Blast from Sihanoukville’s Past: RIP Phsah Leu

Wow! Here’s a blast from the past. Long before I started my Sihanoukville Journal, I gave blogging a stab on a dotWordPress site. I only made a couple of entries and soon forgot all about it. This blog about the fire that destroyed Phsar Leu was originally published on January 3, 2008. I may never have rediscovered these blogs if not for a happy accident this morning. After you’ve read this, please read the follow-up blog that shows how quickly the people of Sihanoukville responded to and recovered from this tragedy.

psar leu fire 2008, sihanoukville cambodia

Last night we were awakened by Papa at 2am. “Phsah Leu mien pleung!” he told me in simple Cambodian I could understand: the local market was burning! We could see the orange glow easily from our new balcony at the back of the house. It was a sickening sight even for me, whose connection with it is more tenuous than it is for others. Everyone does their shopping at Phsar Leu. Its 1800 stalls have sold everything from meat, fish and produce to dry goods, clothing and jewellery for decades. Now it’s gone.

psar leu fire 2008, sihanoukville cambodia

As we watched the glow Sopheak called a couple of her friends who have stalls there. One, a vegetable dealer, just burst into tears and couldn’t speak. Another, the proprietor of a jewellery stall, managed a few distraught sentences before she too became overcome with tears. Later we heard that another acquaintance walked to work as usual this morning and simply fainted when she saw the devastation.psar leu fire 2008, sihanoukville cambodia

Of course it was arson. The New Market is set to open in 2008 but has had trouble attracting stallholders. I’m not saying the owners are responsible for the fire. There are many other interested parties as well. They (whoever ‘they’ are) want to make the Phsah Leu site into the new bus station, while another ‘they’ want to build a multi-storey market shopping centre where the bus station currently stands. Any, all or none of them could be responsible. It’s pointless to speculate. I do know that the price of a stall in the New Market was $4000 a week ago. Today they’re asking $5500. I know this because we’ve been thinking about buying one. We’re not thinking about it any more.

psar leu fire 2008, sihanoukville cambodia

Update 30 May 2013 – Psar Leu was rebuilt, the bus station was knocked down and replaced by shops and apartments and a new permanent bus station is yet to be completed. I’m not sure I was correct in my assumption that it was arson. The new market never really took off after Psar Leu was rebuilt and that led to speculation that Psar Leu was burned down just so they could rebuild it and not have a competitor. I was more of a sucker for rumours back then than I am now.

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About Rob Schneider

Rob Schneider is a writer based in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, where he has lived since 2006.

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