Joe raised his glass and shouted “To another season!!” and emptied it. Joe is the owner of Seagarden at Otres Beach near Sihanoukville, Cambodia and today is his birthday.
For the last year or so, Otres Beach has been under the threat of being completely removed. Currently 50-something laid back chilled beach establishments fills up the space – most of them run by expat westerners that found their happiness here. The staff is a mix of locals and westerners – the guests are all foreigners. This is a place where the beer is ice-cold, the weather is hot and the weed is cheap. Showing up here for a day or two but then staying for a month or more is a recurring story.
The problem is that technical ownership of the land is somewhat chaotic to say the least and I personally have only scratched the surface about who owns what and wants who to do what.
The short story is that the entire area is threatened by Chinese investors looking to build luxury casino hotels in the area. Based on the large number of empty or abandoned casinos all around Cambodia it doesn’t seem to be a very successful plan but nonetheless many casinos are in the making.
On Koh Ta Kiev (an island off the coast of Sihanoukville and Otres beach) I asked around what the deal was with that and got various vague answers. From what I could gather, half the island is owned by Chinese and half owned by the French. The various accommodations out there are just built with a somewhat bribe-induced dubious permission which is why they never know when it’s revoked and the whole area is cleared. Furthermore, there is a large amount of free-roaming cows just grazing at will. These are apparently owned by the military and have been shifted around from island to island over the years – “sometimes the government comes over and moves some of the cows to another island – we don’t know why”. Lastly, some local fishers put some shacks on the island into an area called “the fishing village”.
To sum up: there are a lot of different forces operation out here and to me, the foreign tourist, it’s all very hairy.
Last year, the Chinese came and cleared a huge path straight through the jungle to make way for a road but then, just as quickly as they arrived, they left again. The theory is that the Cambodian government is putting pressure on the Chinese to develop these areas and apparently some sort of timeline required that there would be a road by the end of 2015 or whatever. To comply with this requirement, they just cleared some random jungle and left again. The French side remains untouched as the Cambodian government apparently are more lenient with them.
In conclusion: I don’t think anyone really knows what’s going to happen even just within the next year.
I really would love to know more about all this and not just here but also at other locations in Cambodia. Are the Chinese building Casinos against their will because of some strange arrangements with the Cambodian government? How long will we be able to drink pina coladas at these remote islands? Please comment if you know anything.