Sihanoukville is Growing Fast Everywhere You Look

big development at otres beach sihanoukville

They cut down a tree in front of my office last week. I loved the tree and had been watching it grow for over 10 years. I was surprised by what I saw after they cut it down. I saw two high rises in the distance and three cranes. They look much closer than they look in this photo. It just reminded me that Sihanoukville is growing fast.

sihanoukville growing fast

I know where these developments are. I often pass them when I ride my motorbike along the beach road. I just didn’t realise how close they were to my home.

Sihanoukville is Growing Fast

It wasn’t raining today, so I went for a motorbike ride out to Otres village. Sorry, I forgot to take photos, but it has changed a lot in the six months since I was last there. For one thing, the dirt road has been paved with cement. For another thing, bungalows are springing up everywhere. It used to be quiet out there, but with all the new developments, it’s beginning to look like another city. I even saw one hotel being built in the village.

That didn’t surprise me as much as the giant development I saw going up on the second road back from the beach. I’d heard a rumour that Jack Ma, the owner of Alibaba, had bought a huge chunk of Otres in that general area. I don’t know if the development is his, but whoever owns it, whatever is going there is going to be massive. I took one photo, but it’s just one small area of the total development. I almost played chicken with a huge bulldozer, but decided to pull over and let it pass. Too bad. I wanted to take a picture of it. This is the one photo I took.

big development at otres beach sihanoukville

Like I said, that’s just a tiny corner of the development.

On the way out to Otres, I passed through Ochheuteal beach. Hotels are going up there, too. Some are smallish by today’s standards, but they would have been big developments not too many years ago. I remember when I never saw cranes or heavy equipment here. Now I see them everywhere.

Rumour has it the Chinese are responsible for much of the development here. It’s quite possible because more Chinese tourists are coming to Sihanoukville. They don’t travel in packs, either. I’ve seen everything from Chinese backpackers to families and larger groups here. I see them everywhere, even on the Hill. For the most part, they are quiet and polite, but like every large group, there are some bad ones.

Sorry about the lack of photos. I wasn’t thinking of writing a blog, but it’s been awhile since my last update, so I thought I’d write a quick one. Next time I’ll make sure to take more photographs. For now you’re just going to have to trust me: Sihanoukville is growing fast.

Searching for Old Sihanoukville

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I went searching for old Sihanoukville today, the Sihanoukville I saw when I used to ride my bike. This time, I rode my motorbike to cover more ground, but I hadn’t been on some of the dirt roads and tracks I rode on for a couple of years. I remember those roads fondly because when I got off the main roads, I stumbled across villages that were much like the villages you seen outside of Cambodia’s bigger cities.

crane on ekareach st sihanoukville

My first stop was Escape on Serendipity Road for a cappuccino. Not long before I got to the Golden Lions, I stopped to take a photo of the crane in the picture above. I never saw cranes when I first moved here. There wasn’t enough construction going on to warrant them.

After my cappuccino, I went down to the beach road. I knew what I was going to see there. They’re widening the beach road in anticipation of increased traffic as big new developments take shape along the beach between Sokha and Independence beaches. See Sihanoukville: a metropolis in the making for some pics.

I turned up one of the small roads I used to ride my bike on and was a bit stunned. Even here building was taking place. Apartment buildings, mansions and smaller brick homes were going up everywhere. I decided not to take any photos because there were so many.

blue building sihanoukville cambodia

I went back out to the road that leads from Ekareach Street to Independence Beach. That used to be a fairly empty road and still is, but construction is going on there, too. This blue building stands out weirdly on an otherwise fairly empty stretch of road, but it’s only a matter of time before it has neighbours.

dseaview sihanoukville2Then I took a right on to a cement road that used to be a dirt road. Soon I was on familiar ground. I see what’s going on at Pearl City almost every day, but the latest development, D’Seaview, is right across the street from Pearl City. They’ve only started working on it recently, but according to the Phnom Penh Post, all 300 of Phase 1 of the project are “fully subscribed.”

