wealth pouring into the area which is a positive. There’s more sections of the destroyed mansions area which are being rebuilt as hotels, more crab shacks owned by local Cambodians, and more Cambodian tourists coming down from Phnom Penh to enjoy Kep Beach. For once, the future of tourism in a town looks like closing the gap between local and foreign people.

The best thing about Kep though is the sunsets. This is a bad day.

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Pastel colours radiate out from the horizon.

This is a good day.

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The sea stretches out before you like a mirror; looking like you could walk right out to the setting sun.

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The stormy sky cast some canvasses for the light to sit on.

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And we sat by the pier sipping on cold beers.

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