Would you believe it if I told you it has been 18 months since we went down to Kep? Yes….18 months. That’s a pretty piss poor effort on my behalf as clan patriarch so on Thursday the call was made ROAD TRIP! which prompted the usual question from MY wife “ oh darling if we go to Kep can A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I and J come too !?”. Therefore….on Friday we packed up the car with 9 humans and a dog (I have given up on the safety first “there should only be 5 people in a car!” argument) and rolled out of town. Before leaving I had to actually hit Trip advisor and check out bungalow reviews as Kep changes so quickly every month and with the extended clan and dog in tow, I would have to ring ahead and make sure we would be welcome. What surprised me was the amount of whingey whiney comments from travellers about insects in rooms and uncomfortable beds and waiting too long for lattes and bouncy tuk tuk rides and Kep is boring and too quiet etc. Jesus H Christ. I think the demographic of travellers coming in to Cambodia and going to Kep is definitely changing. You would never have seen those comments a couple of years ago. Kep is rustic and quiet and that’s EXACTLY how we like it. So I decided on Botanica Guest House due to a) its cost and b) the fact that it has changed hands and apparently the new owner had cleaned it up somewhat. I rang ahead and a very affable Frenchman told me that yes he can handle the whole family and yes we can bring Jirra Le Chien.
So we trundled down the highway with cloudy skies overhead and rumbling stomachs in the back. Nek sat with her head in a plastic bag the whole way down as she is (in)famous for her carsickness. Angus passed out and snored the whole way and Grace used the middle seat as a hurdle as she moved from cargo area to middle seat incessantly. Nanny Pov sat buy eyed looking out the window as she had never been south before and Jirra hunkered down in what little space she had. Coming in to Kep from Kampong Trach and the Vietnamese border again I was simply stunned at the advances in Kep. More guesthouses, better roads, newer picnic shacks on the sea etc etc. However possibly the biggest surprise was waiting for us when we arrived at Botanica Guesthouse.
We stayed at Botanica the last time we were in Kep and back then it was owned by a very nice Belgian chap called Stefan. It was very rustic with an overgrown jungle like garden, $10 bungalows and a simple restaurant serving excellent food. Certainly no complaints other than it was possibly a tad tired. Fast forward to now and the new owner Philippe (the affable Frenchman I spoke to) and his Khmer wife have done a simply amazing job at revamping the place. The garden for one is now a beautifully kept oasis with no dark tangled areas or mosquito communes. It has been thinned out and pruned and it is just a glorious space and Veasna was in his element as he explored the pathways. Secondly, the restaurant and bar is a now a very welcoming space with a new teak bar top, a great sofa area with huge flat screen tv and hammocks and an overall less budget feel about it. Philippe certainly has a very good eye for renovation and I liked absolutely everything he has done with the restaurant area. Right colours, right furniture, right wood, right lights, right lay out etc. However the biggest surprise came when we got billeted. The turnaround in the bungalows is amazing and they gave me a whole new set of ideas for our weekender. Phillipe has put in fantastic looking timber ceilings, large teak windows, news bathrooms with nice strong hot water, nice shelving etc for clothes, p[roper hammocks and couces out the front and they are just very nice little huts and at $15 a night twin share and with a salt water pool coming, Botanica is now the number one best value place to stay in Kep in my opinion. The food was awesome too (try the Tunisian Bricks as a starter….they are so insanely good I had the chef show Leakhana and I) how to make them) and the hosts are easy going and have a lovely little boy Eo who is 10 months old.
Word to all the older bungalow operations down in Kep; you cannot charge $35++ a night for your tired old bungalows just because you have a pool. Time to pull your finger out and either revamp as Philippe has done or lower your prices.
After a lunch in the restaurant we all had a rest and then that night we headed down to the crab shacks for a seafood nosh. Kim Ly was shut so we ate at one of the other places and the food was OK but not as fine as Kim Ly. ON return to the bungalows Leakhana and Srey Neung and the kids stayed up late playing cards and I hit the hay to read and then snore the walls down. Saturday we headed out for a Pho breakfast and then day tripped out to Angkoul beach. The old dirt road out there is now a 4 lane tar highway – a further sign of the whole areas “improvement” – however the only way you can truly enjoy the secret beach is with a 4WD so the rubbish chucking Khmers in their mini buses and Camrys are thankfully never going to make it to this great spot. It was overcast and breezy so a fire was lit, the kids hunted for crabs and swam and I cracked a cold beer. Perfection. Oh …also….it transpired that not only had nanny Pov never been to Kep but she had never seen the ocean before so she was in seventh heaven as she waded in the salty water.
After a few hours we all got hungry so we returned to the bungalows via the crab markets to stock up on takeaway seafood and whilst the clan noshed hard, I grabbed Grace and went and checked out a horse ranch / dog breeder I had heard about via Phillipe. Yet another Frenchman, Didier, has a lovely hectare up in the land that rose away from the sea and there to Grace’s delight he indeed had many horses being stabled and ridden and also Belgian Shepherds. My heart fluttered as I saw his amazing mature dogs and then 5 gorgeous healthy pups at $350 a pop. Damn was I tempted to take the last male and Grace did her best to convince me. I think I’ll wait about 18 months and then pounce. Didier’s block is truly lovely and has amazing sea views and a couple of very nice houses on it.
The final day we packed up and headed out to our land for a look see. Lovely as ever and the neighbors are keen to sell us the larger connecting rear block at about $10k. This would take us to 3000m2 or almost an acre and really opens up possibilities for building. As we drove out of Kep we checked out a lovely house we had spied on the way in a few days earlier. It belongs to a local pharmacist and he has really done a great job with it. Phnom Penh beckoned and as usual…..wasn’t long before everyone was asleep.,……