The picture on the left is what it is going to look like. The picture below is what it looks like today. Just a few months ago, the site was in a ditch, but they’ve filled it in with land fill. After I took the photo, I had to stop for two big trucks that were racing along the formerly quiet road. To put things in perspective, eight years ago, the wide cement road was a dirt road that no one would travel on at night. When they first started working on Pearl City, an Australian man was murdered on the dirt road at about 2:00 a.m. when he was stumbling home drunk. Five Vietnamese workers killed him. They were drunk, too, and didn’t mean to kill him, but hit him a little too hard. Sopheak solved the mystery. It’s just one of the stories I cover in my book, which will be completed one of these days.

dseaview sihanoukville1After stopping for the trucks, I went on to a wide cement road that up until a couple of months ago was a very rough dirt road. I used to ride my bike down it all the time. It was part of my shortcut to the beach. I loved it because it was so undeveloped and quiet. Not so now. The once empty side of the road is quickly becoming filled with apartments.

apartments in sihanoukville cambodiaFinally, I emerged back on Ekareach Street. I’ve been watching this building go up for over a year now, but am still surprised by how imposing it is becoming. I thought they would stop at about the third floor, but it just keeps getting taller.

apartments on ekareach st sihanoukville cambodiaI went searching for old Sihanoukville, but it’s getting harder to find. Here and there you can still find the wonderful little family-run restaurants and stores build from timber and recycled materials, but they’re getting harder to find. I think they’re wonderful because they give poor Cambodians an opportunity to make a living without having to go to work for a Chinese or wealthy Cambodian company.

Old Sihanoukville vs New: Caught in the Middle

Some say progress is good, but many Cambodians are caught in the middle between the old Cambodia and the newly emerging Cambodia. They know how to survive in the old Cambodia, but don’t have enough of an education to make a decent living in the new Cambodia. Wages are going up, but not enough to cover the cost of living.

We’re sort of caught in the middle, too. We want to stay in Sihanoukville because the kids can get a good education here. We also want to move to a more rural location because we don’t want them to lose touch with their roots. As Sopheak said to me one day: “I want to teach them how to live without loi (money).” I can relate to that and know several Cambodians who fondly remember the past, when they didn’t have to work every day to survive.

Cambodia is confident right now. Foreign investment is pouring in and Sihanoukville is profiting from it. Like so many of the people, though, Sihanoukville is caught in the middle. It doesn’t really know how to cope with its growth and can’t really keep up with it. Interspersed between the new buildings are trash heaps and dirty roads. There’s not adequate sewerage or waste disposal beyond the basics. I suppose that will change in time, but right now, the city is in a period of transition.

Oddly enough, I still love this city. I love it because I never know what to expect next. I love it because it is incomplete. I love it because it’s not a spit-polished tourist centre. I love it because I still have to dodge chickens and cows on the road. I love it because after nine years, it feels like home. I’m just not sure for how long it’s going to feel that way, though. I never wanted to live in a metropolis.

Deforestation in Cambodia

road works in sihanoukville cambodia

Update: 17 September: The Cambodia Daily published an article about this issue yesterday. The photo below from the article graphically illustrates how bad it is.

Photo from Cambodia Daily. Click link above to read the story.

If you read my blog regularly, you’ve probably noticed that I avoid criticising Cambodia. My intention from the beginning was to present the positive side of this country because it seemed like everyone from bloggers to the MSM liked to pick on Cambodia. While some criticisms are valid, others are almost hallucinatory. In between are criticisms that could equally be applied to other countries, including those like America, which suffers under the illusion of superiority or “exceptionalism.” Unfortunately, one area where Cambodia stands out is deforestation. Deforestation in Cambodia has been occurring at such a rapid pace, the country has the highest rate per capita in the world.

Deforestation in Cambodia

I first became aware of the extent of the problem in 2006, when I travelled north to Laos. There wasn’t much of interest on the Cambodian side of the border as I passed plantations and pastures. It didn’t occur to me that vast areas of forest used to be there until I reached the border and suddenly the landscape changed dramatically.

Cambodia Laos border

Cambodia/Laos Border

Some might say the Cambodian side of the border, with its wide paved road and productive land represented “progress,” while the Laos side showed what a poor, backward country Laos was. Laos was a Communist country and Cambodia was embracing capitalism. Isn’t that a good thing? Well, to a degree capitalism is okay because it theoretically gives people greater opportunities. On the other hand, capitalism gives the wealthy opportunities, but they take advantage of opportunity by stealing from the poor.

