Big Changes in Sihanoukville

My last post was about the Chinese in Sihanoukville. Maybe I should have titled it, “The Chinese Invasion of Sihanoukville.” It’s a peaceful invasion, but I didn’t realise until today how big of an impact they’re having everywhere in Sihanoukville. I’ve heard rumours, but I don’t listen to rumours I hear on the Hill. I learned that lesson years ago. Today, however, I learned more from the woman who runs Escape Cafe on Serendipity Road. There are big changes in Sihanoukville. Whether that’s good or bad depends on who you are.

casino on Serendipity Road, Sihanoukville Cambodia

Casino on Serendipity Road

I went for coffee late today and was her only customer, so she sat down with me. The conversation centred on the Chinese. She started by telling me she wanted to extend her lease for another five years, but the owner said to wait. She fears the Chinese will offer them more money. I pointed across the street, where the Reef Resort is now called Wandy’s Resort. She said she’s afraid they are going to rent to Chinese. She also said the Chinese don’t like to mingle with Europeans and tend to stick together.

“Right now it’s low season,” she said. “When high season comes, I wonder where Europeans will stay? The Chinese seem to be taking over everywhere.”

I mentioned I’d seen five casinos in the Serendipity Road area. She could think of eight. The casinos cater to Chinese tourists. I told her I rarely see people in many casinos. She told me they also have online gaming, so make money even if they have no customers. Then I told her how I’d gone to the supermarket down the street and discovered it had been torn down. A big building is going up in its place. She said it was a hotel designed for Chinese tourists.

new development in Sihanoukville Cambodia

A supermarket used to be here

That wasn’t the only change I’d seen on the street. A rather modest apartment block next to the casino is being upgraded. What they’ll be putting there remains to be seen, but it is another sign of the big changes happening in Sihanoukville.

serendipity road, sihanoukville cambodia

A modest apartment block going upmarket

Sadly, she is afraid she’ll have to close her business. She’s been there as long as I can remember and has always given very good service. I have no idea what she’ll do after she closes, but I hope she finds a way to earn a living. If she does close, it will be the fourth place I enjoy going to that is going to close. Irina closed in August. Raphael’s is moving to a location off the Hill next month and the manager of a Cambodian restaurant I like says she may have to close. Her rent is going up and her customers are leaving the Hill because their rents are going up. Some have even been kicked out to make way for the Chinese, who seem to be coming here in droves.

The owner of Escape also told me she was at Otres Beach recently and saw a “Chinatown” being developed. I haven’t seen it, but I’ll have a look as soon as I get a chance.

I never imagined seeing changes like this happening in Sihanoukville, but they have been happening fast. In just the past two years, I’ve seen the changes. I thought the city would change more slowly and organically, but the influx of Chinese with big money is speeding things up. The big changes in Sihanoukville are good for land owners, who are being paid well by the Chinese. I’m told Cambodians who work for them are getting paid better, too. It seems like the ones who are missing out are the expats, who can no longer afford to pay high rentals or are being kicked out of their apartments.

Chinese in Sihanoukville

chinese-in-sihanoukville-hotel

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.

chinese-in-sihanoukville-casino-resort

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.

chinese-in-sihanoukville-bar

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.

chinese-in-sihanoukville-hotel

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.

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.

Published Another Book: The Girl with Tiger’s Eyes

Serendipity Road is about 97,000 words long. Originally, it was going to be a biography, but it turned into a biography/memoir. The Girl with Tiger’s Eyes is closer to what I originally wanted to write. It’s only 18,000 words and didn’t take me long to write. I formatted it and made the cover myself, so I’m giving it away for FREE on Smashwords. You can pick up a copy HERE.

I loved writing Serendipity Road and even enjoyed the editing process. My friend Penny Sisto recommended writing another book and she suggested the title. If you’ve read Serendipity Road, you’ll know what a prominent part Penny has played in my life. She’s the most amazing person I’ve ever met and is a fountain of wisdom, kindness and generosity. I sent her a copy of my new book. This is what she had to say about it:

Dear Rob, Well done! It is a smooth and a delightful read.
Tt is concise..It reads like a joyful poem, light, musical, lyrical, fascinating ..
I meant to read a passage or two and in a flash had finished it..SPLENDID!
I was a little stunned by her response. I wrote the first 6000 words of The Girl with Tiger’s Eyes in one sitting and added more as I found time. Unlike my other book, which took a couple of years to complete, I finished this one in under a month.
If you’re interested, you can grab a free copy of my new book. If you like it, you will find much more in Serendipity Road. It’s only $3.99 and I’ve received positive feedback about that book, too. Most recently, someone said they downloaded it: “It was late, but I couldn’t put it down,” they said. “I think you’ve got a winner on your hands.” Here is the link again: The Girl with Tiger’s Eyes

Why I’m giving away Serendipity Road

If you notice the sidebar, it now says Serendipity Road is free. Why am I giving away my book?

