Silk Island Development Strains Roads, Locals Say

3 min read
A truck used to haul sand and gravel pulls into a village on Koh Dach on Friday, April 22, 2022. (Andrew Haffner/VOD)

Increasing development on Koh Dach, known in English as Silk Island, is breaking down the island community’s older roads with no clear plans yet to rebuild, residents say.

The island, located about 15 kilometers north of Phnom Penh in the Mekong River, is part of the capital’s Chroy Changva district and may currently be reached only by ferry, though speculation of a new bridge to the mainland began to buzz in 2017. Just five years later, parts of the island are rumbling with trucks hauling sand and building materials for new development, including large new homes locals believe are built for wealthy urbanites seeking a more tranquil setting.

Some residents of the island told VOD last week they aren’t opposed to construction projects on the island but want to see their main roads repaired.

Choung Vannak, a former roads worker himself who now lives in the island’s Lvea village, said the stretch of road outside his house began taking heavy damage about three years ago. Vannak said that was mostly due to traffic from heavy trucks carrying sand or cement. 

Parts of the main road circling the island were hand-built using bamboo frames under concrete, Vannak said, making it less durable to the wear and tear of heavy use. Besides vehicles used for construction, he added, traffic from other cars and trucks have also worn down the roadway.

“Some people complain it comes from sand trucks, but we always used to charge them [to use the roads],” Vannak said. “We should suggest that the company or drivers restore this road. I’d support that.”

Koh Dach is classified as a single commune and is home to about 31,000 people living across five different villages. The island is still home to traditional silk weavers, whose clattering looms drive the cottage industry for which the area is known. Aside from the weavers, Koh Dach is also home to small farms and orchards — some of which since 2017 have been listed for sale at rates exceeding $100 per square meter of land.

Parts of the main road that circles the island are in much better condition than others, but rough, broken patches were common as reporters toured the island last week. Though there was no sign of any significant road repairs yet, reporters observed several construction sites and cleared lots filled with sand, both along the outer roadway and in the island’s interior.

Though some villagers didn’t have specific information about the development happening around them, they felt major changes were on the way for the island.

Bo Lidet, a co-owner of the Koh Dach guesthouse Villa Kroma, expected her neighborhood to be further developed in the near future, explaining that villagers had heard powerful people were eyeing land on the island.

“There hasn’t been anything built yet, but they’re preparing,” Lidet said, speculating on the coming development. “Some tycoons are coming to buy and have plans to build bright, so some of them are hurrying to buy land and fill it to build some resorts or boreys.”

Koh Dach commune chief Bat Ael told VOD the island is changing but that the roads will be maintained to keep up with new development. He didn’t provide specific details about the timeline for maintenance but said he’s looking for private donors on the island to help pay for gravel to make spot repairs along the roads. Ael said he also donated some of his own money to fix the roadways.

“When it breaks we repair it step by step,” he said of the main road along the edge of the island.

Though the commune chief spoke of private funding for routine maintenance, he expected the city government to help pay for the roads in the future. Ael said municipal governor Khuong Sreng has already provided some of his own personal money to help make repairs.

“The governor of Phnom Phen sees [the problem] with his own eyes will help to develop Koh Dach to make this area like other communes in the suburbs,” he said.

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