How I Got Crabs in Cambodia…or, A Day in Kep
I love imagining the haute, chic Cambodia of the 1950s and 1960s, pre-Khmer Rouge. Back in those days, the resort town of Kep was one of the hottest spots in Southeast Asia.
Kep is a seaside town on Cambodia’s south coast, not far from Kampot. In its heyday, Southeast Asia’s rich and famous built elaborate mansions along the coast, leading to a buzzing resort scene. It was, essentially, the St. Tropez of the Orient.
Then 1975 happened. As the Khmer Rouge destroyed Cambodia’s cities, Kep was a particular target of theirs. Kep represented everything they hated – it was a retreat for the urban elites and intellectuals for whom they held so much contempt.
Today, like the rest of Cambodia, Kep is rebuilding. A new influx of tourism has brought in much-needed financial resources, and the town is becoming a popular destination once again.
I decided to rent a motorbike in Kampot and check out the transitioning town for myself.
I immediately had the feeling that Kep was once grand. Riding down the streets made me feel like I was in an Audrey Hepburn movie!
While most of the mansions were burned by the Khmer Rouge, some remain. And they add to that sense of former grandeur.
First things first – Kep is all about crabs! My first stop in Kep was at the crab market, easily the most entertaining destination in town.
Freshly caught crabs in the shallow water traps, crabs being haggled over by women in checked safari-style hats, and, best of all, crabs cooked and sitting on your plate in one of the many seafood shacks that sat on the water.
And I had arrived just in time for lunch.
Every now and then, there are transcendent moments while traveling that you will remember forever.
This plate of fresh crabs, caught just outside the window and fried with fresh springs of green Kampot pepper, was one of the best meals of my life.
So incredibly fresh, so spicy, and the pepper complemented the crab meat perfectly. I took one bite and knew I had to find a way to come back. It was so good, I forgot that I had no idea how to eat crab still in its shell!
So I tore into it like a cavewoman and probably horrified the French tourists sitting at the next table.
I don’t care. It was amazing!
Next stop? The beach. Kep isn’t the nicest beach in the region – the sand is rocky, the coastline is short, and back in the day, they had to import white sand from Sihanoukville just to get people to visit. But if you’re going just to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the ocean, it has everything you need.
Still glowing from my meal, I found a hammock and stayed there reading my book for the rest of the afternoon.
My day in Kep? Absolutely perfect.
A lot of travelers wonder whether they should stay in Kampot, stay in Kep, or split their time between both towns. I personally found Kampot more atmospheric with better amenities, and would recommend using it as your base. I think more than one day in Kep would be a bit boring.
Even if your time in Kampot is limited, you should take an afternoon to go to Kep and get crabs. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.