#TBT: Hotel Review: Knai Bang Chatt resort, Kep, Cambodia
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- #TBT: Review – Raffles Hotel Le Royal, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- #TBT: Hotel Review: Knai Bang Chatt resort, Kep, Cambodia
My Cambodian solo adventure continued to its first real destination after the layover night in Phnom Penh at Raffles Le Royal. I was met by my driver around midday to drive the 3 to 4 hour trip – depending on traffic – to the coastal resort town of Kep. The drive was uneventful, although long. We went straight through except for one quick toilet stop. I arrived in time to get settled and unpacked before sundown.
This was to be the highlight of my trip – heading off to Kep to celebrate an old friend’s significant birthday. And the party was the highlight – but this hotel, Knai Bang Chat, also earned a ‘highlight’ score due to its position, design, service, location and food. How good is that sunset view?
Content of this Post:
There are two main seaside resorts in Cambodia. Sihanoukville, is the more popular, but has reportedly become a bit Macau like, with over-tourism and many casino’s largely built by Chinese developers. On the other hand, back in 2016 when this visit occurred, Kep was only just being discovered, and I believe it largely remains that way.
In the province of Kampot (where the pepper comes from) Kep became Kep-sur-Mer in 1908, under French rule and the premier beach town of Cambodia.
From the 1950’s it thrived and its modernist villas are testament to Cambodia’s golden age of new Khmer architecture. However in the 1970’s with the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the appalling poverty and starvation their reign brought with them, locals raided the now largely deserted villas, for goods to sell over the border with Vietnam for rice, cash and survival.
Booking & Price
Stay: 13 to 19 March 2016
Room: Sea View Double (Rm 13)
Size: 25 to 38 sqm (270 to 410 sqf)
Address: Phum Thmey, Sangkat Prey Thom, Kep City, Kep Province Kingdom of Cambodia
Phone: +855 (0) 78 333 684
I can’t find a record of how much I paid per night, but I think it was under AU$200 per night. What I do remember is that the rate changes wildly depending whether it is tourist, or ‘off’ season. If you wanted to book a room now, for September 2020, then you would be up for about US$210 per night for a similar sea view room.
The hotel has 18 rooms, along with a pool, ‘The Strand’ restaurant, beachside cabanas, a Spa, and with the Sailing Club, which does have water sports facilities, but is essentially a restaurant and bar.
This excerpt from the website aptly sums up both the approach and the feel of the hotel.
‘. . . Japanese philosophy of Wabi Sabi, which places importance on rustic simplicity, understated elegance, and the inherent beauty of imperfection. Appreciation for the elements and the ingenuous integrity of natural objects can be found in our polished teak wood beds, natural earthy tones, and our charmingly imperfect ceramic lamps and vases.’
It has the qualities of an asian modernism time capsule. It’s not remote, but it feels like it is. It’s architecture is not unique, there are other modernist buildings around, but it feels like it is. But as far as resorts in the area go, it is unique.
Location & Arrival
The dusty dirt road that passes the resort was a relief from the sometimes bone shattering trip from Phonm Penh. The resort is just outside the main town of Kep with its beachside crab shacks. A high stone wall greets you with a tall wooden gate for admission. Once checked by security, I was led into the reception room, which presages the tone of the rest of the resort.
In the 1960s the Kep area was known as Cambodia’s Riviera, where royalty and personalities lived and holidayed in private villas overlooking the Gulf of Thailand on the edge of lush, forested mountains, now a national park. Knai Bang Chatt was the first luxury resort to reopen in the province in 2003. The resort employs some 85 staff, including those who work at the Sailing Club next door.
‘In Khmer, Knai Bang Chatt means a rainbow encircling the sun. In Buddhism, this rainbow is the halo around Buddha’s head. Keeping this symbolism in mind, Knai Bang Chatt was developed as an exclusive retreat to protect and shelter its visitors and offer them a home away from home.’Knai Bang Chatt, website
Four renovated villas built in the 1970s by protégés of the father of New Khmer Architecture, Vann Molyvann, a student of Le Corbusier form the centre of the resort. Vann Molyvann was also a native of the Kampot Province.
The iconic Blue Villa once belonged to the governor of Kep. The entrance and reception building was apparently owned by a relative of the King; and the red summer house – where I stayed – was owned by the Head of Customs.
