Kep Cuts Down Beachfront Trees for SEA Games Beautification Plan

3 min read
Trees were cut from the Kep beachside walkway starting from February 2 for a “beautification” project, in a photo posted to Kep city governor Kheng Yorn’s Facebook page.
[responsivevoice_button voice="US English Female"]

Kep provincial officials cut down around 30 trees along the beachfront in the city and said this was done to beautify the area ahead of the Southeast Asia Games in May.

A video from a local news outlet Kep News from February 2 shows Kep city governor Kheng Yorn kicking off the so-called beautification project, with officials seen cutting down trees and the governor attempting to negotiate with vendors, who sell seafood on the sidewalk along the beach, to leave the area.

On Tuesday, Yorn said the tree cutting was part of plans to renovate the sidewalk along the beach, which would host the triathlon during the Southeast Asia Games. He downplayed the cutting of the trees by saying they were not valuable and hosted worms that bothered tourists.

“It has worms living in it and that would cause some problems for tourists who go and sit under these trees. Plus, it has a lot of fallen leaves, which are difficult to clean up,” he said. 

The city governor posted mockups of the planned development on his Facebook last week, with the photos showing a more sterile granite boardwalk with a large oyster-like structure housing a “I Love Kep” sign inside it. 

Mockups of the new statue saying "I Love  Kep" planned for Kep city ahead of the SEA Games, posted to Kep city governor Kheng Yorn's Facebook page in early February.
Mockups of the new statue saying “I Love Kep” planned for Kep city ahead of the SEA Games, posted to Kep city governor Kheng Yorn’s Facebook page in early February.

Yorn said on Tuesday that officials would replant trees but would use date palms instead.

Another reason for removing the trees, he said, was because they were being used for shade by vendors who would rent out mats for tourists to sit on and sell them seafood. He accused the vendors of creating “disorder” along the beach.

“As of now, they have expanded their operations and have caused many problems including public disorder along the beach and are overcharging the tourists who come to visit here,” he said.

The Kep News live video from last week elicited two distinct groups of reactions and comments. One group of social media users were irate that the city was cutting down trees, with one comment reading, “I am asking the authorities not to cut trees along the beach because there is no place for tourists to relax.”

Another commenter said, “The trees have been here for years. But why cut them down now?”

Whereas another group of commenters supported the cutting of trees because they seemed to be unhappy with the vendors. “Cut it! When we went to visit Kep once, we argued with the mat vendors under those trees. We had our own cooked food and mat but they did not allow us to relax under those trees as they claimed that they own those places,” said another commenter.

Heng Nita is one of these vendors. She has been renting mats and selling seafood for ten years and said they never had any issues with local authorities. But since the cutting of the trees last week, they have seen a dip in their business.

“There used to be many tourists who came to visit and it was easy to sell. But now, it is difficult for customers to visit here because it is hot and they do not have a place to park their cars,” she said.

She said it was possible some vendors were overcharging tourists but that it was not a common problem.

San Mala, an advocacy officer at the Cambodia Youth Network, said it was sad to see that public development projects always resulted in the cutting down of existing trees. He also questioned the switch to date palm trees.

“Cutting sea almond trees to plant date palm trees is not also a good choice. Because 2024 are not even a Cambodian indigenous tree and it does not provide as much shade as a sea almond tree,” Mala said. 

VOD. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission. VOD is not responsible for any infringement in all forms. The perpetrator may be subject to legal action under Cambodian laws and related laws.