Sihanoukville: The New Macau?

In November 2019 I visited the small coastal city of Cambodia known to foreigners as Sihanoukville, or Kampong Som as the locals call it. It was my first time in this city, so I wasn’t fully aware of the history behind this place.

My first impression was that it was a city heavily under construction, with high rise buildings being erected on the beachfront and dust absolutely everywhere. It looked more like a war-torn town than anything else. We hitched a ride on a tuk-tuk to see the only sight-see worthy spot in the city: Wat Krom.

Wat Krom Temple

Wat Krom is a beautiful temple with intricate wood carvings on the outside and a stunning display of buddhist art within. I have to say, if it wasn’t for this temple, my visit to Sihanoukville would have been very disappointing. If you are ever in this corner of the world, I definitely recommend taking a look inside this temple.Chinese investment ruining the city

Since Chinese investors arrived to Sihanoukville in 2016, the city has drastically changed, and not necessarily for the better. Although the Chinese are constructing large hotels and casinos, very rarely do the local Cambodian people benefit from these constructions. More often than not, Cambodians are forced from their lands in order to make way for these horrible buildings.

What was once a small and relatively peaceful city is now a building site for the next Macau or Las Vegas. It’s truly upsetting to see this type of tourism being drawn to a place that had a reputation for being a quiet and relaxing getaway location. It makes me furious when overtourism ruins a place, and this is probably the worst example of it I’ve seen in my life.

Responsible tourism

I think that we as tourists have the responsibility wherever we go to respect the locals, and if the local population is seen negatively affected by a certain type of activity (such as attracting gambling to their hometown), then we should not endorse or consume that type of tourism.

I make it a point wherever I go to try and understand the social, cultural, and economic context. While some people might think that foreign investment is a good thing for the economy, sometimes the negative consequences outweigh the positive and it is then we should do what is in our power to mitigate our impact, both on the people as on the environment.I hope you enjoyed reading about my experience in Sihanoukville, and maybe learned a thing or two about this corner of the world. I also encourage you to be a responsible tourist wherever you go, even if you’re doing local travel. Think about the unintended environmental and social effects your travels might have and try and do something about it. I’m convinced the world will be a better place if we all do our part.

Thanks for reading till the end, you rock!

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