When you looked at the old French Indochina travel brochures, the place was described as Kep Sur Mer (Kep by the sea), a sleepy, idyllic zone of tranquillity with an abundance of fresh seafood and people relaxing on the waterfront at sunset as waves gently lapped the shore. It was compared to Deauville, on the Basse-Normandie coast in France.
On the journey from Phnom Penh to Kep today, once you get past Kampot and over the last bumpy stretch to Kep then pass into the Knai Bang Chatt resort, there’s a tendency to continue to behave like you’re still in Phnom Penh, jockeying for a parking place or fighting the traffic.
But after hanging around on the front deck of the Sailing Club for a while, you slowly begin to realise you’re not in Phnom Penh any more and there’s no reason to be tense and stressed.
“Once you hear the waves lapping on the beach, then you realise you’re on holiday,” says Knai Bang Chatt owner Jef Moons, who has conducted a kind of seamless expansion and renovation during the past year, achieving his objective of making it so the changes don’t meet the eye.
Each room in this complex by the sea is unique, with attention to detail, non-toxic paint, no television sets and a kind of high-end expression of tranquillity, with yoga classes, the adjacent activities at the Sailing Club and the new menu at the Strand Restaurant next to the beach.
During the Khmer New Year holidays, there will be jazz and soul musical evenings at the Sailing Club and private dining promotions at the Strand Restaurant, including $15 signature lunches for which the chef shops early each morning for fresh, organic ingredients.
Following the Khmer New Year holiday, there will be low- season promotions as the rain begins to fall.
“If you want to celebrate your anniversary, you want to come here to the Strand Restaurant. If you want to come with friends, you want to be at the Sailing Club,” Moons says.
Visitors on tighter budgets can stay at nearby guest houses and still come and enjoy the Sailing Club at sunset or fine dining at the Strand, Knai Bang Chatt’s new signature restaurant.
Moons says appropriate attire is requested to keep the atmosphere high-end at Knai Bang Chatt.
“Knai Bang Chatt is here for everybody, not just for people staying at the resort. We welcome outside guests for lunches or dinners at the Sailing Club as well as at the Strand. People can also join our yoga trainings for $8.”
Moons, who bought the place in 2003 and named it for the Khmer-language phrase meaning “halo around the sun” has faced challenges over the years but has been relentless in keeping his resort tranquil, beautiful and at the very upper end of the Kep spectrum.
“I have a great team,” Moons says. He’s been tireless in his quest to create the high-end place at Kep and generous in the notion that even if people don’t stay in the rooms (which Moons says are filled with natural beauty and understated luxury), they can still enjoy the food and atmosphere at the Sailing Club and the Strand Restaurant.
“Never lose your goal.
Keep working with respect for all the people around you,” Moons says. He invites people to look at his website: www.knaibangchatt.com
Moons recently bought out his original partner and is now the sole owner. During the past nine months he has expanded the hotel from 11 to 18 rooms, including one suite.
With a new general man-ager and a management team of seven, along with a total of 65 well-trained staff on a property on 1.5 hectares with 11 buildings, Knai Bang Chatt is arguably one of the finest stretches of waterfront in Kep.
As part of a concept where privacy is high on the list of priorities, guests tend to be a blend of expats, international travellers and VIPs.
“We don’t sell rooms, but we sell private experiences. We tailor where needed and stay with our guests from the time they arrive until they leave,” Moons says.
“Most people hear about us by word of mouth and come to share an experience together, and we give them private time that they can remember.”
Moons has found his niche at Kep, which is enjoying a kind of revival as a place for the Khmer elite and, in former years, the French.
“We can offer an exper-ience for the international traveller with a taste of Cambodia presented in a Western way,” he says.
“We have local spices, freshly caught fish and very good high-end services.”
The perfect sense of imperfection is illustrated by a big clay pot in one of the rooms.
Years ago, when it was being made, the clay slumped a little near the top. This imperfection is precisely why Moons chose it to adorn the room.
“If the pot was perfect, it would be just another perfect pot, and there would be no difference or special beauty to discover,” Moons says.
All kinds of little details like that are found throughout the property.
It’s astonishing when you see the cultivation of plants along, and behind, the buildings and the attention to detail in each of the rooms in smooth painted concrete and ceramic dishes holding very fragrant, hand-made soaps.
“I’m happy when I can show people the beauty of being imperfect; the beauty of who we are. It makes me happy when people go home and say: ‘Wow, I had a great
experience!’ When they go home with a smile and talk about it during the following week and thank me, that’s what makes me happy.”
Moons says about 40 per cent of international clients are return customers because “We gave them an experience to remember.”
“If you like architecture, art, history; if you are well educated and well travelled, and if you can share your heart with the local community,
in all those cases I would say that you will probably enjoy Knai Bang Chatt in full.”
After being a long-time supporter of the poor in the area through NGOs such as Hand in Hand, Moons is now working on sponsoring poor people for higher education, with the aim of supporting 500 people through the Knai Bang Chatt resort.
“Giving people a new life is part of finding happiness here in Cambodia,” he says.
For the health of guests, from the beginning of this month therapists will conduct morning yoga classes beginning at 6am as well as med-itation in the evening.
“Our purpose is wellness and the balancing of your body and brain,” Moons says.
He encourages guests to book a range of activities including private island-hopping, fishing trips and architectural tours.
“We will tailor the activities to your needs. Having a wonderful private Cambodian experience also means getting out of the walls of Knai Bang Chatt and getting in touch with Cambodian culture.
“If you see people and local culture, you will never forget the beauty of Cambodia.”
Private experiences easily booked through Knai Bang Chatt include mountain biking, volleyball, ping pong, catamaran sailing, surfing and exploring caves
“We are fully professional. The buildings are high-end and our management team has experience from five-
star hotels," Moons said.
“We train our people in special ways to keep this a very a private place. Our guests get personal attention and we stay with them from the moment they enter until the moment they go.”
Knai Bang Chatt’s website can be viewed at www.
and bookings for private
Kep experiences and
activities can be arranged from there.