Phnom Penh’s Most Famous Urban Planner Sees a City on the Verge of Collapse

Vann Molyvann in his home. Photo credit: Daniel Otis

You can still see Vann Molyvann’s signature everywhere. It’s on the Angkor-inspired tower of the Independence Monument, the leafy grounds of the Royal University of Phnom Penh and in the breezy crosshatched walls of the immense National Sports Complex. You can see it too in the White and Grey Buildings – large cubist apartment complexes that were Cambodia’s first public housing projects. Renovated beyond recognition, the Grey Building currently houses offices, and whereas the White Building was once surrounded by manicured gardens, vegetation now sprouts from the cracks of a weather-stained vertical patchwork slum known for its drug dens, brothels and artists.

“It’s difficult to sit and watch the destruction of my children,” 87-year-old Molyvann says as we sit in the impressive Phnom Penh mansion he designed for himself in the 1960s. “Phnom Penh no longer has any development plan.”

Molyvann is Cambodia’s most important modern architect and urban planner. Born in rural Kampot province in 1926, he was sent to Paris to study law at the age of 20. Once there, he quickly shifted his focus to architecture, and soon after returning to Cambodia in 1956 he was made the country’s state architect and head of public works.

This was Cambodia’s Golden Age, an era of prosperity and cultural vibrancy that started with the euphoria of gaining independence from France in 1953 (Cambodia had mostly existed as a vassal state since a Thai conquest in the 15th century) and began to end when the Vietnam War spilled across its borders. Throughout this period, the late King Norodom Sihanouk ruled Cambodia as a (mostly) benevolent dictator intent on developing his poor rural kingdom. To accomplish this, promising young Cambodians like Molyvann were given scholarships to study abroad. Upon their return, many were granted high government positions.

“We were given carte blanche to design scores of buildings,” Molyvann reminisces. His voice is deep and assertive – rather incongruent with his now-frail frame – and he frequently opts to answer questions by reading from the well-worn French, English and Khmer books (his and others’) that he’s piled high on his kitchen table for our interview.

“The flurry of building mirrored the post-colonial mood,” he reads.

Through Sihanouk’s patronage, Molyvann spent nearly fifteen years transforming Phnom Penh from a sleepy colonial backwater into a modern Asian metropolis. Adding to the legacy of French colons – who had built schools, hotels, public offices, tree-shaded boulevards, the city’s grand villas and the royal palace – Molyvann oversaw the construction of a new airport, sewers, dykes, parks, offices, universities, factories, hospitals, mansions, theaters and public housing. His designs embodied what became known as the New Khmer Architecture, a style that adapted modernist aesthetics and materials to Cambodia’s tropical climate while employing both vernacular and Angkorianmotifs. In terms of urban planning, Molyvann says he was inspired by the concepts of theGarden City and La Ville Radieuse, and the intricate water management systems commissioned by medieval Cambodian kings. Phnom Penh’s area increased twofold under Molyvann’s stewardship, and between 1962 and 1970 its population grew from 400,000 to more than one million.

Independence Monument in Phnom Penh. Photo credit: Christian Haugen via Flickr

Cambodia’s Golden Age would come to an abrupt end with a pro-U.S. coup d’état in 1970. Molyvann fled to Europe in 1971. Upon returning to Cambodia in 1991, the architect was aghast to see how two decades of conflict, neglect and greed had gutted a city that was once known as “the Pearl of Asia.”

For a brief period, Molyvann headed the APSARA Authority, an organization that is supposed to manage and protect Cambodia’s famed Angkor Archaeological Park. He was sacked in 2001 at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s request after speaking out against damaging tourism developments at the site. Since then, Molyvann has devoted himself to writing and academia (he received his PhD in 2008), and has become one of the most prominent critics of the current Cambodian government’s urban development agenda.

“Mid-century buildings survived the Khmer Rouge only to be endangered now by the short-sighted development of Hun Sen,” Molyvann reads. He pushes aside the book. “Everything now is completely freehand.”

Throughout the city, historically significant buildings are being torn down in order to make way for new shops, offices and houses. Even the National Sports Complex, which Molyvann considers to be his greatest accomplishment, was leased to a Taiwanese firm in 2000. Most of its sprawling grounds are now being readied for a large commercial and residential development, and in the process, the main stadium’s Angkor-inspired drainage system has been filled with cement, causing the area around it to become swamped in the rainy season.

In a way, what’s happened to the stadium epitomizes the Cambodian government’s failure to deal with the city’s greatest environmental challenge: water. For half the year Phnom Penh is inundated with monsoon rains that flood its surrounding farmland, while during the other half of the year, the region is dusty and dry.

“The history of Phnom Penh,” Molyvann says, “is working with and fighting against water.”

