Welcome to the Future of Sihanoukville

Photo published in Travelfish

Update: Wednesday, 9 July 2014

On Sunday, July 6, Joe and I took a ride around Sihanoukville. When we got to Otres, Joe suggested we drive out on the new road. “I’m not sure the car will make it,” I said. “They’ve finished the road!” Joe replied. That sealed the decision. I was starving and it would take twice as long to get to the place we had chosen for lunch, but I wanted to see the road.

Sure enough, it was smooth and paved. Obviously, paving the new road to Otres was a top priority project. Why, I don’t know, but I’m sure it has something to do with development plans at Otres beach and the Otres area in general.

 

Original article begins:

I took the photograph at left in January 2013. It appeared in a Travelfish article I wrote, Rural Sihanoukville by Motorbike. After a marathon 10 days of working 12-15 hours a day, I decided to take a day off today. After spending some time relaxing at Sunset Lounge, I decided I really didn’t want to spend the rest of the day at the beach or any place else I go to regularly. Ideally, I wanted to go somewhere rural, far away from the tourists and traffic in Sihanoukville, but I didn’t have time. Remembering the lovely afternoon I’d spent in rural Sihanoukville the previous year, I decided to take a ride out there.

I took the photo below at the spot where I had taken the photo above 13 months previously. Looking into the distance, I noticed the entire road had been widened considerably. Obviously, work on the new road to Otres, the one that links directly from Route 4, was being undertaken in earnest. I knew it was on the Sihanoukville Master Plan, but thought it would be awhile before they got around to building it. Looks like I was wrong.

road works in sihanoukville cambodia

I continued up the road, past where I’d turned off the year before. I hadn’t been up here for about 5 years, mainly because it had been so rough before. Well, it’s not rough now. It is sandy in places, but it’s twice as wide and there are piles of crushed rock on the side of the road. I had to stop for trucks to pass twice and wait for their dust to clear.

When I got to the top of the hill, I saw the beginnings of what will probably end up being a lookout or, maybe, a restaurant:

lookout at sihanoukville, cambodiaI took a walk out on to it and the views were spectacular. This isn’t a very good photograph, but it gives you the idea:

overlooking sihanoukville, cambodiaI just spent the past week writing Australian suburb profiles for a real estate site. Part of the assignment was to write brief histories of the suburbs I wrote about. Several of them were in the Western suburbs of Sydney. Most of them were farmland until the 1950s. Then they started to grow, much like downtown Sihanoukville and surrounds have grown since I arrived here. Then, in the sixties, they experienced population explosions. Hills and plains that once looked similar to the photo above turned into vast suburbs within 10 years.

I couldn’t help but reflect on those articles as I gazed into the distance. If Sihanoukville grows as planned, that semi-flat area down below will be housing estates. Up on the hill will be where the more exclusive residences will be built. Does that sound like a fairy tale? Well, the plan is for Sihanoukville to become the second largest city in Cambodia after Phnom Penh.

Most tourists only see a tiny portion of Sihanoukville. They don’t know about the Special Economic Zones and don’t notice all the commercial banks that have appeared in downtown Sihanoukville. Tourism, though, is just one aspect of the city’s planned development and Western tourism is only a small fraction of the tourism envisioned for Sihanoukville.

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I don’t exactly want to see housing developments down there. In fact, I categorically do not want to see them. Sihanoukville is just about the right size for me, but I’m not the one making the decisions. I’m just an observer, like I was when I was writing about all those suburbs that sprang out of nowhere in Australia.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the CNRP will get its wish and Cambodia will be torn apart by civil strife and take a step backwards to the post-Khmer Rouge era. Maybe the United States will decide to start WWIII and we’ll all die. Maybe there will be a world-wide economic collapse. Anything’s possible, but if things continue on their present course, the next photograph I take of this view will probably look much different.

feb-28-14-04This little Khmer restaurant is just up the road from the new structure and is somehow connected to it. I stopped in for a water and called Sophie to ask her to talk to the woman who was in charge. Yes, she said, they are building the road — paving and all.

After paying for my water, I continued up the road. Within a couple of hundred metres or less, I was out on the highway, about 10 kilometres outside Sihanoukville. About 10 or 20 metres was about all that hadn’t been widened. From the highway, it still looked like a little dirt side road. One of these days, it’s going to be the main road into the new Sihanoukville — if all goes according to plan, that is.

 

About Rob Schneider

Rob Schneider is a writer based in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, where he has lived since 2006.
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2 Responses to Welcome to the Future of Sihanoukville

  1. Francis says:

    Fairy tale?
    I hope this “bad development” will stop soon…

    • I think I made my feelings clear elsewhere in the article. It’s not a fairytale to me, but it is to many Cambodians. Development is not going to stop unless something makes it stop. Cambodia is as caught up in the capitalist ideology as any other country.

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