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

The traveller 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 traveller, but never before have they seen an entire ghost pool. Not until they arrived in Phnom Penh and witnessed Lakeside.

Whispers had been growing in the city for some time. Boeung Kak, the bottomless blue pit near the heart of Phnom Penh, faced extinction. Faceless authority figures hatched plans to fill the lake with concrete. The lake would come to an end. Stories and symbiotic links with generations untold brought to a sudden and terrible demise, drowned and solidified to appease the machinations of a concrete god going by the name of progress.

Lakeside, Phnom Penh

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

Such pleas fail to register with 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

The sky pulsates softly as bountiful shades of blue give way to doleful dark, and the traveller 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.

Read more: What lurks at the snake temple of Han Chey, Cambodia?

In the distance, the traveller 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. Fading sounds of celebration wash over the lake, serenading it with plaintive, mournful tones. The traveller 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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