The city, he says, has now expanded well beyond a concentric ring of dykes that was commissioned more than four decades ago. Compounding this, Phnom Penh’s few remaining lakes, which act as natural storm-water reservoirs, are in the process of being filled as a matter of real estate speculation. Throw inept drains into the mix, and Phnom Penh has become incredibly vulnerable to flooding. A major tropical storm, Molyvann says, could absolutely devastate the city.

“We would fill lakes too, but we would do it precisely,” Molyvann says. Those that remained, he claims, were purposefully left to collect floodwater. “Prime Minister Hun Sen rejects all of the plans that have been designed.” When I ask him why, his answer is simple: “To sell the land.”

According to Molyvann, the city is growing uncontrollably, having doubled in population to more than two million since the mid 1990s. Moreover, with absolutely no zoning rules in effect, factories can now be found abutting residential areas. A lack of public transportation means that the pothole-riddled streets of this rapidly sprawling low-rise city are increasingly congested with traffic.

In 2003, Molyvann published Modern Khmer Cities, a book he describes as his “political manifesto.” In it, he traces the histories of Cambodia’s three most important municipalities – Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh – and offers prescriptions for their future development. Molyvann’s recommendations for Phnom Penh are varied. First and foremost, he says, the city must put an end to all ad hoc development by creating and implementing a master plan. If Molyvann were to have his way, Phnom Penh’s lakes and canals would no longer be filled, new dykes would be built around the city, mass transportation would be created, students would again be sent abroad and then given government jobs, and stringent zoning regulations would be put into effect to create self-sustained neighborhoods. Molyvann would also like to see the city expand southward along the built-up banks of the Bassac River, instead of east into flood-prone plains. If such actions are not taken immediately, Molyvann says, Phnom Penh’s future will be characterized by chaos, congestion, flooding and poverty.

“There will be slums everywhere, like la favela in Rio de Janeiro,” Molyvann says. “The Khmer people are very resilient. We have been attacked and swallowed by other countries, but our culture was never completely destroyed.” But as long as Cambodia’s ruling party (which has controlled the country since 1979) remains in power, Molyvann believes that nothing in Phnom Penh will change for the better. “I have no hope that we can survive this time.”

Preemptive design saving cities

Miho Mazereeuw is the founder of the Urban Risk Lab. She designs buildings and cities in anticipation of disasters. “Working in a field that has traditionally been the domain of emergency managers and engineers, we bring preemptive design and community engagement into the risk-reduction equation,” she says.

An architect, landscape architect, and assistant professor of architecture and urbanism, Mazereeuw’s lab has a rapidly growing list of projects across the globe. Current projects take her to Haiti, India, Peru, and Japan—all sites vulnerable to earthquakes and floods. In Haiti, she and her research partners developed a framework for hurricane evacuation, working with the Department of Civil Protection and the World Bank. Considering the vast differences in terrain and levels of urbanization, the team developed nine strategies, with prototypes for coastal, valley, and mountainous areas.

In India, she is embarking on a two-year project in Odisha, a state on the east coast that is hit frequently by cyclones and floods. Working with a team that includes material science systems engineers and logistics experts, Mazereeuw is helping plan a large industrial corridor and the housing needs that will come with large-scale development, preemptively building disaster planning into the process.

Her work recently brought her to the White House for a discussion on and recovery, which focused on the most effective uses of technology to better prepare communities for a disaster.

Half Japanese and half Dutch, Mazereeuw has roots in two countries that have dealt with floods, earthquakes, and typhoons. “Ever since I was back in Kobe, Japan, volunteering in the aftermath of the in 1995, I’ve been researching how the city can be designed better to prepare for such events. Urban developers focus on livability and economic vitality, but risk factors rarely come into that dialogue.”

Initiating a community dialogue, in fact, is the center of Mazereeuw’s approach. In San Francisco, a U.S. city most associated with earthquakes and anticipation of “the big one,” Mazereeuw works with the Neighborhood Empowerment Network, tapping into one community at a time to engage people in disaster planning. It’s a six-step process, and by the end, she says, the community has its own plan to make its social and physical environment more resilient and is prepared for earthquakes, floods, and heat waves. This model goes beyond an individualistic approach to disaster planning—from “I’ve got my water, my food, and my batteries”—to community-based awareness, concern, and planning.

And that awareness can be used to recognize existing community assets. A park with a spray pool may not look like part of a , until you consider the water tank beneath it. That water may become vital to putting out a fire when other systems are impaired. We need to look at our schools, churches, parks, and everyday public places though that lens. “It is important to recognize the dual purpose of many community features, and better yet, when planning an urban environment, build in dual purposes preemptively,” she says.

