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Photography & Streets of Phnom Penh: Under the Monivong Bridge in Chbar Ampov (2)

The area beyond Monivong Bridge (1), in the district of Chbar Ampov, is undergoing rapid property development, with its good points, its not-so-good points and its paradoxes. Here's a look at a community five years after our first visit.

Under the Monivong Bridge in Chbar Ampov
Under the Monivong Bridge in Chbar Ampov

Boreys, malls, shopping arcades and residential complexes are springing up just a few kilometres from the bridge over the Bassac. A veritable new city is being created, quieter and greener, with Cambodians delighted to escape the hustle and bustle of the capital. Some are happy, others a little less so.

Contrast

Just before the entrance to the village of Ou Thum, below the Monivong bridge, we spot two elderly beggars sitting on the ground just a few metres from the road, which has become very congested during rush hour. They are there every morning, perhaps waiting for the generosity of the many motorists who use this road to avoid the congestion on the RN1. However, with the construction of the Ke Norea bridge, the traffic has eased and it's now easier to walk around the area.

When we arrived in the village, just after the bridge, in a small dirt lane perpendicular to Rue 371, the contrast was striking: on one bank stands the ambitious "Prince Plaza" building complex and other housing developments, while on the other, many of the small houses are much more rudimentary, sometimes dilapidated. The shoreline is quite steep, overgrown with plants but also, unfortunately, with household waste.

Below us, a young mother tries to manoeuvre her boat with her toddler in her arms, while other fishermen come ashore to deliver their morning's catch. We follow a narrow dirt track that leads us to a rather motley collection of small houses and mud huts. Some are clean, others less so. Some are even decorated with greenery and bamboo.

The community is welcoming, with village children playing amongst themselves while their parents work, nap or have coffee.

Under the Monivong Bridge in Chbar Ampov

Around 200 families live in these shacks, which have poor sanitation and limited access to drinking water. There is, however, a state school nearby.

Many of the young people work in a nearby fish processing plant or in the construction sites that flourish in the surrounding area, although activity has slowed down in recent years. A number of NGOs are working in the area to prevent young people from drifting away. The best known of these is Tiny Toons, which has its headquarters close to the village.

Street vendors

Apparently, judging by the number of trolleys lined up, many of them are street vendors. Ice-cream and soft-drink vendors wander around, insect sellers and even 'wish sellers' - those who offer tourists bird releases - bustle around their carts, probably preparing to go to work on Riverside.

Under the Monivong Bridge in Chbar Ampov

Tin, wooden and concrete houses - especially in the perpendicular streets - stand side by side, with some villagers probably faring better than others. Apparently, the fishermen are the least well off, with their shacks on the banks of the river tinkered with, built from bits and pieces and looking as if they might collapse at any moment.

Organised

However, despite the obvious lack of means on the part of some of its members, the community seems organised. The water supply and irrigation system is rustic, but it's the villagers who have taken things in hand. Some of the houses have even been given a facelift and, like any small suburban neighbourhood, there are cafés, a few small street restaurants and, above all, a friendly atmosphere.

Under the Monivong Bridge in Chbar Ampov

All you need to do is...

While a visit to the districts and small streets of Phnom Penh clearly shows just how difficult waste management is, we can't help thinking that, in the end, not much would be needed for this district of small-scale fishermen and tradesmen to become a little cleaner and more welcoming for its inhabitants.

Repairing or rebuilding a few dozen houses, organising a proper waste collection system, perhaps with central bins (the lorries can't go to every part of the village) and a bit of responsibility-training on this problem would be most welcome.

Under the Monivong Bridge in Chbar Ampov

(1) The Monivong Bridge is a double concrete bridge named in honour of King Sisowath Monivong (1875-1941). It is one of only two bridges crossing the Bassac in Cambodia, along with the Ta Khmao Bridge further south, and is a strategic bridge for the city's traffic. It actually consists of two bridges, the first built in the 1960s and the second inaugurated on 27 May 2009.

To view the entire 2019 photo album, click here...

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