With renovations to its beaches, increased publicity and careful planning, Kep province is gradually raising its standards as a holiday destination. In a recent interview, Som Chenda, the newly appointed director of the Kep tourism department – he was in charge of Sihanoukville before moving to the post in 2012 – talks to the Post’s Chan Muy Hong about recent upgrades, and discusses what’s next.
What is the tourism vision for Kep?
Our vision is to turn Kep province into a flower city in the future, just like Dalat, in Vietnam. Tourists who visit Kep enjoy the already established beautiful nature, and we have plans to plant more trees and flowers around town. Tourists also come to Kep for the taste of our distinctive seafood, which you cannot find somewhere else. As we know, Koh Kong and Sihanoukville provinces are also on the coast, but their sea food is not as good as Kep’s.
What about ongoing projects?
The road from Kampot to Kep province is being expanded. We are transporting white sand from Sihanoukville and Kampot to fill in the beach here to make it an even more beautiful bay. There is a Coast Guard group to maintain visitors’ safety when they come to the beach. Public bathrooms have also been improved. We have an information centre for tourists.
The province also plans to build an international port to receive tourists in larger cruise ships from Thailand and Vietnam, especially tourists from Pho Quoc Island. Today, we already have one, but it is a smaller port and is serving tourists who travel to nearby islands in our region only.
What’s the difference between Kep and Sihanoukville tourism?
Kep province is more about nature and relaxing. The province does not encourage entertainment-based tourism like Sihanoukville, where disco music, karaoke and bars are all located. Tourists who come to Kep come to relax, to treat their health. We are planting more trees, more flowers and also palm oil trees and we will make those into a public park.
However, we are encouraging more entertainment-based tourism development in Sihanoukville, such as guest houses, hotels, restaurants, karaoke, discos, bars and casinos. So for tourists who like to enjoy loud music, they can go to Sihanoukville. And for those who want to relax in nature, kind of quiet, and absorb fresh air, they can go to Kep.
How will the government respond once investors start coming in with larger tourism projects that could threaten the quiet vibe Kep is known for?
Indeed, we want developers, but we have to be careful and responsible. We have thought about the location where we would allow development for entertainment. In the case that we are compelled to establish more bars, discos or a casino, the projects can be developed in the eastern part of the mountains. And we will preserve the western part of the mountain for quiet tourism.
However, so far we have not seen such development in Kep yet. The plans mostly involve building resorts, hotels, guest houses and bungalows.
What is the government planning on doing with the abandoned buildings from the French colonial period?
I think it is important to keep the buildings remaining from that era. So far, I have not heard about any demolition plans. We need to link conservation and development together, meaning that if we develop, then we also have to think about conservation. Regarding the question of how we can balance the two, it really depends on the situation.
Are there other infrastructure plans?
The re-arrangement of the sewage system and a water filtration plant project are supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
I do not know when that will start, but I am sure that it will be soon. Within the next few years, we will see rapid economic growth in Kep, with an increased number of tourists and investors. It means the standards of living for people here will be better too.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.