A government decision to tear down a bungalow on Preah Sihanouk province’s Otres 1 beach on Saturday has sparked fear among some of the area’s business owners that their establishments could face a similar fate.
The provincial land management department destroyed one of 10 concrete bungalows that had been under construction for about two years because such buildings are banned on the beach, provincial chief of land management Hun Thy said.
“This is the first time [I know of] of the government coming here and taking something down,” said Frida Masson, an employee at the Wish You Were Here guesthouse and bar, located across the street from Otres beach. “Of course everybody who owns on the water is worried.”
Preah Sihanouk Governor Chhin Sokorn said provincial officials warned the owner last week that their property would be demolished unless they agreed to move it.
When the owner did not respond to the warning or meet provincial land management department staff at the site on Saturday, a demolition crew knocked down one of the approximately 10m-by-10m bungalows, Thy said. It was unclear when or if the remaining nine will be torn down.
“Before we demolished a bungalow, we first notified them that 10 of their stalls were built illegally,” Thy said. The department allowed the owner to build wooden bungalows “far away” from the beach, but the owner tried to find a loophole by building concrete bungalows on the beach, he added.
Both Thy and Sokorn refused to disclose who owns the property, citing the possibility it could harm their business.
Construction of the bungalows began nearly two years ago, said the owner of the Penguin Pablo guesthouse, who gave his name only as Kong. However, it is widely understood that building bungalows or hotels on the beach itself is forbidden.
“Everybody knows you cannot have bungalows on the beach,” he said, adding that the demolition had, nonetheless, upset many hotel owners.
Kong and Masson said that the government often makes new rules for hotels and threatens to tear down those that deviate.
“They’ve been saying that for years and years, but maybe this is the year they’ll do it,” Masson said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEAN TEEHAN