Not everyone wants to be rich. Indigenous tribes everywhere, including in Cambodia, want to live their traditional lifestyle. I’ve met several Cambodians who have managed to do well, but still remember the days when they lived a simple village life as the best years of their life. As I write this, Sophie is staying with her grandmother in the rice fields of Svay Rieng. She’s recovering from a serious illness and enjoys being able to walk  outdoors without being bombarded by traffic noise. She often tells me that the best years of her life were the years she and her family were too poor to even live in a village.

Sophie took me to the place where she and her family lived one day. It was on the edge of an oil palm plantation. The hill behind their home, which was long gone, was completely barren. It saddened her to see what had become of her home. When she lived there, only 15 years before, the hill was forested and the oil palms didn’t extend so far into the jungle. We saw a few birds, but otherwise, the area was devoid of wildlife. She remembers her family being able to live off the land. They had no money, but would exchange goods they foraged or made (like charcoal) for rice and clothes.

I don’t have any answers. I’m as dependent on dollars as the next person. I’m just sad to see that greed is devouring our planet. What’s going to be left when it devours everything?

Signs of the times in Sihanoukville

I’ve read a barrage of stories about Sihanoukville recently. The one thing they all have in common is that they support my recent contention that Sihanoukville is a metropolis in the making. Unfortunately, some of my reading has been in print media and I can’t find the articles online, so you’ll just have to trust me.

autonomous port sihanoukville(mine)

It started when I read that Sihanoukville Airport was being upgraded to accommodate international flights. This was always the plan, but it’s been a long-range project. Now the funds have been allocated and work can begin, apparently.

In other transportation news, I read an announcement that an expressway is going to be built to link Sihanoukville with Phnom Penh. It’s funded by the Chinese government and is expected to be completed by 2020, according to the Bangkok Post. It takes about 4 1/2 hours to drive to Sihanoukville on the dreaded Route 4. Driving time is expected to be cut to 3 hours on the new expressway. Since it will have lanes, there will probably be fewer accidents, too.

Although it’s not important to the casual visitor, the recent agreement with China to start shipping directly to Sihanoukville Autonomous Port is huge news for Cambodia. It could turn the port into a major port. Two of China’s biggest ocean freight companies signed the deal. It must be annoying to Vietnam, because now Chinese container ships won’t have to stop in Vietnam first.  I got this info from MarineLink.com.

dawn princessAlthough not quite as dramatic as the other articles I’ve read, it’s noteworthy the largest ocean liner ever visited our shores recently. When I first came here, ocean liner’s of any size were a novelty and we used to ride down to the park near the port to look at them. Then they became so commonplace, we didn’t bother any more. The Dawn Princess was big enough to draw a crowd, though, according to the Khmer Times.

And finally, I read in this morning’s print edition of the Khmer Times that construction of the mega-resort on Koh Rong has begun. As always happens with big construction projects anywhere in the world, the locals are the biggest losers. They have organised in an effort to keep the development from encroaching on their land and preventing them from growing the crops that are their livelihood. There’s also some concern that the developers will not honour their commitment to preserving the jungles on the island.

As is true everywhere, growth is a mixed blessing/curse. While growth means jobs, it also mean pollution, overcrowded conditions and a skewed distribution of wealth, power and influence. I can’t turn back the clock, but we are talking about selling our house and moving to a more rural area within shouting distance of Sihanoukville. It’s kind of a compromise. Sophie would rather live in the country, but she knows the kids need access to education and I’m too much of a wimp to handle life in rural Cambodia and need my internet connection and cappuccinos to make a living. It’s fascinating living here, though. You never know what to expect.

Real Estate in Sihanoukville

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Long time, no post. I’ve been busy editing my book, which is now up to 80,000 words. In the meantime, Sihanoukville continues to grow at an almost alarming rate. Apartments are being built all over the place. Why? It’s because of the influx of workers and residents.

