Property speculators move in for the kill as scared locals rush to sell their land for fear that military standoff could turn violent
A mechanic fixes a truck outside Sa Em village, located 23km from Preah Vihear.
Reversal of fortune
Land values have rocketed 150 percent over the past year throughout most of the country, but the dispute at Preah Vihear has left property owners near the historic temple holding the bag.
Land values along the border near Preah Vihear have plummeted amid fears that a standoff over disputed territory near the border could erupt in violence, opening the way for speculators to snap up properties at rock-bottom prices, realtors say.
"The dispute has put land prices in the province at a standstill or even made them cheaper, despite the fact Preah Vihear was made a World Heritage site," said Sung Bonna, president and CEO of the Bonna Realty Group. "Some realtors or speculators are rushing to buy land in the province because they think that this is a good opportunity for them," he added.
"If it were not for the dispute...there could have been a land shortage."
Hundreds of Cambodian and Thai soldiers are still deployed around the temple as their governments remain deadlocked over 4.8 square kilometres of land around the 11th-century ruins.
Sung Bonna said that some land owners were flogging their land at discount prices because they are worried about war, "but land speculators are happy to take on risk".
Others, like Yin Koy, a resident of Sa Em village near the temple, are stuck with heavily devalued land, despite hopes that they could sell for a hefty profit after Preah Vihear was listed July 7 as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
"When Preah Vihear was announced as a World Heritage site I was very happy because I hoped that my land prices would increase."
He added that he had wanted to sell the two properties for a total price of US$120,000.
"I am very disappointed as I can't sell my land since there is tension between the armed forces at the temple," he told the Post.
"I am trying to sell it but buyers have only offered me low prices."
Another Sa Em villager, Pol Sovannary, said her land's value has dropped by $3,000 since the temple crisis began July 15.
"Before the tensions at the temple, people offered me $20,000 but I refused their offer because I thought it still too cheap," Pol Sovannary said.
"I know its price would double in the future," she said.
Land prior to the temple's World Heritage listing went for as little as $.50 a square metre in forested areas near the border and $30-$80 a square metre in provincial towns, Sung Bonna said.
"Land prices in Preah Vihear could more than double if the dispute calms down because the province could become the second [biggest] cultural tourism destination after Siem Reap province," he said.