Category Archives: Phnom Penh

Boeung Kak Lake Protest

Boeung Kak Protest

I’m back in Phnom Penh for reasons not worth going into.

Today, I went to Boeng Kak Lake, just north of the city centre. There’s a little tourist area by the lakeside with bargain-basement guesthouses and seedy looking bars. It seems to be the place to go if you’re looking to get high – I was offered weed six times in about as many minutes.

I didn’t buy any weed, but I did take some pictures of the lake:

Boeung Kak Lake

That’s a mosque in the background. The whole area is quite dirty and depressing and is soon to be redeveloped. A local developer owned by a ruling-party senator has teamed up with a Chinese-owned investment company in a deal that seems more than a little shady.

Four-thousand families are due to be displaced and they aren’t happy about it. Or at least, they’re unhappy enough to make s0me banners:

Boeung Kak Human Rights

There were only a few protesters today – many of them sleeping or sitting in groups chatting – but they’ve held larger protests recently and have threatened to boycott Chinese goods.

Boeung Kak Chinese

In Beijing, you occasionally see shops or houses with big ‘foreign journalists, please help us’ posters hanging in the windows. These properties have been earmarked for demolition and the occupants are desperate for coverage of their plight. Hanging a poster like that is a recipe for trouble, so the occupants always, without fail, cover the rest of the window with flags, Chinese Communist Party logos and portraits of Chairman Mao – to make it clear that they are limiting their criticism to certain local government officials and not to the Party as a whole. The Cambodian protesters did the same thing:

Boeung Kak Royal Family

The colour pictures are of members of the royal family, and the black and white pictures are of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife.

Hun Sen, on an unrelated note, has six children: Manet, Mana, Manit, Mani, Mali, and Malis. In 2007, he publicly announced that the youngest child, an adopted daughter, was lesbian and had a ‘wife’ and that consequently he was going through the legal process of disowning her and cutting her out of his will. He followed this revelation by saying:  “I urge parents of gays not to discriminate against them, and do not call them transvestites.” So, that’s alright then.

Previously, I wrote about how wonderful Phnom Penh is. I stand by that, but will just add that I may have been less enthusiastic if I hadn’t arrived by boat. The boat takes you to the most peaceful, attractive part of town – the riverfront – whereas, arrival by bus takes you through the chaotic, dirty, traffic-clogged side of the city. If you have the choice, I strongly recommend coming by boat.

Vann Molyvann Day

National Olympic Stadium

Yesterday I walked twenty kilometres around Phnom Penh searching out Vann Molyvann-designed buildings.

Let me warn you now: this post contains a lot of information from Wikipedia and various Google searches that I didn’t know two days ago. I’m now going to regurgitate it as if I know what I’m talking about. Those who dislike ‘information’ and ‘facts’ may want to ignore the text and just look at the pictures.

Vann Molyvann, the first fully-qualified architect in Cambodia, was made State Architect by Prince Norodom Sihanouk in the 1950s. After independence from France, Sihanouk kicked off the New Khmer Architecture movement in his desire to create a modern, post-colonial Cambodia – Molyvann was at the forefront of this movement.

Chaktomuk Conference Hall

After visiting the National Museum, I began my day of Vann Molyvann with the Chaktomuk Conference Hall (above) and the Independence Monument (below). Only the back of the conference hall is visible from the road, and the security guard wouldn’t let me in the grounds. There is a picture of the front here.

Independence Monument

A couple of kilometres away is the National Olympic Stadium. The 50,000 capacity grounds were built in 1963-64 for the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games (which never actually took place).

National Olympic Stadium Front

National Olympic Stadium Full

It’s a typical example of New Khmer Architecture, which combined Modernism with distinctly Cambodian influences from Angkor design and traditional houses. The main stadium building is surrounded by moats, as found in Angkor structures:

National Olympic Stadium Moat

These staircases are directly outside the indoor arena (which once hosted a concert by Irish pop turd, Ronan Keating).

National Olympic Stadium Stairs 

In the picture below, you can see the commentary box jutting out from the stands.

National Olympic Stadium Commentary Box

The stadium was bought by a Taiwanese company and its unclear what will happen to it in the future. Some of Molyvann’s most famous buildings have already been knocked down and replaced by cookie-cutter Chinese and Korean-designed buildings.

Few people were in the stadium while I was there, but apparently it gets busy in the evenings when people come to play sports after work.

National Olympic Stadium Seats

National Olympic Stadium Floodlight

My next stop after the stadium was the Royal University of Phnom Penh. Molyvann designed several buildings for the then Teachers Training College (the buildings are now used by the Institute of Languages, part of the university). By the time they opened in 1972, Molyvann had left Cambodia, escaping to the safety of Switzerland.

