Kep, pronounced kep, keep, or kipe depending on who you are talking to, is on the Gulf of Thailand on Cambodia’s south coast. It was favourite of Cambodia’s colonial masters, the French, and the site of King Sihanouk’s beach cottage pictured above. That was before the Vietnam War. Now it is a mostly deserted town visited by tourists who are looking for a Asian beach without the glitz of a Western resort.

We stayed at a reasonable little hotel for $15 a night and rented a motorbike for $5 for the day. Without the tourists Kep has reverted to what it must have been throughout most of its history, a small fishing village supporting an indigenous population in small thatch cottages dotting the coast. A little further inland are the rice paddys stretching back into the Cardamon Hills where spice has been harvested for centuries. Closer to the coast are the salt flats where salt farmers eke out a living. It is a peaceful and pleasant place.

We travelled into Kampot, a provincial town with a fair sized wet market consisting mostly of fish and locally grown vegetables. There is the beginnings of a tourist strip along the river, and some quite nice little cafes and guest houses line the eastern shore where we stopped for lunch. Traffic was light along the coast road and the ox carts and bicycles that fill the road ensure that no one travels very fast, for which Pam was very grateful.

Our evening were spent at the Riel, owned by Marcel and ex-pat Dutchman and his Cambodian wife. The clientele were an odd bunch: young Australian tourists on a cheap holiday, world trekkers making their way from China to India, and do-gooders like ourselves involved in a number of projects to help turn this country around after 150 years of colonial abuse by both the French and the Americans. More on this later.