Sihanoukville Cambodia: a metropolis in the making

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“Sihanoukville Cambodia: a metropolis in the making” – that’s a pretty bold headline, but it’s not off-the-mark. I’ve even been a little bit in denial about it, but a motorbike ride from Independence Beach to Serendipity Beach made me realise that it’s happening.

beach building 1I began my ride by going up Ekareach Street, where I noticed a lot of vacant lots were being filled in. Turning left at the stoplights at the Hill, I was relieved to see the road was still as it used to be. When I got to Independence Beach, I noticed a rather modest building going up. I say “modest,” but that’s only in comparison to what I saw next. The sign, “Payton International,” was enough to convince me this was no second-rate construction and the cranes in the background told me they weren’t taking their time about building it. I found an opening in the wall and saw that construction was in full swing.

Moving on, I came to a huge construction site. This one didn’t come as quite such a surprise. They widened the road along that stretch awhile ago. The road widening happened at a record pace, so I knew they were serious about it. Sophie told me it was for a highrise condominium project, but I still couldn’t quite believe it would actually happen. In the past, these projects got off to slow starts and were sometimes put on hold indefinitely. Maybe the road was just to generate interest from investors? Anyway, this is what it looks like when you pass by on a motorbike:

beach building 2

I found an opening here, too, but there wasn’t much going on inside. It looked like they had terraced the land, but no construction had begun. A few days later, I came across an article in the Khmer Times. Condos to Rise Above Independence Beach was the title and the illustration proved they meant it literally. Yes, Sophie was right. They were to be highrise condos. The article was quite good and put to rest my doubts about the project. No, they hadn’t done the groundbreaking in hopes of attracting investors. More than “70 percent of the 275 units in the first one were snapped up in less than four months, according to executives at the local family-run company behind the project”, the article said and Sophie’s little brother, who works at the Golden Sands, confirmed it.

Artist’s rendering from Khmer Times article cited in this blog

Who’s buying the condos? It’s not Westerners. Over half are Taiwanese investors and the others are probably Chinese. As Douglas McColl pointed out in the article, the ruble and Aussie dollar have plummeted against the US dollar, putting the condos outside the market of many and making them a poor investment for those Russians and Australians who can afford them — at least for now.

Moving on, I was shocked when I saw a fence around the area I park my motorbike in on the free end of Sokha Beach. I was even more shocked to see a restaurant had been built on the other side of the road. It had been awhile since I had been there, but not that long – a few months at most. I have no idea what they’re planning for the small, formerly dirt parking area, but I never expected to see anything there. The beach is still accessible, but I’ll miss the nice guy who collected my 1000 riel (about 25 cents) and looked after the motorbikes.

By that time it was getting near sunset, so I continued up the hill and down Serendipity Road. Maybe Later was packed (in the rainy season!), so I went to the bottom of the hill and turned around. I noticed two more big hotels were in the early stages of development. It doesn’t take a long memory to remember when the road was a bumpy dirt road and the only places to stay were cheap backpacker guesthouses and small hotels.

I went over to Otres Village to have lunch with a friend today (great falafels at Hacienda, btw). There, too, development is taking place. I don’t know what’s being built, but the land next to some bungalows that were recently completed is much larger and looks like it is getting ready for some serious building.

So when I write, “Sihanoukville Cambodia: a metropolis in the making,” I’m not kidding. It’s growing faster than even I imagined it would. We Westerners are just a small part of the action. This, I think, is why so many of us cannot believe Sihanoukville will ever become the second largest city in Cambodia and a major SE Asian tourist and business centre. The times they are a’changin’ and Asians today have money to spend. It looks like they’re spending it in Cambodia.

 

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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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