New investments from both the private and public sector are rebuilding the sleepy coastal town of Kep as one of Cambodia’s premier tourism getaways
Tourism developments in Kep are transforming the quiet seaside town back into a premier beach getaway, due to greater investment by developers and the Cambodian government.
A seaport in Kampot province is due to be completed in 2013 and will connect the area with surrounding countries. The government is also upgrading the Phnom Penh-Kep road and Sihanoukville Airport.
So Mara, secretary of state at the Tourism Ministry, said the mountain and beach made Kep attractive to Khmer families and foreign tourists.
He said the new seaport, which will provide a ferry service for tourists travelling to and from Vietnam and Thailand, will also boost visitor numbers to the area.
"It is a preferred destination because it has a clean beach and Bokor Mountain," he said. "[Visitors] come with families. This type of tourist ... will go back home, talk to friends and they all come back."
A 12-storey resort and casino are also under development on Bokor Hill, an abandoned French resort built in 1922.
And investments companies like Devenco are taking advantage of Kep's development potential.
Christophe Forsinetti, vice president of Devenco, said their company was working on a number of projects in the area, including restoring a pre-colonial mansion and building 32 four-star bungalows, due to be completed later this year.
Devenco also plans to develop a luxury resort on the island of Koh Pou, 10 kilometres off the coast of Kep.
Forsinetti said the area could see the same scale of development as Sihanoukville in a few years' time, but with a greater focus on luxury and residential developments.
"There will be tremendous growth, we know a lot of people moving from Sihanoukville to Kep," he said.
"They come for the atmosphere, the forest ... the treks they can do."
The new seaport and airport and road upgrade will mean Kep will eventually be just two hours from Phnom Penh, one hour from an airport and 20 kilometres from Vietnam, he said.
Colonial homes left vacant since the Khmer Rouge would not be viable economic options for developers but may appeal to private buyers, he said.
Kep is struggling to keep up with weekend tourist numbers.Lily Luu, who owns Veranda Resort in Kep, said it was common for the hotel to fill up over the weekend with expats and international travellers.
She said her high-end retreat had been operating since 2002, and in the past seven years she had seen an increase in developments.
"We get couples, families and people from all over the world," she said, adding the shorter trip to Kep made it more accessible than Sihanoukville for expats travelling down from Phnom Penh for the weekend.
The town's appeal was its "charm", including its history, nature and peacefulness, she said.