Francoise Lavielle, a French architect resident in Phnom Penh, has led the respectful restoration of the villas, and conversion into a resort.
I don’t usually include promotional videos in reviews, but this sums up the highlights of the resort so well, I though it worthy.
Check-in was completed at reception, where my pre-paid booking was honoured, my passport copied and I was given a rundown on the resort’s features. I was still a bit jangled from the heat and pace of Phnom Penh and the sometimes rough roads, so it took time to adjust to the altogether slower pace of the resort. I was guided along pathways through most of the resort to get to Room 13 in the Red House, which would be my home for the week.
The resort is virtually all concrete construction and because it is a combination of existing villas, the footpaths are punctuated by gardens and ponds, steps and walkways, all lush and relaxing. I love this about asian resorts.
There were two aspects of the room I particularly loved: my private pavillion, and the sensational view of the sea. Other than that, the room was simple but comfortable, with tiled furniture, a good amount of space, a lounging area, a desk, and a bathroom.
There is a fine line between ‘rustic’ and well maintained. This room sometimes straddled that division, not always entirely successfully.
The welcome letter provided details of dining options, recreation, spa, wifi codes, and advice on placing a rock outside your door to request privacy. As promised, the room was serviced twice daily – once usually during breakfast, and refreshed with a turndown service later in the day.
The room came with air conditioning, which given the heat and humidity of Cambodia was definitely appreciated. I also had a small balcony, which really just served as another walkway, given I had my own private terrace a few steps away.
Laid on the bed was a welcome present of a ‘krama’ which is a multi-use Cambodian garment. It can be used as a scarf, bandanna, to mask the face, or as a decoration.
Unlike others in the resort, the bed in this room was only raised slightly on a low platform. However, the width of the platform did offer some challenges, especially when getting in or out of bed when a little the worse for wear.
Furnishings were sparse, with a low set chest, pots and a desk and chair.
I spent quite an amount of time working at that west facing desk. It could get a touch warm when the sun streamed in during the afternoon – hence the drawn blinds. Black out blinds were absent, encouraging you to wake with the dawn. If that is not your wish – bring eye shades.
When it did get too warm or glary at the desk, then that was the cue – if I needed one – to recline on the indoor daybed. With its convenient power point, it was quite nice to recline while working on my laptop, or indeed consuming a novel.
The fruit you see on the desk was renewed daily, so there was always variety – mandarins, lychees, rambutans, lady finger bananas and more. The door to the right of the mirror leads to the wardrobe and bathroom.
My notes make no mention of this, but I think the bar was complimentary – or at least the soft drinks were? Drinking water was supplied, given that the tap water was not potable. Ice and the minibar were restocked daily, and of course you can request additions at any time.
The wardrobe formed a link between the bedroom and bathroom and housed the mini bar, hanging space, shelves and cupboards, as well as glasses, snacks and drinks menu.
Japanese type slipper/thongs and waffle-weave cotton bathrobes were provided along with bags for laundry, umbrellas, and a beach bag were supplied. I had one load of laundry done, and it was returned the same day, albeit a little damp.
I loved that there was plenty of storage space, including bench tops and plenty of useable wooden coat-hangers, with no anti theft coat hanger in sight!
The wardrobe area really functioned as a dressing room with storage and bar fridge. What is not to like about that?
Given the bathrooms orientation facing the east, the light was good and bright in the morning, but subdued in the afternoon. All the benches, walls and floor were in concrete, sort of like terrazzo, but not – if you know what I mean. More like coloured and buffed concrete.
A single sink, with mirror above, and mosquito coil below. This was lit each evening as part of turndown service, and along with the air conditioning in the bedroom, seemed to adequately control any mosquito threat.
Mosquito repellent was provided along with tissues, soap, hair dryer and still water for tooth brushing.
These cups and stands were beautiful, as were most of the ceramics used in the resort.
The shower cubicle was large, and had both an overhead shower, and a hand held wand. Water pressure was good, and I know that the walls look dirty, but they were not – merely stained – which is what happens with porous surfaces in the tropics. It looks worse in the photos than in reality, however it does lower the luxe feel of the place.
Refillable shampoo, and shower gel, but no conditioner, again in beautiful ceramics.
