From Apsara to Zen : Selling off the Paradises
If I close my eyes while listening to the roar of the surf, I imagine the broad sand beaches and dunes of the Baltic sea. In Cambodia I miss those dunes. The country offers some white sand beaches, but they cannot compare to those Thai paradises. In addition the Cambodian government decided to sell them to the highest bidder. A perspective on the future of the tourist town of Sihanoukville …
Comfortably sitting in a tuk tuk I’m leaving the center of Sihanoukville, passing the tourist beaches Serendipity and Occheuteal. It is rainy season, low season. Though, the difference between mass tourism and recreational tourism is obvious. Behind Serendipity Beach travelers can find the insider tip Otres Beach. Those who come here will rarely see sex tourists, saleswomen and masseuses. Visitors will find small, humble wooden huts and excellent local cuisine. Not only during low season the beach is quieter and more natural.
I get out of the tuk and walk to the beach seeing the storm clouds whipping across the Gulf of Thailand. While the waves break on the beach, the offshore pulls the sea water back magnetically. The few rays of the setting sun glaze the waves with a wax coat. Behind the scene ranks of palm trees, pine trees, wooden huts with thatched roofs, cow and buffalo paddocks are visible. The weathered stone fences witness, that the parcels have been in their place for decades.
I want to find out more about the future of the land at the romantic Otres Beach in Sihanoukville. Going further the scenery changes. For ten minutes I walk along a barren landscape with dredgers, cows, concrete pipes and half-finished paved paths. I suppose it is not very relaxing to stay here on weekdays. “What will be the plan?”, I wonder. The owner of the next guesthouse will answer this question.
“We were kicked out and had to leave our first guesthouse,” says the Cambodian. There was no compensation, but they had no land title to protest against it. At least they had been warned by the local authorities, that their business might not last long. Officially the beach area belongs to the government and theoretically the land cannot be sold. Two years ago, she and her husband then bought the new, more remote parcel. It seems to be one of the best accommodations at the beach, I will keep it as insider tip. The bungalows by the sea offer a spine-tingling view of the sunset, the menu is local and the staff is hearty.
Nobody ever told the couple a reason for the eviction. According to media reports a garden will be built there. In spite, the neighbors say that the beach area will be transformed into another crowded beach. “With a restaurant in the middle surrounded by the rooms everything will look the same, garbage will lie everywhere,” the woman says discouraged. “I do not know how long we can stay here for.”
To figure out the planned constructions in the barren landscape is not yet possible, but obviously the beach promenade will not be wider than five meters. If the government will allow another cement desert, it would only be one of many examples for their decision to sell off the country’s resources.
* The livelihoods of more than 50 fishing families went up in flames on Saturday night as a fire ripped through their Sihanoukville floating village, seriously injuring a baby girl and six other people. The fire forced the villagers to set up camp in makeshift tents on a parcel of land flanking the former floating village.
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