Go local in Kep and other still-Khmer spots
By Maryann Jones Thompson
“Sleepy little fishing village… Nothing to do… Good crab.” One read of Lonely Planet’s description and Kris Warner was making a beeline for Kep. The former French colonial resort on Cambodia’s southeast coast has grown considerably since that first visit in 2005 – and so has Warner’s footprint there. Together with his wife Naome, the Californian founded Khmer Hands, a non-profit vocational and arts school that runs a guest house, restaurant, café and store and trains underprivileged locals for jobs in the region’s burgeoning tourist industry.
Families and backpackers from around the world use Khmer Hands as a friendly, budget base to explore the still-authentic seaside town only a dozen miles from the Vietnamese border. Kep has a bustling Crab Market, with cafes serving heaps of the steamed critters and towers of cold Angkor beer.
From the town beach, you can see Rabbit Island, where old-school Southeast Asian-style bungalows on the sand can still be found. Trails through the Kep National Park run just above town, with towering bamboo and ocean views. And many more untouristed sites like the caves and grottos of Kampong Trach are just a moto-ride away – if you can stand riding your kids on the back or letting your teens ride alone.
Just one big town to the west, Kampot also draws Cambodia’s off-the-beaten-track set. You can see both salt and pepper farms, including the must-tour Sothy’s. There is rock climbing, SUP-ing, caving, boating and more hiking to the Bokor Hill Station.
Or just wander the still small-town streets, hit a festival, and bask in the local scene. But go soon because big change comes fast in this small country: Cambodia drew 6.2 million tourists in 2018, up from just 1 million in 2004, which makes genuine small-town Khmer life harder and harder to find.
The ROAM Report – Kep, Cambodia
The Good Stuff
Land at Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh airport and arrange a car to drive your family to one of these less-touristed Cambodian classics:
Sands of Lazy Beach
These bungalows lie on the quiet side of Koh Rong Samloem and serve the perfect splashy waves, simple huts in the sand and elaborate meals in the restaurant.
Waterfalls in Tatai
Your bungalow steps descend straight into the water at the tiny Tatai Riverfront Lodge. Day trips boat you to waterfalls for jumping, swimming and eating.
Elephants in Sen Monorom
The Elephant Valley Project wrote the book on responsible elephant tourism. Your hands-on work and tourist dollars help preserve the sanctuary and health of their retired captive ellies.
Dolphins in Kratie
This Mekong River village features camping and kayak paddles to see the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins.
Trekking in the Cardamoms
A super rustic homestay program in Chi Phat will show you rural life and help “re-wild” its forests.
Streets of Phnom Penh
We can’t stay in Cambodia without a stay at the Kabiki, a lounge on its porch, and a dip in its green pool.
Maryann Jones Thompson – March 2019
© ROAM Family Travel 2019 – All rights reserved
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