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.

Valentine’s Day in Sihanoukville 2015

I wasn’t going to write about Valentine’s Day in Sihanoukville this year because I wrote about it last year, but a couple of things changed my mind. First the good news.

The Valentine baby

The Valentine baby

Valentine’s Day is always an expensive day here. It goes way beyond buying flowers for your “valentine.” As Sophie says, “This one day for love.” Therefore, everybody you feel affection for gets at least a token gift. That means family and friends. Added up it came to a couple of hundred dollars this year. Part of that went towards buying stuff for a newborn baby that was born on the 13th, but Sophie also convinced me to buy the mother a bouquet of flowers. This was not awkward because the flowers are a token of affection, not necessarily romantic love.

I thought maybe it was a trend just in our family, but discovered otherwise last night when I went to King Chicken to get takeaway (Sophie went to a wedding, so the traditional dinner out didn’t happen). King Chicken was packed beyond capacity. It’s a family restaurant complete with indoor playground and Cambodian families were going out for Valentine’s Day in droves.

After I came home, Sophie’s little brother announced he was throwing a little Valentine’s Day party for the family and asked me to join in. He had bought a cake for the kids and beer for the adults. We had a falling out with him a few weeks ago and he took advantage of the opportunity to apologise to Mama, Papa and me for his bad behaviour.

This morning I visited a friend and he had a similar story to tell. Everybody in his family exchanged gifts. My friend scored a new shirt from one of the young men in the family.

Now for the bad news

Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows I have a big problem with the Western media. They’re always picking on other countries and particularly like to point out problems in Cambodia. True to form, on 10 February the Washington Post posted an article, The country where Valentine’s Day is the most dangerous day of the year. Fair enough, they quoted government ministers, but the message was clear. Young Cambodian men think of Valentine’s Day as a day of rape and sexual coercion.

The conclusion drawn by the article’s author was completely skewed because it didn’t cover the upside of Valentine’s Day in Cambodia. It’s not the most dangerous day of the year for 9.5 out of 10 Cambodians who celebrate the day.

The Valentine cake

The Valentine cake

I also question the statistics. After President Obama announced that an “estimated one in five women has been sexually assaulted during her college years,” the anti-Obama media was quick to find loopholes in the argument. Not so in the article about rape in Cambodia. It happens, sure, as it happens everywhere, and it’s never to be condoned, but the American media is not a Cambodian moral authority and can’t really take the moral high ground on this or any other topic. Rather than pick on others to make Americans feel better about themselves, the U.S. media should be focusing on cleaning up its own house. But that’s not what the MSM does.

No, Valentine’s Day is not the most dangerous day of the year in Cambodia. Like so many holidays Cambodia has borrowed from other countries, they put their own spin on it. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a day to celebrate love in all its forms in the West like they do in Cambodia?

valentine baby 2

Sihanoukville a hot travel destination

Sophie at Sihanoukville Airport prior to flight to Siem Reap

When I came here in 2007, it was a big deal when a cruise ship came to town. Now we get 30 every year. A couple of weeks ago, Sophie got a nice job taking a family from one of them for a tour around Sihanoukville. They had a great time because she hand picked the sights. Others aren’t so lucky. They hop on a tour bus after trudging off the docks, take a spin around town and that’s about it.

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sihanoukville port entrance

Sihanoukville port entrance

If the Ministry of Tourism gets its way, all that is going to change. In an effort to make Sihanoukville a more attractive travel destination, they’re contemplating some major changes:

  • Reducing or eliminating visa charges for tourists arriving by sea or the airport
  • Building a shopping and dining area at the port
  • Allowing foreigners to own holiday properties in selected areas

I was stunned when I read this in an article in the ASEAN news site, TTR, Cambodia considers sea shore incentives. I knew cruise ships were not a big deal any more. There were three in port when Sophie picked up her customers. I didn’t know we got 30 a year with up to 1,800 passengers in each, though.

I knew the port was becoming more active. Awhile back, we decided to take an afternoon motorbike ride on the road that skirts the port. We hadn’t gone that route in years. The road was so clogged with trucks carrying containers, it took us about half an hour to negotiate what used to be an almost empty three or four minute stretch of road. I hadn’t thought about it from the tourist angle, though.

It’s semi-official: Sihanoukville is a hot travel destination

Tourists are coming here from all directions. Some expats are grumbling because international flights aren’t finding their way here, but I think it’s a good thing. As fast as it’s growing, Sihanoukville is having trouble keeping up with the influx of tourists. Three times in the past two weeks, we’ve had to look for a restaurant that had a table or a beach cafe that had spare lounges. We found them on the second try, but it was just one more sign that our little town is becoming a hot travel destination.

Don’t take my word for it, though. A recent article in the Nesara News Network, The new hot travel destinations you’ve never heard of! listed Trip Advisor’s Destinations on the Rise awards. I thought I might see Sihanoukville somewhere towards the bottom of the list, but it was Number 2 after Da Nang.

