Diamond Island didn’t exist 50 years ago. Today, it’s slated to be one of Cambodia’s biggest real estate projects.

Koh Pich, or “Diamond Island” in Khmer, sits at the mouth of the Tonle Bassac river in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. It didn’t exist just half a century ago; according to legend, a ship sank where the island lies now, leading silt to slowly accumulate.

But the name wasn’t grand enough for real-estate developers, who prefer to call it “Elite Town,” sending a signal about the future clients of this one-mile-long island. Not long ago, 300 families of fishermen lived here. They have all been bought out for a few hundred dollars.

“Elite town will be the most luxurious area of Phnom Penh and the only one downtown with a view of the river,” read the flyers, printed on glossy paper. The island is located in the south of the city, where the river continues its journey towards Vietnam.

1: The price for an apartment on Diamond Island ranges between US$2,500 and US$3,500 per square meter. 2: The most ambitious offices and housing buildings are already finished or under construction.
Around 200,000 people work on various construction sites in Koh Pich. Workers are usually hired by subcontractors on a day-to-day basis. Many of them are migrants from rural areas of the country and sleep either in the construction sites or in makeshift camps.

This real estate project is massive: 185 acres of land will be transformed into villas, apartments, luxury hotels, gardens, a marina, a business center, a shopping mall, a hospital, and an area called “embassy village.” Though we don’t exactly know what the latter means, it sure sounds fancy.

The city hall, hospital, theater, fire station, and golf course are already in use. As is the amusement park and its carousels, and the wedding halls, sold out on the weekends. The “love garden” and two apartment buildings should be operational soon.

The 30-story building complex (with luxury housing, offices, a shopping mall, and a 650-foot long swimming pool) is still under construction, as is the 1,820-foot-high Diamond Tower.

1: Koh Pich’s golf course is already open to the public. The complex also has a swimming pool, a fitness center, and a restaurant. 2: The “love garden” is a public square with a lawn, paved tracks, cherubs, flamingos, and other plaster curiosities. The place is popular with young lovers who meet here discreetly.
On Koh Pich, it’s possible to take a horse-drawn carrier ride in between unfinished buildings and construction sites.
In the evenings, the youth of Phnom Penh hang out in Koh Pich.