Plans have been floated for an enormous skyscraper, which reports suggest could reach over half a kilometre into the sky, to replace the iconic Hotel Cambodiana at the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers in Phnom Penh.
Seng Lot, spokesman of the Ministry of Land Management, told The Post last week that local conglomerate Royal Group has submitted a proposal to demolish the 239-room landmark hotel and build a 600-metre-tall skyscraper in its place.
“It’s just a plan for now... the company, Royal Group, asked for authorisation for this project,” he said. “The Hotel Cambodiana will be destroyed, and [the company] will build a new [600-metre-tall] building there.”
Royal Group, which purchased the property in 2005, has not announced the project and did not respond to phone calls.
Contacted this week, Lot declined to provide further details on the planned skyscraper but confirmed that the proposal calls for a building 600 metres in height. That would make it the fourth-tallest building in the world after the Burj Khalifa in the United Arab Emirates, Shanghai Tower in China and the Abraj Al-Bayt Clock Tower in Saudi Arabia.
It would also rise above the spires of the TBR Twin Tower World Trade Centre, a planned 133-storey building set to occupy the former site of Dream Land amusement park just 200 metres south of the Hotel Cambodiana. The twin tower skyscraper, a project of Thai Boon Roong and Chinese contractor Sun Kian Ip Group, is slated to top out at 560 metres. Construction has yet to begin on the $2.7 billion mixed-purpose complex.
Both towers would appear to flout long-standing restrictions on building height that apply to buildings constructed within 500 metres of the Royal Palace or Independence Monument, and within 50 metres of the river bank.
Vann Vat, an urban planning expert, said Phnom Penh City Hall and the Ministry of Land Management have never formalised height regulations and appear to be ready to consider exempting building projects that showcase the capital’s investment potential.
“The government maybe wants to demonstrate its power to attract investment in the construction sector, and encourage [foreign] investors to show off their ideas,” he said.
Rumours that tycoon Kith Meng’s Royal Group has developed a master plan for a new building to replace the Hotel Cambodiana have been circulating among the hotel’s staff for weeks.
One hotel employee, who asked not to be named, said he heard the management had discussed a proposal to tear down the hotel and build the tallest building in Phnom Penh in its place. According to the information he received, the project would kick off after the national election in July and will be carried out by a joint venture between Royal Group and a Chinese construction company.
“Kith Meng has partnered with a Chinese company to develop two huge projects, one on the grounds of the Cambodiana and the other on the beach in Sihanoukville,” he said.
The Hotel Cambodiana is one of Phnom Penh’s most iconic buildings. The hotel was built in the late 1960s on the order of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who commissioned renowned architect Lu Ban Hap to design the country’s first international luxury hotel. Built on stilts on reclaimed land, the original 100-room hotel was inaugurated in 1969 only to close the following year when Lon Nol ousted Prince Sihanouk in a coup and appropriated the building as a military barracks.
The building was abandoned and fell into disrepair during the Khmer Rouge period.
In 1991, a Singapore-based company purchased a 70-year lease on the property from the government. The building was refurbished and expanded, and the investors brought in French hotel chain Sofitel to manage the hotel until 2001.
The Royal Group purchased the lease in 2005 for an undisclosed sum.
This is not first time reports have surfaced of plans to demolish the Hotel Cambodiana. In 2016, the Council of Ministers asked Phnom Penh Municipality to consider a proposal to bulldoze the hotel and build a 20-storey building in its place. The project was eventually shelved.