Here's what you get for booking Knai Bang Chatt with us:
A cocktail each at the Strand Restaurant
18, including one suite.
Noon, but flexible subject to availability, and a 50 per cent charge after 1pm. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from $89.74, excluding tax at 17 per cent. ⓘ
Rates include a welcome drink and cold towel upon arrival, Continental breakfast and WiFi.
Knai Bang Chatt’s three renovated modernist villas were built in the Seventies by protégés of acclaimed Khmer architect Vann Molyvann (the man behind famous landmarks including Chaktomuk Conference Hall, the Council of Ministers, the State Palace and the 60,000 capacity National Sports Complex); look out for the V that pays homage to Molyvann. Founded by a pair of stylish Belgian expats, its name means ‘a rainbow encircling the sun’.
Computer, library and video room with movie projector, small spa, beachfront chill-out area, ping-pong table, free WiFi throughout, sailing club with Hobie Cats, kayaks and a speedboat. In rooms: fruit plate, free bottled water.
The resort’s 18 rooms are spread over four villas. Each has its own character, but we loved the (mostly first floor) Sea View Doubles. Room 4 has spectacular views and a large terrace that more than makes up for a smaller bathroom. Rooms 7 and 9 have a bold sense of space and designer bathrooms.
Infinity pool with views over the Gulf of Thailand. Day-beds and sofas formed from tropical driftwood abound.
Castaway clothing for a day on nearby Rabbit Island, the closest thing to a Robinson Crusoe retreat around Kep. Knai Bang Chatt organises a private tour with a beachfront barbecue.
Smoking is allowed in dedicated rooms.
Welcome: baby cribs and mattresses for older kiddies are provided for free, or an extra bed is available for US$30 a night. Babysitting can be arranged for US$5 an hour with 24-hours notice.Read more
Three per cent of room revenue goes to the Hand in Hand project (www.handinhandcambodia.com), which supports 550 local families in Chamcar Bei district, helping them with health, education and income-generation.
Welcome: baby cots and mattresses for older kiddies are provided for free, or an extra bed is available for US$30 a night. Babysitting can be arranged for US$5 an hour with 24-hours notice.
Rooms 7 (a Double Sea View) and 8 (a Sea View Twin) can be linked together, so are perfect for family affairs.
Beachcombing, swimming, pingpong, movies and trips to nearby islands and caves should keep the smalls amused. They'll also love the Sailing Club, which offers active larks on hobie cats, canoes and bicycles.
The hotel's generous outdoor pool flanks the sea.
A babysitting service with a local nanny is available for US$5 a hour, given 24-hours' notice.
Baby cots, which are provided for free.
The hotel can offer free mattresses for infants or extra beds for older kids for US$30 a night.
The Strand is the hotel's more formal restaurant, with a daily-changing menu that champions flavourful seafood, juicy steak and the best local produce. The Sailing Club is housed in a former fisherman's cottage near the seafront, and is a relaxed setting for lazy lunches and greedy dinners. The accent is on seafood, with Khmer-style set lunches and Western dinners, plus a bit of fusion fun. Steamed crab in coconut milk and fish with green pepper and lemon-butter sauce are just two treats to tempt you.
Head to the Sailing Club for happy hour cocktails between 5pm and 7pm (Monday–Friday). While you're drinking, challenge each other to billiards, ping pong, volleyball and boules matches.
Dinner is served from 6.30pm–10pm, which is also when the bar winds down.
Available from 8am to 10pm, but smart Smiths will prefer to soak up the outdoor setting by the sea.
Did you pack anything retro? The Seventies architecture of the place will make you wish you had.
Enjoy a lazy lunch on the driftwood bench down by the ocean, which offers a snippet of shade. For dinner and the best sea views, bag a table on the promontory.
Eat, drink, see, do: local favourites and more…
On Route 33, Breezes (+855 (0)976 759 072) is the only restaurant of real repute in Kep. Gloriously set on a headland jutting into the sea, it’s the perfect place to dine. Part of a boutique resort perched beneath a backdrop of jungle, Veranda (+855 (0)33 399 035), on the Kep Hillside Road, offers panoramic views of coastal Kep. Play home or away with a mixed menu of Khmer, Asian and international dishes, but save space for the exquisite home-made patisseries and sorbets. Rikitikitavi (+855 (0)12 235 102) restaurant is not strictly local, being 24kms down the road in neighbouring town Kampot, but it is worth the detour. Right next door to Knai Bang Chatt, the Sailing Club is housed in a traditional wooden house built on stilts over the water. Try snapper or Kampot pepper crab, fresh from the local waters. Try the green-pepper crab or kampot crab at Kimly Restaurant (+855 (0)12 435 096) at the Waterfront Crab Market.Portions are generous, the crab meat is succulent, and the non-crab options are excellent too (we liked the sting ray and sword fish).
It’s not strictly local, being 24 kilometres down the road in Kampot, but it is worth the detour. Epic Arts Café (+855 (0)33 932247) is a small café in Kampot’s Old Market area that offers delightful home-made cakes and shakes.
Frond-fringed south coast
Knai Bang Chatt occupies a private strip of seafront in Kep, about 164 kilometres south of capital Phnom Penh by road.