Real Estate in Sihanoukville

The last boom in real estate occurred in 2007. Then the recession hit. According to an article in the Khmer Times, Beach Property Prices Soar, real estate prices in Sihanoukville are above 2007 levels, especially in prime locations near the beach. The difference this time, according to the article, is that while last time the boom was based on rumour, this time, “is primarily comprised of feasible small and mid-level projects.” The article also quoted the manager of Sihanoukville’s largest real estate company as saying, “All the action is in Otres.”

I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. There’s plenty of action downtown, too — mostly apartments, it seems. They are nice apartments, too. Some builders seem to be targeting the growing number of expats, but others are for white collar workers coming here to work at the port and Special Economic Zones.

apartments-sihanoukville

Back in 2007, buying and selling land for profit was a relatively new concept. Buyers were snapping up land and just hanging on to it until values increased more. This time, they are building. The Khmer Times article went on to quote Prak Visal, deputy director of administration at Preah Sihanouk Provincial Hall: “They are starting to think like businesspeople,” he told Khmer Times. “They can see the opportunities and are taking out loans to build apartments, guesthouses and restaurants for tourists and foreign executives”. Judging from the people living in the nicer apartments in my area, a lot of Cambodian executives are renting, too.

apartments-sihanoukville 2

Like Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville is going upmarket. It seems to be growing faster than the infrastructure can keep up with. We got a new power plant a couple of years ago, but sewerage and rubbish removal remain serious issues. The authorities are doing something about it, but it’s a big problem and until they start actively enforcing existing laws, hotels and guesthouses will continue dumping sewage and trash. They are aware of the problem and are taking it seriously, but lack the resources to upgrade the sewerage system or stop hotels and guesthouses from dumping rubbish on selected out-of-the-way roads.

Another Khmer Times article, Sihanoukville Fights Sewage, pointed out the work that’s going on at the bottom of Serendipity Road. There’s a lot of work to be done, but everyone is aware of the problem. We may have to wait awhile, but I’m confident the sewerage problem will be handled just as the electricity problem was. Too much depends on it.

 

New Water Park in Sihanoukville

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The four kids in our household have been hanging out for the opening of the new water park in Sihanoukville ever since the day I foolishly pointed it out to them a couple of months ago. Well, the big day came just two days ago when free entry was offered for its opening day.

at water park1

Since I had to work, we couldn’t go until the afternoon. That’s probably just as well, because if we had gone in the morning, the kids would have wanted to stay all day. As it was, they had a great time for a couple of hours until the sun started to set.

I was a little worried because our kids are so young and the place was packed. As chaotic as it looked, though, no one was pushing or shoving and teenagers and adults always gave the little kids the right of way.

Only the pool is completely finished. They’re still working on the landscaping and a big cement ship in the front is only about half-built. We had to drive around the back to get in and inch our motorbikes through loose dirt and rocks to find a place to park. By the beginning of the next tourist season, work should be completed and we’ll have to fork over money to get in. Early reports say adults will pay $5 and children $3. That means it’ll cost us $22 every time we go there. The kids have us booked for every Sunday into the indefinite future.

Sihanoukville is Changing

I’ve been saying it for years and the water park is just more proof: Sihanoukville is changing. It’s always been popular with Cambodian families, but more foreign tourists are coming here with their children every year. The first few years I lived here, I rarely saw middle-aged or older couples and never families. Then I started seeing a few. Now I see them so often, it’s no longer noteworthy.

At the same time, the new police chief is determined to crack down on crime. An absurdly rich Russian man who has lived here for over a decade was recently arrested for fraud and bail was denied. After the new police chief started work, he called in the military to make their presence felt and I’m told he’s making individual police take their job seriously or lose it. A British backpacker was arrested on drug charges just the other day, so the word is out: Sihanoukville is not going to be a party town for wasted backpackers any more.

As I’ve repeatedly reported, Sihanoukville is not nearly as dangerous or seedy as the media and some bloggers make it out to be. There are pockets of seediness, but there are larger pockets of nice family beaches, mainly frequented by Cambodian families. Unfortunately, the worst areas are the ones where backpackers hang out, so those who come here for a day or two and think they know everything about the “scene” in Sihanoukville keep the wild west “Snookyville” image alive. Their days may be numbered, though. They are in the minority now and everyone from businesses to the local authorities are trying to make this a family destination. I hope they succeed.