Every evening as part of the turndown service, staff left a little sweet treat. Each day it was a surprise what sweetmeat was on offer, and even more so what stunning ceramic they would be served on.
I regret not slipping one or two of these ceramics into my suitcase on departure – except – unlike some people, stealing from hotels is not something I do.
Public Areas – Pool, Bars, Restaurants & Gym
There were quite a few highlights in the public area department. I’ll get onto them later.
Spa and Gym
I didn’t visit the spa, but a friend, not staying at the hotel did sample their services. She returned blissed out, and very happy with the Spa. Prices were also reasonable. I did pass by the gym, which was fairly basic, but didn’t use it – the heat, the humidity! Well at least that’s my excuse.
I loved this terrace, retiring to read, or tap away at my computer while my room was being serviced. Being open amongst palms and frangipanis meant that it caught the breeze, but protected from the sun. I don’t think another person came up to ‘My Terrace’ the whole week I stayed at the resort.
The pool fringed by a wooden deck and generous amounts of foliage was plenty big enough for an 18 room property. With seating areas on two sides to rest in between getting wet, it was a wonderfully relaxing place. I am not one for lazing around the pool in the sun, but was happy to take a dip and a swim each morning.
If you wanted to head into the sea, you could, as it was only metres away, as were the beachside cabanas. However, bring your beach shoes, as there be rocks aplenty. Staff would provide drinks and food from the bar and restaurant.
Under my private terrace, was a lounge room, where you could sit around a table, or recline on a lounge and watch TV, or play games, or just read. I didn’t really use it, other than to catch up on CNN a couple of times, since there were wisely no TVs in the rooms.
On my final night, I dined at the Strand, by myself, as most of my friends had left earlier in the day. The Strand was in the same space as the restaurant/bar where I had breakfast each morning. The restaurant faced the mesmerising sea with its fishing boats disappearing out to sea at dusk each evening.
All the breakfasts and snacks had been pretty good, but I was still not prepared for how excellent my dinner was at the Strand.
I started with soup – it was a hot sour soup, similar to Thai, Tom Yum, although I can’t locate it on the menu above.
That was followed by some very good spicy vegetable spring rolls – served again on that wonderful ceramic ware.
And finally, saving the best for last – an extremely good, in fact, I think the best I have ever tasted, duck curry.
I had ordered way too much and unfortunately just couldn’t finish the serve. Still, I retired that night extremely sated, and ready for my return to Phnom Penh.
That boast about The Strand being Kep’s signature restaurant, may well be true. It was very good. The food and service would have stood out anywhere.
The Sailing Club
Adjacent to the Resort, and owned by the same proprietor, the Sailing Club has provision for various water sports, but all I used it for was drinking and eating and watching sunsets.
My friends and I dined there several nights, and the food was very good – not as exceptional as at the Strand, but very, very good. The Lychee gin and tonics weren’t bad either.
The Sailing club is an extraordinary venue, with seating both indoors and outdoors. Given the climate, I think we only dined outdoors, watching the lights of the flotilla of fishing boats bobbing on the horizon.
Given that it is completely open to the sea and only steps away from the hotel, it feels very private and remote as you look out to the horizon in the west.
Knai Bang Chatt in Kep is an eco-third-world, but ‘5 star’ luxury resort, if you know what I mean.
I would go back in a heartbeat and stay for another week, this time with my husband who missed out on this leg of the trip due to work commitments. It is idylic, well run, relaxing and intoxicating.
This review has gone on long enough, so I haven’t even got to tell you about the over water crab shacks that litter the foreshore of the actual town of Kep. We spent an idle lunch there scoffing crab for days.
I had a fabulous view from my room, with access to a public verandah lounge, which only I ever used. The staff were very accommodating, and the food at the restaurant (The Strand) and the Sailing Club next door was sensational.
I still long for this view from the sailing club at dusk.
Well all good things come to an end, and soon it was time to pack up and meet the car to take me back to Phnom Penh and a one night stay at La Rose Suites before heading on to Hong Kong and my husband for the next bit of our asian adventure.
Just to provide contrast, here is the flat, dusty, dry farmland on the way back from Kep to Phnom Penh.
Summary Knai Bang Chatt in Kep is all eco-third-world 5 star luxury. Fabulous views and service with friendly staff, with excellent food at the Strand Restaurant and the Sailing Club next door.