With torn-up cobblestones and mounds of earth, the gardens surrounding Wat Phnom have resembled an unruly construction site for the past few weeks. But by the end of the year, Phnom Penh’s iconic park and hilltop pagoda will have received a major facelift, according to City Hall.
“The chains are being replaced by an iron fence, the laterite will be replaced by marble and the garden will get new grass,” municipal spokesman Long Dimanche said Monday.
“We put in the fence because it makes it easier to control, because you know that gangsters, drug users and prostitutes make the park an unsafe place,” he said, adding that new lighting would also be installed.
The fencing will also allow authorities to control access to the park by foreign visitors, who will have to pay to enter, Mr. Dimanche said
At present, park supervisors manning a booth on the eastern edge of Wat Phnom demand an entry fee only from tourists who happen to walk past them. But once renovations are complete, the spokesman said, all foreigners would be required to pay to enter the grounds
Mr. Dimanche said this fee had not yet been decided upon and that he could not estimate the total cost of the upgrades
Wat Phnom’s park has long been a popular leisure spot for locals, who gather there to stroll, meet friends, and pray at the pagoda and an adjacent Chinese temple. At night, however, the park can be dangerous, serving as a meeting place for prostitutes, drug dealers and their customers.
While several moto-taxi drivers who operate near Wat Phnom on Monday said they feared the fence was likely to deter visitors, Prak Sokheng, a staff member at local NGO M.Style, which offers sexual-health education to prostitutes, applauded City Hall’s efforts to make the capital safer.
“A lot of bad things happen here, such as robberies, selling drugs, using drugs, prostitution and fighting,” he said.