13 Nov Hotel : The Chhlong & Winding Road
The Chhlong & Winding Road
13 November 2018
Chhlong, a magic place to discover in Northeast Cambodia.
Even taking in the majestic trees, reminiscent of the Chhlong sacred forest of yore, the lovely frescoes of its multiple pagodas – according to Dominique Guéret ́s history of Cambodian pagodas, the district had 23 Buddhist temples in activity during the first half of the 20th century – and its decaying colonial mansions, it is hard to fathom that the sleepy and quaint town of Chhlong, 30 km south of Kratie on the Mekong River, was for a long time a bustling hub controlling the commercial flow from Lao, Vietnam and China, and an important religious center.
Then, you enter the recently opened Relais de Chhlong, you marvel at this architectural gem set right on the river bank, its terraces overlooking the vast expanse of fresh water, and that formidable past does seem plausible.
Built in 1916 for a Khmer-Chinese family of merchants and trade officials, the magnificent building was later converted into the residence of the provincial governor. Chhlong (the etymology for this Khmer word remains debatable, alluding either to a “crossing point” of the river or to a variety of hardwood tree) was indeed a province by itself until the 1940s, when it was incorporated into the larger Kratie Province, the governor of which being… Lon Nol, later on the main actor of the CIA-sponsored putsch in 1970 that would oust King Sihanouk from the country and precipitate the rise of the Khmer Rouge…
Caroline Nixon, a British volunteer doctor working in Myanmar and Cambodia during the troubled 1990s, has taken a photo of the dilapidated mansion in 2001. Several owners and attempts to save the sleeping beauty from ruin later, the Relais de Chhlong has been brought back to its former glory, and probably more than that.
When you admire the intricate brickwork in the alleyways, the painstaking renovation of period details such as the decorated ceilings, the new additions (a wooden structure for the al fresco restaurant beautifully mastered by local carpenters, the brick and mortar outbuilding hosting six family rooms while the main building has only 4 suites with terraces), the way ancient floor tiles and pieces of Khmer or Vietnamese furniture have been salvaged, you understand why it took so many years to reach the harmonious serenity this place is filled with.