Escape from Phnom Penh was not at straightforward as first hoped! We were waiting in reception for our pickup when one of the ladies said that they sometimes forget to pick people up! They kindly rang the number we had been given and announced that a van was on its way. A quick wizz around the streets of Phnom Penh and we were dropped at a bus station to be ushered onto another bus. Four hours, a screaming baby and loud Cambodian karaoke later and we arrived in Kep to be set upon by "helpful" Tuk Tuk drivers offering their services.
Our Lonely Planet doesn't have a map for Kep so we're weren't too sure what to expect. The low down on this place is that it was a French beach resort back in 50's that was abandoned with the change to the Khymer Rouge regime. Its now apparently on a comeback but still quite secluded and away from the main traveller circuit. We settled on a servicable guest house and set out to explore. Kep is famous for having the best Crabs in Cambodia so we went in search of the crab market and the well known crab eateries. This involves a walk around the coastal road from the centre of town which takes twenty minutes or so.
We'd only just left the town centre when we came across a group of picnicing locals sat at the side of the road overlooking the ocean. They offered us a beer and we accepted joining them on their mat. They were a group of middle aged Cambodians who spoke a smattering of English, One was a Doctor, two were Nurses and the fourth was the local (potenially on duty?) copper. They were all, it soon became apparent, absolutely smashed, there was much tapping of beer cans and talking of friendship and it was actually a pretty good time. We couldn't refuse their offer of a second can and one of them even called up on the phone and a lad on a moped came out with another bag of cans (Take-out beer!). These were slowly dispatched inbetween trips to the bathroom (read opposite side of road) and one of them throwing up over the sea wall. The conversation began to go round in circles ("you my friend", "you his friend", "I love my country, I love my beer!", "no problems", "cheers!") and it was now late afternoon without either of us eating anything since a Blue Pumpkin pastry that morning so we took the opportunity and made our excuses to leave. They were such a friendly group and we were very glad to have sat with them and talked a bit.
We soon found a row of crab shacks perched on stilts over the ocean. We chose one pretty much at random and went in for some food. We ordered stuffed crab and some spring rolls and some water to try sober up. The stuffed crab was excellent and a real treat to have the crab ready processed to eat!(and covered in REAL cheese!) Bellies somewhat full we headed back to town to see some of the sights.
It was here we ran into a couple we had seen over at the crab shacks and in our hotel, we got chatting and it seems they were coming in the opposite direction to us on their travels and gave us some advice on hotels for Kampot and Sihanoukville. They introduced themselves as Giles and Kerry and recommended a good place to eat for tea to us.
We took a wonder along the seafront and snapped a quick photo of the famous crab statue that they have here and then walked back along the sea front to the crab shacks. We ordered a grilled fish and the local speciality of Fried Crab with Kampot Pepper. The crab was spectacular! So tasty and the pepper worked so well with it, as it is fresh, green and still on the stalks. All washed down by Angkor beers at a table perched over the rising tide with the moon shinning off the ocean pretty special meal!
The next morning we were up early to catch our boat to Rabbit Island just off the coast from Kep and reputed to have one of the best beaches in Cambodia! We jumped in a local fishing style boat that seemed to be powered by a lawn mower engine with the prop on a pipe bolted straight onto the shaft and we were off. The water was pretty much mirror flat and it was a really pleasant trip across to the island.
The beach we landed on was idealic, crystal clear water, golden sands, palm trees and huts on the treeline. We found accomodation in one of these huts for $5 a night (hut includes: matress on floor, mosquito net and gaps in the door and roof) dropped our bags and changed into swimming gear. The water was so nice and clear and it stayed shallow out quite a way. We spent the day doing mixture of swimming, sun bathing, reading and watching the industrious dogs moving and burying various pieces of litter between holes along the beach (they seemed to be a family, and we named the mama limpet, and the two 2 month old pups Diesel and Vinnie). When it clouded over in the afternoon Charlie wandered along the beach for a coconut oil massage. It was very nice, but didn't feel like it was doing much - but it must have done, as I spent the evening feeing like i'd been beaten up...not sure that was the intended outcome.
Sunset on the beach was spectacular, probably one of the most colorful that either of us had seen before (see photos that won't do it justice). For dinner we again had crab cooked in the local Kampot pepper and some prawns cooked in the same sauce. This was really tasty but not as good as the night before the crabs were smaller and the sauce was made of ground up pepper but we didn't get any of the tender tasty pepper corns that we had enjoyed the night before. We had enjoyed a nice cooling breeze all day but that night it dropped and the bugs came out! Our cabin also seemed really hot with the stagnant air and sleeping was pretty tough (read: worst night's sleep ever!)
Next morning we were pretty much strait up and into the sea, there are no showers here so we had a good wash off in the water and did a lap of the beach. We spent the rest of the morning relaxing and waiting for our boat off the island at lunch time. A strong breeze was picking up and quite a few waves were starting to splash onto the beach. We didn't really think much of this as we set off down a dirt track to where the boats had been moved to due to the waves. Once out in the channel we were questioning the decision to leave at lunch time! The waves splashed over the side of the boat and totally soaked us and our bags. The rocking got quite severe and Charlie decided that the boat was going over but the boat driver seemed pretty calm - Tom reckons he might have been rocking the boat on purpose?!. We eventually reached port and were quite happy to disembark our boat totally wet through!
We decided our best use of time was to miss out going back to Kep and go strait to Kampot our next destination we struck a deal with a Tuk Tuk driver at the dock and we were off wet bags and all!