The Cambodia Success Story

Nothing like jumping straight into a subject that’s sure to be controversial, so I’ll start by admitting that my pro-Cambodia stance is partly in response to all the negative press this country gets. There’s always another side of the story and a couple of articles I read recently tell that story. Yes, there is a Cambodia success story. You just have to see it in its historical context.

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“When a developing country loses a quarter of its population to genocide as Cambodia did, it’s hard to make a comeback. But with the help of the international community, Cambodia is on track to doing just that.” So begins a recent article in the Epoch Times. It goes on to quote the World Bank’s Cambodia manager Allasane Sow, who points out that the country’s goal was to reduce poverty by half by 2015. With international help, the country achieved that goal by 2011.

The article goes on to acknowledge that Cambodia has relied on international aid, but even there, it is taking steps to reduce its reliance on handouts. To make the point, author Valentin Schmid quotes secretary of state of the ministry of the environment, Thuk Kroeun Vutha: “We achieve robust economic growth of an average of 6.7 percent per year. The population is quite young. We opened up our economy.” He goes on to say that education is the key to Cambodia’s future.

Many outsiders believe Cambodia is not doing enough to foster education. The facts show otherwise. “At least when it comes to primary schools, Cambodia is well ahead of its East Asian neighbors with the highest enrollment rate in the region, according to the World Bank.”

The Epoch Times article didn’t shy away from addressing the problems Cambodia faces, but it was refreshing to read something that addressed the enormous progress the country has made.

Phnom Penh a Luxury Residential Hotspot?

I get a lot of assignments about the high-end real estate market in places like Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. While doing research the other day, I stumbled across an article in Asia Property Report, Why Phnom Penh is one of Asia’s best bets for luxury residential investments. It’s well worth reading in its entirety, so I’ll just quote  senior associate at the Cambodian subsidiary of Japan-based financial services company SBI Royal Securities Leng Vandy, whose words came at the conclusion of the article:  “Demand for condominiums by locals and foreigners is likely to continue to grow. The residential property market in Cambodia is still in its infancy and the market’s lack of maturity offers unique opportunities for investors.”

My Opinion

Personally, I think both major parties in Cambodia are making the mistake of following the Western capitalistic model. The world is on the verge of being swallowed up by corporations whose only goal is profit. Here, as in developed countries, the gap between rich and poor is growing and people are less able to live outside the system. I’ve met Cambodians who agree with me on this and fondly remember living and working in small, self-sufficient villages.

In my opinion, capitalism has had its day. One of the few world leaders I admire is outgoing president Jose Mujica of Uruguay, so I’ll close with this:

Jose Mujica quote

How good is the internet in Cambodia?

A lot of people have asked me: “How good is the internet in Cambodia?” Others may argue with me, but I think it’s very good. It wasn’t always so, though.

When I came here in 2007, I only used the internet for email. Every day, I’d go to an internet café, check my mail, send mail and go home. I thought about having it installed at home, but it cost over $100 a month and was slow and unreliable.

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In 2008, I started working online. Mick and Ana at Ana Guesthouse (now closed, but they run the best travel agency in Sihanouville, Ana Travel and Tours) kindly gave me a discount, but when you’re racking up 6 hours a day and buying coffee and lunch, it adds up. Worse, the internet was still slow and unstable. I often had to rewrite my work when a power outage would disconnect me before I could save my work.

my PCIn 2009, things started to change. I got a reasonably good deal on a cable installation and started working from home. My service provider, Metfone, a large Vietnam-based business, seemed to offer the best service and prices. I was happy with the service, but power outages were still a problem, so as soon as they started offering them, I bought a USB dongle and used it as a backup on my laptop when the power went out. For about a year, I paid $30 a month for my cable connection and another $20 for my dongle. Then one day it dawned on me that I could save money if I closed my cable account.

About a month ago, I had another flash of belated insight. I was paying around $20 a month for my dongle, but had to be careful about watching videos because they were expensive. At the same time, Sophie and I were spending around $5-$10 a week each on our 3G mobile connections. I went to Metfone and discovered I could get a fibre optic connection for $25 a month and if I paid 6 months in advance, I could get it without paying a deposit or installation fee. It also came with a free WiFi modem, so we wouldn’t have to spend so much on our phones, either.