My new cover

Writing Serendipity Road was a joy. I didn’t think about what I was going to write. It just popped out. I didn’t self-edit, either. I told embarrassing stories and I told stories I didn’t think everyone would believe. The first version was kind of a mess. The chapters were in no particular order and there were a lot of spelling mistakes and some grammatical errors. Seven edits later, I caught most of the mistakes and put the book in an order that made sense to me. That’s not to say I don’t jump from 1969 to 2006 or 2014 between chapters, but that’s the nature of the book. It travels through the “honeycomb of time” rather than taking a direct route.

I was inspired by magic realism. The problem with most books written in that style is they are fiction. Magic realism has been a real part of my life, so I didn’t hold back from writing a true story in that style. As I wrote in a blog, When Magic Realism is Real:

Magical realism is not speculative and does not conduct thought experiments. Instead, it tells its stories from the perspective of people who live in our world and experience a different reality from the one we call objective. If there is a ghost in a story of magical realism, the ghost is not a fantasy element but a manifestation of the reality of people who believe in and have “real” experiences of ghosts.

That’s a quote from Bruce Holland Rogers from an article titled, What is Magic Realism, Really?

I’ve had an experience with a ghost. I didn’t see the ghost, but Sopheak did. I may not have believed her if the information the ghost wanted her to pass on to me hadn’t been so accurate. He hit the nail on the head, but Sopheak had no way of knowing what he told her. He then complained that I didn’t offer him cigarettes when I was smoking outside near the mango tree he lived in. From that day forward, I had to light one for him. Sometimes I even had imaginary conversations with him, as if we were sitting next to each other in a bar.

There is another story in the book about our housekeeper, Sokha, who became possessed by her mother, her baby sister and her older sister. Psychologists would call it “multiple personality disorder,” but psychologists are not nearly as successful at treating the disorder as the people who finally got our housekeeper’s older sister to leave her. Her mother and baby sister just showed up for a few minutes and then went away. Her older sister had been raped and murdered by a policeman and a monk. She was angry and wanted to take over her body or kill her. She even threatened me with a knife.

It took a few tries, but finally her older sister left for good. Sokha hasn’t had a problem since then. I looked it up and psychiatrists have a very poor record when it comes to treating multiple personality disorder. The monks did it in three tries.

Why am I Giving Away Serendipity Road?

I’m giving away Serendipity Road because I never expected it to sell well, but I’d like people to read it. Not everyone will like it, but that’s okay. The one person I wanted to like it loved it. I won’t be giving it away for long. I’ll put a price tag on it in about a week, but if you’re interested, give it a try. If you don’t have a reading device, download calibre. It’s a free program that allows you to read epub books on your computer. I downloaded it and it works brilliantly.

That’s all for now. Hopefully I’ll get a new phone soon and be able to take some photos of Sihanoukville. I did something really dumb with my old phone. I wanted to take pictures of the places I go when I swim, so I wrapped my phone in three plastic bags. They leaked and destroyed my phone. I’d had the phone for seven years and I’m annoyed with myself for thinking those plastic bags would protect it.

About my ebook: Serendipity Road

I’ve sent my manuscript to a professional formatter. I don’t trust my ability to format it for ebook distribution. It’s on hold for now because I want my friend Penny Sisto to read the revised version. She liked an earlier version, but I’ve chopped and changed a few things and want her feedback before I publish Serendipity Road. Here’s a link to her website: Penny Sisto.

my old cover

This was my original cover. I was tempted to use it because my friends went out of their way to help me with it. We spent half a day looking for the right path and my friend formatted the cover. When I decided it was time to publish, I realized I wanted a retro cover, so I hired someone to make one for me.

I may still use the photograph, but I think it would be better as a back cover. The front cover is the beginning of my journey. Having a time towards the end of my journey would be appropriate for the back cover. Whether I use it or not will depend on sales. If I sell enough copies, I may have the book printed as a Print on Demand (POD) book or may have it printed here in Cambodia and try to sell it to bookshops here.

I almost changed the title, but Serendipity Road is the perfect title. Not only is there a Serendipity Road in Sihanoukville, the title reflects the road I’ve taken in life, too.

