Times, they are a changing.

Apparently, according to that font of all knowledge Google, it was Heraclitus, a pre-Socractic Greek philosopher who said that the only constant in life is change.  And modern Cambodia is a fantastic example of that being true.


Take my recent visit to Phnom Penh, when I turned a familiar corner to find that what was a half-built building only 4 weeks ago on my last visit was now a huge, fully functioning two storey supermarket.   Just one example of the phenomenal speed of change occurring in the city.


But it’s not just in the big smoke that change is occurring.  Here in sleepy old Kampot things are changing too.

Being a tourist town the population is pretty here fluctuates quite a lot.  Each year the arrival of dry, high season in late November sees a swell in the number of visitors and residents which then start to drop off again at this time of year as we transit through a period of super hot weather (currently highs of 36c and around 70-80% humidity are the daily norm) into the rainy, low season.  Businesses come and go as people pack up and move on and others move in and there’s generally a whole lot of change in the air all the time.

Ever since I moved here, the rumour mill has been awash with tales of a Chinese ‘invasion’ of the nearby seaside resort, Sihanoukville.   Slowly but surely a number of expat refugees have arrived in town sharing stories of being thrown out of their accommodation at a moment’s notice because some Chinese businessman had offered the landlord an inflated rent in exchange for exclusive use of the whole building.   The press has further reinforced this, reporting on the Cambodian Government backed Chinese plans to turn Sihanoukville into the second Macao, a city filled to the brim with huge casinos and glittering high rise hotels.


This change presents me with a bit of a quandary.  On the one hand, in my opinion Sihanoukville was a bit of a den of iniquity, full of girly bars, sleaze, drugs and debauchery so turning it into a casino city is maybe not such a bad thing.  However, sadly it appears the Chinese aren’t that keen on it being a multicultural city, first they got the foreigners out and they’re now targeting the local Khmer population, buying up their land from under them and making them so unwelcome that they too are now seeking refuge here in Kampot.


All of this has led to Kampot starting to change.  Again, it’s a bit of a tale of two halves.  On the one hand a Sihanoukville refugee Khmer woman has taken over the tenancy on the lunatic’s ‘Flashpacker’ restaurant at my home meaning there might actually be some food served from there and a tad less lunacy to boot.  On the other hand, some entrepreneurial expats have moved their late night bar businesses into town causing friction with long term residents and planting the first seeds of a not changing for the better feel to the town.


And now that the Sihanoukville rumours have come true, attention has turned to Kampot itself.  Will we be witness to the next invasion by the Chinese?  Are they already buying up land ready to storm in and takeover?


One recentish post (February) on the Kampot Facebook page started like this:


Does anyone know anything about the supposed 50 story building with a shopping mall in down town Kampot? I heard this was a Chinese project that had already been approved.


The comedy responses bounced back and forth, with the floor count ranging from an innocuous 10 to a preposterous 125 and a healthy spattering of sarcasm intermingled thanks to the British contingent in town.  To date the post has elicited 102 responses most of which have an entertaining element, however favourite response by far has to be this one:


Image may contain: skyscraper, sky and outdoor“This is the view I will have from my business in just 3 months!!!Outrageous! With a underground parking space that will be 22 stories BELOW sea level!? 

Someone also told me that if you are a VIP and get the goldsecret honk you can access an underground highway straight to Sihanoukville! At least that is what I’ve heard!? And someone even spoke about a dock for submarines!???!?”


As of today, the lovely range of street food stalls either side of the land (including a great little Italian place where I might or might not have got very drunk on mum’s last night here!) have been cleared away and according to a local source soil testing has been carried out by the Khmer company that have bought the land.


I’ll let you know how it transpires (and if I’m ever honoured enough to learn the goldsecret honk)!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find somewhere to park my submarine until that new dock is ready…


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