R ESTORATION has begun on Phnom Penh's old and famous Royal Hotel, a key part of
the government's efforts to lure more tourists to Cambodia.
Built in the
1920s under French colonialism, the hotel - on the boulevard between the Railway
Station and Wat Phnom - will have a face-lift under a $25 million contract
between the Royal Government and the Singapore-based DBS Land and its
subsidiary, Raffles International.
"This project signifies the Royal
Government's intention to restore the noble capital city Phnom Penh in the
Kingdom of Cambodia to its former glory as the 'Pearl of Asia' and an 'Oasis of
Peace', superlatives used and experienced during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum [the
rule of then Prince Norodom Sihanouk]," First Premier Norodom Ranariddh said
during a ground-breaking ceremony on Aug 29.
Ranariddh said the ceremony
set a milestone in the country's growing tourism industry and meant economic
development and more jobs for Cambodians.
DBS Land, which owns the
internationally renowned Raffles Hotel in Singapore, will take a 60-year lease
on the Royal under an agreement signed last October with Cambodia's Ministry of
DBS Land Chairman Patrick Yeoh said the first phase of the
restoration should be completed in early 1997, with 209 rooms, a swimming pool
and other facilities ready for guests. More buildings may be added
"When the Royal Hotel reopens its doors to welcome visitors once
again, it will be one of the finest places to stay in Cambodia and certainly in
DBS is also due to restore the Grand Hotel in Siem Reap, and
Yeoh said the two hotels "will appeal to visitors from abroad with a charming
mix of the traditional amidst the new, a showcase of Cambodian culture and an
oasis of comfort for the traveler."
The Royal has a special place in
Phnom Penh's history since the 1920s. For decades, it was the classiest hotel in
Cambodia, catering for the rich and famous and visiting dignitaries such as
Churchill, de Gaulle and Jackie Kennedy.
Following the overthrow of
Prince Sihanouk in 1970, it gained a new identity as the Phnom Hotel, a popular
haunt for foreign journalists and highlighted in the movie The Killing
During the Khmer Rouge years, it was turned into a garrison for
Pol Pot's Chinese advisers, before being reopened as a hotel after the
During the 1980s many expatriate NGO workers were
housed fulltime in what was then called the Samaki Hotel.
Royal, or Le Royale, in the early 1990s, the years finally took its toll on the
building and it was closed in September 1993.
The government made plain
its determination to see the hotel refurbished and returned to its former
grandeur, but two previous agreements with foreign companies to renovate the
Royal fell through.