Nowadays, Kep is a sleepy town on the Gulf of Thailand, three-and-a-half hours south of Phnom Penh. Back in the 1960s, however, it was a chic seaside enclave where King Norodom Sihanouk socialized with high-ranking diplomats. French Indochine came to an end and just a handful of colonial-era houses survived. Three of these have now been combined to form Knai Bang Chatt, an idiosyncratic 18-room resort. The villas were designed by a distinguished Cambodian protégé of Le Corbusier, and the most striking is the Blue Villa, which once belonged to the governor of Kep. We stayed in the resort’s only suite, which occupies the top floor of the Brown Villa and is accessed by a spiral staircase. It proved to be a huge, light, open-plan space, with a living area, a writing desk, an enormous rectangular tub, a separate shower and an idyllic outdoor terrace with a view of the ocean. The style of the property is understated, rather than overtly luxurious. Its chief amenity is an excellent restaurant, The Strand, which serves a menu of delicious, locally sourced French-Cambodian cuisine, with an emphasis on seafood.
Daily activities at Knai Bang Chatt include boat tours to nearby islands — which have superior white-sand beaches — for picnics, swimming and snorkeling. And each evening the resort organizes an unforgettable sunset cruise aboard a small wooden fishing boat.
One of Kep’s most colorful attractions is its famous Crab Market, which draws visitors from as far away as Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. Early each morning, boats land a wide variety of fish and seafood, but it is the soft-shelled crabs for which the town is famous. These are stir-fried with garlic and spicy green peppercorns from the nearby town of Kampot.