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Kep

Eat and meet

Kep

Kep is famous across Cambodia for its fresh seafood, in particular its crab. Its signature dish, fried crab with local pepper, is spectacular -- if you're a crab fan, you won't be disappointed. The crabs are farmed in small cages just off the beach area from the crab market and are also caught further afield in traps. If you're happy to get wet, you can often wade out to the traps and pick which ones you want.

Outside of your guesthouse or hotel, there are two main places for crab in Kep. The first is by the crab market and the latter is in the heart of Kep, facing out over Kep's beach. Both have restaurants on raised wooden porches and menus that spread beyond crab and seafood. All should be able to supply you with a rudimentary English menu. An important note for both venues is to be sure of just how much food you are ordering and what it is costing before you start eating -- just to avoid any unpleasant situations at the end of the meal.

Of the strip of restaurants at the crab market, Kim Ly is most popular, probably because of its Lonely Planet acclaim, and we hear that it's often packed with travellers leaving the other similar places without customers. Prices here are also high, at about $9 for a large plate of crab, compared to $4 to $6 for the same platters at the other places. That said, we tried the crab there and it was pretty delicious. At the opposite end of the strip is Sunset restaurant, which also gets high marks from local expats and has more comfortable seating. In the middle of the strip is Rith Shack, which had some of the lowest prices for food, with tour information and English spoken fluently. Crab is also available in a similar fashion on Ko Tonsay.

Away from crabs, all guesthouses have their own restaurants and bars. Veranda has the best views, the widest cocktail list and is resoundingly the most popular among foreign travellers. The Beach House is set beside the swimming pool, so ideal for a lunchtime break, while Kep Lodge has a good mix of Khmer and Western food -- and a pool table. Champey Inn gets very good marks for its seafood -- when the French owner is in attendance. Unfortunately the wheels tend to fall off this kitchen at other times. (Their fried eggs at breakfast, by the way, are superbly done.)

The Riel Bar, back off the beach towards the guesthouses, is one of the only freestanding spots in Kep and is supposed to have tasty desserts and drinks, though it was closed during rainy season when we popped in. The Sailing Club, next door and owned by Knai Bang Chatt, transports you to summertime on Cape Cod, with its light blue clapboard building boasting a wraparound deck and a proper boat dock. Food specials, with a focus on seafood and crab, are listed on the chalk boards on the walls, and while drinks aren't cheap, it's worth grabbing one for the lovely atmosphere, right on the ocean, with a sandy beach that's kept miraculously clean even in rainy season. A range of sport is on offer, too, including volleyball, ping pong and water activities such as sailing, kayaking and windsurfing.

If you're headed back to Kampot from Kep, about one-third of the drive there is a traffic circle with a statue of a white horse in the centre. Just after it is Salt + Pepper, an oddly placed Western bakery run by a German woman with assistance from her goofy little daughter. She serves freshly baked cakes, cookies, bread, pizzas, granola, iced teas and cocoa. Prices range from 3,000 to 8,000 riel, and she prides herself on being one of the few barang to serve a regular clientele of Cambodians. We tried her chocolate cake and it was dense, slightly bitter and tasty.

Below Veranda, the brightly lit El Dorado looks like a stranded UFO. Truth isn't far off, as it's actually Cambodia's only Hungarian restaurant. A moat surrounds a circular seating area decorated with ornate wood and heavy tables, an eclectic design all from the mind of Hungarian owner Jozsi. While El Dorado was open from 17:00 to late as of August 2009, Joszi said he was looking to sell the place, denying Kep of his excellent goulash ($4), letcho ($4) and wood-fired pizza ($5).

In August 2009, on the road toward the Ko Tonsay ferry pier, Kep's newest restaurant opened in the town's quietest location. From a covered deck overlooking a small garden and the sea beyond, Breeze's offers seafood dishes from $6, sandwiches from $5, and interesting world fare like udon noodles with minced chicken ($7.50) and duck breast wrapped in a pancake ($6.50). Jazz played when we visited. It's open from 08:30 to late, with free pickup from your hotel if you call the Dutch-Korean owner Jeroeme.

The reigning Kep half-marathon champion gets his workout running the town's hilly trails, which are marked out in detailed, hand-drawn maps at his cafe, Led Zep, a small wooden shack just up from the main bus stop. Led Zep serves cheap pizza ($3.50) and burritos ($2).

Long Villa is the logical place to wait for your boat to Rabbit Island. After purchasing a ticket from Sophat, the young man always manning the ticket counter, Long Villa will serve you an omelette for $2 or pizza for $8, among other options.

Breeze's: near ferry, T: (097) 675 9072.
El Dorado: below Veranda, T: (011) 230 490.
Kim Ly Restaurant: Crab Market, T: (012) 345 753,(089) 822 866. Open until 22:00.
Led Zep Cafe: by bus stop, T: (092) 450 602, (089) 763 865. Open 11:00-21:00.
Long Villa: T: (092) 262 706. Open 08:00-20:00.
Salt + Pepper: T: (099) 219 004.
Sunset Restaurant: Crab Market, T: (017) 340 612.
The Sailing Club: next to Knai Bang Chhat, T: (012) 349 742.


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