After enjoying a prosperous year that has seen the capital’s skyline change dramatically, a string of international brands introduced, new venues spring up and a continued boost to the economy, Marissa Carruthers takes a look at what route the country is expected to take in 2015 and beyond.
Watch this space, is the recurring phrase when talking about the Kingdom’s development over the next 12 months and into the future. And it looks as if 2015 is going to bring with it a swathe of changes across the board.
The sound of construction echoes throughout the capital and a simple glance across the horizon reveals seemingly endless half-built developments wrapped in green netting jutting into the sky. Bubbling away at ground level sits a society on the brink of change, with new ventures opening – and closing – at a rapid rate, a new generation of young Cambodians poised to push the country in a new direction and an ever-booming entertainments scene.
With more international brands gearing up to make waves on the Cambodian market, stacks of developments about to change the landscape of the capital, and the seeds set to be planted this year to pave the way for new opportunities, AsiaLIFE takes a look at what the future holds.
“Cambodia, especially Phnom Penh, is developing at an astonishing rate and this will only continue into the future,” predicts David Murphy, managing director of Independent Property Service (IPS).
If 2014 was the year of the high-rise condo, then 2015 looks set to be the year of small-scale, boutique living, sparking a semi-gold rush as foreigners flock to snap up these stylish, new offerings.
This year, IPS estimates about 40 new strata title properties, where foreigners can legally buy above ground floor, will enter the market. Sitting on a much smaller scale than the luxury living offered by the likes of De Castle Royal’s 32-storey condo block – the country’s first, which opened in July – and the 44-storey twin tower The Bridge, due to open in 2018, these projects will see intimate developments of as few as eight apartment blocks spring up throughout Phnom Penh.
“Cambodia, especially Phnom Penh, is developing at an astonishing rate and this will only continue into the future”
These apartments will mainly be located to the south, around the burgeoning Russian Market area, and other outlying areas as the capital’s parameters continue to spread. “This is going to be interesting to watch,” Murphy says. “It gives foreign investors much more option to legally buy and invest in a variety of different properties.”
The capital’s two-kilometre long Diamond Island, or Koh Pich, is one area that looks set to transform in 2015 as development continues to pick up pace. Among the many developments underway, the towering Tokyo Inn, a joint venture between the Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation and the Japanese business hotel chain, is expected to open in May, offering more than 300 rooms spread across 23 floors. A series of other restaurants, houses and business ventures are also set to launch this year.
“Diamond Island is progressing at an amazing rate and the ability to build there quickly is astonishing,” Murphy says. “It seems to be continuing towards being a retail and entertainment hub. In 2015, it will be a living hub as well. Continue to watch this space.”
Another spot to watch is the Chroy Changva peninsula. Sitting on the other side of the Tonle Sap River from the capital’s riverside, activity in the area is expected to boom in 2015, thanks to the recent soft opening of Sokha Hotel and Residence.
Expected to be fully operational at the beginning of this year, the 10-storey hotel, which has dominated the peninsula’s tip since construction started in May 2007, boasts more than 400 rooms, luxury apartments, spas and other facilities.
The stretch of riverside that runs from Sokha to the Japanese-Cambodia Friendship Bridge has also been revamped and boasts paved sidewalks, colonial street lamps, and neat rows of frangipani and umbrella trees.
“There will be a lot of change over there with some big developments planned,” says CBRE senior manager Simon Griffiths, citing seven to eight mooted satellite cities that will transform the area. Plans to introduce a water taxi or boat service to connect the two sides of the river are currently being considered.
In April, GT Tower will open its doors, providing the capital with high-speck office space and plenty of parking. As the latest in a wave of contemporary designed, eco-friendly buildings that are transforming the capital, the modern, 15-storey tower is expected to house the increasing number of international businesses that are setting up shop in the Kingdom as well as the country’s budding entrepreneur scene.
The opening of Aeon Mall in June paved the way for a whole host of retail opportunities across the capital. The Japanese company has already unveiled potential plans to create a second mall in the country and Murphy says IPS is currently in talks with a number of undisclosed retail groups about opportunities in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
“They are looking to bring in shopping centre experiences after the relative success of Aeon Mall,” he adds. “This has provided confidence in that market sector.”
Construction of the five-storey Parkson City Centre Mall on Russian Boulevard is well underway with completion scheduled for the end of 2015 to the start of 2016. Aimed at the upper mid-market, the mall is expected to attract another swathe of previously unseen international brands to the country. “We’ve already had a lot of interest from retailers,” Griffiths says.
