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‘Singlets’ surround a swimming pool at Bronze Lake Resort.  CHARLOTTE PERT
‘Singlets’ surround a swimming pool at Bronze Lake Resort. Charlotte Pert

Unreal city: vast grounds and fake temples at Kampong Thom resort

Midway between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Bronze Lake Resort has become a haven for daytripping local families. But how does it serve as a weekend retreat? Emily Wight finds out.

In my mind, golf buggies have always been rather comical contraptions used to ferry around rich Americans on glamorous TV shows. That was before last weekend, when I found myself riding one around the grounds of an extravagant hotel: Bronze Lake Resort in Kampong Thom province.

Imagine what would happen if you crossed a holiday village with a Disney theme park, and you’ll get something close to Bronze Lake, a resort spread across a whopping 46 hectares of land just west of Kampong Thmar town. It’s like nothing else in Cambodia. I half expected there to be a wooden cabinet somewhere that would burst open to reveal Shrek-style wooden dolls performing a dance extolling the virtues of their town. The place is spotlessly clean, the flowers and plants immaculately pruned. The chalets, with their pointed roofs, have an Angkorian exterior, but their interior is much more Western. Just in case, there’s a doctor’s surgery onsite. I wasn’t sure whether to find that disturbing or reassuring. The entire resort, located between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and not far from the temple attractions of Sambor Prei Kuk, is built around a huge man-made lake.

Artificiality is a theme here, the most intrusive example being a replica statue of the Preah Vihear temple, behind which lies the foundations of a replica Angkor Wat currently under construction, and a facsimile National Museum. There was hardly anybody there (we were told there were four other rooms booked, but we only saw two other people). It was like having a glimpse of Cambodia’s answer to the Las Vegas playground, before anybody actually arrived.

The resort is the vision of Nhem Thavy, a CPP lawmaker who grew up in the US. As well as being the political representative of the local area, he is the chief executive of Krong Teuk, the private company behind Bronze Lake Resort. Talking about his replica landmarks, Thavy is convinced that he is doing the Cambodian people a great service, because those who cannot afford to travel to the temples of Angkor can see the next best thing at the resort.

“People don’t have much money to travel, so if I have a replica model they can come and look at it, just to give them an idea close to home of what we have in Siem Reap,” he said.

A chalet room at Bronze Lake Resort.  CHARLOTTE PERT
A chalet room at Bronze Lake Resort. Charlotte Pert

It’s a shame, then, that the cheapest rooms, 17 “singlets” with their own swimming pools, cost $80 per night. Surely that’s expensive – especially for those who apparently can’t afford a bus ticket to Siem Reap. Chalets, in a separate part of the resort called Koh Romdoul Island, are even steeper at $120.

For now, most of Bronze Lake Resort’s business comes from day-trippers. Deputy director Tourn Kiv, who showed us around, said that on national holidays, Cambodian families flock to the resort to use the water slides, zip line, driving range, and bicycles. They’re opening up for Western traditions too: on New Year’s Eve next week, they’re expecting 150 visitors. While we drove around in our buggy, labourers were constructing a platform for a barbecue, clearing space for a cocktail reception and pruning the plants in the surrounding flowerbeds. Kiv said that they had ordered tents for people to stay in, given the high demand.

Despite the oddities there’s no denying Bronze Lake is a pleasant place to stay. The chalets on Koh Romdoul are stylish and spacious, each with their own jetty emerging onto the lake, with a seating area and steps leading into the water (though Kiv told us we couldn’t go into the lake there). Our chalet had a big four poster bed in the main room, and a single bed, coffee table and sofa in an adjoining room. The bathroom was big and clean, though I couldn’t work out why the toilet was behind a see-through door, in a room so small it was almost like stepping into a closet.

One irritation was that the accommodation seemed rather like it was trying so hard to be luxurious that it forgot some of the basics. The design was clearly attempting fanciness with its jacuzzi nozzles in the bath and a curious yet extravagant flow of water down one of the bedroom walls, but the bath had no shower, the hot and cold taps were difficult to manage and the water feature made a disturbing sucking and gurgling sound that led us to switch it off.

On top of this, several aspects of the place suggested it wasn’t yet ready for guests. Behind our chalet was what we were told was a “Lobby Lounge”, intended to be a kind of hang-out area for guests with a bar and sofas. Unfortunately, it wasn’t yet open. Next to the lounge was a rectangular infinity pool, complete with sun loungers and a bar – also closed. When I asked Kiv if the bar was ever open for guests, he said yes, but that guests should ask at the restaurant for a staff member to go there.

Another promise that was difficult to imagine realised; it seemed that the staff hadn’t quite got their heads around how the place would work with more people there.

The resort’s location is just waiting to be exploited. Buses between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh drive down the nearby main road; Sambor Prei Kuk, an interesting day trip into Cambodia’s ancient past, is little over an hour away by car. But while we were picked up from a gas station in Kampong Thmar, it would be a hassle for other travellers to make this same arrangement without calling ahead in advance. Likewise, we were taken to Sambor Prei Kuk, but there’s not yet a way for other guests to get there without spending $120 extra on a private car with Kiv – not a good deal. A hotel minivan would be a much better idea.

Bronze Lake Resort has got potential. Its location presents a huge opportunity. From our golf buggy, we witnessed the building of one man’s dream right before our eyes. In anticipation of the New Year guests, labourers were constructing a platform for a barbecue, clearing space for a cocktail reception and ensuring that not a flower was out of place.

Once the kinks are ironed out, the place could eventually be a worthwhile stop between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

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