Kep Cambodia might not seem like much when first passing through, but don’t let that fool you! On the water just outside the center of town is the famous Kep Crab Market. Bustling from day to night, locals have been doing business here for years. Hundreds of hammocks hang along the water, and the main street shuts down on the weekend. Families visit from the city and play music, fire up grills, and most importantly eat Kep Crab! Kep is not far from the border of Vietnam which puts this small town squarely on most backpackers route. We’ll take you through of experience of finding, buying, and eating Cambodian crab in the hidden gem of Kep.
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History of the Kep Crab Market
Once a sleepy seaside village, Kep Cambodia has grown in popularity because of its booming crab industry.
Every morning at dawn dozens of vendors set up their stalls, pull the cages of crab from the water, and get ready for a full day of customers buying Kep crab.
At first it might not seem like there are many food options because it appears to be more of a wet market where seafood is solely for sale. However, don’t let the lack of dining options dissuade you from eating Cambodian crab here.
If you can figure out how the market works (don’t worry we explain that below) you too can enjoy some of the freshest crab in the world in Kep Cambodia!
How to Buy Kep Crab
Walking through the market is extremely hectic. It can be confusing at first to figure out how to buy Kep crab, but be patient! Once you learn the ways of the locals you’ll be addicted to this delicious dish.
Anyway, the crab tastes better when you have to work for it! Let us take you through finding the crab, bartering for it, getting it cooked, and where we enjoyed one of the best meals we had in all of Cambodia.
5 Steps For the Kep Crab Market
1. Find a Crab Seller
When first walking towards the back of the market we were overjoyed to see big buckets of crabs waiting for us. There are women walking around asking anyone who passes if they want buy Kep crab, so we immediately inquired.
The first woman we spoke with quickly motioned for us to follow her over towards the ocean. We followed more out of curiosity, until something truly crazy happened.
She then waved her arms for us to stand in place before she sprinted as fast as she could into the high tides of the afternoon sea.
Now waist deep in the ocean, we watched her feel around for her trap before grabbing the giant wooden structure out of the water and carrying it to the dock.
We stood in awe watching as she climbed back up the steps as everyone else carried on with their daily business. I guess when we were told that the crabs would be fresh we didn’t expect them to be straight out of the ocean!
2. How to Haggle at Kep Crab Market
Once she opened the cage and started to show us her crabs the fun really started. Haggling in Asia is truly an art and something that you will get used to over time.
If you don’t you’ll just end up overpaying on almost everything. Many times (as in 99% of the time) what you’re buying is overpriced and marked up for tourists, but it’s always negotiable.
Our new friend started picking up crabs while saying “1 kg big crab $20, this small crab $15.” Basically she was just saying the few English words she knew to make a deal.
Before coming to the Kep Crab Market we tried to do a little research about what to look for in a crab. Honestly though, in that overwhelming moment of excitement most of that information went out the window!
Crouching down, we started slowly sorting through the fresh Cambodian crab with her. 1 kg is the normal amount that should feed two people.
Once we thought we found the best ones, she weighed them, put some back, put new ones in, and it was finally time to negotiate.
We said five dollars, she said fifteen. Five, she said ten. Six, she said nine. Seven, she said eight. Then boom! We finally struck a deal to buy Kep crab.
We were happy going from fifteen to eight dollars USD because the general rule of thumb is that you’ll typically pay double of the actual amount.
She seemed happy and eager to wrap up the crab so we could take it with us. That’s when I stopped her and explained we wanted to eat them here! She then started laughing and motioned for us to follow her.
3. Getting Your Seafood Cooked
Now that we had the crabs and knew the cost, we were ready to eat them! She brought us to the far end of the Kep Crab Market which was the least lively section at this point in the day.
She then handed our bag of crabs to an older women and held up two fingers. At the market this translates to two dollars to cook! Still feeling like it was a much better deal than the restaurant, we agreed without hesitation.
Our only question was where was she going to cook it? We walked into the back corner of the Kep Cambodia market that looked all but shut down for the evening.
Together the two women started to quarter the crab and take out the guts right there. One of the women ran and grabbed a bushel of firewood, shoved it into the bottom of the grill, and a large cast iron wok sat on top.
As soon as the fire was screaming hot, she added oil and Kampot pepper kernels. Frying the pepper kernels till the oil was overtaken by flavor, heaps of garlic were then added to our crab. We watched the crab sizzle with excitement as she stirred it periodically.
A French man with a bag of his own crabs came over and said: “Oh you’re lucky you got the best cook in town. I’ve been coming here for years and always look for her to cook my crab.”
