The government’s decision to designate Chbar Ampov district’s Koh Norea peninsular for development is paying dividends for local residents, who no longer worry about long commutes, or riverbanks collapsing into the river and flooding during the rainy season.

Sok Puth, a 63-year-old resident of Koh Norea village who has lived there for more than 30 years, said that in the past, most of his fellow villagers were small-scale farmers who eked out their livings growing vegetables.

They were forced to deal with sudden changes to the landscape, with each year seeing more and more landslides and riverbanks falling away into the rushing waters of the Mekong River.

Only in recent years, after the development of the area into one of Phnom Penh’s satellite cities, with a large amount of concrete construction, has the war against the encroaching waters been won.

“Thanks to investment from a large-scale private company, the riverbanks no longer collapse like before. The villager’s dreams of Koh Norea being developed finally came true,” said Puth.

He said he was pleased that the government has built a bridge from Koh Norea to Koh Pich, because for more than 20 years, he and the other villagers had longed to be more connected to Phnom Penh.

“It has greatly helped to ease the traffic jams,” Puth said.

“Before the bridge was built, if people living to the east of Phnom Penh wanted to visit the city centre, we had to cross the Monivong Bridge. It was heavily congested every day,” he added.

Hul Tep, deputy chief of Koh Norea village, told The Post that more than 600 families currently live in the village. He explained that in the past, most of the villagers farmed and sold their crops at the Chbar Ampov market or in the market in Phnom Penh, but had to deal with long tailbacks on the Chbar Ampov Bridge.

He said the newly opened bridge has made the commute a simple one, and he counted it as one of the greatest developments for the residents of the eastern part of the Mekong River.

“Before the development, my villagers were very worried. People are no longer concerned about landslides or floods because an investment company has built concrete banks,” he said.

In addition, the village roads are now concrete, where once they were simple dirt paths.

He noted that since the development began, local residents had been offered good prices for their land, with most of them agreeing to sell. With less land to farm, most of them have switched their occupations. 

Reclaimed from the waters

Prime Minister Hun Manet officially opened the bridge on November 15.

“The achievements of Koh Norea Twin Dragon Bridge and the Koh Norea Bridge will be important catalysts for regional economic growth and infrastructure development in Phnom Penh towards the east along National Road 1,” he told the assembled dignitaries.

He explained that the two bridges will be important catalysts for boosting local economic growth by reducing travel time and easing the transportation of goods to markets, as well as attracting investment that will contribute to economic development.

“This cable-stayed concrete bridge will provide a permanent connection between parts of Phnom Penh with the greatest potential for development –Koh Pich and Koh Norea. This is an important step in the development of Phnom Penh’s infrastructure to the east,” he said.

Manet also spoke about the history of Koh Norea, noting that a French map from 1929 showed that the area was once much larger. Over the years, Koh Norea has gradually shrunk due to the flowing water currents. Each rainy season, more and more of the riverbanks slid into the river.

“The land we are now standing on was reclaimed from the river. 18 years ago, this would have been water. The first construction that took place here was to save what remained, and then to restore what was lost,” he said.

“The experiences on Koh Pich and here (Koh Norea) will be similar. We will transform it into a dedicated economic zone. We plan to establish and support many new businesses that will offer plenty of employment. In addition, we will build public parks for the people to enjoy. We have retrieved the land from the river, a sure sign of progress,” he added.

The prime minister said there are currently eight bridges spanning the river’s around Phnom Penh, but said three more are planned. 

“One will connect Arey Ksat town to the night market. The Prek Pra Bridge is scheduled to break ground this later this year, and another is planned for Chak Angre Leu. We hope that once these bridges are connected, it will boost the local economy to the east of the capital,” he added.

According to Phnom Penh Governor Khuong Sreng, the Koh Norea Twin Dragon Bridge, a concrete bridge connecting National Road 1 to the Koh Norea Development Zone in Chbar Ampov district, took more than 25 months to build at a cost of more than $1.6 million, which was provided by the Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation (OCIC).

The Koh Norea bridge is a cable-stayed concrete bridge that connects the Koh Norea development area to the Koh Pich satellite city. It was built at a cost of $38 million.