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Cambodia’s Lost Riviera


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Eddi Fuentes



Welcome to Cambodia’s Lost Riviera, a hidden gem nestled along the country’s southeastern coast. With its pristine beaches, turquoise waters, and lush tropical landscapes, this once popular holiday destination offers a glimpse into the country’s golden era of tourism. Unfortunately, in recent years, it has fallen into obscurity and remained largely untouched by modern development. However, dedicated efforts are being made to rediscover and preserve its charm, attracting curious travelers and adventure seekers to explore its beauty.


Previously known as the “Pearl of Cambodia,” the Lost Riviera refers to the coastal stretch between the towns of Kep and Kampot. It was once a thriving vacation spot for both local residents and international visitors. With its idyllic scenery, vibrant nightlife, and luxurious beach resorts, it captured the hearts of many seeking relaxation and adventure.


However, the Lost Riviera’s story took a turn when Cambodia fell into political turmoil and underwent a period of unrest. The rise of the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s brought darkness and devastation to the entire country, including the once vibrant coastal region. The beautiful beachfront properties were abandoned, left to deteriorate over time.


It wasn’t until decades later, when peace was restored in Cambodia, that the Lost Riviera began to regain attention. Travelers started venturing off the beaten path to explore the untamed beauty of this forgotten paradise. The area’s natural attractions, such as the pristine beaches, lush national parks, and the charming blend of French colonial and traditional Khmer architecture, began to captivate those who sought a unique and authentic travel experience.


Today, the Lost Riviera is seeing a resurgence, as more travelers and investors recognize its potential. Efforts are being made to preserve and restore the once grand resorts, while still maintaining the untouched allure that makes this destination truly special. From eco-lodges to boutique hotels, there is a growing range of accommodations catering to different tastes and budgets.


Whether you’re a nature lover, history enthusiast, or beach bum, Cambodia’s Lost Riviera offers a diverse array of attractions and activities to suit every traveler’s interests. From exploring the lush Bokor National Park and its magnificent waterfalls to savoring the delicious seafood dishes in bustling Kep, this region has something for everyone.


In this article, we will delve deeper into the history of the Lost Riviera, explore its decline and subsequent revival, highlight the efforts being made to preserve its unique charm, and showcase the top tourist attractions that make this hidden gem a must-visit destination.


Background of Cambodia’s Lost Riviera

The origins of Cambodia’s Lost Riviera can be traced back to the early 20th century when French colonizers set their sights on this pristine coastal region. The French recognized the area’s potential as a sought-after holiday destination and wasted no time in developing it into a playground for the elite.


Under French rule, the region flourished. Grand villas, luxury resorts, and elegant casinos sprung up along the coast, attracting high-profile guests from all around the world. The charm and beauty of the Lost Riviera earned it a reputation as the “Pearl of Cambodia” and a must-visit destination among the elite.


During this golden era, the Lost Riviera boasted miles of white sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, and a vibrant social scene. Visitors would spend their days lounging on the beach, indulging in water sports, and exploring the surrounding jungles. Evenings were filled with extravagant parties, cultural performances, and elegant dining experiences.


However, the fortunes of the Lost Riviera took a turn for the worse in the 1960s and 1970s as Cambodia faced political turmoil and conflict. The rise of the Khmer Rouge regime resulted in the evacuation and abandonment of the region. The once lively beaches and luxurious resorts were left to decay in the face of the country’s tragic past.


For several decades, the Lost Riviera remained forgotten, its former glory fading away. It wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that efforts to revive this hidden gem began to take shape. With the return of peace and stability, more adventurous travelers started venturing to this relatively untouched part of Cambodia.


Today, the Lost Riviera offers a glimpse into the past, showcasing the remnants of its grandeur amidst the natural beauty that has endured over the years. Visitors can explore the abandoned villas, walk along the desolate beaches, and imagine the tales of luxury and opulence that once characterized this coastal paradise.


While the Lost Riviera may have lost its status as a bustling international playground, it remains a testament to the country’s history and resilience. Its charm lies in its untouched and raw beauty, providing a unique and authentic experience for those seeking an off-the-beaten-path adventure in Cambodia.


