Sen Monorom’s Building Boom a Boon for Some

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.”

 

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