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A megalomania project planned near Angkor Wat

Luc Citrinot, eTN  May 23, 2011

PHNOM PENH (eTN) - To the tourists, Cambodia is mostly known for being home to the fabled city of Angkor Wat with its myriad of beautiful temples. At some point over the next twenty years, Cambodia might become famous for Angkor Hills. The project is the brainchild of Okhna Soth Sambath, a Cambodian businessman. The affable man is said to be very close to the top of Cambodia’s politics, which might explain the official endorsement of the government for his project. Just imagine a huge piece of land initially covering 361 hectares, located halfway between Thailand and Siem Reap where Angkor temples are located. The future integrated resort will be some 30 km away from the temples and 100 km from the Thai border at Popet/Sisophon. A highway is due to link both areas making the resort easily accessible for visitors.

Imagine then dozens of modern buildings emulating the stupas, the chedis, the bas-reliefs, and the shapes from Angkor Wat built surrounded by paddy fields and some forests. This is Angkor Hills City, a gigantic modern resort built around widening crescents in the middle of nowhere. The project was officially launched in July 2010, and according to Mr. Soth Sambath, it has so far generated a huge interest from investors from China, Macau, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. In fact, the development has been completed by Agostine & Raphael Group, an international development consulting firm based in Dubai.

This is not a coincidence. Angkor Hills City wants to obviously match Dubai’s megalomania. It will integrate in its final phase a giant convention center, residences, and condominiums; a dozen of deluxe hotels; a shopping mall; a golf course; a spa; and a meditation center; as well as private villas. Among the projects dreamed by its creators are the Buddha Hotel and Spa, a five-star property shaped like the Bayon Temples with its huge heads. The Heritage Hotel will emulate the old walled city surrounded by waterfalls and canals. It will look like a mix of Las Vegas and Disneyland, à la Cambodian.

“We will first start with the convention center, as well as two or three hotels. But ultimately, this city will have up to 20,000 inhabitants and act as a tourism magnet for the entire region, including neighboring Thailand,” explained Soth Sambath. Of course, Sambath Investments promise that the future development will strictly enforce environment codes. It would take 5 to 8 years to complete the entire project, according to Mr. Sambath, with first construction work starting before the end of the year.

Such an investment will, of course, help to alleviate poverty and certainly bring economic benefits to an impoverished region. Is a Las Vegas-style resort city really what the kingdom needs in terms of development? Audacious will say some observers, irrelevant will say some others. In a country where the average GDP per capita stood at US$800 in 2009, Angkor Hills City is likely to draw a visible border between the rags and the riches.

A megalomania project planned near Angkor Wat
Okna Soth Sambath in front of his planned Angkor Hills City / Photo by Luc Citrinot

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