Aug 27 2012
Cambodia has big plans for Sihanoukville. By 2040, if all goes according to plan, a million and a half people will call Sihanoukville home and the vacant land that stretches for several kilometres directly behind Otres and Ochheuteal beaches will be a sea of highrises and residential areas. That’s a few years away yet, but with an annual growth rate of nearly 14 percent, once sleepy Snookyville is changing fast.
Not long ago, most of the day-trippers to Otres hopped on their motorbikes or flagged down a tuk tuk to return to the relative safety of Sihanoukville before nightfall. Now that the access road is paved and the new restaurants, bars and bungalows have opened, Otres is fast becoming the most popular beach in town.
The new pedestrian walk along Ochheuteal beach is old news now. That was completed in time for the beginning of the 2011 high season, though authorities didn’t quite finish paving the road down to the Serendipity beach pier until February of 2012. Now that it’s done, the funky shops that used to line the road have largely been replaced by more upmarket hotels, shops, restaurants and bars that cater mostly to flashpackers and middle class families.
After around 22:00, the party backpackers take over. Utopia, at the top of the hill, used to be the only hot spot off the beach, but the more upmarket Led Zephyr, with its plush booths and guitar-shaped bar, is giving it a run for its money. Just down the street towards the pier, Maybe Later is said to serve the best cocktails in Sihanoukville. Hang a left at the beach and you can still find the bars the old Snookyville was so famous/infamous for, though even they have had facelifts since a new building code was introduced in 2009.
When the old bus station was torn down in 2008, the downtown bars and guesthouses fell on hard times. Some of them closed their doors, while others still hang in there, relying on regulars from the old days and backpackers looking for clean rooms in the $6 to $8 range. It’s not that downtown isn’t changing, but most of the change is commercial and Cambodian. The old bus station, for instance, is now a big, modern apartment complex. A few blocks away on the corner of CT Road and Ekareach Street, Happy Burger caters to Cambodian families with a taste for Western-style fast food. After burning down in 2008, Psar Leu, the local market on Makara Street, was rebuilt and improved, but fortunately for those of us who are here to escape shopping mall culture, it has a buzzing local atmosphere to it.
Call it Telegraph Hill, call it Victory Hill, or simply call it the Hill, if there is one part of Sihanoukville that remains frozen in time, it’s this one. Hang a left at the first street you come to after the stoplight and you’re on the unnamed semi-paved lane that can politely be described as the older gentlemen’s part of town. It used to be a major tourist area, but when the sleazier bars started popping up, almost everyone moved on. It’s a shame, because it’s just a short walk down to Victory Beach and you can get million dollar views at backpacker rates at some of the guesthouses along the edge of the hill.
Of course, there’s much more to Sihanoukville than this. Some of the most fascinating parts of Cambodia’s newest province lie on the offshore islands and further inland. If you want to see history in the making and have a good time while you’re at it, give Snooky a shot. Wait too long, though, and it will be a very different Sihanoukville you’re visiting.
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