After falling head over heels in love with the city of Kampot I had a tough time trying to decide where to next. My original plan was Sihanoukville, the touristy beach town to the west, but I started having second thoughts. After hearing that the city was overrun with loud hostels, bars and tourists looking for a party I decided that's not the scene I was looking for. Another option was Kep a sleepy beach town to the East which boasts delicious seafood, a small natural park, close access to the pepper plantations and even a little beach, much better. I considered doing a one day tour to the city which included a boat trip out to Rabbit Island but since the tour wasn't running the day I wanted to go I decided to spend a few days there instead. Cambodia does a really good job of being accessible for their tourists offering many different maps, visitors guides and 'pocket guides' for dining and nightlife. It was through my Kampot/Kep Canby Guide that I found great guesthouse and restaurant recommendations including the Tree Tops Bungalows in Kep, a Khmer family run hideaway tucked into the side of the hills of Kep National Park
After spending a few days in a dorm room with five other people I decided I was ready for a room of my own, being a little outside of town I figured the Tree Tops would provide a little peace and quiet that I was craving. I decided to call ahead and make sure they had rooms open before paying a tuk-tuk to take me there, and after speaking with the owner was assured, "yes many cheap rooms for you, see you soon". The same friendly woman greeted me upon my arrival and told me they had both $5 and $7 rooms but that they were being cleaned so if I didn't mind could I sit and wait in their restaurant. This wasn't a problem because the view from the restaurant seating was gorgeous, they had a stack of books, sudoku puzzles, and magazines to read, free Wifi and even gave me a nice cold bottle of water.
While waiting I spoke with the owner a bit and found out she's 37 but trust me doesn't look it at all, those damn Asian genes. She also has three children, all of whom help out around the property and were equally as friendly as her. After close to an hour a young girl showed me the two available rooms and seeing as I'm trying to stretch my dollar as far as it will go, I chose the cheaper of the two at $5.
To be honest there was nothing spectacular about my stay at the Tree Top bungalows but if you're traveling to Kep I would highly recommend them. Being outside of the main downtown area is no problem, a tuk-tuk or motorbike ride to town will cost you $2 if you're being generous, you can rent a bike for $1 or walk for free - just be ready to fend off all the tuk-tuk drivers looking for your business. Out of pure laziness, I did eat two meals at the Tree Tops and both of them were delicious, and of course there's the amazing view I previously mentioned. If you eat dinner there they'll give you a plate of fresh fruit for dessert which comes straight from the trees throughout the property.
Other than the friendly staff my favorite part of staying at the Tree Tops was the cute options for rooms, despite mine being the least fancy of the lot. Prices range from $5 - $30 per night, depending on what you're looking for; although the bungalows high in the trees looked pretty cool I just couldn't pass up the steal for my $5 room. The entire property is gorgeous so no matter which room you opt for you can enjoy garden views from a nearby hammock.
If you only make a day trip to Kep I have one other recommendation: eat the black pepper crab, they're not kidding when they say it's that good. After a long day of walking around town exploring I was hungry and knew that I'd be digging into one of the highly talked about crabs I kept hearing about, my only issue was deciding where to eat. Alongside the crab market, there are numerous restaurants, all offering a very similar menu at very similar prices. I found myself at Chau Chau somewhat by default as the 'hostess' at the front was extremely friendly and their prices appeared to be the best of the few I looked at. Without any hesitation I ordered the pepper crab, hoping it would be all I was expecting and more. Honestly, I didn't believe people when they talked about how good the pepper is in Kep, I mean pepper is pepper, isn't' it? I was clearly mistaken because this pepper was amazing honestly, this was one of the most delicious meals I've ever had, and the view didn't hurt either.
The price, at $6.50 was high (for Cambodia) but dirt cheap for delicious seafood, and it was definitely worth the splurge. If all you're after is some fresh fish or crab and could care less about the preparation or inclusion of the famous pepper then eating something straight from the market might be for you. There's plenty of women with stalls set up offering freshly caught, freshly grilled seafood at bargain prices, we're talking dollars. I had slight regrets that I didn't take advantage of the market options but I wouldn't have wanted to miss out on what I did eat, I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.
Only recently has this country shown up on the SE Asia tourist route. With a dark, harrowing past it's amazing to see the smiles spread across the locals faces. I've met travelers with mixed impressions, but if you're lucky enough to connect with a few locals I'm confident you'll fall in love.