In the following sections, we will further explore the decline and abandonment of the Lost Riviera, the ongoing efforts to rediscover and preserve its heritage, and the top tourist attractions that make this hidden gem a destination worth exploring.


The Golden Era of Cambodia’s Riviera

The Golden Era of Cambodia’s Riviera refers to a time in the early to mid-20th century when the region experienced unparalleled growth and prosperity. Under French colonial rule, the pristine beaches and picturesque landscapes of the Lost Riviera were transformed into a glamorous holiday destination for the elite.


During this era, the Lost Riviera boasted grand villas, luxurious resorts, and elegant casinos, creating an atmosphere of opulence and sophistication. The French colonizers recognized the region’s potential and spared no expense in developing it into a lavish playground for the wealthy.


The Lost Riviera attracted a mix of international jet-setters, aristocrats, and socialites, all seeking sunshine, relaxation, and a taste of exotic allure. The golden sands and clear turquoise waters of Kep and Kampot became the backdrop for elegant soirees, extravagant parties, and memorable social gatherings.


The region’s popularity soared as word spread about its pristine beauty and the vibrant social scene it offered. Celebrities, politicians, and members of high society flocked to the Lost Riviera, transforming it into a glamorous playground that rivaled other renowned beach destinations around the world.


Visitors to the Lost Riviera during its Golden Era would spend their days lounging on sun-drenched beaches, enjoying water sports such as boating and snorkeling, and exploring the lush landscapes that surrounded them. Evenings were filled with lively entertainment, from gala dinners and cultural performances to thrilling nights at the elegant casinos.


The Lost Riviera was not only a haven for relaxation and indulgence, but it also became a melting pot of cultures and influences. The French colonial architecture, mixed with traditional Khmer design elements, created a unique and captivating ambiance that added to the allure of the region.


However, the Golden Era of the Lost Riviera came to an abrupt end with the political turmoil and conflict that engulfed Cambodia in the late 1960s and 1970s. The rise of the Khmer Rouge regime led to the evacuation and abandonment of the region, leaving behind a ghostly landscape of abandoned buildings and memories of a bygone era.


Although the Golden Era of the Lost Riviera was short-lived, the remnants of its glamour and splendor still whisper tales of a time when this hidden gem was the playground of the rich and famous. Today, visitors can explore the abandoned villas, stroll along the quiet beaches, and imagine the vibrant atmosphere that once permeated the air.


Coming up next, we will delve into the decline and abandonment of the Lost Riviera and how it has been rediscovered and preserved in recent years, making it a fascinating destination for intrepid travelers seeking history, beauty, and adventure.


Decline and Abandonment

The decline and abandonment of Cambodia’s Lost Riviera can be attributed to the tumultuous political history that ravaged the country in the late 1960s and 1970s. As Cambodia faced political turmoil and conflict, the once thriving coastal region fell into a state of neglect and disrepair.


The rise of the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s led to the evacuation of the Lost Riviera and the abandonment of its grand villas, luxurious resorts, and elegant casinos. The Khmer Rouge, an extremist communist group, sought to eradicate any remnants of capitalism and Western influence, including the opulence and excesses associated with the region.


During this dark period, the Lost Riviera, once synonymous with luxury and sophistication, became a ghostly landscape of dilapidated buildings and overgrown vegetation. The once pristine beaches echoed with silence instead of the laughter and excitement of visitors.


As the Khmer Rouge regime implemented its radical policies, the region was left to deteriorate further. The lack of maintenance and care meant that the elements took their toll on the abandoned properties, causing them to crumble and decay over time.


For decades, the Lost Riviera lay forgotten, hidden beneath layers of history and tragedy. Its former beauty and charm faded away as nature reclaimed the land, leaving only remnants of a once thriving coastal paradise.


It was not until the turn of the millennium, when peace and stability returned to Cambodia, that efforts to rediscover and revive the Lost Riviera began to take shape. Some intrepid travelers, drawn to the allure of an undiscovered gem, started venturing to this forgotten part of the country, uncovering the remnants of its past.


