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Kep

Next up is Kep, another erstwhile favourite of the French and Cambodian elite. Here, too, history proves hard to escape – the town is dotted with the bombed-out bones of once-grand seaside villas targeted by the Khmer Rouge for righteous destruction. 

But while Bokor is eerie, Kep is vital. Colourful flowers and lush vegetation erupt from the ruins, and yet more irrepressible goats have the run of the place (they bear no respect for personal belongings). Monks in ochre robes amble down rust-red tracks, and local kids compete to give us directions to the crab market, thrilled to practice their English. It’s peaceful, but not a ghost town. “What really strikes me in Kep is the sense of isolation,” my travel buddy Dmitry says. “But in a good way.” 

Kep National Park looms above the town, and can be circumnavigated in two hours – just long enough to warrant a reward at Knai Bang Chatt, a dazzlingly white luxury hotel on the seafront. The rates, which begin at $115 (£73) a night, are too rich for our backpacker budget, but we savour the two-for-one happy-hour cocktails as the sky blushes pink over the Gulf of Thailand. 

The seafood in this town is famous, and rightly so. Our waitress at Kim Ly, for my money the best of the restaurants in a row of stilt houses jutting out over the water, tells us that Kep crabs are particularly delicious because they spend half their lives in the mangroves, and “it makes them fat”. 

After the waitress takes our order, we see her brother calmly wade into the pitch-black sea and pluck our still-living supper from a tethered wooden crate. They are unbelievably good – plump, succulent, and perfectly spiced with fragrant local green pepper. 

Mainland Kep doesn’t have a decent beach, but the scruffily idyllic Rabbit Island is only a 20-minute boat ride away. Here, you’re as likely to meet a friendly puppy or a cow as a fellow sun-seeker. Good seafood, cold drinks, and massages are on offer, but there’s no sense of urgency – it’s all tout-free and wonderfully laid-back. 

There are a few bare-bones bungalows where you can stay, but don’t expect a scene – the handful of locals shut off their generators after 9pm. 


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A holiday in Cambodia - TNT scopes out the Cambodian coast
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