Kep-Sur-Mer, or Kep by the Sea, (typically shortened to “Kep”) was born by royal decree in 1908 and spent its early years as a station climatique, a seaside escape for French colonial bureaucrats and their families, but now the abandoned luxury homes form a seaside ghost town.
The relative stability following Cambodia’s peaceful transition to independence from France in 1953 encouraged international investment and the development of a Cambodian elite. During this boom, Kep became the premier seaside resort as the elite built villas along the gold-orange coastline. Known by various monikers such as “Cambodia’s Riviera,” or, “The St. Tropez of Southeast Asia,” Kep even flaunted a casino during its heyday. The villas took on a number of contemporary influences, from French colonial wrought iron to Le Corbusier-inspired modernism to New Khmer assertiveness. Cambodia’s aristocracy, including the charmed “Playboy King” Norodom Sihanouk, turned Kep into a Cambodian version of Gatsby’s West Egg during this period of Cambodia’s “golden age.”
And like the glitzy Long Island of the 1920s, Kep-Sur-Mer’s dream couldn’t last.