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Cambodia Part Three: Kep and the South

24th March 2016

Wild Frontiers offers a number of Cambodia holidays. Founder Jonny Bealby is currently recceing in Cambodia.

Under French rule, Kep – known at the time as Kep-Sur-Mer – was Cambodia’s most prestigious beach town. Established in 1908 it became a thriving resort for the French and following independence, for the Cambodian elite, right up to the 1970s. Although the beach is nothing much to shout about, certainly not comparable to anything its Thai neighbour can offer, for its architecture, its cuisine and its sleepy, laid-back atmosphere it is a lovely place to visit.

We were staying at the architecturally important Knai Bang Chatt, a simply wonderful beach-front boutique hotel designed by Vann Molyvann. As a student of the world renowned modernist architect Corbusier, along with Lu Ban Hap, Molyvann helped to drive Cambodia’s golden age of architecture by mixing modernism with traditional Khmer designs. Sitting on the sea front and offering exquisite service, Knai Bang Chatt was a great place to spend a night. It was also a stone’s throw away from the famous crab market, which not only makes for a great place to enjoy a delicious and very inexpensive seafood lunch, it also offered me some great photo opportunities.

But as is usual on these trips, time was against us and after only one night we were on the road again, heading further west towards the Thai border. Leaving the plains behind we climbed up into the lush Cardamom Hills, before reaching a bridge over the Tatai River. Here we switched the car for a boat and headed downstream, towards the Gulf of Thailand.

The river was wide and flat, bordered on both sides by dense mangrove and palms. With very little habitation it reminded me of a Conrad quote from his epic Heart of Darkness: ‘Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of time when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest.’

I had heard of the 4 Rivers Resort for a long time, having seen photos of the 12 luxury tents positioned on a floating pontoon at an elbow in the river and had wanted to visit ever since. With only 24 hours at the place we arrived full of plans to make the most of the excursions they offer – village walks, waterfall treks, kayak journeys – but so blown away were we by the location and simple natural beauty and peace of the place, we just sat and did nothing other than swim and read our books, glancing up from time to time to remind ourselves where we were; it was simply magical.

Just after dawn was the most perfect time. Then the river was like a mirror, stretching away to the west and the north towards the mist-shrouded Cardamom Hills. On the far bank, languid palms climbed into a clear sky where swifts darted, catching the early morning bugs. The only reality check came when a small but persistent mob of hornets decided to swarm around our heads. Adonis, the ironically named but very charming, resort manager assured us he had never seen such insects before and that their nest would be located and destroyed, humanely of course. It hardly mattered; it was simply the reality check, reminding us that even paradise is not perfect.

Leaving at noon with the sun high we drove to the Thai border and from the small provincial town of Trat, from where we flew to Bangkok. Our six day recce of Cambodia done.

Jonny Bealby

Rock singer, writer and travel entrepreneur, Jonny Bealby has streetwise savvy and miles of travel under his belt. His experiences have given him the …

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