It’s been there a while but I only now get to show it. Ocheuteal Beach in Sihanoukville, or Kompong Som as the locals still call it, has undergone a transformation for the better. It has been going on for a while and initially I thought this was only the individual bar and restaurant owners improving their own site but this is a concerted effort by the city of SHV. They built a ‘boardwalk’, which here is made of tiles. The restaurants are not just shacks, although there are still a few around; the beach lounges and umbrellas are usable, and the sand is clean, at least most of the time. It’s far from perfect but it’s a start.
Let’s face it the beach was nothing much to look at in the past. It was a beautiful stretch of oceanside showing nothing but neglect from the beach lounges to the umbrellas and the tables. One always read about those high-flying plans the federal and the state governments espoused of how to attract major tourist operators and airlines to send in thousands of tourists every year. All those plans foundered due to the lack of hotel capacity and, of course, the beach itself. As long as it stayed that way, they would only continue to get parsimonious backpackers.
First, the beach is rather small in order to accommodate the throngs of tourists the government and the local entrepreneurs would like to see there. Second, Western tourists, and those are the ones they should focus on, are rather spoiled when it comes to beaches; they are beach connoisseurs so to speak, probably having taken in the sun in places from Mombasa, Kenya, to Mauritius, or neighboring Thailand. Cambodia could not compete with any of those. On the one hand, this was one of the attractions of this country, but on the other hand, in order to lure those hard-currency carrying foreigners the beaches needed to undergo a major change. It is those Western package tourists who spend quite a bit of their money pouring it into the local economy.
I recently read an article sort of complaining that most of the money of the tourist sector goes back to foreign companies, starting with the airline, the foreign-owned hotels, and many times foreign-owned incoming operators. The frugal backpackers and individual tourists do spend money locally but they stay at cheap hotels, eat cheap food, and travel like locals on the inter-city buses. So altogether, they probably try to get by on $25 a day including hotel. For the tourism sector to be a major contributor the economy tourists would need to spend more time in the country and consequently more money that stays in the country. Currently the majority of tourists comes from Vietnam who stays 3 days on average. They are not exactly known for splurging. Koreans and Japanese come in groups and are herded through Angkor Wat, take a day to see Phnom Penh, and are off again. Their tours are usually 5 days. Mind you, they don’t like to eat at Khmer places – no, they want to eat their own food. So, it is Westerners.