Angkor Wat will always be Cambodia's main architectural draw, but design aficionados should head to the coastline to discover a more recent chapter in the country's building history. Constructed in 1968 in the windswept seaside town of Kep, Villa Romonea was designed by Lu Ban Hap, one of the Le Corbusier disciples behind the New Khmer Architecture movement of the mid-20th century. Miraculously, the villa survived the ravages of the Khmer Rouge regime in relatively good shape a fate not shared by most of the Modernist retreats built by French colonials and Khmer socialites in Kep before the war. In 2007, British businessman Mark Carpenter bought the property and, after renovations, reopened it last year to guests.
The original owners wealthy proprietors of a pharmaceutical business wanted a showstopper and Lu Ban Hap delivered. The two-story villa's rigorous Modernist lines are softened with curves and banks of windows that show off spectacular sea views. A second-floor terrace and wraparound balcony provide mountain vistas. Hewing closely to Lu Ban Hap's stripped-down aesthetic, the six guest rooms are minimally furnished. Egg chairs, midcentury sofas and jazzy abstract paintings of Khmer dancers are evocative of the era.
In truth, however, a stay at Villa Romonea means spending time outdoors, exploring the 2-hectare property. Active types can practice their golf swing at the six-hole course or play a spot of tennis on the private court. The less ambitious can lounge by the 16-m saltwater pool. But the perfect way to idle away a sultry afternoon? A leisurely massage in the seaside sala, with the steady rhythm of the waves as a blissful sound track. Double rooms start from $160. For more, see villaromonea.com.