24 hours in Kep

Paul and I had planned to spend an extra day in Kep but for a variety of reasons we cut our visit there short.  A major part of that was the disappointing service at the place we stayed called The Beach House.  The rooms were nice and the view was pretty but the staff was unfriendly and unhelpful. In the future I would definitely stay at the beautiful (and friendly) Veranda Resort.

Kep is more sleepy and less developed than the nearby town of Kampot.  In the past however it was a popular resort town for Cambodia’s rich French and Khmer residents. According to the excellent resource Building Cambodia: New Khmer Architecture 1953-1970 “The virtues of Kep as a health spa were being extolled [to the French] as early as 1903,” (p. 163)   In the 1950s and 1960s rich and famous Cambodians including the King and the famous singer Sinn Sisamouth had villas constructed in Kep.  Many of these villas didn’t rely on the traditional French architectural forms but instead were very modern looking- dare I say funky- spaces that showed a real creativity and sense of fun (appropriate for a beach villa I think).

However during the civil war in the 1970s the upper class sensibilities of Kep were a target for the Khmer Rouge.  In an article from the New York Times author Philip Shenon says:

“Mrs. Hun Souk was a servant in one of Kep’s grand seaside villas when the soldiers of the Khmer Rouge marched into the city in the mid-1970’s, evacuated most of its residents and began blowing the place up. The Khmer Rouge, whose four-year reign of terror took a toll in Cambodian lives  estimated between hundreds of thousands and more than a million, saw Kep as a symbol  of decadence. It was a blight the Khmer Rouge tried to eliminate with fire and dynamite.

Those in Kep who were considered enemies of the “peasant revolution” were executed, their remains dumped in the buried fuel tank of an abandoned gasoline station.

All that is left of these villas now are empty shells that are slowly being reclaimed by the vegetation around them (perhaps not so different from the temples at Angkor).  A few villas have been rehabbed but most are still sitting as the Khmer Rouge left them. Quite a few have local squatters making do with what is rest of the building.  Check out the photos when you click below!

We took a walk around town and saw a few of these villas whose photos I posted below.  I wish there was more information on the architects, photos of them before the destruction,  and information on the families who lived in them. One can’t help but wonder about them as you walk around.   One big gap is King Sihanouk’s palace which we completely overlooked.  Another excuse to go back I guess!

Some of these villas are quite small actually.  It’s hard to imagine a whole Khmer family living in one.

A small little house is nearly dwarfed by the trees around it.

Cows have taken over this unique little place.

This villa, right across the street from a group of seafood stands and overlooking the beach appears to be owned and in some stage of repair.

This was quite a large villa with a great view of the sea and it’s own walkway and pier (although not much is left of it- see below).

This one had it’s own ground-floor garage.

After almost a full week of traveling we just decided to back early, but I’d like to give Kep another chance at some point in the future.  This website has a neat post on Kep, including some lovely photos of some buildings I didn’t get to see on this trip.

3 responses to “24 hours in Kep

  1. You know, there is something creepy about knowing the story behind the abandonment of these houses. I like picking through ruins, but usually they are substantially older than these. Sad.

    What unbelievably lush country, though. Beautiful!

  2. Hi Alison,
    Enjoyed your post on Kep and love the banner at the top of your blog! My partner and I also thought more could be made of the ‘ghost villas’ as tourist attractions with information on their origins, at the same time aware this would destroy the mystery that is part of their appeal. We found out a little about the provenance of a few buildings when we were there. It would be a great project to try and fill in the blanks.
    Maybe we’ll cross paths in Phnom Penh.
    Best wishes,

  3. PS We had a good experience of the staff at The Beach House, though we didn’t think much of the food.