Chinese in Sihanoukville

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You can’t help but notice the numbers of Chinese in Sihanoukville. You see them everywhere. Despite the myth they travel in large packs, I’ve seen families, backpackers, couples and small groups of Chinese everywhere from the Hill to Otres Beach. There is a lot of controversy about them. Some say they are driving rental rates up and others say they are generally rude and arrogant.


The largest Chinese development I know of

One thing I’ve noticed is that they do tend to stick together. I’m yet to have a conversation with one. I’ve also read stories about large groups of Chinese being deported for various reasons. Some are deported for starting internet scams. A group was deported for starting a fight near the Golden Lions and I’ve heard other stories as well.

I don’t want to defend or condemn Chinese tourists and expats in Sihanoukville. Like any other group of people, you run across good ones and bad ones. Almost every time I go swimming at Victory Beach, I see them heading out to the end of the pier to go on boat tours. When I have dinner on the Hill, I see small groups of Chinese walking by. One bar that is being refurbished has hung a sign that has no English. The sign is in Chinese, Khmer and another language.


I decided to find out what the internet had to say about the Chinese. I was surprised by the number of articles I found. I’ll just share three or I’ll be here all day.

What the Media Has to Say About Chinese in Sihanoukville and Cambodia

An article in The Diplomat was fairly interesting. In 1988, Prime Minister Hun Sen said China was at the “root of everything that is evil” in Cambodia. He has changed his tune since then. It probably has something to do with the amount of aid China sends to Cambodia and the number of developments they are putting up here. They are large scale developments, too. Many of them seem to have a casino attached.

Another article in The Economist has the title: Why Cambodia has cosied up to China. The subtitle is: “and why it worries its neighbours.” The final sentence is interesting:

Nobody yet knows what America’s policy on the South China Sea will be under Donald Trump, but increasingly it looks as if Cambodia has picked the winning side.

The third article was in the Washington Post. The title is Snubbed by Trump, Cambodia is embracing Chinese ways. The article notes that China has cancelled $90 million in debt. Meanwhile, the United States has demanded that Cambodia repay a debt from before the Khmer Rouge era. That created a lot of controversy here because Cambodia remembers the U.S. bombing campaign that helped give rise to the Khmer Rouge. As the article says:

Hun Sen has railed against Washington for demanding that Phnom Penh repay its war-era debt. “They brought bombs and dropped them on Cambodia and [now] demand that the Cambodian people should pay,” Hun Sen said in March.

Someone told me there are something like 74 casinos in Sihanoukville now. I don’t know if it’s true, but there are a lot of them. Sometimes I think Sihanoukville should be renamed Casinoville. I had to laugh when I saw one. The “Rich Casino” name was already taken, so this one calls itself the “Super Rich Casino.” They have English signs, but Chinese is often also there.

I’ve heard stories about expats who are looking for another place to live because of the Chinese “invasion.” They tell me stories of rental rises. One man I met had a nice one-bedroom apartment. He and everyone else got kicked out because the Chinese offered higher rents. The Cambodian woman who runs a restaurant I go to frequently told me last night customer numbers are down because “barang are leaving because of Chinese.” I hope she stays in business. Her food is very good and inexpensive. She has a family to support, too.

I’ve also seen some new hotels that don’t bother with signs in English. I guess they are Chinese run or designed for Chinese customers, who are said to be happy to pay more than barang for a hotel room.


I like the cultural diversity of Sihanoukville. I like hearing different languages and seeing people from different cultures. In my experience, they’re all the same. Some are good, some bad and some in-between. I hope the rumors about a million Chinese moving to Cambodia are false. Rumors here often are.

I recently read an article in The Guardian, China moves to curb overseas development as firms’ debt level rise. Hopefully, that will help curb the insane number of casino/resorts that are slated to be developed. Some Chinese come to Cambodia and other countries to run internet scams. Quite a few of them have been arrested and deported, so hopefully that fad will pass, too. There was even one weird scam where they convinced people to take nude photos. Then they used the photos to extort the victims. They got arrested, too.

I don’t think it’s time to panic yet about the Chinese in Sihanoukville. Anyway, there’s nothing I can do about it. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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About Rob Schneider

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

6 Responses to Chinese in Sihanoukville

  1. Barry Gallant says:

    Like you I believe there are good and bad in each culture. I am Canadian and I was home last week to my small Province and even there people are concerned about the influx of Chinese and their way of starting up businesses for Chinese tourists. A massive resort, for this city, is being built, the golf course has heen bought a subdivision is in the planning stages, and the planned clientele are rich Chinese. People are starting to talk, roads and water put in at tax payers expense to service all this new growth. Dollars will be spent in Chinese owned businesses. The jury is still out.

  2. Doug says:

    On your next tour around Sihanoukville Rob, head up street no. 814 which is off Mattapheap St. Opposite Hun Sen School, PSD are building a Mall that I think will be the first in Sihanoukville and cater for the locals. This is the sort of development that is needed in Sihanoukville for the local people and there should be more of it.

  3. Doug says:

    One of the bigger supermarkets in Sihanoukville has removed some of the items that barang like to make room for items that Chinese like. A couple of my Khmer friends think Sihnoukville is Cambodia’s China Town.

  4. Richard says:

    we were informed yesterday that all of us Barang have to move out of our 24 unit apartment building by September 1 because Chinese have rented the whole building.

    thinking seriously about moving to Kampot or Keb

  5. Brian Gruber says:

    Good article. As with any ethnic influx, it’s good to focus on specific behaviors and phenomena. As opposed to supposed inherent inferiority or attributes. Cheap Jews. Dirty Mexicans. Black thugs. Etc. I remember practicing yoga at Vagabond and going for coffee at casino resort across the street. Holiday? Chinese families would come in and kids would run wild unsupervised. I would select Mahavishnu Orchestra “Birds of Fire” and pull the earbuds out of the Mac and they would all flee within five minutes. To me, it’s the cheap gambling culture, replete with drunkenness, cigarette smoke and aggressive behavior. There are plenty of stylish casinos with quality entertainment and food, nice pools and respectful guests. And plenty of well travelled, educated, considerate friendly Chinese tourists. But surely this does not portend well for S-ville as a destination for bohemian spiritual culture in serene natural surroundings.

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