Category Archives: Open Source

CGIS Map Hunt

The Center for Government and International Studies at Harvard (CGIS)  librarians dug up some digital map collections for me. Here is what they sent:

One person you want to talk to is Damien Evans at Univ Sydney, who directs the Greater Angkor Project. Despite the historical emphasis they have also done some interesting Remote Sensing work on Cambodia.

GADM provides basic vector data for Cambodia (and all other countries). You could start by getting the countries of interest in SE Asia.

Partly supported by Denmark. You may be able to obtain some data from them directly for your research, see:

You may try to contact CSEAS Library, Kyoto University, or the developer, Xianfeng Song.

Geoinformatics Inst of AIT has data, see

mekong river commission info page for Cambodia documents

dated study with good overview of resources

I also have a bibliography on development of the Upper Mekong (in China), which is quite old:

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Water Festival

Stampede in Cambodia Leaves Hundreds Dead

“More than 300 people were killed and hundreds more were injured in a stampede at an annual water festival in Cambodia that the prime minister on Tuesday called the nation’s worst tragedy since the murderous Khmer Rouge regime more than three decades ago. Witnesses here in the capital said the stampede began Monday night when people panicked in a dense crowd on a small island close to the shore of the Bassac River. Hundreds of people tried to escape over a short suspension bridge. Many died of suffocation, were crushed underfoot, or were electrocuted by loose wires. Many drowned when they leapt from the suspension bridge into the water.”

The Cambodian Water Festival (variously spelled in the original Khmer as Bon Om Touk, or Bon Om Thook, or Bonn Om Teuk, or Bon Om Tuk) takes place once a year, on the full moon of the Buddhist month of Kadeuk (usually in November). It celebrates a major natural occurrence: the reversing flow between the Tonle Sap and the Mekong River.

For most of the year, the Tonle Sap empties into the Mekong River. However, when the rainy season arrives in June, the Mekong rises, reversing the flow to dump water into the lake, increasing its size ten-fold. When the rainy season ends in November, the Mekong drops once more, allowing the current to reverse again, emptying the excess waters of Tonle Sap back into the Mekong.

This natural occurrence is celebrated in Cambodia with three days of festivals, fluvial parades, boat races, fireworks, and general merriment. Then as now, Tonle Sap is a major focus of life for many Cambodians. It’s a source of livelihood for fishermen and farmers alike – it’s rich in fish stocks, and the silt deposits left by the floods fertilize the fields. No wonder Cambodians have celebrated Bon Om Touk for centuries – it’s a way to give back to the river that’s given them so much.

Bon Om Touk dates back to the 12th century, to the time of the Angkorian King Jayavarman VII. The Water Festival was celebrated by the King’s Navy to kick off the Cambodian fishing season – the fluvial festivities are meant to keep the river divinities happy, ensuring a bountiful harvest of rice and fish for the year to come.

A competing story holds that Bon Om Touk was a way for the King to prepare his navy for battle. At Bayon near Siem Reap, naval battles have been carved into the stonework, depicting boats not that much different from the boats that race on Tonle Sap today. Three ceremonies underpin the entire Bon Om Touk celebration:

Loy Pratip: an evening fluvial parade, featuring beautifully-illuminated boats lighting up the waterways. Government institutions sponsor each of the boats on parade.

Sampeas Preah Khe: the salutation to the moon. The full moon is supposed to be a good sign for the coming harvest, which is why Cambodians make sure to give thanks to it on Bon Om Touk, and pray for a bountiful harvest ahead.

Auk Ambok: at midnight, celebrants gather at temples to eat ambok (“flattened rice”), a holiday rice dish. Ambok is simply rice fried in the husk, pounded to remove the husk, and mixed with banana and coconut.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Vann Molyvann

Olympic Stadium Phnom Penh

Vann Molyvann, Cambodia’s most distinguished architect studied at the Ecole National Superieure des Beaux Arts in Paris after the Second World War. During the Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime (1955–1970) Prince Norodom Sihanouk enacted a development policy encompassing the whole kingdom with the construction of new towns, infrastructure and architecture. Vann was the foremost of a generation of architects who contributed to the unique style of architecture that emerged during this era and that has been coined New Khmer Architecture.

It is one of the standard critiques of the Modernists of Vann’s generation that their grandiose designs crushed the street-level urban fabric and ignored environmental sustainability. Vann’s case stands this critique on its head. His 1960’s vision for Phnom Penh epitomizes the grandiose optimism of ”la Ville Radieuse,” the French version of midcentury utopian urbanism. Yet it was Vann’s city plan that paid exquisite attention to Phnom Penh’s environmental concerns and urban fabric, while the privatization and decentralization of the last 15 years threaten to scar the city’s landmarks and wreak havoc with its water management.

In 1970 the Sangkum Reastr Niyum came to a brutal end with the coup d’état led by General Lon Nol. Vann relocated to Switzerland with his family. He worked for the United Nations Human Settlements Programme for 10 years before eventually returning to Cambodia in 1991 where he served as President of the Council of Ministers, Minister of Culture, Fine Arts, Town and Country Planning.

Vann has condemned the recent development along Phnom Penh’s rivers and expressed regrets tat the built environment has been developed with the interests of foreign visitors in mind, as well as the profit motive that has driven local owners to respond to those visitors’ interests. Vann is concerned less about the fate of his buildings than about the neglect of Phnom Penh’s infrastructure. The city has a precarious relationship with water: each summer, the combination of monsoon rains and melting snow flowing down the Mekong from the Himalayas floods the farmland surrounding the city and causes the Tonle Sap River to reverse direction. The government has failed to build dikes to keep up with the city’s expansion, while shortsighted development is filling in the lakes and canals designed to channel floodwaters. A particularly heavy flood year, Vann fears, could prove disastrous. ”Three hundred thousand people would lose their homes,” he said soberly. ”You can’t imagine what could happen here.”

Many of Vann’s most important buildings, having managed to survive a civil war, American bombing, the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese occupation, are now threatened by the rapid and chaotic development of Phnom Penh.  In 2008, two of Vann’s greatest buildings, the Preah Suramarit National Theater and the Council of Ministers, were demolished.  No comprehensive record of the work exists. The Van Molyvann Project is dedicated to preserving the architect’s work

Tagged , , , , , , ,