Over the years, there has been a gradual resurgence of interest in the Lost Riviera. Travelers, historians, and preservationists have recognized the significance of the region’s history and are working on restoring and preserving its architectural and cultural heritage.


While some buildings remain in ruins, efforts have been made to restore and renovate others, showcasing the unique blend of French colonial and traditional Khmer architecture that once defined the Lost Riviera. The aim is to preserve the charm of the past while ensuring sustainable development that respects the natural environment.


Today, visitors to the Lost Riviera can witness the remnants of its decline and abandonment, walking among the ruins and envisioning the former grandeur that once occupied these now crumbling structures. It serves as a powerful reminder of the country’s tumultuous history and the resilience of its people.


As we continue our exploration of the Lost Riviera, we will delve into the efforts being made to rediscover and preserve its heritage, highlighting the unique attractions and experiences that await those who venture to this hidden gem along Cambodia’s southeastern coast.


Rediscovery and Preservation Efforts

The rediscovery and preservation of Cambodia’s Lost Riviera are at the forefront of efforts to revive this once-forgotten coastal paradise. Over the past decade, the region has seen a resurgence in interest from travelers, historians, and preservationists who recognize its historical and cultural significance.


As peace and stability returned to Cambodia, adventurous travelers began exploring the untouched beauty of the Lost Riviera. Word-of-mouth and online travel forums spread awareness of this hidden gem, attracting a new wave of visitors eager to uncover its secrets.


Recognizing the importance of preserving the architectural and cultural heritage of the region, various initiatives have been launched to protect and restore the abandoned buildings along the coast. Collaborative efforts between local communities, government bodies, and international organizations are underway to ensure the sustainable development and preservation of this unique destination.


One notable preservation effort is focused on the restoration of the French colonial villas that once lined the Lost Riviera. These architectural marvels, which blend influences from French colonial style and traditional Khmer design, provide a glimpse into the region’s past grandeur. Through meticulous restoration work, some of these villas have been given a new lease on life as boutique hotels, offering visitors a chance to experience the charm of a bygone era.


In addition to the preservation of buildings, there is also a strong emphasis on conserving the natural environment of the Lost Riviera. Efforts are being made to protect and restore the pristine beaches, lush forests, and diverse ecosystems that make this region so unique. Eco-tourism initiatives have been implemented to promote sustainable practices and educate visitors about the importance of preserving the natural beauty of the area.


Local communities have also played a vital role in the preservation efforts of the Lost Riviera. Recognizing the economic potential of tourism, they are actively involved in initiatives to showcase their cultural heritage and traditions. Visitors have the opportunity to engage with locals, partake in traditional activities, and savor the local cuisine, creating a more immersive and authentic experience.


As the Lost Riviera gains popularity, there is a delicate balance between preservation and development. Efforts are being made to ensure that any new infrastructure or tourism developments are done in a sustainable and responsible manner, minimizing the impact on the environment and preserving the authenticity of the region.


The rediscovery and preservation of the Lost Riviera are ongoing processes that require continuous dedication and collaboration. Through the collective efforts of individuals, organizations, and the local community, this hidden gem along Cambodia’s southeastern coast is being revitalized and reintroduced to the world.


As we delve into the next section, we will explore the top tourist attractions that make the Lost Riviera such a captivating destination, offering a blend of natural beauty, historical intrigue, and authentic experiences.


Tourist Attractions in Cambodia’s Lost Riviera

Cambodia’s Lost Riviera, once a hidden gem along the country’s southeastern coast, is now emerging as a captivating destination offering a mix of natural beauty, historical intrigue, and authentic experiences. From pristine beaches and lush national parks to stunning architecture and delectable cuisine, there are plenty of attractions to explore in this rediscovered paradise.


1. Kep Beach: Known for its serene ambiance and powdery white sand, Kep Beach is a must-visit destination in the Lost Riviera. Take a leisurely stroll along the shore, soak up the sun, and savor the breathtaking sea views. Don’t forget to try the locally caught seafood, renowned for its freshness and delicious flavors.


