Saturday, 24 February 2007

Kep-sur-Mer

Kep, or Kep-sur-Mer as this little seaside resort on the Cambodian coast was called during the French colonial years, was THE place for Phnom Penh's elite. Also after independence Kep was Cambodia's Riveria for the country's "who's who". The king and his family had (and still have) their property here, and so did other well to do families. They would come down for weekends, dance chachacha & tango here, play roulette at the casino or just come to enjoy sea, sun & fun in good company.


But with the rise of the Khmer Rouge, the Vietnamese intervention in the late 70's, the ensuing looting and many years of war - the little village fell into disrepair.... The stylish 60's villas built by Cambodian students of Le Corbusier decayed - and still bear witness to decades of war and destruction. Kep became very much a ghost town - completely off the tourist map - actually off anyone's map really. The Vietnamese border 20 kilometres to the east has been closed for the past 30 years - very much making this place "au bout du monde".


Now things are changing: Kep is kicking back into life. A few guesthouses have opened, foreigners and Phnom Penh's expats are buying up the old houses and giving them a serious facelift. Today, walking through Kep, it's a strange feeling... caught between the grandeur of the past, the spooky years of terror and war - and a rebirth that is actually quite contagious. I caught myself thinking: "And what if I bought this run-down house? What would I do with it? And would the investment be worthwhile?" Like with so many places in Cambodia, it's too early to tell - but there's no doubt that I won't recognize Kep next time I'm back.

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