What’s the attraction? Come and see for yourself. There are plenty of beaches and islands to explore, but don’t leave Ream National Park off you list, either. And try some out of the way places that Trip Advisor doesn’t know about. No sense just following the crowd when you’re in the Kingdom of Wonder.

 

 

Random Sihanoukville News – and it’s all good

As I rapidly approach the end of the 3rd year of publishing the Sihanoukville Journal, I’m finding myself with less time to write in my journal, but more to write about. Pressed for time again, but excited about developments here in Sihanoukville, I’ve decided to give a quick rundown of random Sihanoukville news. Each of the places I mention here deserves a full post, but I don’t have time to cover them in depth.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year!

First of all, electric outages that have plagued Sihanoukville over the years and peaked last year are a thing of the past thanks to our new power plant. We’ve had a couple of 3-5 minute outages, but that’s it, even now at the height of the high season.

Since before Christmas, it’s been evident that this is our busiest high season ever. It started when I had to wait for a table in my favourite out-of-the-way Italian restaurant, Spaghetti House — twice. The first time, I ended up sharing a table with another expat who was waiting for a table and as soon as we had finished eating, the owner politely asked us to leave because others were waiting.

Then came Christmas and, as I reported in my Christmas blog, we had to wait 45 minutes to get a table at Pizzana.

Dessert time at Olive & Olive

Dessert time at Olive & Olive

Last week, Sophie got a windfall from a client and decided to lash out and take me out for dinner. This was my chance to try Olive & Olive, a new restaurant on Serendipity Road near the Golden Lions. We got there just after dark and the tables downstairs were already filled. There were a few people upstairs, but by the time we finished eating our obscenely delicious meal, every table upstairs and down was full. Olive & Olive isn’t a budget meal, either, so it wasn’t crowded with people looking for the cheapest food in town.

Last night, we went out to the end of the Serendipity pier for a beer before dinner. I hadn’t been down Serendipity Road for a couple of months and was stunned to see a big new hotel next to the Serendipity Beach Resort was already finished and open for business. Out on the pier, the Party Boat offloaded a group as it always does at that time, but then two other boats followed. One was a Koh Rong boat. I don’t know where the other one had been, but there were 4 other similar boats in the water. Last year, there was only the Party Boat and random smaller longtail boats. I’m told there are now 50 guesthouses scattered around Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloen and they have become the preferred backpacker destination, so they need a lot of boats to ferry all the visitors back and forth.

boat arrival, serendipity pier, sihanoukvilleI have to get up very early to get a table at Douceur du Cambodge now and that’s in spite of the fact it’s doubled in size since I first wrote about it in 2011. Sometimes I can’t even find a place to park my motorbike. Fortunately, the former owner of the Spaghetti House has opened Breakfast Mania. It’s a lovely little place on a side road overlooking a vegetable garden. So far, only locals have discovered it, but when word gets out that he serves a cappuccino and croissant for only $1.50, I fear I’ll have to fight for a seat there, too.

breakfast mania, sihanoukville cambodiaLast week I interviewed Douglas and Verona McColl, who own the Coolabah Resort. Knowing it was for a major publication, Douglas came armed with statistics. Sihanoukville tourists topped the million mark in 2013 — double what the numbers were just a few years ago. I’m sure the numbers are going to be far higher this year. Don’t let Sihanoukville’s new-found popularity put you off coming here, though. Now that there’s easy access to the islands and Otres Beach, there’s still plenty of room for everyone and every taste — now more than ever.

Independence beach, sihanoukville cambodia

Okay, I’d better close now. I recently joined Verona’s writing group and am under pressure to finish the book I’ve been working on almost since I started this blog. Between writing or editing chapters for the group to review and writing my regular paid assignments, I’m up to my ears in work.

 

 

Scottish Backpacker Drowns in Sihanoukville Swimming Pool

Utopia Nightclub, Sihanoukville Cambodia

Utopia Nightclub, Sihanoukville Cambodia

This news just in: click the photo or the link below for more information

Just as the dry season backpacker rush is beginning in Sihanoukville, there has been a tragic accident. According to an article in the Scottish Daily Record, Scots backpacker drowns in club swimming pool, a 33 year old man drowned in a Sihanoukville swimming pool while partying with his friends at the popular Utopia nightclub. There were no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death. All that is known is that minutes after going out to the pool to look for his glasses, he was found floating in the pool. Poolside resuscitation attempts failed and he was pronounced dead on arrival after being rushed by ambulance to the nearest hospital.

Utopia arranged for a Buddhist ceremony on the club’s grounds so that the backpacker’s friends could pay their respects before his body was sent back to Scotland for burial. Monks from Wat Krom performed the traditional Buddhist ceremony.