“We define risk as the hazard times the vulnerability divided by the coping capacity. The hazard is about the probability, location, frequency, and magnitude of an earthquake happening.” How vulnerable, she asks, are the people? “How can the community’s resilience change the outcome? We have little control over the hazard, but we have great control over the living part—where we live, how we plan, and how we build and structure our cities.”

Read more at:

Is Phnom Penh Losing its Luster under Rapid Urbanization?

There were around 32,000 people living in Phnom Penh when the Pol Pot regime was expelled from the city in 1978. Today, there are over 2 million people crammed into Cambodia’s capital, growing by an estimated 50,000 people each year. Its rapid growth comes with increasing pressure on the city for jobs, housing, services, and transportation. As the informal sector in the city swells to accommodate more and more jobless people, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see how economic development alone will take care of the basic needs of residents such as housing, education, and environmental and healthinfrastructure and services.

Phnom Penh sunset

Phnom Penh has played the role of economic, political, and social center of Cambodia for almost 150 years. Now, rapid urbanization threatens the city’s architectural heritage. Photo/Flickr user Jonas Hansel

Cities in developing Asia are known to suffer from extreme divisions. In many places, the poor live in informal settlements and slums while the rich live in gated communities and well-serviced condominiums. With urbanization comes the all-too-familiar problems of flooding, gridlocked traffic, trash removal, lack of access to sanitation, insecure land tenure, overcrowding, and air pollution. While the rampant destruction of heritages sites is equally commonplace, it is often overlooked or written off as “collateral damage” of development.

Cambodia in many ways is an outlier. Angkor Wat, a living symbol for the Khmer nation at its height of command almost 1,000 years ago, holds a place on foreigners’ bucket lists, attracting over 2 million visitors last year alone. The quality of Angkor Wat’s preservation is attributed to the Royal Government of Cambodia’s decision in 1993 to combat looting, clear landmines, and turn the site into a world-class tourist destination. Yet even with the influx of foreigners, Siem Reap province, home to Angkor Wat, remains one of the poorest in Cambodia.

Cambodia struggles with its past as much as it does with its current development. Visitors flock to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, while few appreciate the equally stunning sunrise over the less famous Olympic Stadium at the National Sports Complex in Phnom Penh. The complex was sold to a developer in 2001, and today, new high-rise construction projects loom over the stadium, a heaving cornice of concrete. The number of new condominiums alone is expected to increase five times in the next five years. Inspired by Angkor Wat, the Olympic Stadium is a rare piece of Cambodia’s modern architectural heritage. For the thousands of city residents who come to the stadium for their daily morning exercise it provides one of the last open spaces in the city.

Olympic Stadium

Phnom Penh has played the role of economic, political, and social center of Cambodia for almost 150 years. The city’s primacy was fostered by the French colonial administration starting in the 1860s. Originally a small riverside market center where the Mekong, Tonle Sap, and Tonle Bassac Rivers converge, by the 1920s Phnom Penh was described as the “Pearl of Asia.” The French colonial administration constructed the Royal Palace, museum, and other works promoting Cambodian culture. Extensive research and archeological projects revived the greatness of the Angkorian era, which the colonial administration offered as a national model to the Cambodian people. Following its independence from France in 1953 to the outbreak of civil war in 1970, under the direction of the late King Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia experienced a renaissance of architecture and the arts. In the 1960s, Cambodia was the only country in Southeast Asia to have modern, functional architecture, owed in large part to the genius of Vann Molyvann, by far Cambodia’s most prodigious architect and credited with being the father of the “New Khmer Architecture” movement. During this era, Vann Molyvann, leaving the French colonial edifices intact, designed iconic landmarks such as Chaktomuk Conference Hall, the Council of Ministers, the State Palace (now the Cambodian Senate), and of course the Olympic Stadium. Through meticulous city planning, Vann wove environmental considerations into the urban fabric of Phnom Penh, making him stand out among modernists of his time.

From French colonization to Khmer independence, and from Maoist revolution to capitalist revival, Phnom Penh has always appeared to be a canvas on which its rulers have sought to remake their own history through surges of destruction and construction. The Vietnamese-backed government quickly made monuments out of the killing fields and S-21 interrogation center, a stark reminder to Cambodians and the international community of the atrocities committed by Pol Pot. Yet today, the embrace of the French colonial era and Sihanouk’s modernism appears to be less decisive. With foreign funding, the city has carried out rehabilitation projects including the Central Market (Phsar Tmei), and with private funding, rehabilitated several historic buildings in the old city center, including the Khan Daun Penh, for use as hotels, retail stores, and restaurants. The fan-shaped Chaktomuk Conference Hall, managed by the Ministry of Culture, still stands proudly near the Royal Palace. These are treasures of the city, and vivid reminders of Cambodia’s deep architectural heritage.

