Photo: Enjoying the late light off Kep.

Introduction

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Once the playground of Cambodia’s elites, whose crumbling mansions now provide a forlorn record of the country’s cultural zenith in the 1960s, Kep these days is a sleepy seaside town renowned for its seafood and those spooky remains of that decadent past. It takes some imagination to conjure this heyday from the weekday peace and laidback ambiance, but the revival of a white-sand beach and a throng of holidaying Khmers at weekends hark back to Kep’s popular past.


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Kep is staging a slow but steady comeback. Over several years, many of the beachside plots, which hosted nothing but ruined villas and tangled jungle for decades, have been snapped up by foreign royalty, merchant bankers, expatriates and wealthy Khmers. While visiting the town’s hotels, it’s quickly apparent that it wants to be more upscale and subdued than Sihanoukville and even Kampot. Much of the accommodation is resort-style bungalow places, although you can find a bed for less than $10 a night at more budget-minded establishments. In a very uncharacteristic step for Cambodia, development here for the most part seems slow, careful and planned.

Old meets new in Kep. Photo taken in or around Kep, Cambodia by Nicky Sullivan.

Old meets new in Kep. Photo: Nicky Sullivan

New accommodation options and improving services for visitors may be signs of the changes to come, but much stays the same. Among Khmers, Kep remains best known for its fresh crab, and on weekends hordes of locals descend to eat all the crab they can get their hands on. For Phnom Penh-based expats, Kep remains an ideal weekend getaway.

Kep may have to emphasise its other charms soon, however, as over-crabbing is decimating stocks and bad practices are destroying valuable coral and grass reefs that were forever in the making. These also provide the breeding grounds for the fish and crab that have become Kep’s economic lifeblood. Ethical local restaurants now refuse to serve locally sourced crab — we’d advise you skip it too and go for a sustainable seafood option instead. (Go for goldband snapper, red snapper, calamari or tuna, our chef friend ... Travelfish members only (Around 800 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.


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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Kep.
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