Oct 03 2012
UPDATE 12 November 2012: The Kep Sea Festival has been postponed until the end of 2013 as a sign of respect and mourning for King Father Norodom Sihanouk, who recently passed away.
When the coast of Cambodia gained entry into the Club of the Most Beautiful Bays in the World in 2011, the kingdom celebrated the event by hosting its inaugural Sea Festival in Sihanoukville. An estimated 50,000 attended the event over New Year 2011-2012 and it was hailed as a huge success. This year, it’s slated to be in held in Kep. The theme of this year’s festival, “Blue Sea, Green City,” describes Kep to a tee, but I can’t help wondering: is Kep ready for the onslaught?
I love Kep just as much as the French colonialists who called it Kep-sur-mer did. It fell into disrepair after the Khmer Rouge took over, but has been enjoying a renaissance in recent years and it’s really not too much of a stretch to call it the Cambodian Riviera again. Recent developers have taken advantage of the area’s green hills and valleys and tucked boutique resorts away in quiet nooks off the main road, instead of building massive 600-room hotels.
As great as that is, at last count there were fewer than 400 hotel and guesthouse rooms in Kep. At last year’s Sihanoukville Sea Festival, there were an estimated 7,000 and every one of them was booked out well in advance of the event.
All the same Sihanoukville events and activities are reportedly set to be held at the Kep Sea Festival. I can picture where they’ll erect the food and beverage stalls, and there’s plenty of room in the water for holding the jet ski races. I’m sure they’ll find a place to put the stage and giant screen TVs for the New Year’s Eve extravaganza, too. I just can’t figure out how they’re going to pack 50,000 people into Kep and where they’re all going to sleep.
Cambodians think nothing of sleeping on mats on the ground if they have to, but if you fancy the idea of sleeping under shelter in a bed and are going to be in Kep over New Year 2012-2013, now is the time to be making your plans. Plan ahead or plan around this year’s Cambodia Sea Festival in Kep; whatever you do, don’t cross Kep off your list of places to visit in the kingdom — it really is a magical little part of one of the “most beautiful bays in the world”.
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