However, laissez faire city planning might be the greatest threat to the architectural heritage of Phnom Penh. After surviving American bombing, the Khmer Rouge, and the Vietnamese invasion, Vann Molyvann’s National Theatre and the Council of Ministers building were torn down in 2008. As no comprehensive record of these works exist, they have become ghosts of what has been called Cambodia’s “Golden Age.”

The sweet spot for architectural conservation is small and elusive. Finding a balance between individual political and economic interests and collective cultural and social interests is not easy. With an entire generation of intelligentsia wiped out by the Khmer Rouge, reviving collective cultural interests even among the rising middle class will undoubtedly take time and investment.

Fortunately, innovative inroads are being made. The soon-to-be-released film, The Man Who Built Cambodia, which received research and archival assistance from the Vann Molyvann Project and financial support from The Asia Foundation, will help tell the story of architectural icon Vann Molyvann. Acrowdfunding campaign for the film offers those who donate $9 the opportunity to get a high-quality digital download of the film before anyone else gets it. It’s a perfect primer before you take a cyclo ride through central Phnom Penh on an excursion guided by Khmer Architecture Tours led by Cambodian architects and students of architecture. But more is needed obviously.

The Man Who Built Cambodia – Trailer from Haig Balian on Vimeo.

Reaping the full value of Phnom Penh’s heritage requires vision and investment. In the heart of the old city sits Post Office Square, lined by Chinese-style shop houses, restaurants, and a hotel forming an open plaza. From there, you can duck into Van’s Restaurant, converted from the old Indochina Bank building, or enjoy a lunch in the shade of its courtyard. One barely has to squint across the plaza to visualize a pedestrian walk or outdoor shopping street. The possibilities are tantalizingly close and yet, for the time being, AEON Mall, Cambodia’s first mega mall, seems to be capturing the popular imagination.

Silas Everett is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Cambodia. He can be reached at The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not necessarily those of The Asia Foundation.


Virak Roeun

Virak Roeun architecture graduate.

Virak Roeun is best known around Phnom Penh as a guide on the Khmer Architecture Tours. We caught up with him to ask what he’s come to love about the capital over the past six years, after moving here from Battambang to study.

My favourite architecture in Phnom Penh is at the Institute of Foreign Languages (IFL), which is part of the Royal University of Phnom Penh. It was designed by Vann Molyvann, so I take visitors there on the 1960s architecture tour. It’s perhaps not the best work of his, but I find it really interesting because all the buildings he designed for there are tiny, so they’re kind of cute – I don’t really like his big buildings like the National Stadium. The best building at IFL is the froggy building. It’s not actually called that, but I once took a school group around and that’s what the children called it, because it looks like a line of squatting frogs. The way he dealt with the heat in that design is amazing. Today, if you want to protect a building from the sun, you do it with materials – those horrible glass stickers on the windows. But Vann Molyvann knew how to build around the problem. For example, the heat comes from the west in the afternoon, so he put a double wall system with a space in between the two walls on the western side.

My favourite place to eat is not really a restaurant, it’s just a small shophouse within walking distance of the National Stadium on Street 140. In fact you could hardly even call the place a cafe – it’s just a family business with no name, but it’s impressive for a local place and the sellers are friendly. I often go there when I’ve finished guiding my morning tour – they’re open from 2pm until 7pm or 8pm. They serve noodle soup, but also ban soung [rice noodles], which you can have with pad Thai or fish balls and coconut milk for 3,500 riel. It’s $2 if you want to double all the toppings and get really full on it. And it’s quite clean compared to other places of the same style.

Contemporary architecture
There aren’t really any amazing architects working in Phnom Penh today, which is a bit sad. In terms of commercial design, I really appreciate the work of Hok Kang Architects, who designed Brown Coffee and also the new Embassy Residences building in Tonle Bassac. I don’t think what they do is incredible, but of all the local architects working in Phnom Penh, they’re the best. With Brown, they knew they needed to attract people, and I think they did it justice with the design – the branch on Russian Boulevard has a nice element of industrial design to it. To be honest, all the materials are fake, so it’s still not so good, but I like the concept that they are trying to deliver to the people in Cambodia.
Content image - Phnom Penh Post

In the evenings, I like Alley Bar on Street 240-and-a-half. Before I came to Phnom Penh, I’d never been to a live concert in my life, but at Alley Bar they often have singers who’ll sing whatever you like. The design is quite contemporary and it mainly attracts foreigners and students, but it still feels private because getting there is complicated – you need a friend to take you or you won’t find it. The only problem is that they have a cover charge of about 10 per cent, which is quite rare for Phnom Penh. But that whole street is a great place to go because it’s so small and quiet even though it’s in the middle of the city.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

When I moved here from Battambang to study, I didn’t make many friends at first, and anyway, if you wanted to hang out, you needed money, which I didn’t have. So I thought OK, I’ll just stay alone and go to the library. I didn’t even know the National Library existed at that time, so I always went to the Hun Sen Library at Royal University of Phnom Penh. Architecturally, it’s alright, but the most important thing for a library is just the space to read and store books, and it’s got that. It also has good books in it compared to other libraries in the country, although still not much that was related to my architecture studies. When I went there, I’d read everything: maths, physics – I even read a Khmer translation of Anne Frank once. I loved that book, although I couldn’t finish it because it was so thick.

