From Paradise to Shit-ville

Things haven’t gone according to plan in Cambodia.  We had expected to spend a couple of weeks out on the islands with our grandchildren, doing a bit of snorkelling on the coral reefs, perhaps learning more about diving, playing on the beach with the children and generally chilling out.  But, 24 hours later we were back on the mainland.
Going to the island
The first inkling that things were going to be tricky was when the boat approached the village jetty.  There was a notice tied to a bamboo pole and three policemen waiting for us.  We weren’t going to be allowed to land.  After some furious negotiation, the boat was finally allowed to dock and we got off.  

Eventually we learned what it was all about.  There was conflict in the village between pro-conservationists and anti-conservationists.  Eco-tourism has given the villagers a taste of the benefits you can get from making money out of tourists and a section of the village want to develop that.  Entrepreneurs want to create a resort.  Others oppose it and want to keep the status quo. The previous evening Neil’s son had been beaten up in the village bar. He had a broken nose and a lot of bruises.  The atmosphere was very tense.

We checked into our palm thatched hut, had an afternoon siesta and watched the sun set in the sea.  It was very beautiful. We happily settled in for two weeks of peace and quiet.  But the following morning it was decided that it might be safer for Neil’s son to take his wife and children back to the mainland, so we had to go with them on the afternoon boat to Sihanoukhville.  It was a very sad little group on the boat.

It’s still high season here, so all the reasonably priced ‘european’ hotels near the beach were full and we wanted to be near Neil’s son’s house in order to see the children.  So we booked into a Khmer guest house at the ‘wrong’ end of town.  This is not touristville - this is the ‘real’ Cambodia that visitors rarely see.
An expanding city. The view opposite our guest house.
The guest house costs 15$ US a night, but it’s quiet and clean.  The family are very friendly. We have a huge room with two king-size beds and a shower room - though no hot water.  There’s nowhere to eat and no wi-fi, so we have to go out for every meal.  It’s staggeringly hot and humid.

This is the laundry -  two women with a plastic bowl!  It costs 75 cents a kilo.

The Boulangerie - the 'Asian Baguettes' are a legacy of French colonial occupation.  They are nothing like the French equivalent!

This is the taxi rank.

And this is the local filling station - you can buy fuel here by the litre in pepsi cola bottles!

These are the local restaurants and, believe me, you wouldn’t want to eat here unless you had iron-clad intestines!

Sihanoukville has got much, much worse in the three years since I’ve been here. The local residents call it Shit-ville - and for a reason.  It’s the biggest rubbish dump in the world - there is stinking refuse, food waste (human waste too) and plastic and paper litter everywhere.  The rats here live well! 

Plastic waste blows everywhere
 Add to that rolling power cuts that last for hours every day and life can be difficult.  Almost every business has it’s own generator to run essential services (though not the airconditioning).  You simply have to if you want to stay in business.  As the tourist industry has expanded here so has the demand for electricity.  Apparently a Chinese, coal-fired, power station is being built but is months behind schedule and god knows what it will do to the atmosphere when it’s finally commissioned.

This is what the third world looks like.   If you stay in one of the resorts - what I call ‘Tourist Fictions’, you won’t see it.  I confess that I’m well out of my comfort zone - what I see on the streets every day makes my stomach churn, but this is the reality of life for a large sector of the world’s population and it makes me feel guilty for the privileges I take for granted.  And guilty for enjoying a life-style that's ruining the planet.


  1. Yes, it's all very different once you get off the tourist trail. I had similar experiences in Thailand & did not have to go far from tourism-central to see the public health and waste disposal issues.

    How is your lifestyle destroying the planet, Kathleen? Travel miles, or other?

  2. Sorry things have worked out badly.


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