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City peninsula prepares for development

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The development site for the Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel in Chroy Changvar was a hive of activity today.

Snow’s bar has long been a refuge for expatriates and locals wishing to escape Phnom Penh’s city centre and enjoy a drink by the Tonle Sap.

But the makeup of the business community around its home in Chroy Changvar is changing, as multi-million dollar developments gather pace on the capital’s peninsular.

The relaxed atmosphere across the Cambodian-Japanese Friendship Bridge first attracted Ian ‘Snow’ Woodford to set up his bar – officially called Maxine’s – on the riverbank about six years ago.

“I love Chroy Changvar. It’s a close-knit community,” he said.

“You’ve definitely got the whole twist [of residents].”

However, Woodford has seen the area change in recent years, with developers entering what was formerly a quiet area on the capital’s outskirts.

Cham fishermen are now living in close proximity to large-scale construction sites.

Sung Bonna, president of the National Valuers Association of Cambodia, said there was a simple reason why Chroy Changvar is so popular – its location.

“The peninsula is the best location in the world, because the river is on two sides. It’s a great view,” he said today.

A mix of large and small projects are now underway, with land prices now hovering between US$800 and $1,200 per square metre, he added.

Lao Tip Seiha, director of the Construction Department at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said the peninsula’s prime location was attracting a wide assortment of investors.

“We have lots of developments at the riverside. They are coming from Korea and Japan, and especially [include] local investors.”

Developers are optimistic about the peninsula’s potential with hotels and apartment complexes already springing up.

Work on the 16-storey, 799-room Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel – which the owners have claimed will cost $100 million – is ongoing at Chroy Changvar’s southern tip.

“We have completed three stories, along with the basement,” said a Sokha official today, who requested anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to The Post. “We will complete the project this year, and open in the beginning of 2012.”

Chroy Changvar Commune Chief Pich Saroeun said there are several other large projects slated for the area.

South Korea’s Booyoung Khmer Company plans to build a commercial centre complete with condominiums opposite the Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel development, he said, though work had not yet started.

Construction on the 16-storey, $30 million Bellevue apartment project is underway by Japan’s Arakawa Company.

Local residents say they are profiting from the rash of development, though some admit to being worried about the future.

Hok Vannak has owned a house opposite the Sokha Hotel site for five years. She said her husband is employed as a construction worker at a nearby development, but added the family was likely to move elsewhere when the building opened.

Officials had already approached her asking to buy her house, aiming to tear it down to construct a park for hotel guests to enjoy.

“This area will become very famous, and my family will move to another area,” she said.

Next door, 55-year old Yim Saykey has taken advantage of the nearby development by opening a small business selling food and cooking fuel to construction workers.

However, she too said her family plans to eventually leave.

“The rental price is expensive – $200 a month,” she said.

“We will have to move if the owner increases it further.”

Further north along the peninsular, residents of a Cham community have reported business people targeting their homes.

Some 5,000 Cham Muslims live in the area located next to the Japanese bridge, with life centred around four mosques.

Imam Haji Muhammad, the head of one local mosque, has lived in the community since 1979, when he returned from forced relocation near the Thai border following the downfall of the Khmer Rouge regime.

He said his community had been approached by developers seeking to buy the land.

About 113 families, all without land titles, are already set to move from the riverside to make way for a new park.

But most residents held land titles and were free to sell when they wish, he said.

“Last year, we met interested investors, but how can we sell?” he said.

“We have temples, houses. Even though they offer a good price, we don’t want to move.”

But despite that viewpoint, the Imam allowed that the community could be lured to relocate in the future – provided the price is right.

Ly Ro Thy Ash, 35, is the matriarch of one of the 113 families set to relocate.

She expects to move around the time of Khmer New Year, though she said she is worried as to whether she would receive compensation.

Her husband is a fisherman, earning between $5 and $10 a day – income that will be difficult to replace, she said.

“I asked for $5,000, but I don’t know how much [I will receive] yet,” she said.

Pich Saroeun told reporters the villagers would receive compensation for their property, adding commune officials were now in contact with city hall over the issue.

Sitting at Snow’s bar, Woodford reflected on the changing face of Chroy Changvar, including its increased traffic thanks to lorries ferrying construction supplies to the area.

The community has endured a lot, he said, but recent changes were generally for the best.

“It’s progress. I think it’s great,” he said.

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