By Albeiro Rodas
Actually Sihanoukville is a small town of around 200 hundred persons in the entire Province and it is a very small one if we compare it with the neighbor towns of countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia. But wait, you have to consider also that Cambodia is just coming out of a long and horrible period of war and human tragedies. Population will rise in the coming decades and surely, Cambodia will be a very well populated country just as its neighbors.
The City of King Sihanouk
The city is named after former King Norodom Sihanouk who constructed it as a port between 1955 and 1960, so it is one of the newest cities of a country that has a millenarian tradition. Of course, King Norodom Sihanouk, in that time the Head of State, wanted to open Cambodia to modernity after the 100 years of French Colony. But Sihanoukville is also the newest name of Kampong Sav or Kampong Som Province. Today many people still referring to the place with those names, but Sihanoukville is prevailing anyway.
It is also one of the small provinces of Cambodia; almost we can say a “Province-City” or a Especial District as it is Phnom Penh, Kept City and Paillin City. With the construction of Sihanoukville, Cambodia returned to the sea after centuries when it lost the access to the Chinese Sea due to the Thai and Vietnamese advance. To return to the sea means to come in touch with sea trade routes. When Cambodia owned Kampuchea Krom – today the South of Vietnam -, its territory was in the middle of the historically two big giants of Asia in their trading route: China and India. It was also the key for the development of Phnom Penh after the Angkor Throne was transferred to the Basac River. But with the lost of the southern territories, the turn was for what is today Ho Chi Min city. Sihanouville then was about to play the ancient role of a Cambodia in the middle of the trade routes of Asia.
Evening view from Wat Leu (Upper Pagoda). Picture by Al Rodas.
But Sihanoukville was going to be built in a very strategic place: the Gulf of Thailand. If you see carefully the map of that Gulf, six countries have their sores there in a round form that makes it almost like a sea. In front of Sihanoukville are nations like Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam. This first factor could be a good key in the development of the big city of the south of Cambodia. If you see Sihanoukville from the Cambodian perspective, you can think that Sihanoukville is out of the center and that it is Phnom Penh the real central place of the country and that is okay. But if you see Sihanoukville from the Southeast Asia region, Sihanoukville is in the center.
The city-province is a rich place in natural environment: sea, islands and hills, rivers and natural parks. Tourists are coming to Sihanoukville in a growing number every year and it is becoming the third most visited region of Cambodia after Siem Riep and Phnom Penh. Hotels along the beaches and a friendly city with more or less what a city could offer although it is small in its urban town. The nature is great and beautiful and it keeps the enchantment of adventure and challenges to discover. The Ream National Park, for example, that joins the mountains, the rivers with waterfalls and the sea in a single adventure. The stunning views create a real peaceful atmosphere, especially in the evenings. You can go to Wat Leu (the Upper Pagoda) at 5 PM and enjoy the most beautiful sun setting of the Far East.
Cambodia is a country of children and youth. That is the best hope for a future country of development. In that way, education must be implement to ensure that the Cambodians of the next generations would be able to answer to the challenges of the modern world. Cambodia is now a poor country in a rich neighborhood. It is among countries like Thailand that has a middle economy; Vietnam that is nowadays the fastest growing economy of the world; Malaysia and Singapore; China, Japan and South Korea. It is like a poor family living in a rich quarter: what the poor family has to do is empower its standard of life or wait to become the waiter of its neighbors. That is then the first big challenges of Cambodia: to prepare its youth to become ready in a most professional standar of life.
With the developing of Cambodia, tourism is coming more and more to the country. When we think in tourism to Cambodia, we think in Europeans and Americans and, of course, they are coming many and many. But according with the information of the Ministry of Tourism, the countries that are visiting Cambodia in the first are the Asians like South Korea, China, Thailand and Vietnam. In this way, young Cambodians have to learn how to relate with foreigners and how to distinguish them. At the moment, ordinary Cambodians see foreigners as only one people. With the coming of tourism in one of the most visited regions of Asia, Cambodia is being also a victim of the evils of tourism. Among the good travelers who like to see places, admire culture and art and learn languages and other activities that mean an investment in the country, there are also the evils of sexual tourism, child abuse and human trafficking. The work of NGOs and international organizations to fight and prevent it is okay, but it is also a national commitment for Cambodians. Education must point out to our youth to be aware of such reality and create a culture of self defense. The proud of the country must be grown in the children, so they can see themselves as object of human dignity. Loving their culture and country is also a key to the prevention of tourist evils. If ordinary Cambodians see foreigners as a kind of “superior beings”, they will be a easy pray of “superior evils”.
The growing international investment in the country means also that youth have to be prepared in a skill or profession. Day by day Cambodia is asked by the world to grow the capacity of education for its people. It is not only through literacy centers for children so every Cambodian can write and read, but going further. Cambodians need to know things like the Internet, have an easy way to university, preparing in a best way its teachers and professors. Only in this way, Cambodian manpower will become skillful and ready to answer to the exigencies of a modern world that imposed a culture of efficiency and punctuality.
As a port, Sihanoukville is in the center of all this challenges. It is a tourist objective and foreigners are already a part of the common life in town. Restaurants, supermarkets and hotels are settled for the attention to international visitors. Many Cambodians in town speak a fair English and many know the mentality of foreigners. In this context, Don Bosco Sihanoukville answered to the challenge with the creation of a Hotel School in Ou Pram Street. Students are supposed to be a part of that future Cambodia.