Dirty tourism in Cambodia

Stung Meanchey

A woman photographs children near the old Stung Meanchey dump. CAMBODIA PHOTOTOURS/MICHAEL KLINKHAMER

Photographers in the Kingdom don’t see eye-to-eye on who should point their lenses at human suffering

Most days, Dutch photographer Michael Klinkhamer takes clients on photography tours around Phnom Penh.

Often they stroll around the Royal Palace, sometimes they walk the gritty streets downtown.

Occasionally – and more controversially – Klinkhamer takes the amateur snappers to the old dumpsite at Stung Meanchey, where people still scavenge in the remaining rubbish six years after the city moved the dump to Choeung Ek.

“[The tourists] want to experience reality – the real life, the harsh life – because there’s beauty in it,” he said.

“If you take good pictures, there you might end up with amazing photographs. It’s romance: it’s the gypsy child with the dirty face – that makes people soft.”

This type of “dirty tourism” made headlines in the UK’s Daily Mail this week, when Spanish photographer David Rengel slammed tourists for taking photos of children at Siem Reap’s Anlong Pi dumpsite.

“While I was taking photos to demonstrate the realities of child labour, I realised tourists were arriving to visit, sometimes in buses and other times in tuk-tuks, Cambodian taxis; I thought it was horrible, and it should be reported,” Rengel, who declined to comment to Post Weekend, was quoted as saying to the Daily Mail.

“In that moment, I changed my point of view and instead decided to report on the practice of tourism as one of the causes of slave labour, including child labour.”

Klinkhamer said it was “hypocritical” for photojournalists to claim a moral high ground over amateurs.

“If you’re a professional photographer or a journalist, why would you be entitled to cover that for a newspaper, and not a tourist?” he said, adding that amateur photographers engage in citizen journalism by sharing their images on social media.

“Maybe because of all these tourists coming down there and photographing it and talking about it, there will be something done about it,” he said.

While visiting blighted communities, Klinkhamer said he takes care to direct his clients to local businesses and NGOs working in the area.

He also has pre-existing relationships with the locals and encourages guests to mingle.

But photojournalist Thomas Cristofoletti, co-founder of the Cambodia-based Ruom Collective of journalists, said he was uneasy with amateur photographers seeking out grim situations.

“I don’t enjoy going to see people suffering – that’s not something I like to do, and I don’t understand how people could pay to have this kind of experience,” he said.

Seng Savy

Former scavenger Seng Savy at his house near the old dump in Stung Meanchey. KIMBERLY MCCOSKER

While he said citizen journalism had its place, particularly during sudden situations requiring quick action, photographers should generally have professional backgrounds before attempting to navigate the ethical dilemmas of bearing witness to poverty.

“You need preparation and [to] follow some kind of ethics to be able to document the reality of a problem,” he said.

James Sutherland, international communications coordinator at NGO Friends International, which works at the Anlong Pi dumpsite, said the distinction between legitimate reportage and exploitation was not always clear.

“There’s a very fine line indeed here about exploiting the people you’re supposedly trying to help by reporting the issue,” he said, adding that he has concerns about photojournalists’ effects on poor communities and condemns organised tours entirely.

In one instance, Sutherland saw an image of the Anlong Pi dumpsite with exaggerated red colouring that gave the area a hellish glow. Terrible as the site may be, he found the manipulation distasteful.

“[Scavengers] are not objects, they’re not another piece in your scenario,” he said.

Sutherland also said that informed consent can be tricky to obtain when children are involved.

“Children are just fascinated by the idea that someone wants to take their picture – they will have a look at it, have a laugh with it and joke about it, but they have no idea what’s going to happen with that image,” he said.

Cristofoletti said that, while such ethical problems are well known among photographers, he feared amateurs would not have the professional background to make good choices.

“It’s not ethical to take pictures of minors without consent of the parents, probably something tourists don’t know,” said Cristofoletti, adding that in certain instances he has opted to obscure the identities of children even with parental consent.

“You don’t need to see the faces to understand the reality – I can still try to preserve the dignity of the minor without exposing him to the public. That’s something you know because you’re professional, because you’re doing this job and you know the rules.”