To finish the Cambodian crab, a thick red sauce was thrown on and simmered all together. Our cook handed us a massive takeout container of crab, and then pointed to the other side of the market where we could eat.
The only thing we regretted from this experience was only buying Kep crab! We noticed people also bought jumbo shrimp, squid, and other seafood to have it cooked together. Don’t be scared to buy everything you desire because it’s all fresh and delicious.
4. Find a Table at the Kep Crab Market
After you have your Cambodian crab cooked take it to one of the few tables in the center of the market. You’ll probably notice it’s where the other few brave tourists are sitting.
They’ll be a woman who asks if you want rice with your crab which will cost about .25 cents USD, or you can just buy a drink to be able to use the table. The one thing they also give you is a bowl with lime to wash your hands before and after eating crab. No napkins here!
5. Eat Your Cambodian Crab!
For the first few bites we tried to keep it together, but quickly realized that there was no other way to eat the messy Kep crab. There was no fancy crab crackers, side vegetables, or even utensils for that matter.
Yet, don’t let that hold you back. We dug in and it was some of the best we’re ever tasted!
Seriously, don’t have any shame because the others around you will be doing the same thing. The crab and seafood mixed with the Kampot hot pepper is the perfect combo of flavors.
Also, there is something exciting about sitting in a VERY local market with different sounds and smells while overlooking the ocean of Kep Cambodia.
We devoured the crabs in what felt like seconds. Completely embracing the experience, we then dipped our hands in the bowl of water, and used the lime pieces to scrub the extra sauce off our fingers. Our only care in that moment was if we could make it back to market before our bus in the morning!
If you’re not up for getting down and dirty at the market, there are about 15 restaurants just to the left serving the same thing in a more controlled atmosphere.
Nonetheless, after eating at both the Kep Crab market and the adjacent restaurants, it was easy to see what was better. Eating at the market will be cheaper, and you’ll get more crab. That’s a win win in our book!
The experience is confusing, messy, and can be a little strange, but isn’t that what we travel for? The moments and foods that are truly unlike anything else you’ve ever had are out there for you… You just have to find them!
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Where To Stay In Kep Cambodia
Ultra Luxury – Veranda Natural Resort – Veranda Natural Resort is known as one of the nicest hotels in Kep! You’ll find luxury at this hilltop resort overlooking the sea.
Fun Vacation – Raingsey Bungalow – If you’re looking for a truly awesome experience in Kep definitely stay at Raingsey Bungalow! It’s perched in the hills of Kep National Park, but still sits just a 5 minute walk from the best Cambodian crab!
Budget Travel – Bird of Paradise Bungalows – Bird of Paradise offers garden like scenery and is just a 2 minute ride away from Kep Beach. Your stay will be unique as the bungalows are built with Khmer timber and brick.
For more places to stay in Kep Cambodia you can explore the latest prices here!
More Things to do Near Kep Cambodia
Looking for something to do while you’re not stuffing your face with Cambodian crab? There’s actually a few other fun places near town to explore.
Kep National Park
Located in the hills above town is the Kep National Park. We woke up early to beat the afternoon sun and spent almost 2 hours looping through the park. The path is easy and some of the views are nice.
It’s a good walk, but it’s not worth going out of your way for if you don’t have much time. Remember to bring some small bills as there is a one dollar entry fee before you enter the park.
Just off the coast of Kep Cambodia is the tiny Rabbit Island. Easily accessible on a day trip, you can grab a boat in the morning and return later that afternoon.
Unlike the island in Japan which goes by the same name, there aren’t actually any rabbits here. Plan to relax at the beach, read a good book, and have a chill day in the sun.
Between the market and the bus station is a small stretch of golden sand. On the weekends the main road shuts down, and a mass of people make the trip from Phnom Penh to the coastal town.
Families come with chairs, tables, grills, and even rice cookers. If you’re looking for a place to cool down and see something new, make sure to swing by the beach in Kep Cambodia.
Continuing on to Vietnam
If you’re heading to Vietnam after like us then there are two options. One is to do the self-transfer. This way you’ll have to tuk tuk or taxi to the border, cross, and find transportation on the other side. The other option is hiring a transfer service.
We got the transfer from Kep Cambodia to Phu Quoc Island for $18 per person including the ferry tickets. The transfer first takes you by minivan over the border to Ha Tien, Vietnam, and then you get on the ferry to Phu Quoc from there.
Once you cross the border there are services all over Vietnam including to Ho Chi Minh City and other small coastal towns.
Have any questions about Kep Cambodia or buying Cambodian crab at the market? Please let us know in the comments below!
Brigitte & Jake
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