Sihanoukville Cambodia gets bigger but not necessarily better

Once targeted as Cambodia’s only deep water port, Sihanoukville has really failed to live up to expectations.  Cambodia’s loss may very well have been the traveller’s gain, because it has become popular with a few travellers who have discovered its sandy beaches and several offshore islands.

Despite it gaining a reputation as an oasis, visitor numbers have remained quite low, but that may be about to change.

Construction has begun on a major shopping centre, which should have opened in 2011, but it got held up by delays.  Set on 72 hectares it is envisaged that the shopping centre will have 800 shops plus a reception and wedding centre.  The shopping centre is being built by the same company, Pearl City Asia, that is also building a 17-storey five-star hotel new the same spot and a new development called Pearl City Asia which is now several years behind schedule.

Currently there are six hotels in Sihanoukville, so it is hard to see how enough business will be generated to satisfy the needs of 800 shop owners.  Even if the shop keepers depend on the support of locals, Sihanoukville only has a population of 235,000 which would hardly be enough to support such a large complex.  Even so, if the shops are catering to the tourist trade, the prices they charge would most likely be out of the range of ordinary Cambodians.

On the plus side, the new development will create a lot of local employment.  One assumes there would have to be a pretty big marketing campaign to attract foreign tourists.  They have built an airport in Sihanoukville, but is hasn’t opened yet.  In fact, it sits there looking empty and desolate, so international carriers are probably not going to schedule flights there until the airport is operational and has a proven safety record.

At this stage the best way to get to Sihanoukville is by bus or car from Phnom Penh, a distance of 230 kilometres.  This may be okay for backpackers and adventurers, but your normal tourist on a package tour will probably be unimpressed, and choose to go somewhere else in Asia that is just as beautiful but far more accessible.

Those involved in the Sihanoukville tourist industry complain that the town’s major reason for attracting low tourist trade is it’s lack of flights to the town, rather than a distinct lack of shopping.

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