Kenneth (Jed) chose to settle in Sihanoukville, and I kept thinking.. of ALL the places in the world he chose a strange combo of local hospitality and imported vice. I thought hmmm… interesting. Here I will briefly introduce the strangest city I have ever been to.
Sihanoukville is messy, sunny, sporadic, seedy and amateurish in everything it is and does. Sihanoukville has the following monikers among the expats: Snooky, Shitville, SHV, Sinville. Its reputation as a decadent sleezy sexpat and backpacker heaven preceeds it. I mention it because that’s what is. It has the dubious honour of being called ‘Pattaya of Cambodia’ (google Pattaya, my destination for the upcoming holiday).
Those who settled here have now slowly segregated into two broad categories. There are older folks, mostly men who tend to live close to the city centre, because this is where all the action is: the bars, the restaurants, the girls and the boys, 50 cent beers, pool tables and big screen TVs for watching sport satellite channels. I figured this is the part of town where Kenneth (Jed) lives.
Then there is a younger crowd who colonised both Otres 1 and 2 beaches a short distance out of town and created own Utopia of sorts, with parties, weed, drugs and rock’n’roll in between running hostels and beach bars. The oldies call them ‘hipsters’ and express disdain at the bun man and the elephant pants girl (oh wait, both sexes wear elephant pants!).
I like elephant pants. They are comfortable and flattering to any figure. I also like Sihanoukville, despite the reputation. Its ‘amateurish everything’ makes it an easy place to be where everything is on the cheap side of things, excluding the privately controlled islands off the coast. There are also normal humans living here, but these normal humans have stories to tell which can fill libraries with thousands of books. I am a sociable being when out and about and spoke to a number of them at length. Stories of extortion, eviction threats, income and livelihood losses are very common.
Sihanoukville developed so organically that there are vast chunks of untouched, rubbish littered land among the newly built apartment blocks aimed at expats, which stay mostly empty. The construction is ongoing, and the noise audible. It is truly work in progress, and ‘pristine’ never applies. The buildings sometimes get abandoned half finished, their skeletons highlighting the cityscape. One never knows who owns the land and how it had been acquired. Foreigners cannot own land here by law, but….. they can and do. Go figure.
Expats are only a small chunk of population here. The Chinese are taking over in bold and grand gestures. Casinos are going up, there are twenty seven at last count, all built as architectural statements of an intent to stay. Herds of Chinese tourists on tour packages follow one another in groups. They arrive in buses and stay close together. The market adopted to catering for the Chinese by often scrapping English language notices in favour of Chinese/Khmer or even dropping Khmer all together. Local population should feel linguistically confused: first decades of the French rule, then the influx of the UN Transitional Authority personnel and the inevitable English, and now they also have to learn Chinese.
It’s a hotpot of culture mix, but in the low season one would fall asleep together with the tuk tuk drivers: there is the sea, the beautiful, but polluted beaches, the bars and the women, but.. that’s about it. If you want ‘culture’ you should look elsewhere. if you want raw unbriddled fun and testing your human mettle to the limit – you’ve come to the right place.
Welcome to Sinville.
Note: Photographs often depict the best parts of the scene and omit the detail. Right in the middle of this beautiful beach was a dead rat body slowly being rocked by the tide, and the open sewage runs straight into the ocean to the left of this picture.