I’m enormously grateful for all the help my writing group gave me and the feedback I’ve received about the book from Penny and other people. Jan Cornall, turned out to be partially responsible for my having a writing group to help me. Jan holds writing workshops in exotic locations like Morocco, Bhutan and Bali. I attended one of her workshops in Bali. She came to Sihanoukville and I organized a mini-workshop here. One of the attendees started our writing group. If it hadn’t been for the group, I would never have written a memoir.

About My eBook Serendipity Road

My new cover

Serendipity Road is a departure from what I usually write about on Sihanoukville Journal. Originally, it was going to be about Sopheak’s remarkable early life, but that only took up a couple of chapters. My writing group encouraged me to write a memoir, so that’s what I did. It is set in Cambodia, but covers my life from 1968 to the present day in a series of flashbacks. I dropped out of college in 1969 and worked as a yoga instructor during the summer at a yoga retreat in the Sierra Mountains. When I became disenchanted by the retreat, I traveled to India twice. I got hepatitis and almost died the first time. I came home and after I recovered, I went back and hung around Neem Karoli Baba as much as I could.

I went back to San Juan Ridge after my second trip to India. Then I moved to San Francisco. In 1985, we moved to Australia where we lived an almost idyllic life in a beautiful coastal suburb. I started surfing again and probably would never have left if my life hadn’t fallen apart.

A tarot card reader in Bali told me to take the Fool’s path and let fate be my guide. By the time I traveled to Southeast Asia in 2006, I’d run out of ideas and elevated fate to goddess status. I called her Serendipity. She looks kind of like one of these goddesses. I know, she might be a product of my imagination, but that’s okay. I’d rather see a goddess floating on a cloud than a stern god with a long beard and angry frown.

Writing a memoir gives you the opportunity to write flattering things about yourself. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to tell the truth: hence the subtitle, between heaven and hell. I’ve had some remarkable spiritual experiences, but I’ve also done a lot of dumb things. I didn’t edit out the dumb things. Some of the spiritual (or paranormal) stories some readers may not believe. They are true stories, though. If I have doubts about some of them, I admit them, but I have no doubts about many of the stories.

Here are a few chapter summaries:

  • Inside Tree, tells about Sopheak getting lost in the jungle at the age of 8 or 9. She may have lived alone in the jungles of Cambodia for up to 2 years. When she came out, her family had moved on and she lived in an orphanage in Phnom Penh for a while until a man and his wife gave her a series of jobs. Then she reunited with her family.
  • The Honeycomb of Time, tells two stories about people who predicted my future in Cambodia. I went to a psychic workshop and a fellow amateur psychic described my house in Sihanoukville to a tee and even saw me working on my computer. A palm reader in Sydney told me I would have two more children. I doubted her, but she was right.
  • A Cambodian Ghost Story is about a ghost who lived in a mango tree outside the little house we lived in while we were building our house. He visited Sopheak and told her I wasn’t being forthcoming with my kids in Australia. He was right.
  • Surrealistic Pillow tells the story of our first housekeeper. She was a sweet girl, but had a hard life. I saw her possessed by her mother and baby sister, both of whom were dead. Then her older sister possessed her. She had an axe to grind and was harder to get rid of.
  • My Guru Who Wasn’t My Guru is a flashback to India. Krishna Das sent me a link to a photograph of me in India in 1972 with Neem Karoli Baba and I relive the amazing experiences I had there. I sent the photograph to the person who made my cover and the picture above is what she came up with.

Other chapters are more mundane and cover things that happened in Sihanoukville.While they may be more mundane, I didn’t choose boring stories. The stories are about life, death and the good and bad things in between.

As I wrote the book, I realized fate had been responsible for much of what has happened in my life. Granted, I had to take advantage of the opportunities fate placed in my path, but so many things wouldn’t have happened without the intercession of fate (or Serendipity), my life would be much different. If I’d followed a safe career path, I might still be in Manhattan Beach, California, but I chose to let fate be my guide when I dropped out of college. I’m glad I did. Life has been much more interesting and rewarding since I let go of the reins of my life. When I’ve tried taking back the reins, things haven’t worked out quite as well.

As I said, I’m waiting for Penny’s feedback. I don’t know when it will come. She has a busy life, so I’ll have to be patient. When I get her feedback, I’ll make revisions if needed. Then I’ll publish Serendipity Road and see what happens. Like everything else in my life, it is in fate’s hands. 

