Sunday, November 26, 2006

Le Bout de Monde, Kep, Cambodia

I’ve made it down to the Cambodian Coast, where I’ll spend most of the next few months exploring and writing. Stories keep coming faster than I can write them down. At some point, I’ll have to get to the Elephants and Englishmen of Mondulkiri, but in the meantime I’ve found the most romantic bungalows in Southeast Asia, a place that demands an article – maybe a quick sell to one of those nice-smelling magazines my ex-girlfriend used to get and which I would secretly read.

The Bhutan guide is polished. It should be up on soon.

Here’s the romantic bungalow article – criticism, as always, is welcome.

For food and romance, follow the French.

The most romantic bungalows in Southeast Asia are tucked high on a hillside overlooking the bullet scarred and abandoned villas of Kep, Cambodia. Kep, a seaside town near the Vietnamese border, was traditionally the favorite coastal retreat of French colonists and Cambodian royals. Tragically, the genocidal Khmer Rouge reserved their most fierce hatreds for the Vietnamese, the Cambodian elite, and the French. During Cambodia’s prolonged hell of a civil war, Kep was wiped off the map.

Peace has come to Kep, but the crowds have not yet returned. A graceful palm-lined boulevard along the beach is empty and potholed. Cows graze in the ruins of grand old colonial mansions. Only a handful of new homes have been built. In Cambodia’s more well-known destinations, the scars of war have been concealed by new development, but the destruction of Kep still feels recent and raw.

Today, Kep is slowly rising from the ashes. The atmosphere that attracted the French in the first place is stronger than ever. Graceful green hills give way to the sparkling blue waters of the Gulf of Thailand, where brightly painted fishing skiffs sail between blue misted islands. The fishermen supply local restaurants with fresh shrimp, fish, squid and crab, all sold at unbelievably low prices.

Several new hotels have opened on the hillside bordering Kep National Park. The most popular is Veranda Natural Resort, which boasts luxuries like hot-water and 24 hour electricity. The Canadian owners have poured money into marketing with great success; bungalows that once went for $4 a night now cost $20.

Veranda is a perfectly pleasant spot, but my pick for romance goes to Le Bout de Monde, the first guesthouse to open on the hill and still the most atmospheric. The bamboo bungalows are rickety, the staff barely speak English and large geckos patrol the veranda, but there is a graceful elegance to the simplicity. The bed sheets are fine cotton, flowers line the garden paths and bread with homemade jam and delicious coffee are served on fine china in the morning. Very few travelers stay in Kep for more than a few hours, but Le Bout de Monde is the sort of place best experienced at leisure, with enough time to soak in the peaceful rhythms of the days. At only $10 for the private bungalows, why not open a good book and let the hours float by.

The food at Le Bout de Monde is quite simply the best I have ever encountered. Order fish with tamarind sauce and the shy young waiter will sprint down to his moto-bike and return 5 minutes later with a flopping sea bream for his sister to prepare. Lightly wok-fried with young onions and local peppercorns, the fish is so succulent that even refined eaters are sure to lick their fingers. One fish is enough for two people and costs all of $4.50.

I heard about Le Bout de Monde from a French traveler, and indeed, the only other guests during the 4 nights I stayed there were French. I can hardly blame them for keeping the secret to themselves. Then again, the three people who read this blog are hardly the type to ruin the atmosphere.

If you go –

Getting to Kep is easier than ever. Comfortable buses leave twice daily from Phnom Penh and any guesthouse or hotel can arrange tickets. The bus stops at Kep Market, but it’s best to ask the driver to let you out at Kep Beach, a few hundred meters beyond the white mermaid statue. From here, local moto drivers will run you up the hill.

If coming from the West, first get to Kampot, then take a taxi or moto on to Kep. The road is fairly good and the countryside picturesque. Motos cost $3.

If you call ahead for reservations at Le Bout de Monde, be patient and speak clearly. The staff is shy about speaking English, but eager to please. The number is 011 996 980.

The countryside around Kep was sympathetic to the Khmer Rouge even after the U.N. sponsored elections of the mid ‘90s. In 1993 guerillas kidnapped and murdered three backpackers who were riding the train near town. The area is now completely safe, much more so than tourist towns like Sihanoukville, but the people are poor. Don’t tempt trouble by leaving valuables lying around.

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Blogger travelingsarah said...

Oh wow, that is romantic. I will keep that in mind next time I am in Cambodia (and there will definitely be a next time! :P). Hope you're travels are going well, if you are ever in Toronto, drop me a line. -- Sarah

8:15 AM  
Blogger ryan said...

3 people who read your blog... 200 visitors a week... same thing right.
anyway humility is good.
i like it, again i forgot where i was, while reading it i was at an internet cafe on a busy smelly corner somewhere in SE asia makng carful mental notes of the details as if i was gonna get on that next bus.

6:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some folks stay a little longer in Kep. Our 10 day visit probably overlapped with yours in Nov.2006.
The best food we found was in the crab market- Seafood feast for 2 under $5(including beer)!
Lots to do. Lovely Tours at the south end of the crab market will take you to Rabbit Island for $5 and bring you back at the end of the day. Bicycles can be rented or if you prefer, a moto with or without driver and you are free to explore beyond Kep City.
Things are changing rapidly and rumours abound- the arrival of electricity and return of entrepreneurs from abroad, some of whom favour brothels and taxi girls as business opportunities. There are always 'snakes'in

Maureen from B.C Canada

11:52 AM  
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9:05 AM  

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