I signed up and was told someone would come to my house in 15 days and install the cable. 15 days later, they arrived and installed it, but I had to wait until the next day to have the cable and modem connected. When no one arrived at the appointed time, I called and was told they wouldn’t make it till 3:00 pm. At about 3:30, someone called and apologetically told me I would have to wait until the morning.

When he didn’t come the next day, I called again. “My supervisor told me to go to Kampot instead,” he told me and gave me his supervisor’s phone number. Sophie called him and after his ears stopped ringing from her abuse, told her they had a problem in Kampot and I might have to wait two more days. They next day, the service technicians rolled up and installed everything.

Frankly, I was stunned by the improved performance. I was happy enough with my dongle, but sometimes videos would stall in the middle and I’d have to wait for them to start up again. When I had a lot of tabs open while working, sometimes Firefox would freeze up and crash. None of this happened with my new fibre optic connection and I stayed up until 2:30 that night watching a couple of documentaries I’d never managed to get through before.

The only hiccough came yesterday. The power went out in the middle of a storm. After it stayed off for an hour, I went to Metfone and topped up my dongle to use as a backup. After working on my laptop for an hour or so, the power came back on.

That was the longest power outage we’ve had since the power station went operational last year. It sometimes goes out for 5 minutes or so, but I connect my computer through a battery/surge protector, so have time enough to save my work until the power comes back.

As I wrote in the beginning, others “may disagree with me.” A guy on Facebook calls Metfone “Metfuck” and regularly complains about their poor service. He and others often complain about internet and power outages. All I can say is that they have been minor issues for me and Metfone has always given me very good service. That may be because I’ve been with them for so long or because Sophie strikes fear into their hearts. Whatever the reason, I have no complaints.

If you don’t trust Metfone or someone in your area tells you it sucks, don’t despair. They are just one of 9 service providers now available in Sihanoukville. Ask your neighbours for their advice and you’re sure to find one you like.

What’s happening at Sihanoukville’s Otres Beach?

A little over two years ago, I wrote about the New Road to Otres Beach. A couple of months later, I wrote Sihanoukville Master Plan Revealed! This photo accompanied the article:

This is what the area behind Otres may look like by 2040

2040 is a long way off, but they have to get started sometime, don’t they? Well, they have. See those yellow roads going off into the distance? One of them has been paved. It links up with Route 4 just outside of Sihanoukville near the “Welcome to Sihanoukville” sign on the highway. Nothing is being built on the road yet, but I have it on pretty good authority that a Chinese developer has bought/leased a big chunk of land near this crossroads and plans on building a housing estate on it.

new road otres beach sihanoukville cambodiaI think the fact that they paved the road even though it’s next to useless for through traffic substantiates that rumour. That much construction requires easy access and the road offers access without having to pass through the city.

There is also a direct road from the airport to Otres in the works and someone told me they have already started working on it and plan to bring in the heavy equipment in 2015. That, too, is clearly marked on the Master Plan. It’s the orange road that goes through Otres.

Let’s come back to the present and take a look at Otres Beach as it is. A seemingly odd thing happens as you approach the beach. The paved road takes a left turn down the second road back, but comes to an abrupt end just before the popular beach road. Isn’t that doing things backwards? Not according to the Sihanoukville Master Plan.

crossroads at otres beach sihanoukville cambodia

The bumpy dirt beach road is slated to become a pedestrian road only. The bungalows on the beach are going to have to go (that’s why they’re made of timber) and even some of the bar/restaurants will be demolished and in fact one that was illegally constructed recently was. The bungalows and hotels between the two roads will stay as long as they conform to building regulations, but their main entrances will be on the paved road.

I took a ride down that road and noticed something interesting. One new bungalow complex is in the process of making an entrance on the paved road. Right now it looks like a service entrance only, but notice how the pool is most visible from here instead of the beach side of the road. Are they thinking ahead?

bungalows at otres beach, sihanoukville cambodiaAlso notice how the bungalows are positioned well away from the fence. That’s because zoning laws state they have to be at least six metres from the road — for parking, I think.

