For as unique and interesting as Cambodia is – if you want to see it, you’d better go soon. Because the country’s cash-hungry elite, along with its “for-sale” government, seems to have an insatiable appetite for profit. From what I can tell, Cambodia’s new rich is working day and night to gobble up the old – slowly but surely converting the country’s most iconic attractions into big, corporate-backed business.
The mysterious Bokor Hill Station, for instance – once a fascinating off-the-beaten-path destination – is already well on its way to being turned into a five-star casino. Sihanoukville’s pristine beaches are slowly but surely transforming into the kinds of resorts that have already consumed Thailand’s once paradise-like islands. Battambang’s bamboo railway is slated to be shut down any day, and even Angkor Wat itself has been sold to a Vietnamese corporation (which is the reason for its hefty ticket price). It’s therefore little surprise that Phnom Penh’s iconic backpacker haven is already a thing of the past…
Beoung Kak Lake once played host to an active, bustling, and quite honestly beautiful backpacker district. It was an area full of restaurants, cafes, and hostels – where you could spend all night singing Karaoke or sip a beer while quietly watching the sun set. During my research, I found blog upon blog describing, often quite emotionally, wonderful times had at the side of that ill-fated lake.
If you’re curious, here is what’s left of Beoung Kak today: little more than a landfill. Apparently, a company (owned by a Cambodian senator no less) bought up the rights to the lake. It kicked out the locals, drained the water, and filled it in to make room for newer and more profitable development.
So now rather than a friendly, bustling backpacker haven…the whole area is little more than a ghetto.
Muddy roads, sickly stray dogs, and barely a functioning business in sight, most of today’s lakeside buildings are outright abandoned.
It really is sad, as evidence of the area’s former glory is everywhere: faded signs advertising happy pizza, free wifi, and waterfront sunset views. Even my slightly out-of-date guidebook describes it as a must-see highlight of the city – yet the whole time I was there I didn’t meet even one other traveler.
What I did meet were a handful of locals, all eager to describe how things used to be – and how their government had let them down. Once the owners of fun and successful businesses, these locals were now struggling just to put food on the table. Sold out and kicked out, for big corporate profit.
If you’re interested, here is an excellent article about the area and its downfall, written by a traveler who personally experienced Beoung Kak’s glory days. Well worth a quick read.
Note: These posts are behind realtime; the above took place in April, 2012.