At the old Stung Meanchey dumpsite in Phnom Penh, where people still pick through six-year-old refuse, scavengers expressed mild bemusement that foreigners would care to photograph their neighbourhood.

Seng Savy, a 25-year-old who works as a community seamstress from his shack next to the dump, said he would see up to 10 foreigners a day visiting the site before it closed.

“First I wondered why they came to take pictures of us, but then I realised that maybe they took pictures to show their friends in other countries the young Khmer people living in the rubbish,” he said, adding that he hoped the pictures would garner international aid.

Soung Nget, a 29-year-old scavenger, said foreign visitors were an interesting novelty.

“I have little education, and I was happy when I saw many people interested in me. They’re strange people,” he said.


  • Year:
    2008 – 2015
  • Country:
  • Photos:
    Nicolas Axelrod – Thomas Cristofoletti

At the end of May, Nicolas Axelrod and Denise Hruby will be launching ‘Transitioning Cambodia’ – their book about the changing landscape of Cambodia.

With this in mind, Thomas Cristofoletti and Nicolas searched through their archives and went out to reproduce photographs they had taken several years ago. Showing how the skyline and the city itself has changed over the last seven years.

‘CAMBODIA is a country in the midst of rapid change. For 17 years, it has enjoyed the longest spell of peace and normality in its short life as an independent nation-state, and its economy continues to boom. The resulting changes have been unprecedented: age-old agricultural cycles are fracturing as the frontiers of development advance. The capital Phnom Penh, a city of phantoms under the Pol Pot regime, is an urban body in perpetual motion, moving its lines of concrete and steel ever-upwards.’

Extract from the forward to ‘Transitioning Cambodia’ by Sebastian Strangio


‘Transitioning Cambodia’ is the first photo book showcasing Cambodia’s rapidly transitioning society and landscape, with images byNicolas Axelrod, text by Denise Hruby and a foreward by Sebastian Strangio.

The book will be launched on the 28th of May at MetaHouse in Phnom Penh. 

Disclaimer: the images on this page will not be featured in the book.

– Use the mouse over the sliders to see the before and after –

Boeung Kak

August 27, 2008 – The lake is starting to get filled with sand from the south-eastern corner. The filling of the lake and subsequent eviction affected some 4000 families who were relocated. March 18, 2015 – The lake is now completely filled with sand, two roads have been built crossing the expanse of sand. In the centre artificial football fields are being constructed. None of the initial development plans have been undertaken.

Dey Krahorm

Jan 24, 2009 – The day the community of Dey Krahorm was violently evicted from their homes. Trucks are clearing up the rubble as people are still packing what is left of their belongings. April 26, 2015 – Years later the expanse of the land is still mostly vacant. On one side of the land new restaurants have been built and the grey building to the left is mostly uninhabited.

Phnom Penh

January 30, 2008 – On the corner of a community once called G78 (not pictured), people lived under tarps. The area is behind the National Assembly. April 26, 2015 – New buildings are springing up on the land that was once G78 (left). Restaurants and road side stalls now replace the community of sugarcane vendors that once lived there.

Koh Pich

July 22, 2011 – A statue of a rabbit hugging a bag of money. The first thing that was built on the island was a park decorated with various statues. In the background the first structures of a building later named ‘City Hall’ can be seen. April 26, 2015 – Years later the rabbit is still clutching his sack of money, and the ‘City Hall’ building is complete.

Koh Pich

October 17, 2013 –The construction of “La Seine” is undergoing. April 26, 2015 –The building is finally completed and the first shops and businesses are open to the public.

Koh Pich

November 29, 2012 – A promotional event is organised by  mobile phone operator Smart in a parking lot built behind ‘Koh Pich City Hall’. April 26, 2015 – Three years later, the parking lot has been replaced by a showroom for luxury condos, built by a Chinese construction company.

Olympic Stadium

July 23, 2013 The work on the foundations of the future “Olympia City” begins. April 23, 2015 After 2 years, “Olympia City” is still under construction (the overall completion of the project is scheduled for 2017), but the new buildings already dominate the view of the Phnom Penh skyline.

Olympic Stadium

October 28, 2009 The top of Olympic Stadium (which never hosted official Olympic Games) once offered a view over the city’s rooftops. April 23, 2015 Dwarfed by large construction sites and new buildings the Olympic stadium remains an emblem of Cambodia’s past.

Olympic Stadium

October 28, 2009 Looking out towards the capital, Canadia Tower stands tall above the city. April 23, 2015 Canadia tower is no longer the tallest building in the city, as Vattanac tower stands several floors above it, with the stadium slowly being surrounded by new tall buildings.