The same stretch of Russian Boulevard, leading from the Airport to the city centre, will see continued development throughout 2015, with IPS predicting a “real retail push” during the next 12 months.
“To survive here now, you have to create something unique that really stands out”
And in terms of small boutiques and other retail stores, the huge turnover witnessed in 2014 is expected to carry on throughout this year as competition steps up a gear and demand for higher quality goods grows. “You will see a continued turnover in the retail sector with business operations opening then quickly disappearing,” Murphy says. “This is due to a lack of adequate planning and product placement.”
Griffiths adds, “For retail to be successful you need to create a certain gravity. You need to create a destination that people want to go to. This is what Aeon Mall has done well. You can go shopping, then bowling or to the cinema and then get something to eat.”
Dressed in black silk gowns with deep purple sashes, the three young Cambodians grin with glee. Minutes earlier, a parade of the fashion students’ designs had glided down the catwalk, showcasing their edgy pieces, which ranged from simple but stunning monochrome dresses to smart white trouser suits and extravagant pink ball gowns.
This is the raft of young Cambodians that will be pushing the fashion scene in the future, having recently graduated from a diploma in fashion design at Raffles International College. “The fashion scene here is still very much over-looked,” says 19-year-old graduate Kimsour Srun. “There still isn’t that tendency to find clothes that reflect personality here or for Cambodians to discover their individual style.”
However, this is something the former students hope to change by offering the country new and fresh fashions, as well as helping the country to shape its own individual style. After graduating in December, the students hope to go onto opening their own boutiques, designing, creating and selling creative clothing.
“K-pop is still a big influence here,” fellow student Nanita Soth, 26, says. “But as the country continues to develop its own individuality, this will change. You can see younger Cambodians are starting to think about developing their own style and about wearing clothes that represent how they feel and expresses themselves.”
In their bid to inject individual style into Cambodia, the designers are lobbying for the introduction of a fashion district in the capital and aim to raise industry awareness within a wider society. “A lot of people think of us as tailors rather than designers and that needs to change,” adds Kim Monyroth, 19.
A growing interest in fashion and style from the younger generation of Cambodians will pick up pace through 2015, according to Sapor Rendall, owner of Sapors Modeling Agency. “People are starting to think more about their appearance and developing their style but this is still in the early stages,” she says. “I think this will develop over the next 12 months as an increasing number start to care about how they look and what they wear.”
And with more international brands and a new wave of innovative fashion design students standing on the stage, the country’s fashion future is looking bright. “Society here is certainly not going to go back to the old days and is down to the younger generations to go out there and show the world how this country is moving on,” Rendall says.
Once a forgotten back alley, Bassac Lane, off Street 308, is a hive of activity after dark. Men and women of all ages and nationalities stand in the small paved quarter clutching glasses of wine, cocktails and beers.
The lane has been given a new lease of life thanks to the opening of a clutch of bars, each carrying their own unique character, by brothers William and George Norbet-Munns. “We felt there was a hole in the market for smaller bars and restaurants with a focus on fewer, quality offerings, beautiful venues and consistency of service and product,” George says.
And in the midst of a city where bars, restaurants and clubs are opening and closing almost weekly, their formula, which has seen them open Bar.sito, Public House, Seibur, Meat & Drink, Cicada, The Library and, most recently, Hangar44, seems to be a success that the brothers plan on continuing, with several more bars and eateries in the pipeline this year.
“During the last few years, Phnom Penh has seen diversification from the usual bar selling 50 cent beers and restaurants with a million-piece menu,” he adds. “Like anywhere, the industry will continue to change and develop with world and domestic trends. We saw in 2013 a huge change in consumption of spirits from vodka to gin and last year we saw a lot of casual dining.”
The concept of creating a different drinking and dining experience is something the capital can expect to cash in on at an increasing rate throughout 2015. “There’s going to be a lot of competition this year,” says Nevit Tep, aka DJ Illest, who recently opened Phnom Penh nightclub Epic with his partners. Aimed at the Asian VIP market, the spacious luxury club boasts a selection of exclusive VIP rooms with karaoke, valet parking and glamorous décor.
“As Cambodia’s economy continues to rise overall, there is an increasing demand for venues such as Epic,” says Tep, who is also part of the driving force behind Pontoon nightclub which will open up a third room early this year. He adds that he expects competition to step up a gear during the next 12 months. “To survive here now, you have to create something unique that really stands out.”
With that in mind, 2015 looks set to bring with it exciting new ventures, such as MARA, a restaurant and bar due to open later this month on Street 214, offering skillfully crafted cocktails, Asian Fusion dishes, DJs and special events, so watch this space.