Long Gone Lake: Phnom Penh, Progress and the Death of an Icon

The traveler has experience of the strange and wonderful. They remember their journey to the Ijen Crater in Java – ‘Please close your windows,’ someone said, ‘and be careful of jaguars, snakes and paranormal activity…’ – and consider the spirits they’ve encountered.

They’ve witnessed inexplicable things, the traveler, but never before have they seen an entire ghost pool. Not until they arrived in Phnom Penh and witnessed Lakeside.

Lakeside, Phnom Penh

Whispers had been growing in the city for some time. Boeung Kak, the bottomless blue pit near the heart of Phnom Penh, was facing extinction. The lake was to be filled in. The lake would be at an end. Stories and symbiotic links with generations untold faced a sudden and terrible demise.

‘Not so,’ the populace said, more in hope than defiance. ‘This is an intrinsic link to ourselves.’

Such pleas are squandered on the foul ghoul of change. Belly rumbling with cavernous, monstrous glee, the beast waves its degenerate hand dismissively. The lake, and the countless memories attached to it, is no more. In its stead, a desolate plateau; an icon vanquished with nary a whisper. 

Welcome to the Fall

Standing there in the aftermath, the sky throbbing as bountiful colour gives way to doleful dark, the traveler stares over the now-concrete flatland. Endless chatter, remnants of countless aeons, washes over them, names and faces of passing souls searing their mind with infinite rapidity. In the distance the traveler spies the silhouette of a fishing vessel, locked in an eternal loop; the shadows of its crew seem panicked and lost, their angular body language jarring with the peacefully darkening night. Faded sounds of celebration wash over the lake, serenading it with plaintive, mournful tones. The traveler turns away. This doomed and unending narrative is too much to bear. 

Such is the price of progress in Phnom Penh. 

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