2. Bokor National Park: For nature lovers and adventurers, Bokor National Park is a treasure trove waiting to be explored. Home to lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and diverse wildlife, this national park offers a range of activities such as hiking, birdwatching, and wildlife spotting. Make sure to visit the abandoned Bokor Hill Station, a haunting remnant of the region’s past.


3. Rabbit Island: Hop on a short boat ride from Kep to Rabbit Island, a tranquil paradise surrounded by turquoise waters and pristine beaches. Enjoy a day of relaxation, swimming, and snorkeling in the crystal-clear sea. Indulge in a beachside seafood feast or simply bask in the beauty of this untouched island getaway.


4. Kep National Park: Unleash your adventurous spirit with a visit to Kep National Park, a peaceful oasis of tropical flora and fauna. Trek through the lush trails, keeping an eye out for unique bird species and wildlife. At the summit of the park, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of the coastline and distant mountains.


5. Cambodia’s Pepper Farms: The Lost Riviera is renowned for its flavorful and high-quality Kampot Pepper. Take a guided tour of the region’s pepper farms, where you’ll learn about the cultivation process and have the opportunity to taste the distinctive flavors of this prized spice. Don’t forget to bring some pepper home as a flavorful souvenir.


6. Phnom Chhnok: Dive into the history of the Lost Riviera by exploring Phnom Chhnok, a limestone cave temple complex. Admire the ancient carvings and statues within the caves, which give insight into the region’s rich cultural heritage. The panoramic views from the top of the hill are also worth the climb.


7. Crab Market in Kep: Visit the lively Crab Market in Kep, where local fishermen bring in their daily catch of crabs, fish, and other seafood delights. Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere as you watch the seafood being prepared and enjoy a finger-licking feast at one of the local eateries.


These are just a few of the many attractions that await visitors to Cambodia’s Lost Riviera. Whether you’re seeking relaxation on pristine beaches, adventures in the national parks, or a journey through history and culture, this hidden gem offers a diverse range of experiences that will leave you captivated and longing to return.


As we conclude our exploration of the Lost Riviera, we hope this article has inspired you to discover this extraordinary destination and appreciate the beauty and resilience of Cambodia’s forgotten coastal region.



Cambodia’s Lost Riviera, with its rich history, stunning natural beauty, and captivating attractions, has risen from the shadows of its turbulent past to become a destination that beckons intrepid travelers seeking a blend of adventure, relaxation, and cultural immersion.


From the lavish French colonial villas to the pristine beaches and lush national parks, the Lost Riviera offers a glimpse into its golden era, where opulence and elegance once reigned supreme. The decline and abandonment of the region during Cambodia’s troubled times may have faded its former glory, but it has not extinguished its charm and allure.


Thanks to the efforts of preservationists, travellers have the opportunity to rediscover the Lost Riviera, to explore the abandoned ruins, and to appreciate the historical significance of this once-thriving coastal paradise. The delicate balance between preservation and development ensures that the region’s authenticity is maintained, providing a truly unique and immersive experience.


Whether you choose to lounge on the secluded beaches, hike through the lush national parks, or immerse yourself in the local culture, the Lost Riviera promises an unforgettable journey. Taste the flavors of Kampot pepper, marvel at the ancient carvings in Phnom Chhnok, and indulge in fresh seafood delights at the vibrant Crab Market in Kep.


A visit to the Lost Riviera is not just about indulging in its natural and cultural wonders; it’s also an opportunity to be part of its revival. By supporting the local communities and sustainable tourism initiatives, you can contribute to the preservation and development of this hidden gem.


As you bid farewell to the Lost Riviera, its memories will linger, leaving an indelible mark on your heart and soul. You will carry the echoes of its golden era, the whispers of the past, and the enduring beauty of this forgotten paradise.


Embrace the charm, the mystery, and the resilience of Cambodia’s Lost Riviera, for it is a destination that begs to be explored, rediscovered, and cherished.