$40,000 ‘throne’ built for Thai royal Cambodia visit

Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand. Source: Wikimedia

A toilet estimated to have cost as much as US$40,000 has been built for the personal use of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand for a single night when she visits impoverished Cambodia, Phnom Penh announced.

The freestanding outhouse measuring 8 square metres is fully air-conditioned, took two weeks to build and cost around 66 times the average annual Cambodian salary. A specially imported commode was still due to arrive when the announcement was made. Thai building firm SCG Cement-Building Materials handled the duties, bringing in contractors and special Thai materials.

Once the princess leaves Ratanakiri, her special toilet will be removed and the building converted into a government office. A SCG manager, called Mr Pursat, said: “Normal people can’t use a [royal] toilet.”

The toilet is near Yeak Lom lake in Ratanakiri province, where the princess will begin her three-day visit to Cambodia this week. The royal itinerary includes opening a health centre, starting work on the site of a technology institute and a meal with King Norodom Sihamoni.

Ven Churk, head of the Yeak Lom lake committee, who is helping to plan the visit, reportedly told the Cambodia Daily that SCG staff had said the bathroom cost “more than US$40,000 to construct”. It was not mentioned who would be paying.

Tin Luong, the chief of Yeak Lom commune, said the outhouse was impressive. “I would estimate that they spent about US$20,000 to US$30,000 for the bathroom’s construction because all of the materials are very modern,” he said.

A large proportion of Cambodians struggle to access a toilet. About 33 per cent of schools had no toilets, according to the Ministry of Education. NGOs put the figure as high as 80 per cent in rural areas like Ratanakiri.

Last year, about 47 per cent of the population had access to a toilet, an increase from 30 per cent in 2011, according to AsiaLife magazine.

Channy Or, the director of the Cambodian Rural Development Team, said the outhouse cost about 130 times more than a public toilet and the Thais could have spent “US$1,000 or US$2,000 on a good bathroom and then give the rest to the communities and villages”.

“The royals are totally out of touch with the world of ordinary Thais and Cambodians,” said Andrew MacGregor Marshall, author of A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand’s Struggle for Democracy in the 21st Century.

Cambodia’s education minister, Hang Chuon Naron, said the princess would visit schools during her visit and was due to fund 200 Khmer scholarships. “The visit of Princess Sirindhorn shows the good bilateral relationship between Cambodia and Thailand, especially in the field of education,” Naron was quoted saying by the Phnom Penh Post.