The Hotel of Different Parties – Hotel Cambodiana Phnom Penh

  

Hotel Cambodiana Phnom Penh is located on the riverbank of the Mekong River, where the major economic activities and tourism of Phnom Penh happen. It was designed by Lu Ban Hap in collaboration with Chhim Sun Fong. The king Sihanouk was also involved in the interior design of the project. The construction began in 1963 and completed in 1970 as the country’s first modern hotel.[1]

Hotel Cambodiana Phnom Penh © Moritz Henning

The idea of the international hotel was initiated by King Sihanouk as the guest house for accommodating and entertaining his close friends and the foreign dignitaries. The King requested Lu to design a motel with ten bungalows next to the Water Sports Complex. When the project was developing, it is found the scale is economically unsustainable as a self-financed business. Therefore, a proper hotel substituted the original plan for a motel. However, it lacked the capital to continue the project, so it sought to Tourism Minister Ang Kim Khoan for national funding. For the sustainable operation, the hotel must contain a minimum of 100 rooms to be profitable.[2]

Hotel Cambodiana Phnom Penh © Moritz Henning

To finance the project, a joint venture was established from a state-owned company Sorotel to capitalize with Riel 120 million. The shares were held mainly by the National Bank of Cambodia, a banking consortium and Norodom Sihanouk.[3]

Each room had a balcony, which provided shade for the room in lower levels. A salon as the common area at the center of the hotel is provided for people to gather and dine. The ground floor is open for the river view. There was a discussion about the design between Lu and Vann for whether it should be a high-rise building or a large building mass. The latter idea by Lu was taken as the low profile with the traditional Khmer style roof was more consistent with the surrounding environment.[4]

Hotel Cambodiana Phnom Penh © Moritz Henning

For the operation of the hotel, Lu invited Air France Group for consultation and involvement in the management and visited different hotels such as Meridien, Concorde etc.

“When Sihanouk asked me to build the Hotel Cambodiana, I told him that if we want to build a hotel of this size, we have to fill it up and we need to know how it works. The customers do not come by themselves. We need someone with an international name who knows what customers want.”  – Lu Ban Hap[5]

However, the cooperation never came true. As King Sihanouk was ousted by Lon Nol, leader of the military coup, in 1970, the project halted and turned into a military camp.[6] During Khmer Rouge, it was abandoned and become home for refugees. Until the 1980s, the hotel was taken by Singaporean investors after Khmer Rouge and officially opened in 1990.[7]

The project started with a simple request of the royal family, King Sihanouk, then it grew regarding the economical consideration and other parties joined into the development, including international enterprises, government, and local banks. The coordination of different parties from different sectors to operate a hotel would be the precise experience for the new government. On the other hands, it introduced the international management style into the country. The significance of the hotel did not only lie in its very first attempt in a modern hotel but also in the multi-parties involvement for a single hotel.


[1] “Our History,” Hotel Cambodiana Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum S21 in Phnom Penh Comments, accessed December 10, 2018, http://hotelcambodiana.com.kh/about-us/.

[2] “Our History.”

[3] Stefan Willimann, “History of Hotel Cambodiana Phnom Penh,” Willimann.net, November 13, 2018, accessed December 10, 2018, https://www.willimann.net/history-of-hotel-cambodiana-phnom-penh/.

[4] “History of Hotel Cambodiana Phnom Penh.”

[5] “History of Hotel Cambodiana Phnom Penh.”

[6] Benny Widyono, Dancing in Shadows: Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge, and the United Nations in Cambodia (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008), 289.

[7] “Our History.”

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