When it comes to coastal Cambodia, Sihanoukville gets most of the attention. In fact, few people have heard of Kep. During the French colonial period, the sleepy little village on Cambodia’s southern coast was once the ultimate holiday destination for the local elite and French expats. These days, only the more adventurous travelers brave the five-hour drive down from Phnom Penh, but for those that do, Knai Bang Chatt is the ultimate destination.
Tucked away on a side-street near Crab Market which Kep’s known for, Knai Bang Chatt is Kep’s most luxurious resort. But that’s not to say you should expect unfettered opulence. If brand-name five-star luxury is what you’re looking for, you won’t find it here — or, indeed, anywhere else in Kep. Instead, this charming property is all about barefoot luxury, cunning design and sustainability. Here are five reasons to head to Kep and check into this Mr & Mrs Smith member hotel.
Sustainability is everywhere at Knai Bang Chatt. The resort puts a lot of thought into making sure its has a positive impact on both the environment and the local community. In the guest rooms, you’ll find glass bottles refilled with filtered water, chic green glasses made from recycled Perrier bottles, and refillable shampoo and soap bottles (the hotel is working on greening the rest of their amenities by upgrading to bamboo toothbrushes and the like). Around the hotel, all paints are made from natural dyes, ensuring no harm comes to the environment (or guests). Further afield, the property is working on its own recycling and composting program — it’s not a huge thing in Cambodia — and even has its own organic garden where they grow some 70% of the produce used in the hotel’s restaurants.
Staying at Knai Bang Chatt feels like hanging out at a friend’s holiday home — and for good reason. That had been the owners’ intention when they bought the original villa. Now, the property consists of three villas built between 1962 and 1965 by protégés of famed Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann — himself a pupil of the France’s Le Corbusier. Each villa features its own look — the original blue building was once owned by the Governor of Kep; the grey by one of the King’s relatives; and the red by the Head of Customs. Each building has been lovingly restored by Françoise Lavielle to maintain its heritage and offer a true retreat from the modern world.
There are 18 rooms here, each of which is a calm, rustic oasis that’s the definition of barefoot luxury. You won’t find plush materials, electronics and gadgets here. Instead, rooms are rendered in simple style with natural earth-toned paints, vintage-look wooden furniture, natural stones, and mosquito nets draped over the beds. There are definitely no TVs in the rooms, but this was a conscious choice to try and get guests to go on a bit of a detox (there is WiFi, but can be weak and slightly spotty, so there’s all the more reason to forget about Instagram and emails).
Knai Bang Chatt is all about switching off, enjoying some deep relaxation, and — assuming you aren’t riding solo — bonding with your travel companions. Guests are invited to while away the day sitting by the pool, or perhaps kicking back on the day beds facing the beach. If you’re so compelled, there’s a library in the red villa that has a TV, DVDs, books and a laptop.
Of course, if you do want to get out and explore a bit of Kep, the Discovery Center at the adjacent Sailing Club can help you out with a range of excursions. The most popular is a day-trip to nearby Rabbit Island, where you’ll lounge on a (mostly) deserted beach and sip on wine while your private chef whips up a barbecue of fresh seafood. Of course, you can also go island-hopping, fishing, sailing, or ask to go on guided tours to explore the huge national park behind the hotel, or check out the abandoned holiday villas that still sit on the fringes of Kep.
If you’re looking to get some serious RnR and work on your wellness, Knai Bang Chatt is absolutely the right place for you. The onsite spa offers one of the most extensive — and popular — treatment menus in town, so book ahead to enjoy everything from Khmer or herbal massages to soothing facials and restorative scrubs.
The spa also offers a rage of more new-age wellness options in the form of private and join-in meditation and yoga sessions, and mini-sessions or just 15 minutes for those that just want a little dose of restoration.
Perched on the edge of the sea, The Strand is the hotel’s main restaurant and is considered to be the best fine-dining experience in town. The menu here blends western flavors with local traditions in exquisitely prepared dishes, and you can enjoy quite the decadent three-course meal here, including an amuse-bouche and drinks. Kep is known for its seafood, so you’ll definitely want to try it here – the tiger prawn and crab dish we had during our stay was impeccable.
Next door to Knai Bang Chatt — accessed literally through a door on the property’s edge — the Sailing Club is a chic spot offering a wealth of local and global dishes. If you’re travelling in a group or with fussy eaters, this is the place to go because you’ll find something for everyone, from curries and salads to fish and chips. The connecting bar, called the Lounge, is the perfect spot for sundowners. With a range of international wines, bespoke cocktails and light bites, as well as a perfect view of the horizon, there’s not a better spot in town to watch the sun set.
Note: The author stayed as a guest of Knai Bang Chatt and Mr & Mrs Smith.
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