Is Sihanoukville ruined? What once was a sleepy beach town and a small coastal paradise with pristine white beaches. Is now slowly turning into little China, and not in a good way. I loved my first visit to Sihanoukville back in 2016. I spend most of my time on serendipity beach, going from restaurant to beach bar and enjoying the sun with friends. Today only 2 years later, those locally owned beach bars I once enjoyed have been destroyed. Chinese investors that bought the land claimed what was theirs. Kicking their Cambodian partners out as if it was nothing and destroying what took them years to built. From restaurant to beach club, nothing was safe from the Chinese investors, it all had to go down. I wonder if the Cambodian government ever asks itself, was all this development worth it, is Sihanoukville ruined?
What was once a place for Cambodians, backpackers and expats have now made room for Chinese tourists and investors. Previous visitors and even locals have started to move away towards the islands or other cities. Making more room for flashy casinos, luxury tourist resorts and restaurants catering to the Chinese market. With the government welcoming this surge of new development, it has become clear that Chinese investments have created a closed loop in Sihanoukville. Creating no new opportunities for Cambodians and forcing any potential local economic away.
Did you know that there are currently 24 registered casinos in Sihanoukville, 24!! That is a crazy amount even for bigger Asian cities.
Is Sihanoukville ruined?
Some friends of mine used to own businesses on Serendipity beach, a beach club called JJ’s and a restaurant and bar called Bucket Bar. Both had been prominent fixtures for years on that beach. Locals, tourists and expats alike loved these places. They were filled with tourists and locals almost every night. But now, just nothing. They’re building resorts and casino’s instead of these quirky little places that tourists love to find out about and locals love showing off. One of these friends managed to relocate his restaurant up to Serendipity road, if it’s still in existence, go check it out! It’s still called Bucket Bar and Restaurant. It has the best Cambodian BBQ and grill in town. The other has been thinking about relocating to a different city and trying his luck there.
Most locals between the age of 20 and 40 have been forced to move away from their families and friends to find a job either on the islands or in the bigger cities. You’d think with all this new development there would be numerous new job openings for Cambodians. But no, Chinese workers have been brought over to work on construction sites around town. They often end up staying around to work in the new developments as well. Seeing as they speak the language of most new tourists, it’s the easiest choice for business owners.
Trash, trash and more trash
With more tourist, seem to come more trash. Sihanoukville has had an issue with rubbish for as long as I can remember. Over the last few years NGO’s came into the area and started a campaign to get the city clean again. And it worked! Unfortunately, with all these new investments and businesses the NGO’s have left town. No more beach cleanups or lessons about recycling and a clean environment. Serendipity beach, which is the main beach that the ferry to Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem goes from, is covered in trash again. It is so bad, that tourists don’t even go in the water because they’re afraid to get cuts in their feet and legs from all the trash floating around.
Let’s just hope that whenever building on the new buildings on Serendipity beach is ready. They’ll also get a handle on keeping their own beach clean again. This in my opinion, might be the only good thing that comes out of this whole beach takeover!
Why did China invest in Sihanoukville?
Sihanoukville is regrettably home to Cambodia’s only deep-water route and a vital part of the trade route bringing Chinese supplies into the country, and into Southeast Asia. My first thought was, why would China choose Cambodia of all Southeast Asian countries? Prime minister Hun Sen, was actually the only one to ever agree to work with Chinese Investors. Out of all Cambodia’s neighboring countries, none of them agreed to this invasion. This is why Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam, Chinese investments have not taken over any of the coastal areas.
Where to stay if you have to
Some of the outer areas of Sihanoukville have not yet been touched by Chinese investors. Otres beach is still its pristine little old self with gorgeous sandy beaches, clean water and hammocks and beach swings galore. If for some reason you have to stay in the area, I would highly recommend either going here or making your way to Kampot or Kep. Unfortunately, these areas are also not safe and over the next few years, new development of Chinese casino’s and hotels will appear.