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Kep resort haunts again Cambodians

The old resort city of Kep wants to revive its days of glory. Known as an equivalent to the French Riviera for Cambodian high society in the sixties, Kep is now organizing an exhibition in Phnom Penh, Paris and Kep to highlight the importance of the seaside resort in Cambodia’s history.

PHNOM PENH – Kep is located 152 km South from Phnom Penh, 24 km from the Vietnamese border, on the coast of Cambodia and bordering the Gulf of Siam. The resort has an interesting story. Well known from the French during colonial times as a get-away destination from the heat and dust of Phnom Penh, Kep really took off when Prince Norodom Sihanouk dreamed of turning the small seaside resort into the “Saint-Tropez of South-East Asia” following the independence. For a brief period, from the mid-fifties to the late sixties, Kep enjoyed a mini boom in construction with seaside villas built in a typical modern-tropical style inspired by French architect Le Corbusier.

However, the existence of this chic seaside spot did not exceed twenty years. Kep’s development came to a full stop with the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge regime. Turning into a ghost  city, abandoned villas felt apart due to humidity and lack of preservation.

With Cambodia becoming more prosperous, Kep now looks to its future. Some chic boutique hotels start to be built in Kep and around. The Knai Bang Chatt is now installed into three former villas and offer a sleek stylish atmosphere. Or the Vanna Bungalow, a mid-priced three star hotel also located in a typical late fifties villa.  In 2011, the total number of visitors to Kep province doubled, reaching almost 750,000 arrivals with foreign travellers having only a 1.2 % market share.

But awareness will soon rise among the foreign communities. Media coverage of Kep are on the rise while a new initiative called KepExpo, done by local Cambodians is likely to bring more fame to the old resort.

Created by lovers of Cambodian heritage, KepExpo is a cultural event organized by the association VIMANA. This locally registered non-governmental organization is involved in the conservation, the development and the promotion of the Cambodian popular, cultural and historic heritage.

Its task is to promote the useful role played by arts and culture in daily life, to collaborate and exchange with national and international partner organizations, to promote each networking opportunity to work together, to share knowledge and experiences with the next generations.

Kep Expo is a Multimedia and Architecture exhibition event that will take place in Phnom Penh first, in Paris after to finally become a permanent home in Kep. The event aims at promoting and recreating Kep in a bounded space through an audiovisual wandering, a unique experience for Cambodian and foreign visitors.

To reach its goals, VIMANA is undertaking a meticulous work of research, identification and selection of audio-visual archives relating to Cambodia, to make them available to the public, through the organization of cultural events in Cambodia and abroad in artistic, audio-visual, architectural and historical fields. VIMANA also plans to implement training workshops for Cambodian youth, with the support of professional European artists, aiming at improving their skills and with the objective to participate in the rebirth of Cambodia’s professionalism in the arts.

Kep seems these days struck by amnesia, leaving the visitor with a strange impression. Kep has its mystery; it is a short-lived souvenir of a Cambodian Golden Age.  Kep Expo will consequently search for the history, the present and the future of the former resort.
In 2013, Cambodia will celebrate its 60th Independence Day. The expo will open at in February next year. It will be complement by workshops on “Architecture and Urbanism” and “Multimedia and Archives”, involving extensive artistic exchanges between European professionals and Cambodian students, photographers, filmmakers, and architects. Kep will then be perceived as a symbol and a synthesis of Cambodia’s modern history.

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Luc Citrinot a French national is a freelance journalist and consultant in tourism and air transport with over 20 years experience. Based in Paris and Bangkok, he works for various travel and air transport trade publications in Europe and Asia.