Oh, Canadia!

August 17, 2015

When I first came to Cambodia, in about 2008, I stayed at Raffles, the city’s grandest and most venerable hotel. I had a suite on the second floor, and from my balcony I could look out across the city, and actually see most of it. I couldn’t remember coming across such a low-rise city: most of the buildings were only a few floors high at most.

There was, unusually for a capital city in the twenty-first century, only one skyscraper, the 32-storey Canadia Tower, which was right in the middle of my view. It is not a pretty building: it looks as if someone has rammed a large, square-barreled syringe into the earth.

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Over the years I’ve been here, I’ve come to rather like Canadia Tower. Although it’s an office building, it has almost no tenants. The Cambodian Stock Exchange was located on two floors for a while, and the offices were pleasantly empty, there being only one stock to trade (and practically no one ever did). Once the exchange doubled in size, to two stocks, they moved out into a converted mansion nearby, which I should imagine is still as quiet as a tomb.

But Canadia Tower was, for years, a highly useful landmark in Phnom Penh. You could tumble out of a bar and instantly orient yourself. You could tell tuk-tuk drivers that you were going somewhere near the tower. They would switch the lights on the roof off at 2230hrs, if the geezer at the switch remembered, so you could get a rough idea of the time. From the balcony of my flat, you could watch planes coming in on the Western Track to Poechentong Airport fly at precisely the same spot through the line of the building.

But, as I’ve said before, Phnom Penh is undergoing a property bubble, and high-rises are going up all over the place. Everywhere you look, pretty old houses are being ripped down and ugly multi-storey apartment blocks are going up. There was a lovely little wooden house I looked at the other day with an eye on renting: last week they tore it down and a 10-storey monstrosity is going up in its place.

And just last week, I wandered out onto my balcony to see that a new tower block was about to hide Canadia Tower from my view.

Bye-bye Canadia Tower! (Vatican Tower to the right.)

Bye-bye Canadia Tower! (Vattanac Tower to the right.)

Obviously I’m delighted that Phnom Penh is developing. But I’m still mystified by who’s going to live in all of these apartment blocks. Most Cambodians can’t afford to. People say the Chinese are buying them to rent out, but to rent out to whom? I’ve looked around a few of these developments, and they are, uniformly, grim.

Copyright: When Asia Meets Asia

Copyright: When Asia Meets Asia

Canadia Tower is no longer the tallest building in Cambodia. DeCastle Royal, Olympia Towers and Gold Tower 42 are all higher. Gold Tower 42 has stood unfinished since the last global property crisis, like an abscessed tooth in an otherwise attractive smile. The country’s tallest building, Vattanac Tower is apparently finally finished, three years behind schedule. It is mostly empty. There is apparently a Hugo Boss shop in there: I haven’t been.

Finally: I don’t usually post about Cambodian grammatical infelicities in English, but this sign made me laugh.

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2 Responses to “Oh, Canadia!”

  1. philipcoggan said

    Nice post 🙂

  2. it’s really sad to see them tearing down nice buildings and putting up skyscrapers or generic looking apartments, especially when the average khmer resident can’t afford them. ~_~ the city should work hard instead to preserve its cultural and historical identity rather than tearing it down.

    and that last under construction sign.. LOL!

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