2040 is still a quarter of a century in the future. At the rate building was going on a few years ago, there wasn’t much chance Sihanoukville would be as developed as the Master Plan envisions. Even at the rate it has been growing since 2012, it is hard to imagine it looking like this:

otres futureHowever, the rate of construction investment increased 210% in Cambodia in the first five months of 2014 and there’s no sign of it slowing down. According to the Global Post article I got this information from, the total investment was 2.77 billion dollars and came from investors in a variety of countries.

Another sign of the times is that real estate prices are rising in Sihanoukville. In the Phnom Penh Post, Sum Manet reports in At the beach, prices on the rise:

Property prices in Sihanoukville are on the rise with premium main road and beach front properties selling for about 10 per cent more than this time last year, says Po Eavkong, managing director of Asia Real Estate Cambodia. Eavkong said properties along backstreets had gone up 5 to 7 per cent.

He goes on to say that one thing holding development back is that “some land owners were demanding unrealistic prices and keeping developable [sic] property locked up”.

So that’s what’s happening at Sihanoukville’s Otres Beach. I don’t want to be a party-pooper, but personally, I hope Sihanoukville stays as it is a little longer. We’re already looking at land outside the city, where prices are still low, but hesitate to sell because there’s a great school near our house and Sihanoukville has all the amenities we need. We’re looking, though, because we are starting to feel crowded out. The land behind Otres is still rural and we go for motorbike rides out there frequently just to get out of the city, breathe the fresh air and look at the greenery. When that’s gone, so will we.

What is Fuelling Growth in Sihanoukville?

What is fuelling growth in Sihanoukville? Is it tourism? That’s what most visitors guess, but it’s only one answer. True enough, there’s been an explosion of tourism here, but step away from the tourist areas and you’ll see where most of the growth is coming from.

A couple of weeks ago, we took our evening motorbike ride in the opposite direction we usually travel. Instead of heading towards Ochheuteal beach, we went straight up Ekareach Street, over the Hill and down towards the port. Instead of turning around, we decided to make a loop. Big mistake. We got caught in a logjam of container trucks. Sophie got so frightened for Kelly, she made me pull off the road.

Activity at the port has contributed to the population explosion here, but that’s just one part of the equation. Sihanoukville’s proximity to the Port of Sihanoukville has led to the establishment of factories in the many new special economic zones (SEZs) in and around the city. While there are many garment factories, the variety of manufacturing businesses is growing and is set to grow even more in the near future.

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The Chinese Morris Group just announced they will be opening a million square foot furniture manufacturing plant in Sihanoukville. According to author Larry Thomas in Furniture Today, the plant will “employ about 2,000 people” and is slated to open in September of this year. Most of those 2,000 employees probably don’t currently live in Sihanoukville. Many of them will join the influx of workers from Phnom Penh, where jobs are scarce and living conditions poor in comparison to Sihanoukville. In turn, those 2,000 new residents will help fuel Sihanoukville’s growth in other ways.

Apartment buildings are springing up everywhere in town, giving employment to hundreds, if not thousands of workers. Local residents are taking advantage of the daily incursion of workers by setting up improvised food stalls on their properties. While the income they get from these food stalls may not be much by our standards, it often makes the difference between subsistence living for a family and a reasonably comfortable lifestyle.

The workers who are coming here include management level executives. Where a row of small timber shacks formerly stood on our block, a new two-storey home now stands. I’m happy to say the former tenants have found better accommodation, too, thanks to the new, inexpensive apartment complexes that local landowners have been building.

Of course, there’s a downside to this rapid growth, too. Sihanoukville’s infrastructure is having trouble keeping up with it. We finally got a good power plant, but sewage and road works have a lot of catching up to do. When I came to Sihanoukville in 2007, I wondered why they made Ekareach Street so wide. Now I wish they had made it wider. Not only is there more motorbike traffic, there are far more cars on the road now and they take up a lot more space than motorbikes.

When I came to Sihanoukville to live in January of 2007, I knew it was on the cusp of change, but had no idea it would change so fast. For the first few years, nothing much changed. In about 2010, I started to notice a growth spurt, but the most rapid growth didn’t begin until the end of 2011. I have a feeling that this is only the beginning of growth in Sihanoukville. I’m not going any place else any time soon, so we’ll see.