The southeast Cambodian town of Kep was our next destination after Angkor. A small, seaside town about 30 km from Vietnam, it was known as the holiday playground of the Cambodian elite. The area is known for two things: Kampot peppercorns (in a future post) and pepper crab. We had heard that it would be a beautiful and relaxing alternative to the party-outpost beach town of Sihanoukville. After a 5 hour bus ride from the dusty capital of Phnom Penh, we arrived for our 3 day "vacation within a vacation" at a French-run bungalow hotel. Turns out, we couldn't have made a better decision!
So....want to know how to live it up in Kep?
Step #1: Feel like dinner? As the sun begins to set, grab a couple of free bikes from your guest house and cruise down the sleepy beach town road. After a relaxing 10 minute cycle (for me at least - Andrew's pedals were pretty stiff), turn right at the statue of Brahma and arrive at....the Kep Crab Market!
Step #2: Walk right past all the restaurants selling expensive seafood plates to tourists and instead saunter up to this group of people arguing loudly in Khmer. Exchange confused, uncomfortable glances with your husband but decide to stick it out to have crabs in the authentic way your Lonely Planet says you're supposed to. Stand there awkwardly for about 6 minutes until the lady buying in front of you finishes. Then point at the crabs while smiling at the vendor.
Some friendly Cambodian man with glasses who speaks English takes pity on your plight and helps with some basic translation of costs. Agree to let the vendor put crabs in a bag for you, but watch to make sure you don't get the puny ones or the ones without claws. When said crabs are satisfactory in quality and quantity, the vendor will weigh them in a hand scale. Total cost is $4 for a kilo of crabs. Pay an additional 50 cents to have them cooked and one of the vendor's friends will whisk you and your crabs over to the cooking area.
Step #3: Hand over your precious bag of crabs to the lady with the big pot. She will pantomime that she is putting yours in a pot with someone else's, but that yours are the ones on top that are flipped belly side up. Then watch and wait. 5-10 minutes later, crabs are drained into a plastic basket, returned to your grocery bag, and ready for eating.
Step #4: DINNER TIME! Grab a picnic table (with a sufficient sunset view, of course), order a couple of beers (at about 50 cents each), some sweet chili sauce, and a fork. Dig in! Start by sucking the meat out of the legs and claws, and finish by cracking open the body and pulling out the juicy chunks by the leg joints. Look at the middle aged French couple crack open their crabs with expert finesse so you know how to do it. As you eat, pat yourselves on the back for being cooler than the smoking backpackers further down the table who bought just one crab and a pile of rice from one of the restaurants for way too much money.
Step #6: Finish demolishing your crabs and decide to move onto a plate of freshly grilled prawns for about $6 USD.
Step #7: Watch the sun finally sink beneath the horizon. Wash your fingers in a bowl of water and fresh lime brought to you by the beer vendors. Decide to head back to the bungalow. Agree that life is hard and you'll need to come back again tomorrow.