Knai Bang Chatt, Kep, Cambodia.
Once the resort town du jour for the French and Cambodian elite from the 1900s to the 1960s, Kep overlooks the Gulf of Siam, including the island of Phu Quoc and the mainland stretching in a wide arc. Transport with a driver travelling at a sensible speed will take about two to three hours from Phnom Penh by Highway 3 in mad traffic, before it peters out to an almost sane pace as you near the coast.
Of the five villas, the three painted blue, red and grey were built in the 1960s by proteges of Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann, one of the leaders of New Khmer architecture. There is a turquoise-cushioned lounge area and long dining tables fronting the beach. The infinity pool with loungers and sun shades is the place to park one's derriere for the day as evidenced by a number of bodies draped in various stage of relaxation. For more shade, the brown villa's first floor has an open space with couches, and there are hammocks tied between trees.
Out first-floor sea-view room has a balcony with chairs from which to watch the smartly dressed staff serve lime margaritas. Traditional Cambodian beds have comfortable mattresses and fresh white linen, and there's a stone bathroom with rain shower. An eclectic furniture mix includes dressers and desks circa 1960 bought at the Russian Market in Phnom Penh. There are no facilities for tea or coffee, but the minibar is stocked with Angkor beer, and the Strand open-air restaurant does an excellent latte. Importantly, in May, one of the hottest months, wide, sliding doors allow the breeze to flow, although there's also airconditioning. There's Wi-Fi throughout the property.
Derelict colonial mansions, said to have been abandoned and stripped of their value in exchange for food during the Khmer Rouge regime, serve as a reminder of the country's recent history. The town's main drawcard is the beachside crab markets, where you can pick your dinner and haggle for it. Keep any expectations about crystalline waters on these beaches at bay. It's more rocky with a murky-coloured sea. Next door, through a hole in the gate, the Strand beach club serves sunset drinks and rents out catamarans or motorbikes.
The heyday of the 1960s is over, but this is the one place in Kep to relive it and to cool down after the heat of the north. The coastal location and the strong winds during our stay gave the property a battered look, but, as the owners state, it's "the inherent beauty of imperfection". Pack your floaty kaftan. The expatriates visiting from Phnom Penh are clearly enjoying the fresh air and grass between their toes.
Knai Ban Chatt is on Phum Thmey Sangkat Prey Thom, 989.
Jane Reddy was a guest of Mr and Mrs Smith.