Two perfect weekends in Sihanoukville

My idea of a perfect weekend is going to a café with a good book and following it up with a swim. Everything cooperated with me the past two weekends, so I enjoyed two perfect weekends in Sihanoukville. I finally got my copy of Brian Gruber’s War: The Afterparty and the weather has been nice the past two weekends.

escape in sihanoukville

I go to Escape on Serendipity Road on weekends for my coffee. I go there for three reasons:

  1. The owner is nice
  2. The cappuccinos are good and come with brown sugar, which I prefer over white
  3. I can easily get to Sokha beach from there

Fortunately, the warning on my cigarette pack is in Khmer, so I don’t know whether I’m going to die from lung cancer or heart disease. One thing’s for sure: I am going to die one of these days, so it would be a little silly to stress about it prematurely. Better to get the most out of life while you’re alive than worry, I reckon. Besides, I read that smokers don’t succumb to Alzheimer’s disease as readily as non-smokers and I’m more afraid of that than I am of dying.

book and coffee in sihanoukville

I met Brian when he was in Sihanoukville and looked forward to reading his book. I could have bought a digital copy on Amazon, but I wanted a real book because I work online all week and enjoy taking a break from digital devices. Brian made a visa run to Phnom Penh and I was going to meet him there, but my pay was late and I couldn’t afford to make the trip. We arranged for a taxi to pick it up and I got it just in time for last weekend.

Brian crowdfunded his book, sneaking in the required amount half an hour before his deadline. Then he started traveling. He went to Guatemala, Panama, Nicaragua, Serbia, Indochina, Afghanistan and Iraq during his travels. He interviewed a cross-section of people, including well-connected people, journalists and average people on the streets. The book is remarkably objective. Where another writer might have started a rant, he simply shares information.

It’s not boring information, though, and he gives you a sense of the places he visits and the people he meets. There were times I felt like I was sitting next to him during his interviews or walking with him through the streets of the cities he visited. I kind of wish the book had been a little more boring because I only managed to make it last two weekends. Despite my efforts to pace myself, I inhaled the book. Since Q&A closed, it’s been hard to find good books. Casablanca is kind of hit and miss and I haven’t been into Mr. Heinz in a long time. I keep meaning to since it moved to a quieter location and now serves coffee, but I’m yet to try it.

Sadly, I finished the book today. The final chapter made tingles go up my spine. Brian quotes from Charlie Chaplin’s brilliant speech in The Great Dictator. Click the link to listen to the whole thing. I’ll just quote a few lines:

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone — if possible — Jew, Gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another. Human being are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness — not by each other’s misery.

Sadly, War: The Afterparty proves that’s not always the case, but Brian’s travels revealed that most people do want to live in peace. I can’t recommend the book too highly. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read because Brian went to countries where America has intervened and found out what he needed to know from people who were affected by the interventions. He doesn’t cherry-pick his quotes, either. Some of the interviewees have different opinions than others.

sokha beach sihanoukville cambodia

So I closed the book, finished my second coffee and went to the beach. It was the perfect ending to another perfect weekend. I’ll go to Casablanca this evening. Hopefully I’ll find something to read, but I doubt it will be as good as the book I just finished.

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.

The BIG Sihanoukville News

Update 13 March 2016: According to the Khmer Times and other publications, it looks like the Sihanoukville beach vendors have been given a reprieve. I’ll keep you posted, but for now at least, it doesn’t look like their establishments are going to be bulldozed.

The big Sihanoukville news is that all those lovely beachfront restaurants on Otres Beach are soon going to be a thing of the past. The story broke on the Cambodia Daily on February 17 and was quickly shared on Facebook. Some beach establishments confirmed it, with one saying they would stay until their business was bulldozed. His words reflected those of a business owner quoted in the Cambodia Daily: “I’ll tell you what my reaction to this is: It’s that I will stay until they f—king shove me off here.”

Otres19Feb2016

The buildings on the right are apparently the ones that have to go

The article says:

According to a statement dated February 12 and signed by Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Yon Min, businesses on O’Tres and those on the southern end of O’Chheuteal have until March 13 to move out, citing environmental concerns.

Those that don’t comply with the order will be bulldozed. I know of at least one business that has been anticipating this since they set up shop on the beach years ago. They made contingency plans, but many others will simply have to close. One thing I’m not clear about is what’s going to happen to the businesses on the other side of the road. I knew the ones on the beach were on borrowed time, but thought those on the opposite side of the road were safe. Some of them have invested a lot of money in their bungalows and guesthouses and have made Otres Sihanoukville’s most popular beach.

