Big changes at Independence Beach

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I have no idea what it’s going to look like when they’re done, but Independence Beach is going through some big changes. They’re widening the road, for one thing, but that’s only the beginning.

Construction at Independence Beach SihanoukvilleThey seem to be doing major excavating at one end of the beach. They’re digging deep holes and may be planning on building a resort or something. Tractors were grooming part of the land closer to the Independence Hotel, so perhaps that’s going to be a park. We’ll just have to wait and see. Further along, the little beach restaurants are still there, but they’ve removed the goddess riding on a crocodile’s back I liked so much. They’re building a grander entrance.

Further along, in the area that used to be closed off, it looks like they’re creating public access. I read somewhere that they wanted Sokha Resort and the Independence Hotel to make beach access open to the public. It’s a good idea and I hope that’s what they’re doing.

New Independence Beach Sihanoukville sculptureThey’re also widening the road that leads from Ekareach Street to Independence Beach. It will be super-wide when they’re done and they’ve planted palms down the middle. From what I can tell, they’re attempting to make Independence Beach a major beach: probably to attract more customers to the huge developments that are going up between Independence Beach and Sokha Beach.

widening road to Independence Beach, Sihanoukville Cambodia

In July 2015, I wrote Sihanoukville Cambodia: a metropolis in the making. The article included a photograph of the site of the Sunrise Bay condominium site. There was nothing there at the time, but it seems to be going up fast. This is what it looked like when I rode past the site today.

big condominium development near Independence Beach, SihanoukvilleIt’s still just a shell, but gives you an idea of the scale of the project.

A recent article in the Khmer Times had the title: Up All the Way for Preah Sihanouk. The article quoted the CEO of Century 21 Real Estate, Chrek Soknim. He said improved infrastructure and the airport are attracting big investors. The article also mentioned a $3 billion dollar Chinese development slated for the province. The article didn’t say where it was going to be built, but at that cost, it probably won’t be in the center of town.

The article concluded with a quote from Dith Channa, owner of Lucky Real Estate: “There is only one direction for the province’s property sector, and it’s up all the way.” Whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends on your point of view. It doesn’t matter, though. It’s all happening and all we can do is sit back and watch.

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.

Welcome to the Future of Sihanoukville

road works in sihanoukville cambodia

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.