Saturday, 3 March 2007

The Corridor Policy

Siem Reap -- Phnom Penh -- Sihanoukville that's the "tourism corridor" that Cambodia's government wants to develop. The aim is simple: keeping the tourists longer than the average 3.2 days in the country and luring them away from the temples with promises of sea, sun and fun. But will tourists stay longer? Will they head en masse to the coast? And how attractive are the beaches of Sihanoukville?



I must admit that I wouldn't fly half around the world to spend a week at one of Sihanoukville's beaches - not even the private Sokha Beach that belongs to the Sokimex empire (owned by Cambodia's Vice Prime Minister). Sokimex also runs the ticketing for Angkor Wat - and also runs many other prime tourist infrastructures throughout Cambodia (see Bokor Palace post). Many ordinary Cambodians and tourism operators I spoke with questioned the operating practises of Sokimex.

Sihanouville itself has the charm of a Soviet built truck, a faint communist era beach resort feel and delapidating gambling infrastrucutre. No glitz, no glam, no charm - not much at all actually... the beaches are rather dirty. I was told that's only because of the recent Chinese new year, when half of the country converged to the beaches to welcone the year of the pig. Well... pigs, what can I say, it is dirty! The shacks bordering the beach are not particularly inviting, the tourists (many older Westerners in search of sex tourism) are rather off-putting as are the one legged or one armed beggers (as sad as it may be) constantly by your side.



Now, I am really being negative here. Sure I am spoiled, once you've been been to Australia or Brazil it's difficult to compare, but I guess I just don't quite understand why anyone would join the current investment craze taking place here. Cambodia will really have to work very hard to turn this Costa del Cambodia with its booming sex tourism into an attractive and sustainable sea side resort where tourists want to unwind after a few dusty days at the temples.

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