In Phnom Penh, Cambodia there is a place called Lakeside, many people think it’s dead, but it isn’t, it’s undead. It is a zombie. Not the good kind of zombie. Ok, there isn’t a good kind of zombies, all of them are trying to eat your brain, but that’s about all you can find in lakeside these days, zombies that want to eat your brain (the metaphorical kind).
Once upon a time lakeside was a backpacker’s utopia. Dozens of bars gazing out onto the azure waters in the heart of the city, streets teaming with tourists, bars chiming with the clinking of glasses and eyes blazing with the effects of drugs and parties. People came for days and stayed weeks, sometimes for months or even longer. Hundreds were employed, businesses expanded, and life was good.
Sounds great right? Sometimes we only remember the good and ignore the bad. Lakeside wasn’t the best place in the world. With each toilet flush the black waters trimmerd. Drugs abounded and so did snapshots of body bags. The tourists were cheap, and kept prices low, owners never grew rich, and prostitutes worked for pocket change.
Some people loved lakeside, some people hated lakeside. Neither matter, neither change the fact that what happened was unacceptable. The government leased out the lake and the new owner filled in the lake, with river sand (which causes landslides upstream) and demolished hundreds of homes with little or no compensation to the families that had lived around the lake for generations. When people protested the government crushed them, arrested them, beat them, brutalized them, and murdered them.
Today lakeside isn’t dead. The few who came and stayed and stayed and stayed are still there. Heroin addicts and pot heads, alcoholics and meth fans, small business owners and tired prostitutes, all some of the sweetest people you will ever meet. Some business have clung on, surviving off old editions of travel guides which tell people to go to lakeside for a great time. The utopia or dystopia that lakeside once was, is no more, now it is just a skeleton of its old self, dilapidated ruins, crushed dreams and an empty desert.