Borei Keila

September 04, 2010 The community of Boreik Keila is seen from one of the new buildings that was built to relocate the community. Many of the people living in the community did not receive the promised on-site relocation as the redevelopment was tarnished by corruption and nepotism. April 23, 2015 Years after the violent eviction that saw the land emptied in early January 2012, a few new buildings are being built in the centre of the land.

Borei Keila

April 21, 2012 Several months after the eviction of Borei Keila, one of the buildings that was once inhabited by athletes and their families is still sparsely occupied. April 23, 2015 Years later the building still stands, with a new shed built in the foreground and new constructions reaching over the top of the building.

Promoted: This ambitious mega-project is changing the face of Phnom Penh

It’s 2005 in Phnom Penh: the majority of the city’s dusty roads are unpaved, Western-style leisure and lifestyle amenities are at least a one-hour flight away, internet access is limited to a handful of coffee shops and, well, the term ‘condo’ had yet to even enter local realtors’ lexicon… What a difference a decade makes!
Spectacular views as seen through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows or from the Sky Terrace on Level 30

Nowadays, the Cambodian capital is almost unrecognisable. Infrastructure is improving at a rapid rate, 3G floods the streets, consumerist haven AEON Mall launched late last year and condos are creeping up across the city’s skyline. Even Rolls Royce recently rolled into town.

Moreover, in 2005 no buildings surpassed the 11-storey mark, whereas about two dozen are expected to hit 20-plus floors by 2019; one of which will be The Bay, the latest symbol of just how far Phnom Pehn has soared in the last 10 years.

Covering more than 18,770 square metres of prime real estate in the heart of the booming Chroy Changvar peninsula, The Bay, which will comprise a five-star hotel, high-end retail outlets and exclusive Bay Suites, is helping to redefine how affluent investors perceive Phnom Penh.

A world-class, freehold residential development that will feature full concierge services, a state-of-the-art gym, a 25-metre lap pool, landscaped BBQ pavilions, a Sky Terrace and lounge areas on Level 30 and more five-star amenities, Bay Suites is unlike anything else currently on the city’s residential market. And what’s more, overseas buyers will face no restrictions as a result of Cambodia’s relatively relaxed foreign ownership laws.

Video Player

“The Bay is a major and important milestone for TEHO,” says Lim See Hoe, the company’s executive chairman and CEO. “We are confident that the entire project is going to redefine the skyline of Phnom Penh to be its new iconic masterpiece.”

Apartments at the 688-unit project, due for completion in 2019, will boast floor-to-ceiling windows and imported fittings and fixtures that are set to complement the avant-garde design concept that will undoubtedly set the residences apart from the competition.

In fact, as buyers await the turnover of their units at Bay Suites, TEHO is planning to further accommodate the ever-increasing influx of local and international visitors – which surpassed 4.5 million for the first time in 2014.

The 25-m lap pool is ideal if you’re training for the swim team or just wanting to improve your water skills

The Singapore developer recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with world-renowned, Tokyo-based hospitality brand Hotel Okura Co Ltd to operate a luxurious, 250-room five-star hotel called The Okura Prestige Phnom Penh, which is set the be a future icon of luxury, high-end dining and leisure, at the heart of an already iconic development.

“We went through a very stringent selection process, and ultimately found a partner in Hotel Okura, renowned for its uncompromising quality and service, along with its sophisticated Japanese hospitality,” adds Lim. “The selection of the luxurious Okura Prestige brand accentuates the confidence that Hotel Okura and TEHO have in the potential of Phnom Penh, the prime location of Chroy Changvar, and the quality of this project.”

The monumental development, which has a total project value of USD0.5 billion, will also feature Cambodia’s tallest skyscraper at 53 storeys, proving that the sky is definitely the limit for this all-in-one, chic new city in Phnom Penh.

Essential amenities and attractions in contemporary Phnom Penh

  • Diamond Island (Koh Pich) – Once completed, the 100-acre island-township will be filled with luxury residences, high-rises and a planned replica of the Arc de Triomphe, and it could even rival Singapore’s Marina Bay.
  • Kitahara Hospital ­– The USD35 million medical centre is set to be Cambodia’s premier hospital, run by personnel affiliated with the renowned Kitahara International Hospital, Tokyo.
  • The International School of Phnom Penh (ISPP) – Founded in 1989, the K-12 school has expat students from more than 50 countries and specialises in the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma programme under the Royal Government of Cambodia.
  • Duck – Try the mushroom risotto or their famous Wagyu steak at this intimate, posh bistro owned by ingenious restaurateur Dah Lee, who showcases his 25 years of culinary experience from Down Under.
  • AEON Mall – Located a few blocks away from the Independence Monument (take your car, bike, a tuk-tuk or a cab), the brand-new, international-standard shopping centre is Phnom Penh’s all-around retail, dining and entertainment hub, open from 9am until 10pm daily.