Phnom Penh is the closest airport (www.cambodia-airports.com), 164km north of Kep, with good regional connections. International travellers are likely to fly in via Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. The hotel can arrange a transfer for US$88 each way.
After four decades of neglect, the railway link from Phnom Penh to Kep is closed for repairs.
Kep lies three hours south of Phnom Penh by road. Forget self-drive: ask your hotel to charter a car with a driver – you can pay the driver to stay on so you have wheels to explore or hire a local driver once you arrive. If you’re travelling overland from the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, arrange a hotel pick-up from the border at Prek Chak, near Ha Tien.
There are no metered taxis in Kep, so smart Smiths may opt to visit with their own chauffeured car. Hotels can arrange vehicles or local options include remorque-motos (a Cambodian tuk tuk) or motorbike taxis – a fun way to get around if it’s not raining.
By Mr & Mrs Smith.
By Mr & Mrs Smith.
Things get retro even before we reach Knai Bang Chatt. My extended Smith family has spent two hours watching unseasonal drizzle through the windscreen wipers on the drive down from Phnom Penh, fighting off nausea and pesky siblings. So far, so reminiscent of the great British holidays of my childhood. But when we find explode-in-your-mouth Space Dust for sale at the petrol station en route I'm really back there. The sticky powder does nothing for the car's upholstery, but makes the snoozing dogs and ambling buffaloes on the road funny again. By the time we spy the sea between the coconut palms and casuarina trees we are almost perky.
Knai Bang Chatt is hidden behind a secret-garden wall, down a small, bumpy track off Kep’s main drag. As we shake off the Space Dust and say goodbye to our long-suffering driver, I suspect my suggestion that we might need his services during the weekend is even less than half-hearted. Yes, the Le Corbusier-style mid-20th-century villas are lovely – genuinely retro and rather chic too – but the reason I won’t be going far is that I want to wallow in the illusion that this weekend’s reunion with our visiting friends is happening in the beach house I would have inherited if only my parents hadn’t been busy having the great British holiday experience.
While the junior Smiths are perturbed by the passionfruit juice at reception, I’m excited to find that I’m rewarded for sharing with two children by getting what appears to be the star room (Mr Smith is, unfortunately, back in the city doing business). Wall-length windows overlook the infinity pool and the sea, and there’s also a private outdoor seating area. The futon-style bed has been supplemented with an extra mattress right by the window and, for the first time in their lives, the junior Smiths fight about who gets to sleep alone there.
Our explorations throughout the weekend are pretty much limited to the charmed spaces within the walls of the property. Breakfast at the driftwood table facing the ocean, flat and glassy after the storm, is long and discursive. Much time is spent on the curtained day-bedsunder the frangipani trees considering our next move. We eventually make it to the end of the wooden jetty where we hear boys in a passing fishing boat singing in time to the rhythm of the oars. Their catch provides our lunch at the neighbouring Sailing Club, a converted traditional fisherman’s house built on stilts over the sea.
To appreciate Knai Bang Chatt properly, you really do need to venture out to see what has become of the rest of the bourgeois 1960s resort town of Kep. Following the shady corniche road around the town’s headlands and beaches, we trace the partially dismembered remains of colonial and modernist villas. Forlorn washing lines strung between surviving sections of wall mark out those that are being squatted by families; the skeletons of others have been reclaimed by the tropical vegetation. These ruined holiday homes are an arresting reminder of Khmer Rouge rule in the 1970s (while I was enjoying the damp British seaside). Parked SUVs and pristine walls enclosing tracts of sea-view land, however, proclaim that the bourgeoisie are back and this is once again prime real estate.
After taking in kitsch cement statues (a giant rampant crab and unfeasibly buxom bathing belle that mark the two ends of the seafront), we stop at the Crab Market. This is where the Phnom Penh daytrippers select seafood straight from the fishing boats. It’s a lively scene and if you’ve ever wondered why fishwives get such a bad rap this is the place to come and see some in action. We stroll around trying to look as if we too know how to size up the produce – flattened dried squid, shockingly pink preserved prawns, bottles of fish sauce, buckets of viscous palm sugar, heaped fragrant green mangoes and several varieties of Kampot pepper.
Tonight we’ve chosen to have dinner inside Knai Bang Chatt, where there is a tempting daily-changing set menu. Flexibility being next to godliness in Cambodia, I’m not surprised to find that negotiation with the kitchen staff is possible and we arrange a vegetarian dish built around tangy green peppercorns as well as some child-friendly options.
We eat on a terrace jutting out into the sea. At this time of year it’s too hot to sit here by day, but at night this spot catches whatever air is stirring. Surrounded by tea-lights, it feels as if we are floating and it takes some time for our eyes to adjust to the different darknesses of sea and sky and pick out the horizon. Mr Smith is far away up the Mekong this weekend, so I can’t claim to have exploited the romantic possibilities of Knai Bang Chatt, but commitment-phobes should approach the starlit, seaside dining area with caution: you could so easily be undone.
The hotel has a small spa – if the curtains are looped open the therapist is free – and I finish my stay with a massage. Like so much I experience in Cambodia, it is not quite what I expected but turns out to have been just what I needed. Stepping out of the spa I am pleasantly bedazzled by the sunlight and the recent attention to my pressure points, ready for as much Space Dust as the journey home can throw at me.
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