The days of dodging potholes and clinging onto motos for dear life in Siem Reap may finally be a distant memory. The streets around town have improved drastically in the past few weeks after a decree from Hun Sen, the prime minister. They were never in great shape and Typhoon Ketsana in September put them even further out of commission. This led to the Siem Reap Department of Public Works and Transportation lodging a request to make the roadwork a priority, which Hun Sen quickly approved.
“The construction has been done urgently after prime minister Hun Sen made it a priority to serve tourists,” said Lim Soktry, deputy director of the Siem Reap Public Works and Transportation department. The project is scheduled to be finished in early 2010, after which the department will look at other priority roads to pave in the city with money from the 2010 national budget plan. Lim confirmed that five streets have been repaved and improved—Pokambor, Achar Sva, Achar Hem Chiv, Samdech Hun Sen Santepheap, and most notably, Sivutha Boulevard.
Sivutha has gone from a dusty, potholed and pebbled nightmare to a first world road (with a little dust around the edges) since October. Crews completed work on the street in downtown Siem Reap around the end of November.
Overall 15,668 meters of road have been fixed and new sewage systems and sidewalks have been created at a cost of more than US$4 million, according to Sok Sunly, Siem Reap Public Works and Transportation department director. He said that more than $1million dollars were spent on the 4,400 metre stretch of Sivutha Boulevard alone.
“It was declared urgent because Siem Reap is going to host many important events and this is high season for the tourism sector, so many guests will come,” he said. “I am happy that people will switch from complaining to praising.”
Service businesses on Sivutha were feeling the most pain from the sad state of affairs on the boulevard before November. Hotel de la Paix general manager Wendy Morris felt that guests’ first impressions of the hotel were damaged.
“People are already a little nervous about Cambodia. They get close to their 5-star hotel and they’re in pits and pebbles and they’re thinking, ‘Good heavens, where am I going?’ Then they get out and it’s dusty, so they have a little negativity before they even get in the doors,” she said.
Tourists from around the world, especially the Japanese, were avoiding the hotel altogether because of the roads. “From the Japanese market alone, we’ve probably lost 50 room nights,” says Christian de Boer, director of sales and marketing. (A room night is industry jargon for the booking of a room for a night.)
Photo by: Peter Olszewski
Before and after shots of Sivutha Boulevard, outside Hotel De La Paix, taken in October and December respectively.
Nick Downing, the former general manager of Hotel de la Paix, who dealt with Sivutha during its darkest days, remembers using humour to deal with the unfortunate situation. “Every day was a challenge of how to get to and from the hotel. We used to joke with regulars of the Arts Lounge that without the road, we wouldn’t have anything to talk about,” says Downing.
Since the drastic improvement, Hotel de la Paix has sent out a mailer to clients with photos of the new and improved boulevard touting its improved condition. They’ve already seen an upwards trend in business, even getting walk-in customers; an extreme rarity for a hotel in their price range.
Nest Angkor Café Bar on Sivutha has noticed an increase in business as well. When the road was a mess, tuk tuks and motodops with tourists would use Pokambor Avenue instead of Sivutha.
“There was no chance for the tourists to even get a glimpse of the restaurant. Business was a bit slow because the main traffic was diverted to the FCC road so there were no people walking around or passing by. But now business has picked up, you see tuk tuks and people walking at night,” says Kristian Enriquez, PR manager at the restaurant.
Observers have even reported military officers in uniform supervising road work on the road to Chong Kneas, which is currently undergoing renovation. While deputy director Lim of the Siem Reap Public Works and Transportation Department initially confirmed that the military was involved in the effort, director Sok said that they were an engineering unit from the Cambodian People’s Party in a later interview.
So it’s unclear who exactly is in charge of the rapid roadwork, but — as per usual in Cambodia — when Hun Sen gives an order it gets done fast.