The classrooms look like frogs about to hop:

Molyvann Classrooms 1 Molyvann Classrooms 3

From the front:

Molyvann Classrooms 2

The library (now used by the French department) looks like a traditional straw hat:

Molyvann Library

This is now the university’s English department:

Molyvann Main Building

The next buildings were a little harder to find. I emailed Khmer Architecture Tours who run occasional tours of Phnom Penh (none of which coincided with my visit). They kindly sent me directions. 

Molyvann 100 Houses

The local dog community made it very clear that I wasn’t welcome.

Noisy Dogs Phnom Penh

The ‘100 Houses’ development was built to house staff of the Bank of Cambodia in 1965.  Some of the houses are still in good condition, but some have been altered almost beyond recognition, and others have fallen into disrepair.

Molyvann 100 Houses 2

Molyvann 100 Houses 3

Finally, I went back to the city centre and found the former-Capitol Cinema.

Molyvann Capitol Cinema

Sadly, the achievements of the New Khmer Architects seem to have been largely forgotten. New architecture in Phnom Penh is uniformly awful and there’s little in the way of town planning. This is the National Assembly building:

Cambodia National Assembly

And, directly opposite, is this:

Phnom Penh Peace Book Center 

It’s the kind of building that might be tolerable in an out-of-town shopping centre (where, at least, nobody sane will ever see it) but to build it opposite the National Assembly is obscene and indicative of how little care is being taken to modernise the city in a sympathetic way.

If you want to read more detailed descriptions of Molyvann’s buildings, try this site.

 

The Chaktomuk Conference Hall is on Sisowath Quay close to the Royal Palace. The Independence Monument, National Olympic Stadium and Royal University of Phnom Penh are all marked on maps and easy to find.

The 100 Houses can be found by following Russian Blvd west past the Royal University of Phnom Penh and continuing until you see a Toyota dealership on your right. Take the right turn just before the dealership and continue straight, past small shops and a market.

The former-Capitol Cinema is on the corner of 19th street and 148th street.

Phnom Penh is Amazing!

Royal Palace Phnom Penh

Yes, you heard me right: I finally have something positive to say. Phnom Penh is a really incredible place. I haven’t been this excited about a city since Pyongyang.

Today, however, got off to a strange start. I had booked a boat to Phnom Penh through my hotel and they’d arranged for the boat company to collect me and take me to the dock. I was told I’d be collected at 7am, but by 7:30, the time when the boat was supposed to leave, there was still no transport. The hotel staff were phoning people and I got the impression that there was a problem – but they told me everything was fine and that the transport was on its way. Finally, I got picked up at 8am and was taken to the dock, where I realised that I had been forgotten about, the boat had left, and then turned back especially to pick me up. Every passenger looked at me accusingly like I was a time-wasting simpleton.

Though I was the last on the boat, I got a good window seat at the back. The boat followed close to the left riverbank, and I had a seat on the left, so I was happy.

Cambodia Customs

We got off at the Vietnam customs, and again at the Cambodia customs (above – I think it was the first time that I crossed an international non-EU border without having any kind of bag or body check). When I got back on the boat, a Malaysian girl – a pampered princess travelling with a rich-but-stupid-looking boyfriend – had stolen my seat. I’m embarrassed to say that I was incensed – raging inside as I sat in a viewless aisle seat while the princess sat with her eyes closed in my window seat. I spent the whole journey fantasising about kicking her head-first out of the window. I’m such a child.

Phnom Penh Riverfront 

When we arrived, I prepared myself for the onslaught of motorbike men – but there was no onslaught. There were just a couple of them waiting and they weren’t persistent or aggressive like in Vietnam. I walked down the riverfront (above) and was amazed by how calm and tranquil the place is.  I found a cheap, grimy hotel and went to the Royal Palace.

Royal Palace Phnom Penh Elephant

Look at that sky! It doesn’t seem real. Anyway, the Royal Palace is still in use, so only a few buildings are open to the public.

Royal Palace Phnom Penh 2

The palace has some spectacular metalwork:

Royal Palace Phnom Penh Gate

By now it was about 4pm and I hadn’t had anything to eat other than a roll for breakfast. It was baking hot and I was feeling dizzy so I went to look for something to eat and, by chance, came across a vegetarian restaurant called Evergreen that I’d read about online. This is stir-fried noodles with ‘intestines’ and a side order of ‘meat’ balls:

Phnom Penh Vegetarian Food

After supper, I found ‘Psar Thmei’ – the huge domed art-deco central market.

Psar Thmei Central Market 

It was very civilized. Nobody shouted at me or grabbed my clothing.

Psar Thmei Central Market Interior

And that’s about it for my first day in Phnom Penh. I haven’t seen much of the city yet but what I have seen has made a very good impression. I don’t want to paint a distorted picture – walking down some of the narrow backstreets made it very clear that a lot of people here are living in real poverty. I’ll try to write something a little more balanced once I’ve seen more of the place.