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At 617ft, Cambodia’s first true skyscraper dominates Phnom Penh’s skyline. Its gleaming veneer can be seen from almost anywhere in the city, looming over the neglected colonial-era railway station, the Chinese-style shophouses and the snack shops.
After years of construction, the $170m (£110m) Vattanac Capital tower finally opened its doors last year. It is designed to look like the arched back of a dragon. “According to mythology, dragon kings live in crystal palaces,” said Stefan Krummeck, director of TFP Farrells architects, who designed it. “The sum of this marriage between modern architecture and traditional references, with deference to the local environment, is a dynamic building which literally appears poised to leap into a new era of prosperity.”
It may be “poised” for some time. It’s almost empty.
Phnom Penh is still a dusty, rambunctious place filled with ramshackle markets and sizzling roadside barbecues. But all that fades to an eerie hush when you step through the doors of its skyscraper. On a recent Saturday morning, the place was deadly quiet. Orchestral music seeped through loudspeakers. Sales assistants pottered about in high-end stores such as Longchamp, Clarins and Hugo Boss. Cleaning staff mopped spotless floors. A maître d’ in black tie waited at a cafe where a box of tea was on sale for $50. In another shop, baby clothes retail for more than $100. The basic wage of an worker in the garment industry, the city’s largest, is $128 a month. […]