Blog Tales from the road

Kep - Cambodia's other ruins

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07 Mar 2010

In the early 1960s, Cambodia's Norodom Sihanouk presided over a kingdom at peace. Its elites travelled to the seaside town of Kep for weekends of high living and gambling at the town's casino. Kep was the grooviest beach town in South East Asia and a homegrown architectural style of remarkable ambition was celebrated there.

By 1970, Cambodia's efforts to keep out of the ever encroaching conflict next door in Vietnam, had failed. The Khmer Rouge was  gaining territory throughout the country. Kep's brief period in the sun was over.

While travellers to Phnom Penh's Tuol Sleng museum get a sense of the sheer brutality of the Khmer Rouge, Kep's story is more subtle but no less powerful. This small town does not show the faces of the victims of the Khmer Rouge. Instead, the ruined buildings of Kep intimate a time of confidence and rich cultural aspiration that was comprehensively demolished with Pol Pot's rise.

The owners of Kep's mansions either fled Cambodia or died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia still reels from the impact of the Khmer Rouge genocide. The virtual annihilation of an entire class of professionals, academics, artists and leaders will take generations to heal. Their ghosts lurk in the ruins of Kep.

In this Insights video, we meet with Dr Jean Michel Filippi and discover more about Cambodia's other ruins.

Cambodia, Kep, ruins, Khmer Rouge, Vietnam War, genocide, architecture, Sihanouk, beach resort
Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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