If you’re going to get your ‘cruise on’, I can totally vouch for the luxurious healing and restorative powers of many weeks at sea in exotic waters, and the friendships you build that take up a warm treasured spot in your heart that live on forever.
After a month cruising on our decadent floating home, we had well and truly established firm friendships with many of our fellow travellers, and much to our delight some of the cruise staff that happily slotted into the rhythm of our days too.
Each evening at dinner we were assigned the same waiters, our bubbly Balinese boys Dian and Sandy, and The Prince, apparently his name loosely translated was Prince but his position as Dining Room Manager and glamorous white uniform did lend itself to a princely status! Each evening as we dined on exquisite food, he’d tell us our trip to Asia was not complete without a visit to his home seaside village of Kep, the crab capital of Cambodia.
Having a few days to explore Thailand or beyond and being just a hop, skip and jump from Cambodia, we booked a quick flight to Phnom Penh and boarded a mini bus loaded to the hilt with around 20 locals for our journey to Kep.
After checking into our hotel with stunning views out onto the Gulf of Thailand, and making cheeky monkey friends, it was time to explore The Prince’s hometown.
Life in Kep is completely laidback, but the first thing we noticed was it had it’s own time and operated like it’d probably done forever. Cambodia itself is standing again and recovering after war brought the country to its knees, Kep was a small French colonial town before the war, and the place is touched but not yet spoiled by tourism.
Kep is famous for delicious crustaceans with all the population based around the beach for efficiency or practicality, as the best place to find these tasty morsels is at the Crab Markets along the shoreline.
As The Prince so rightly promised, Kep is a foodie’s paradise in Cambodia – with rich pungent spices and deliciously fresh seafood. The crab market itself wasn’t much more than a hundred square feet, part covered – part not, at a pier that runs parallel to the shore. This is where the fishermen’s wives and other family members rule.
The woman clean the caught crabs, package them up and ready them for vending, selling fresh or grilled, along with mouth-watering squid and shrimp and fish on rice.
This is Kep’s biggest claim to fame and a fun place to visit for lunch or dinner. The market is about 2kms west along the coast from the beach, and here you’ll find a strip of beach-hut restaurants and a fantastic (albeit a tad dirty by western standards) the seafood market.
The idea here is to bargain hard with the women for your fresh crabs, squid and stingrays, and pay a dollar or two to have the catch cooked for you by one of the many stall-owners who are adjacent to the restaurant strip. Cheap, delicious and fun, this is one of the best meals you’ll probably have in Cambodia.
The market remains open until late afternoon as the local women do their shopping for the day, the market place sounded a bit like a lazy seagull caw embracing the whole market, hawking and negotiating and buying and chatting and inspecting. The crab market is life as it is lived here, a peek into the inner workings of this society, a snapshot of resources, culture and the beginnings of tourism.
It’s not just the deliciousness of the crab, it is the raw authenticity of the market and it’s people that had me in awe. The genuine friendliness and the humbleness of life here that was so intriguing. Will I return to Kep, the crab capital of Cambodia? Probably not, but I’m grateful for the amazing people and places I come across in my travels.
Tell me dear reader, what magical parts of the world have you found yourself in because of friends you’ve made on your travels?