Prior to arriving in Kep, we had read over and over that Kep was boring and two hours in Kep were two hours too long. To be fair, we also read some reports that Kep was wonderful. Well, we can confirm that there is nothing boring about Kep.
So far, Kep actually has kept us very busy. Just behind our hotel is Kep National Park. According to wiki, Kep National Park covers 50 square kilometers. We were just there for the 8 km walk around the park. The main walk is well maintained and relatively easy. Or so I thought….So we got up bright and early (ok, ok, we got up at 8 but these days that is early), hiked uphill 1 km to the start of the trail, paid our $2 entrance fee, and away we went. The first 2.56 km is uphill, but the path is heavily shaded and the views of the surrounding countryside, ocean and islands were quite stunning.
Plus, we saw a monkey scampering in the treetops overhead, a couple of lizards, and numerous beautiful butterflies in all different colors (blue, yellow, and white were the most common, but we also saw black butterflies and even one that was bright red). When we reached the peak I thought “hey, this isn’t bad, maybe I’m getting into shape.” So we continued walking. Only now there was no shade. And it was hot. And the views were no longer so good. And we still had had over 5 km to go. And then we saw a snake. Thankfully, it was dead, but it was still a snake. I HATE snakes. And then, to really make my day, we saw a sign saying we were at the lowest point of the trail. With a km left to go. You know what that means, right? That means the last km was all uphill. And in the sun. And, once again, I was cursing and wondering how I get myself in these situations….Thankfully our hotel pool was waiting for us when we finished our walk. And, now that it is over, I would even do it again — just differently. I would either walk up to the peak and then right back down the same way, since that was the most scenic route, or I would exit the park at the low point, walk to the ocean, and walk home that way.
The next day we rented a scooter and explored the countryside. This region of Cambodia is known for pepper, durian and salt, and we saw it all. After gassing up from the old Pepsi bottles mentioned in a prior post, the first stop was a pepper plantation. Neither of knew that pepper was a vine that would grow about 10 feet tall and live for about 20 years. Likewise, neither of us knew that red, black, white and green pepper all come from precisely the same plant. Green pepper is harvested when the pepper is young and eaten like a vegetable all over this region. If it isn’t harvested when young, some of the pepper will turn red. If the skin is not marred, those peppers are used to make red pepper. If the skin is marred, the pepper is boiled, the skins are removed, it is dried, and white pepper is the result. If the pepper stays green, those peppers are dried and make black pepper. No clue why some of the peppers turn red, but fascinating nonetheless.
After the pepper plantations, it was time to explore the salt fields. Basically, areas of land are filled with sea water and the water evaporates during the dry season, leaving salt behind. Repeat until there is a sufficient amount of salt left to gather up, clean it (not sure how it is cleaned), add iodine, and sell it. According to one local website, this region of Cambodia can produce 140,000 tons of salt in a good (i.e., a hot and dry) year. In wet years, yield can go down to 13,000 tons, leading to salt shortages.
We also took the scooter all around town. Along the ocean road are a bunch of monkeys. A bit aggressive, because the tourists feed them, so we didn’t get too close but I couldn’t help but get close enough to take some photos.
While driving around, it also became clear that the powers that be are planning on great things for this town. The roads are being widened and improved, fancy new government buildings are going up, and plots of land are for sale everywhere. I hope that doesn’t mean the end of the Kep we have fallen in love with…
We still have at least 2 full days in Kep and maybe a few days longer. Next on the agenda is sailing and horseback riding. Who says Kep is boring?