A day or a year in Kep

1 Apr

Beautiful French villas - in ruins

Beautiful French villas - in ruins

Kep is the place where everybody would want to extend his stay to a year. It must be a mix of laid-back-ness, the history that breathes through the ruins of former French colonial villas and the up-and-coming tourism revival. I was here before, and just had to come back to enjoy it to the full – with some surprises thrown in for the same price.

Life is too short to be floating around haphazardly: if you know some places (or people) that are nice, the only clever thing to do is to enjoy them. I adored Kep (South Cambodia), with its lovely sunsets, the relaxed atmosphere and the historic ruins of houses.

Moreover I had found last time a couple of good places to eat, sleep and swim, so I decided to go to the places that I actually liked, rather than adding more and more to the cultural geographical confusion in my head. There’s only so many new places, languages, people and impressions that fit in one’s mind, so I guess I wanted to protect me from overkill. But still I bumped into some lovely new people, drove around the area and crashed a motorbike inthe process…

So I set out for some adventure moving down to Kep, and wanted to try out a different way of transportation: the (in)famous shared taxis.

Shared taxi - shared by 8 in one car

Shared taxi - shared by 8 in one car

The first challenge was to find the place where they left from in Phnom Penh, because people seemed to have different opinions on that. But when I had found the market (out of town) where they left from, the next task was to select the right car. When arriving at the market, touts were basically already pulling my bag of the moto-taxi to take me to one of the cars going South to Kampot.

Basically there are a dozen of taxi-drivers all waiting to fill up their cars, before they leave. Depending on which touts are most efficient, or which car is most popular, that car would go first. So it’s like playing Cambodian roulette – your taxi could be leaving in 5 minutes or in 2 hours time… Oh yeah, and when I say “fill up the car” they really mean it: 4 people in the back (tight, ok) but also 4 in front! The taxi driver actually also shares his seat with another passenger. Try driving like that… (and of course nobody wears seat belts).

My kingdom for a Leffe Blonde

My kingdom for a Leffe Blonde

I am getting quite used to Cambodian standards: I don’t blink an eye anymore about lack of seatbelts or helmets – and I am getting a hang of the prices as well. To the extent that I managed to arrange a moto-driver to bring me the 25km down to Kep from Kampot, for 3 US$ (and I heard afterwards that the price is supposed to be 5 to 8$) – maybe I am getting too good at bargaining… (or I am just counterbalancing the double prices I used to pay just after arriving).

No problem, I had made my reservation in my favourite Belgian guesthouse there: Botanica. It was like coming home, being greeted by my first name by the owner. I stumbled into the place and I couldn’t help myself but to order a cold Leffe (without ice this time) – which was actually served in its own glass! That taste made my eyes water with pure pleasure.

Lovely hammocks for lovely moments

Lovely hammocks for lovely moments

The hammocks were still as cosy as ever, the bungalows came with the standard resident geckos, bikes available to move around in complete freedom… The wifi was still there, but my computer wasn’t alive anymore… So I had to revert to some public computers with internet in some of the guesthouses… Quite a frustrating feeling…

  • What did people do before they had the mini-laptops with wifi, or before there were internet cafes, or before there was internet…
  • Traveling has evolved (or did people?) – for the better or for the worse?
Swimming in the sunset

Swimming in the sunset

I elaborated a bit on sunset swimming routine in Kep Lodge – with their lovely swimming pool overlooking the natural reserve and the sea behind it on the horizon. I discovered the Veranda lodge where they have a beauuuutiful sunset viewing terrace & restaurant. And gorgeous food as well as a bakery with real croissants, pains au chocolat, cinnamon roles and more of those goodies. I just seemed to go on a barang food spree – splashing out on a lovely breakfast, feasting on some vol au vent etc…

Too much is too much

It felt very comfortable to know the place, but then staying there for a week, was maybe a bit more than I could take. After day 3 of doing nothing I started feeling a bit lonely and ‘locked away’ (no internet, no friends,…) but it is always in those moments that you have the most interesting encounters…

At one of my swimming trips to the Kep Lodge, in a swimming pool of which the water was as hot as in your bathtub because of many hot days in a row, I met a Dutch woman who just opened a guesthouse in Kampot. She was on her day off checking out some of the competition in Kep. We got talking and ended up together for pizza in El Dorado – where the Hungarian owner told exactly the same story as he had told 2 months ago – of his accident which kept him from playing his music, having been famous and played jazz with big names, and then moved to Cambodia to build a superbely styled pizza place, which now he wants to sell… Seems he’s playing the same cassette all over.

Never knew spaghetti could cause such an emotional reaction of bliss

Never knew spaghetti could cause such an emotional reaction of bliss

One of the days I wanted to bike down to the local market to interact with the people a bit, maybe have a good laugh – while buying a shirt to expand on my collection of always the same 5 rotating T-shirts… Well, Kep is NOT the place to buy clothes, not even basic ones. So instead I followed the sign for the Chameleon bar closeby. But then it turns out that the bar is actually not really a bar, but the teachers’ residence of a French language school project – and they happen to sell drinks to get a bit of pocket money while volunteering in the school.

What started with ‘can I come in for a drink’ ended up in hanging out with the volunteers of the project for a few days. We played around in the Kep Lodge pool, we even went dancing in a newly opened Khmer bar (never seen something like it): being in the middle of a quaint little sea-side town, and then a local woman decided to turn her living room into a bar, playing loud music and virtually switching off all the lights… Surreal.

But the best of all was a simple Spaghetti evening… Some friends of them had imported fresh cream, bacon, wine and parmigiano cheese from the capital… And this called for a big spaghetti carbonara feast. The dish which is one of my ‘I don’t have time but still wanna cook’-dishes, all of a sudden made my taste buds go crazy. I think I must have had 4 or 5 helpings… and my first wine in 3 months… It’s the little things that make your day…


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