Interior Design

Tropical modern

Issue 6 - 2017
Words by Oliver Bennett

The Cambodian resort Knai Bang Chatt is a stunning renovation of three abandoned mid-century villas. Behind it lies a dramatic history harking back to a golden age of architecture

Issue 6 - 2017
By Oliver Bennett

The Cambodian resort Knai Bang Chatt is a stunning renovation of three abandoned mid-century villas. Behind it lies a dramatic history harking back to a golden age of architecture

Knai Bang Chatt (or KBC to its friends), on Cambodia’s south coast, is an architectural marvel. Based around a core of three renovated mid-century villas, augmented with two newer buildings in similar spirit, it has a fascinating backstory.

Those original three buildings date from the 1960s and were built to the style of Vann Molyvann, a student of Le Corbusier who is still alive at 90 and was part of a progressive “tropical modern” movement called New Khmer Architecture. Refurbished by the Cambodian-based French architect Francoise Lavielle over the last decade, something of that futuristic grandeur attaches to KBC. You notice the light-and-shade geometry, the square pilasters framing ocean-liner balconies. No paintings hang on the walls; televisions are only available to those who ask. These historic rooms have a startlingly contemporary “raw” flavour, as well as warmth.

Their frugal luxuriance attests to the glorious history of Kep. In the early 20th century, this fishing village – just over two hours’ drive from Phnom Penh – was an opportunity waiting to happen. The Franco-Cambodian ruling classes christened it variously Kep-sûr-Mer, La Perle de la Côte d’Agathe, even the “Cambodian Riviera”.


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Cambodia gained independence in 1953 and Kep moved into a new golden age, rebooted by King Norodom Sihanouk who repackaged it as a royal resort and showcase for New Khmer Architecture. Around 150 villas were built, including Sihanouk’s summer home. All this came to an end with the rise of the Khmer Rouge in 1970. Sihanouk fled to Beijing. The villas were looted as exemplars of bourgeois materialism and rotted in the tropical climate. It was only in 2003, when the Belgian businessman Jef Moons first came to Kep, that their potential was assured. In 2006, Moons bought three abandoned villas and set about refurbishing them.

As you enter the rooms of KBC, the Corbusier-meets-New Khmer aesthetic greets you like a balm. The beng beds are huge wooden platforms. Big windows are set off by antique dressers. Mosquito nets remind you you’re in the tropics. There’s handmade lemongrass soap in the walk-in shower and kramas – the Cambodian sarong – in which to flop.
Now the secret’s out, the next golden age can’t be far away.


Scott Dunn offers 7 nights at Knai Bang Chatt from £2,100pp for a double sea view room on a B&B basis, including flights and transfers. Call our Cambodia team on 020 8682 5060 for more information

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