According to Sihanoukville governor Y Sok­leng as quoted in the article cited above: “Those buildings are close to the sea—the construction should be more than 100 meters away. In fact, when the tide is high, it often touches the buildings.” The guesthouses across the road are a lot less than 100 meters from the beach, but I was under the impression they were legally there and were subject only to height restrictions so that high rise construction could take place on the paved road that runs behind and parallels the dirt road shown on the photo above.

I took a walk to the end of Otres1 and took the two photos shown below. If they remove all the establishments, it’s sort of a before and after picture of what Otres Beach will look like in the near future.

Otres before and after

Before . . . and . . . After

I guess it will be kind of nice to have more beach, but I feel for the businesses that have to go. Most of them have done a great job, providing good food and beverages and keeping the beach clean. True, you have to pay for the privilege, but if you just want to enjoy the beach, Long Beach (on the right) is always there for you.

Some of my friends agree with me that removing the bars and restaurants along Ochheuteal Beach might not be such a bad idea. Many of them attract a clientele that Sihanoukville could do without. Otres seems to attract more tourists who just want to enjoy the beach. When I went down there to take these photographs, I saw three kite surfers, several people sailboarding and more than a few Hobie catamarans on the water. When I stopped in at a restaurant for a coffee and a snack, they were playing mellow music and guests were quietly enjoying the sun and the water.

So that’s the BIG Sihanoukville news. I’ll be sure to take a ride out there on or after March 13 to see what’s happened. I will be sorry to see some of my favourite weekend lunch spots go, but if there is one thing I’ve learned here, it’s that anything can happen and probably will.

Dao has moved and other Sihanoukville news

dao of life sihanoukville cambodia

I’ve mentioned Dao of Life more than once. They’re Sinanoukville’s one and only vegan restaurant. I’m not a vegan, but I love their food and love the restaurant. Shazia and the crew go beyond giving good service: they make you feel at home.

Dao’s only drawback has been its location. It wasn’t close to any tourist areas and those who didn’t have their own transportation had to take a tuk tuk to get there. In spite of that, the restaurant survived when so many businesses here fail. I’m both pleased and a little sad to announce that Dao of Life has moved to a new location just opposite Monkey Republic on Serendipity Road.

dao of life sihanoukville cambodiaI’m pleased because they are getting more much deserved business. They don’t need my advertising. When I dropped in on Monday, they were closed. Shazia said it was because they were overwhelmed by all the business they’ve been getting and needed to regroup and come up with an “action plan.” I’m sad because the old Dao felt like a second home.

dao of life new lounge

Other Sihanoukville News

A recent article in the Phnom Penh Post, Little Support for Coastal Master Plan, was, as expected, a one-sided put down of Sihanoukville’s Master Plan. “The plan would include a crackdown on “illegal” beach-front buildings, affecting anything within 50 meters of the sea, but it would also aim to ensure that Cambodia’s bays and beaches are protected and environmentally friendly”, the second paragraph began.

They put ‘illegal’ in quotes as if it was a disputable point, but didn’t mention that aside from removing the little cafes that illegally pop up occasionally, they have also ordered the removal of an illegal “port” (as reported by the PP Post) being built at Otres Beach by the Royal Group, so they’re not just picking on poor people.

Later, the article states: “Some residents here, especially foreigners, have expressed concern that the government’s true intentions remain unclear, and that their businesses, which have helped to develop the coast’s growing tourism industry, appear at risk.” Both foreign and Cambodian business owners frequently ignore zoning regulations. For that matter, so do home owners. They take a chance that a road won’t be widened or installed. When it is, they act as if the government is impinging on their rights. Of course, money still talks, so abuses do occur, but it’s not as one-sided as some publications would like us to believe.

There were some valid points made in the article, but the fact is that Sihanoukville is growing at an unprecedented rate and like any emerging metropolis, there will be winners and losers. When gentrification occurs in any city, anywhere in the world, it’s usually the poor who lose out. I don’t like it, but that’s the way it is and I get tired of Cambodia always being singled out as an exception. At least we’re not being forced to bathe in and drink poisoned water like the residents of Flint Michigan.

Back in June 2015, I wrote a blog titled Real Estate in Sihanoukville. I included a couple of pictures of new apartment blocks being built around town. They’re springing up everywhere, but so are multi-million dollar complexes. We also have our first new car dealership in town. Things are changing fast. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your point of view, but it’s a moot point. Better to watch the show than worry or complain.