Koh Kong Resort, from Khmer Rouge Battleground to Opulent Casino
Border casinos are a dime a dozen in Cambodia thanks to gambling bans in neighboring Vietnam and Thailand. Some of these casinos gaudy, while others look shady and host cockfighting matches. Out of the many casinos I’ve seen at several borders, none were quite as grand as the plainly-named Koh Kong Resort in the no-mans land between Koh Kong and Hat Lek on the Gulf of Thailand. Rooms range from $50 to $1,900 and the intended clientele is Thai. All the prices are in Thai baht, after all.
Just 16 years ago, the region was a hotbed of Khmer Rouge activity. Although Pol Pot’s forces were largely defeated, pockets of stubborn resistance existed throughout the country years after the United Nations spent $1.6 billion to rebuild the country. In Nov. 1998, Khmer Rouge forces attacked the resort with rifles, rocket,s and grenades. One Thai gambler was seriously injured in the attack although the intention was to scare rather than kill. The reason for the violence, according to police, is that the casino didn’t pay off the Khmer Rouge for protection.
Now, there’s no sign of the Khmer Rouge and the hotel was essentially been completely rebuilt, with one of the old sections still standing. There’s a faux Italian design going on, with statues aplenty and a big, open lobby area. In the middle of it all is a domed ceiling that seems to be channeling an Italian renaissance chapel look, although the art is secular.
The coffee shop has decent views of the ocean and a satisfying cup is $2 (60 baht). The price compares favorably with the upscale coffee shops in Phnom Penh and it’s way more comfortable. The pool outside is brilliant, yet it was empty on a late Saturday afternoon. The private beach is stunning, yet that was also empty. The slots room was partly under construction and just a handful of bored gamblers were trying their luck. There was more action in the upstairs gambling room with minimum bets start at 300 baht (10 dollars). Baccarat was the game of choice, as is often the case in Asian casinos. There was no blackjack. Most of the dealers were left standing with no customers in sight, but maybe a third of the tables (and that’s being generous) had people playing.
The casino stands out in that part of Cambodia, as the other landmarks in the area is a small market lined with shacks and an enormous foreign-owned factory where workers are bused to regularly. Soon the Koh Kong Resort will have some high-end company that dwarfs the existing hotel. Shady Chinese businessmen with close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen have evicted thousands of villagers in the province to build a multi-billion resort area covering 340 square kilometers. Considering the lack of crowds at the Koh Kong Resort, it’s doubtful that such an over-the-top development can attract large crowds.
I'm an American freelance writer who spent a couple years living in Cambodia. Now I'm on the move again and traveling all over the place. I'm willing to try any bizarre liquor that's presented to me. Any recommendations?