Cambodia Chameleon: We Came for the Crabs in Kep.
A weekend in Kep.
Kep is a small town located nearby the Kampot Province of Cambodia on the southwest side, and it can be reached via the local buses or taxis. Kep was once a popular beach spot before the Khmer Rouge invasion which destroyed most of its’ seaside villas and land. Based on our recent weekend trip there, there seems to be an on-going development in terms of the road system as the road changed from tar to red sand to tar. Having a krama or a mask is good at this point as it got dusty for a bit. The roads are rather empty even on weekend and we saw a generous amount of green paddy fields (rice fields), palm sugar trees tall above the flat lands, cows grazing on the green grass as well as children in there dark blue and white uniforms cycling home from school. It was nice to see a change of environment from the busy streets of Phnom Penh to this quiet, unassuming town where people are seen to be more relaxed with their daily lives. Life seems to be so much simpler in Kep.
Getting to Kep.
We took the Giant Ibis bus from Phnom Penh to Kampot which was a 3 hours journey out from the city. Once we arrived in Kampot, we took on a tuk tuk as we were not familiar with the area on our first day in town. The cost to and from Kep was $18 for a 40-minutes drive. The drivers don’t usually charge by how many people are on his tuk tuk but rather how long it’ll take him to the next destination. The driver took us to the Crab Market, restaurant and also around the beach areas for this fee too which was good for us. There’s also the local motorbike which we rented once we came back to Kampot and that costs $4-$5 per day depending on which shop you rent it from. We got our Icon motorbike from the Giant Ibis office for $5 and it came with 2 helmets + chain lock. Motorbike thefts happen quite often so we had ours locked securely at the hotel for the night.
Visiting the colorful crab market.
Kep is famous for this particular crab market which sits on Kep beach, fronting the waters. Many people, local and foreigners travel all the to Kep just to have the fresh crabs, calamaris’ and seafood from the sea. You can’t miss it as there’s a tall statue near the market and you’ll be able to see the stalls in the area. There’s 2 parts to the market; the food stalls and the crab stalls. As you walk in, you’ll pass stalls selling souvenirs and accessories made of seashells, drinks station with stacked coconuts, food stalls with tables and chairs selling rice and grilled seafood. Everyone would greet you as walk by and invite you to their stalls. We smiled and said we’ll go around first and see even though they spoke to us in Khmer, I somehow understood what they meant through their gestures. Most of the sellers here are Muslim, making it easy for us to look into food options from the grilled seafood to local Khmer desserts. We got ourselves the pancake desserts, sesame biscuits, coconut drink as snacks back at the hotel.
Buying an awful lot of crabs and prawns from the crab ladies.
Why we call them the crab ladies is because all the sellers there are women and they are known to walk into the sea to gather the crabs for customers upon request. Clad with sunhats to protect them from the sun, these ladies can be seen at their stalls which are lined up fronting the waters. As we walked from the outside of the market, they would call to us and offer good prices starting from $5 to $7 for 1 kg of crabs. We decided to go the end of the line, right inside the market and next to the boiling pots of water. Most of the sellers were Muslim as seen from their clothing. “You Muslim?” I asked and when she said yes, I too said we are Muslims. She greeted us with “Assalamualaikum” and salam my hand.
“Everywhere we went in Cambodia, we would see Muslim community and they would greet us with the warmest smiles.”
We agreed to her price of $7 per kg and got ourselves 2kgs of crabs! The lady then walked into the water to bring the crab trap to shore for us to choose from. There were a mix of large and small crabs, most of them with light blue claws, still alive of course. After selecting the crabs, we were told that we could have them boiled in a pot for 3,000r (less than $1) so we did just that and walked over to another Muslim seller stall selling prawns. A friendly khmer lady urged us to get either the prawns from the sea or the river, but either or it was all fresh and had juicy meat. We chose the river prawns at $11.50 per kilo and had those boiled too. When they packed it up for us, it was steaming hot and ready to be peeled. After getting a few other items like the local bottled chilli and rice, we took everything back with us to the hotel to eat it there instead.
End it with a statue hunt at the beach.
While we were going around Kep, we saw different statues at the roundabout area up to the beach which served as a landmark for the local people. As we entered Kep, we saw a white horse statue at the roundabout and then proceeded to look out for the blue crab statue in the ocean. It was bizarre seeing this blue creature in the middle of the sea, and when the tide was high it looked as if the crab was floating on water. There’s also a statue of a white lady also as “the woman who waits for her man” in Khmer. She is seen with cloths draped around her which I’m assuming was done by the locals to preserve her modesty. The white sandy beach surrounding her is gorgeous though and we people having picnics or swimming in the waters. For beach lovers, I think the best place to say is in Kep itself where there’s plenty of beach resorts to choose from, otherwise you could stay in Kampot like us and take a day trip to Kep, to enjoy the day at the beach as well as its’ surrounding area.
About Yafieda Jamil
A Malaysian girl currently working abroad in Phnom Penh city. I love a good road trip, hot cappuccinos, spicy food and staring at old buildings. My mission is to inspire people to see the world differently before we all get any older. Oh and giraffes are the most beautiful creatures on earth.