Lakeside. Up until a few years ago, it was a name synonymous amongst the backpacking community with one locale: Beoung Kak Lake in Phnon Penh. A budget haven for visitors to Cambodia to put their feet up and enjoy some fine local delicacies, illicit or otherwise. With its large, open water setting and low-key attitude, here was one of the region’s most iconic locations.
The premise was a simple one. A vast expanse of water in Cambodia’s capital surrounded by bars, guest houses and emporia of the more nocturnal variety. Cheap booze, cheap bars, cheap grass, cheap thrills. Given the relative paucity of sightseeing in Phnom Penh (Editor: I disagree, see below.) there was often only one real option. Sit down and soak up the sights, sounds and smells of a thriving nightlife and tourist destination.
With psychedelic bars called The Magic Sponge and armies of tuk tuks, touts and pimps patrolling the streets, the area would throb along in a friendly, semi-feral fashion. It stood slightly skewiff to the side of reality.
Alas, with the onslaught of development in Phnom Penh came unwelcome news. Lakeside had been deemed surplus to requirements and was to be filled in. Residents faced losing their homes in the name of progress. There were plans afoot for a luxury condominium complex and in 2010 the bulldozer moved in. Fast forward a few years and the area is a skeleton of its former self. A strange silence floats over a once thriving community amongst the ruins of demolished homes and vanquished businesses.
The city’s largest wetland is no more. The general hubbub of bars and restaurants on the shore, the tranquility of the water as fishermen went about their business, has been consigned to history.
(Editor: Phnom Penh is home to some some of Southeast Asia’s most enduring sites. Make sure to visit The Killing Fields for a sobering lesson on the horrors of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.)