For more information on Phnom Penh’s latest luxury residential landmark, visit the website or drop TEHO anemail.

Verses in Exile

VERSES IN EXILE is a web series in four parts that tells the tangled tale of Cambodia’s most famous contemporary poet prior to his deportation.

Verses in Exile is a web series in four parts that tells the tangled tale of Cambodia’s most famous contemporary poet prior to his deportation. With no choice but to be told entirely in a land his family fled, Kosal Khiev recounts his journey from refugee to troubled youth, from prison inmate to free roaming poet.

Verses in Exile's photo.

Environmentally-friendly toilets. Floating villages are using environmentally-friendly toilets that use native floating plants to break down human waste.

On the Tonle Sap Lake, floating villages are benefitting from a series of environmentally-friendly toilets that hiver on the water and use native floating plants to break down human waste. Writer Julie Masis visits the pioneering project.

Having a toilet at home is something most people take for granted. But in floating villages on the Tonle Sap Lake, going to the bathroom for most people means taking a boat somewhere in search of a secluded spot in the flooded forests. If they come across a neighbour, they have to keep going until they find another place to relieve their bowels.

“Sometimes it almost came out until I found a place,” laughs Preep Rin, a 56-year-old fisherman from O Akol floating village, as he sits on the floor of his daughter’s home. There are no chairs, tables or beds here and one lone, dim light bulb attracts insects in the night.

The villagers here don’t understand the connection between contact with excrement and disease. When darkness falls, people urinate and defecate straight into the shallow water around their homes, the same water that is used to wash dishes and clothes. When the water level dips during dry season, turds floating where children play is a common sight.

“I didn’t know that the kids could get infected from floating poop,” says Ros Sophy, 38, a mother of five.

However, the situation has started to change, thanks to social enterprise Wetlands Work! led by American scientist, Taber Hand,  which has introduced innovative toilets onto the lake.

At first glance, these are simple loos. A blue tarp is wrapped around a latrine pan, the kind that people squat over, and if villagers have an extra $15, they can install a metal roof for shelter.

The floating toilet, named HandyPod, in fact took years to develop. The faeces don’t drop directly into the lake, but pass first into a tank where anaerobic bacteria break it down, and then into another container where the roots of water hyacinth, a floating plant, further disintegrate the waste.

“When you use it, it looks like a toilet – and from the outside, it looks like a garden,” says John Allen, American program manager at Wetlands Work!

The HandyPod itself has gone through several evolutions. Before the latrine pan, it was just a bucket with the bottom cut out. This didn’t work because it smelled, and during storms the contents of the bucket could spill.

Sophy, who agreed to test the first version of the toilet in her home, remembers every time the village got hit by waves and wind, all she thought about was her outhouse. “I was so worried when the storm came that it would break my toilet,” she says.

At the O Akol village, the HandyPod is now installed in 26 of the 33 homes, and two schoolhouses, serving 41 students. And, after a $100,000 cash injection from Grand Challenges Canada, Wetlands Work! is introducing the floating toilet to 10 more floating villages on the lake, which they say will benefit approximately 10,000 people.

Wetlands Works! says toilets are essential in the prevention of childhood diarrhea and child mortality, and diseases, such as liver fluke. They take water samples every two weeks at the O Akol village and have demonstrated that the quantity of e-coli has decreased thanks to the toilets.

After building the O Akol toilets as a pilot project, Wetlands Work! is trying to convince residents of other villages to build and sell the toilets themselves. “We can take a grant and give it away for free, but eventually the money is going to run out,” Allen explains. “We want to see if the market-based approach works. If it does, then there is no limit to the number of people who can use it.”

Hand, who wrote his Ph.D. thesis on the Tonle Sap Lake, says the floating toilet will become more important in the future because floating communities are expanding around the world, as the poorest people are pushed into the areas where they don’t need to purchase land.

“Cities are situated on rivers, and that’s where displaced migrants are going to be going,” he says. “It will be an extreme issue in the next ten to 15 years that no one is prepared for.”

If the Cambodian experiment is successful, he hopes to spread the toilets to floating communities in Myanmar, as well as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Nigeria.

But so far, Puthea admits, the biggest challenge has been convincing the villagers to spend money on something that, until now, didn’t cost them anything.

“It’s really hard to persuade people (to pay for a toilet) because it’s free to defecate into the water,” he says with a hopeful smile.

Hun Sen reveals design for SEA Games stadium

An artist’s impression of how the main stadium of the new national sports complex will look upon completion.

An artist’s impression of how the main stadium of the new national sports complex will look upon completion. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Hun Sen reveals design for SEA Games stadium

Tue, 19 May 2015

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,858 other followers