There have been many enthusiastic reports about the more or less imminent development of Sihanoukville into a major tourist destination. This was to be the premier resort town of Cambodia. Of course, there isn’t any other town on the coast that would offer similar prerequisites. So it stands to reason that all efforts would be concentrated here. Not too long ago the city/provincial government even sent notice to all business owners on Otres beach to vacate their land as the beach is going to be developed. Never mind that some of the business owners had just gotten their license a few months before and were not told about those plans. In the end, most of the affected businesses just moved their shacks to another part of the beach. It pretty much looks the same as before.
Anyway, I had wanted to be part of that development at one time; 3-4 years ago to be exact. I was looking for about one hectare on Otres beach to build a 15-bungalow 3-star international resort. Everybody had land to sell, so not surprisingly, I found a suitable piece of land rather quickly. Of course, it came at a price, which I at the time thought was not too farfetched – about $100/m2. They are asking for more than double, even triple that money now. For beachfront land this is not too much either, I believe. After all, there is only so much beach available; once it has been taken, it is gone. My plans did not come to fruition, though, as I couldn’t find solvent investors for the project, which had a total volume of about $8.0 million. Many were interested, but when it came to showing the money, the communication abruptly ceased or I got an earful of excuses. When the financial crisis hit there was no chance I could find any investors so I forgot about the whole project. Nevertheless, I occasionally go back to check on what’s going on there now. I read there was a Greek casino operator that wanted to built a resort with casino (of course); some Chinese were supposedly coming in too. Well, to make a long story short, I have yet to see a resort on Otres beach going up, Greek or otherwise; so far not even an indication of one being initiated. That one hectare I wanted to buy is still sitting there vacant, in the meantime overgrown with weeds.
The city/provincial government promised an Otres Beach Park. Well, look at the picture below. This is what has materialized so far. This is not to say they won’t build it but it might go the same way as the Hun Sen Beach Park. They erected a corrugated iron wall, behind which some construction activity could be heard, and trucks drove in and out. Now the wall has come down again, and lo and behold, I did not see any difference to the way it was before. So I guess they have given up on their plans, or the money needed to be spent somewhere else. Before they even start contemplating a park like that for Otres Beach they should build proper access roads. The dirt road really isn’t going to cut it if they want more people to travel the distance to it. Those squatters along the road close to the beach won’t help either. They have been there for the last 7 or 8 years. Just imagine the public outcry if indeed the government were to move those people. They are not fishermen; they have no visible means of support; yes, they are poor but what are they doing there? I can sympathize with them, but I don’t understand it.
Proposed Otres Beach Park
Having been in the tourist/travel business for a long time, I am naturally interested in those developments. In previous posts, I wrote about what was needed to attract foreign (Western) tourists. (Western, because those tend to spend quite a bit of money.) First and foremost is adequate hotel accommodation, that is, in the 3 to 5 star category. So far there is only the Sokha Beach Hotel and the Independence Hotel. The Sokha Beach added some nice bungalows on stilts in water in quasi-Khmer style with thatched roofs.
Sokha Beach Hotel Bungalows
On Ocheouteal, I saw a new Diamond Hotel about to open their doors. But this looks just like another Khmer-hotel that will probably soon go to seeds because they usually don’t do anything in terms of upkeep. I remember the Jasmine Hotel when it first opened in 2003. I thought it was quite nice, although lacking a decent restaurant for breakfast. If you go to stay there now, it is a run-down place and surely not worth more than the $20 they charge for an air-conditioned room. Other than that, there is nothing worth mentioning as far as attractive accommodations go. The bottom line is that Sihanoukville is a far cry from a resort town. It’s still a backpackers and single male travelers destination as is evidenced by the many single man, mostly on the wrong of side of 50, roaming the streets on mopeds or tuk-tuks with a usually much younger female Khmer companion, although during season the picture changes slightly.
Koh Puous is still moving along at a snail’s pace. The bridge is due for completion in 2011. Then the island development is going to begin. In other words, it will be some time before we see any tourists there.
Koh Puous Bridge
Hawaii Beach has practically disappeared with the Emario Shonan Resort being built there. Although the beach is accessible to the public, as with all beaches the 15 m, sometimes 30 or 50 m of waterfront, remain state property, I wonder how many Khmer will actually go there once the development is finished. According to their website the company is Khmer-owned and the architecture is good evidence of that. (http://www.emario-resort.com) I haven’t found out how much the flat-houses, or the bungalows, or the marina houses will cost. But the whole thing looks a little like overkill to me. They are building a hotel with conference center, a casino, restaurants, a shopping mall, and an apartment house. They all bank on foreigners and wealthy Khmer buying into this. Well, who doesn’t want to have their own beachfront property? Bearing that in mind, on second thought, it might well succeed too, with the foreigners buying the condos, and the Khmer the ‘flat houses’ (but what about the shopping center?). Once luscious landscaping will make it look attractively tropical, I am sure it will add to Sihanoukville’s appeal both here and abroad.
Now Pearl City on the other hand is one development where I am wondering what it is supposed to accomplish for the overall development – more flat houses and more shopping centers. The developer is Thai Boon Roong, one of the seven groups in Cambodia that virtually control most of the country, both in real estate and business. So they have enough money to pour into something that is planned well into the future. It is too big too soon for Snooky at this stage in its development, that’s for sure. It’s huge, currently ugly (well, it is a construction site), and planned well past the pocketbooks of the majority of Khmer. They make exactly the same mistakes as all the flat house developers in Phnom Penh – too much and too expensive for today’s Khmer real estate market. I wonder whether these people have ever heard of market research, demographics, income distribution, and such. There is also a resort that recently partially opened nearby – the Khmer Broneth Resort. Another big miscalculation Khmer hotel developers make is that they think a nice hotel with a swimming pool is a resort. That property is one of them. Well, how about some activities and entertainment á la Club Med? Now that’s what I call a resort!
However, I know a piece of land that would be a gem if someone like the people who designed the Sokha Beach Hotel properly developed it. It is a gem of sorts already; it currently houses the Treasure Island restaurant with excellent seafood. The location is ideal. It is secluded enough (notwithstanding the onramp for the Koh Puous bridge nearby at the beginning of the access road), and it practically has its private beach. Although the Koh Puous bridge is going up within sight of the beach, I don’t think that will matter much once the bridge is completed. As far as I know the property is leased to a Hong Kong Chinese for 50 years. Either he doesn’t have the money to develop it, or he doesn’t know how, or he is simply not interested. It is a real shame, though. This property would be just the site for a 20-bungalow resort like the one I had planned. For the time being, though, try out their fresh seafood; you won’t be disappointed. It’s a beautiful, romantic setting if you eat there at night in one of the gazebos along the beach. The fishing boat that ran aground there adds to the overall ambience.
Treasure Island Restaurant Beach