PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- The majestic-looking NagaWorld integrated entertainment and hotel complex could not have had a more vantage location.

Overlooking the picturesque silty basin where the mighty Mekong river crosses the Tonle Sap river, here, NagaWorld is a godsend to the locals who are struggling to free themselves from the clutches of poverty.

Owned by Malaysian tycoon Dr Chen Lip Keong, the complex � consisting of NagaWorld 1 and NagaWorld 2 � has some 7,000 employees on the payroll, 90 per cent of whom are Cambodians.

Among them is health spa worker Maia, who did not disclose her full name. She and her fellow workers, who work in various parts of the complex, mostly hail from impoverished backgrounds but they have been getting a decent income after finding employment at NagaWorld.

They earn about USD250 (RM1,022) a month and with tips thrown in, they can take home up to USD400 (RM1,636).

The NagaWorld complex, the largest of its kind in Cambodia, houses luxury hotels, a luxury spa, shopping gallery, food and beverage outlets, premium meeting and convention spaces with state-of-the-art facilities, as well as an eight-storey entertainment wing showcasing karaoke lounges, gaming halls and modern gaming machines.

It is owned and operated by Hong Kong Stock Exchange-listed NagaCorp Ltd, founded by Chen.

Chen, who is from Ipoh, Perak state, has been investing in Cambodia since the early 1990s when he started developing the first phase of the NagaWorld complex.

This writer was in Phnom Penh last month to cover the soft opening of NagaWorld 2, a new addition to the NagaWorld complex, comprising 1,700 hotel rooms, a theatre that can accommodate 2,200 people, convention halls, casinos, restaurants and others.

The opening coincided with the three-day Water Festival, which saw thousands of Cambodians descending on the Independence Square by the riverside in the vicinity of the NagaWorld complex.

NagaWorld 2 was opened by Cambodia's Tourism Minister Dr Thong Khon and also present at the event were Malaysian ambassador to Cambodia Hasan Malek, as well as the ambassadors of nine other ASEAN member states.

NagaWorld Ltd chairman Timothy Patrick McNally said the opening of NagaWorld 2 was not only a celebration for the NagaWorld family but for all the people of Cambodia.

"Through our projects and future plans, we wish to inform the world that the Mekong river still glitters with gold," said McNally, who was former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States.

Meanwhile, Malaysian journalists covering the event managed to speak to the usually low-profile and media-shy Chen; apparently, it was the first such interview he had granted in the last 28 years.

Relating NagaCorp's success in Cambodia, he said it has contributed to the nation's economic growth and helped put it on a par with that of its neighbours, including Malaysia.

In 2016, NagaCorp contributed about three per cent to Cambodia's national gross domestic product (GDP) and about 25 per cent to the hotel and restaurant sector's GDP, he said.

"We have trained over 20,000 local school-leavers in the hospitality industry at our Naga Academy so that they can find employment at our hotels," said Chen, who is also an advisor to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, as well as the Cambodian royal family.

He said he first ventured into Cambodia in the early 1990s as part of an ASEAN Prosperity programme that saw businessmen from Malaysia and Singapore bringing their investments to Cambodia to help spur the nation's development.

"I've not looked back since then. I started with NagaWorld 1 and now there is NagaWorld 2," said Chen, who also owns the Nexus Resort Karambunai at Teluk Sepanggar in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

To date, his company has invested a total of RM6.35 billion on the NagaWorld complex.

NagaCorp's success in Cambodia did not only bring glory to Malaysia but was also in line with the latter's "Prosper Thy Neighbour" policy, he added.

On NagaCorp's future undertakings in Cambodia, Chen said they were looking at the possibility of developing NagaWorld 3, following the wave of tourists from China, before spreading their wings to other potential markets worldwide.

His group also planned to penetrate Russia, Macau, Mongolia and China where Chen was certain he could successfully apply the same business model he did in Cambodia.

He said China, in particular, has good prospects and there was no restriction on the repatriation of profits.

"My vision for Naga is for it to expand to China and also north Mongolia," he said.

Chen also said that NagaCorp may also implement a project in Australia along the lines of their Cambodian venture.

"I told the Australian government that we don't build monuments but jobs and they like the approach we take," he said.

Hasan, who is former Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister, said Cambodia was among the countries whose economies Malaysia has helped to develop.

"Cambodia was reeling from the after-effects of the Pol Pot regime and Malaysian businessmen were encouraged to exploit the opportunities available there to help spur their economic growth," he said.

(Pol Pot was a notorious leader whose communist Khmer Rouge government led Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, during which an estimated 1.5 to two million Cambodians died of starvation, execution, disease or overwork).

Hasan said about 95 per cent of the Malaysians who invested in various sectors in Cambodia, including construction, banking, agriculture, communications, tourism and services, were reportedly successful.

"We've so many success stories in Cambodia and the success of our businessmen has helped to strengthen ties between Cambodia and Malaysia," said Hasan, who was appointed the ambassador to Cambodia in March 2016.

He said other Malaysian companies that have successful operations in Cambodia were Public Bank, CIMB Bank Bhd, Axiata Group, Malayan Banking Bhd, Sunway Group and Mutiara Technology Resources Sdn Bhd.