There's isn't much in Kep. The ruined villas are interesting, of course, but not the sort of thing you build a vacation around. The beach by the gulf is only so-so, with a darkish, thick sort of sand beach which is nice enough, but not exactly awe inspiring (spoiled lot that we are). The biggest local attraction is a day trip to Rabbit Island (where there is a somewhat nicer beach, but it requires a rather note-worthy boat ride and an all day stay, even during rainy season; we shall explore this topic in further detail, dear reader), followed by a salt/pepper tour to the pepper fields where they grow pepper and the salt fields where they harvest salt. Interesting, n'est-ce pas, but not life changing.
So, maybe Kep is not exactly Tourist Action Central.
But we are not the sort to require Ocean Water Simulation Slides With Real Life Dolphin Sound Effects on our beach vacas, and since we rather prefer the quiet, deserted beach over the one with a board walk, rides, and snow cones, Kep seemed like it might be our speed. Particularly given that the current hot spot beach resort town in Cambodia, Sihounakville, sounded a little more, well, shady.
Kep is quiet and unspoiled because it is a bit off the beaten track (ha! that would be the Cambodian beaten track! ha!), not to mention that there just wasn't anything that we read that suggested that there was much of anything going on. Sihounakville seemed like it might be a little too bright, too populated, too developed, maybe, for our liking? Hard to know, really, but we settled on Kep for our first stop with Sihounakville in reserve as a place to go should Kep not quite pan out.
Kep did pan out pretty well for us, although, I'll toss in a little foreshadowing just for the heck of it, maybe there are members of our party who have, shall we say, itchy feet. And while maybe hanging out in a hammock is nice, hanging out for the same hammock too many days in a row leads to a strong desire to hit the road Jef ... er Jack. Anyway, we really did like Kep.
On the first day, we hung by the pool in the morning watching the children swim and fry in the sun (sunscreen! it must be applied to function!) and then headed off on a couple of hour hike around the area in the afternoon, checking out the ruined villas as we went.
I find this stuff almost unbearably fascinating. I can stand peering over the fence at a ruined villa for way longer than the attention span of of a six year old child just imaging what these villas must have been like in their heyday. We're talking the period from 1900 to 1960s, so imagine the clothing styles, the food they would have served at their tropically languid afternoon teas, the nannies caring for the wee neglected children (wait, I think I have fallen into a Gatsby-ish daydream ... ), but you get the picture. I can just imagine how divinely fabulous it all must have been.
The villas were not accessible for close up inspection. Mostly because at least some percentage of them had people living in them. I was shocked by this, because, as I pointed out to Jeff, the inhabited villas lacked basic stuff like doors! windows! and in some cases ceilings! and walls! (let alone those western niceties like electricity and running water)! He quietly pointed out that most of the wooden housing we had seen was pretty basic, and was this really all that different? Of course not, if you think about it.
These houses are all private property, by the way, with or without squatters. Apparently they were all snapped up for a song in the 1990s by those dwelling in the murky corridors of military and civilian power.
This was a new villa appearing out of the ashes of the old! Sort of. It's more "next too," rather than "on top of." Which really made me wonder. Why in the heck wouldn't they tear down the old before building the new? No ideas on this one. We saw this "quite a bit," by which I mean, if we saw half a dozen new villas being built, they were likely being built on property that had a ruined villa on it. And often the new villa was utilizing something from the old - often an exterior fence. Jeff wondered about the French families who had lost property during the Khmer period and if they had been able to recover anything in subsequent years. Given the above bit about "a song" and the "murky corridors of power," it seems likely they didn't get much in the way of compensation.
This one is particularly lovely, don't you think? It's actually not an abandoned French villa! King Sihanouk (the current retired King of Cambodia) built this home in the mid-1990s overlooking the Gulf of Thailand, but it was never occupied and now sits empty. Mid-1990s?? Amazing what a little salt water and time will do! The grounds are meticulously maintained, though, and it is a puzzling thing to behold.
We had walked quite a bit that day, starting up through the jungle, ending up a on a dirt road circling around the largish hill the Kep Lodge was lodged up against and then meandering back down into Kep proper (although there wasn't much of anything in "Kep proper" excepting maybe a small tuk-tuk stand and a restaurant or two). And then ran into the Gulf of Thailand and the aforementioned not so grand sand.