Saturday, 3 March 2007

Five Star Tourism @ the Sweetheart Islands

Now, it's not all dirty and charmless. If you have a bit more time and don't mind a three hour rocky and deafening trip on a dodgy wooden fisher boat without life jackets and any sort of comfort, there are beautiful deserted beaches off Cambodia's coast. Miraculously Ko Rong, the largest island, is still largely untouched. On the Western side seven kilometers of white sand beach and cristal clear blue water lined with coconut palm trees provide the ultimate Robinson Crusoe feeling. There's not a soul in sight...

Gosh, I was dying to jump into the Turkoise water, but with two fishermen and my macho guide on board I would have had to jump in my clothes (like all Cambodian women do) - and I had nothing to change... bummer!

Unfortunately here too it's just a question of time when development will strike. The whole island is said to have been bought by a thirty-something Cambodian tycoon. Only a few foreign investors managed to snap up part of the cake. These two little islands were bought by Australians who are planning a five star resort here. The plans by star architect Bill Bensley are already drawn. Now they are only waiting for the last inhabitants to leave the island. Four out of ten families have been promised work in the new resort. The other families have two months to clear out, dismantle their wooden houses and rebuild them on the main island Ko Rong just accross the Sweetheart Islands. Each family received $50 to move. The two owners of the island received $30,000 to sell their land and the state gained an unspecified significantly larger amount of money to sign off the lease for the next 70 years. If you have enough cash, anything goes in Cambodia. Not many people would tell me that on the record, but literally everyone would off the record... I've heard that time and time again throughout my trip - and it's the same story all over the country.

Today, it's still difficult to imagine a five star resort with 30 or so bungalows on the water, a spa, a swimming pool, two restaurants on these two dry little islands. But if development doesn't spoil the view across to Ko Rong and local fishermen and their families don't burn and chop down the entire forest, the Sweetheart Islands could well become a little Cambodian gem in the Gulf of Thailand.


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