Friday, 29 October 2010

Kep Vine Retreat, Cambodia

Eco-tourism is taking off on the Southern shores of Cambodia.While reading local brochures and guide books, buzzwords like 'solar powered', 'naturally filtered', 'organic' and 'home-grown' are on the increase.

We went to check out The Vine Retreat near the coastal town of Kep, an area that may one day be Cambodia's answer to New York's Hamptons.

Krong Kep seaside resort and the neighbouring French colonial riverside town Kampot are also home to a number of Kampot pepper plantations. Rich minerals in the soil, lots of rain and traditional growing methods help to make Kampot pepper some of the best in the world, and Kampot Pepper is the first Cambodian product to be given the status of Protected Geographical Indication.

Order a plate of grilled beef or Cambodian Lak Lok (grilled strips of beef with onion and green pepper) and you'll likely be served up a sauce of freshly ground black pepper with salt and lime juice on the side. Simple, but simply one of the best zingy pepper tastes I've ever experienced.

The Vine Retreat is 12km off the beaten track from Kep, down a windy road into the Krong Kep countryside. We took a wobbly Tuk Tuk past farmland with the looming Phnom Vor mountains in the background.

The Vine Retreat is an eco-guesthouse and organic farm with its own Kampot pepper plantation. Organic vegetables, chillis, salad and fruits are all grown in the surrounding gardens and served on the outside terrace in communal dinners.

Manager Suran chooses the daily menu inspired by the foods in season. We all shared a dinner of beef Lak Lok, tomatoes stuffed with minced pork, morning glory and steamed rice followed by the freshest papaya I've ever tasted for dessert.

The retreat is solar powered, organically farmed and thoughtful energy consumption is encouraged during your stay.

A 'naturally filtered' pool (a hollowed out space which will collect rain water) is planned for next year and local builders have assured the operations manager Dan that this will work a treat.

The Vine Retreat is roughly half an hour in a taxi from Kampot or 3-4 hours from the capital Phnom Penh. Check in to chill out:

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Crab Lunch at Kimly Restaurant, Cambodia

Welcome to Cambodia, a land filled with bicycles, green rice paddies and unforgettable Khmer smiles.

My foodie pilgrimage on this leg of my South East Asia tour was to the coastal town of Kep, famous for its crab.

First we stopped to get a shot of the town's stone crab statue. Cambodians seem to be keen on painted cement sculptures. In the nearby town of Kampot, a monumental Jackfruit statue (one of the area's favourite local fruits) was in mid-construction but yet to be painted.

We then drove down to the long strip of beach shacks for our lunch. We chose Kimly restaurant, recommended to us by a local, but I'm guessing most of the restaurants would have turned out a pretty fresh meal seeing as we ate literally on top of the water.

As I was reading the menu, a young boy waded into the sea in front of the restaurant to inspect his crab boxes and see if he'd already got his catch of the day.

We ordered a plate of 'crab with local spices' and were served up a humungous portion of bright orange crab with a side order of rice. This cost us a mere nine dollars and was more than enough for two hungry people.

The crab was cooked with a creamy coconut based spicy sauce with chilli, green peppers and fresh green buds of local Kampot pepper - Cambodia's first product to be given a protected geographical indication.

If you are ever in the area, pair your lunch with a visit to one of the local pepper plantantions. Bicycle and moped hire or taxis can be organised at any guesthouse.