sen monorom district, Mondolkiri province – Sitting on a bench in the courtyard of his almost-new guesthouse, Som Dy is pleased with what his hometown is becoming and that, soon, he may be able to take advantage of development here.
Only a few years ago, Sen Monorom town was a sleepy place where few people lived and even fewer ventured to see the nearby waterfalls and the sprawling grasslands set atop tall hills. The green terrain here is what makes the province unique from the rest of the country.
Now, with the local tourism industry apparently booming and access to the remote province easier by a new road—with even more development in the works—Sen Monorom is exploding with construction.
Som Dy works at the local department of health, the same job he’s held since he moved back to the region following the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.
He saved some money and in 1989 made what he considers the best purchase of his life: $1,800 for a 45 meter by 180 meter plot of land bordering the road into town.
At the time, he didn’t know what he was going to do with the property, besides building a home and living on it with his family.
But when a new road was laid in 2002, the number of tourists and investors flocking to the area increased exponentially, he said.
“People are getting richer and want to see things like the waterfalls,” Som Dy said Sunday. “Many more people are coming here, especially during the festival days.”
A few years ago, Som Dy said, there were only four guesthouses in the town. Now there are 14 with two more under construction and two massive hotels in the works, one of them reportedly being built by a prominent businessman from Phnom Penh.
Som Dy sunk thousands of dollars into his guesthouse, which is now open for business.
He estimates that his land alone is now worth about $45,000, and says that what land is available in the town and surrounding region is being snatched up by people from Phnom Penh.
“Many people from Phnom Penh like to come here and buy the land. So the local people are increasing the price,” Som Dy said. “They want to build houses here.”
Further down the road, Kong Srey Mom and her family live in a small shack by the road, while further back, a large stilt home is occupied by the educational NGO International Cooperation for Cambodia.
Kong Srey Mom bought the 40 meter by 100 meter plot the two buildings stand on in 2000 for $1,000. She built the two homes for $7,000 and rents the stilt home to the NGO for $150 per month.
She can attest to the increased land prices: Last year she was offered $35,000 for the land and two buildings but turned it down. “Land is getting expensive,” she said Sunday. “If I sell this then I’m afraid I won’t get anymore.”
Provincial Governor Thou Son said the new road was the most obvious reason for the increase of interest in his province and said tourism development is the top priority for local officials. Hydroelectricity from a planned Japanese-built dam will also help.
But Thou Son said local people—especially ethnic minorities—are not the main benefactors from new development, which tends to favor Khmers. As a result, villagers from other provinces are coming into the province, he said.
Sam Sarin, Mondolkiri representative for human rights group Adhoc, said with land prices increasing and the majority of villagers not benefiting from the new tourism boom, there will be problems in the future as land becomes scarce.
“[The people from Phnom Penh] buy the land to keep it for the future in case it might become a developed place,” he said Monday. “The living conditions of the people are not getting better.”