Cambodian coastal town of Sihanoukville changes in Chinese gokparadijs

The new Macau. So is the Cambodian coastal town of Sihanoukville called. The southern port city is located on the so-called New silk road and is therefore very interesting for China. Entrepreneurs build there massive lot of casinos.

Boats on beash in the sea at Sihanoukville, Cambodia © Getty Images/iStockphoto

Also read: These are the places you must see in Cambodia

The Cambodian government sees it all like that to happen. The money flows within and Beijing does not make tricky questions. ‘It goes so fast in Sihanoukville, the city there in a few months time already completely different,’ says a friend to me.

The last time that I was visiting, in december. A good half year ago. Because I have ‘dramatic changes’ like with my own eyes, I plan a visit to ‘the new Macau’, also known as the largest gokparadijs in the world.

Carte blanche

When you drive, you see indeed anywhere casinos. It would have been almost a hundred, but there is constantly built on. Sometimes they are great and gaudy palaces with a lot of gold. But you can also see the obscure gambling places, only identifiable by a sign with the symbols of the playing cards.

Just next to that casinos you will find still the typical Cambodian shops where tea is served and where the kebabs on a barbecue. Enjoy on the beach tourists of a cocktail. Or a dip in the gulf of Thailand.

Different elements collide. Here is clearly no planning involved. The Chinese seem to be completely carte blanche to get to their gokhonger to satisfy.

Gaudy lions

The statue of two golden lions, on a roundabout near the sea, is a beacon in the city. About taste not argue, but the images shine for me no grandeur. They had, I think, is especially great. But impress they do not.

Leean Saan (76) has a mini-shop near the statue. She sells soft drinks, cigarettes, and fuel for motorcycles. Twenty years ago she for the first time, with her family from the province of Kampot to come here. “When it was one large forest, there were no houses”, she says. “There was already a statue of a lion, but that was smaller and white instead of gold.’

Ten years ago, when the tourists came, they started with drinks to sell. “But the things go bad,” she says. “There will be more and more Chinese people, and who do not buy from me.” She finds it a pity that her country is changing so rapidly and that the government does not intervene.

“They are gangsters!’, says a tuk-tuk driver who just fuel. When I ask what he means, he says that Chinese customers do not properly pay for a ride. ‘They promise, for example, three dollars. But if we are at the destination, they will pay only two. And if I protest, threaten them with violence. Because they are in a group, they feel strong.’

Special economic zone

What away are some Cambodian young people in the queue for a coffee. They are more positive about the recent developments. Rath (22) has been working for five years as a receptionist in a hotel-cum-casino. “The first Chinese are here two years ago come,” he says. “My first salary was eighty dollars per month. Two years ago, it was raised to two hundred dollars and since last year, I earn five hundred dollars per month. They have staff with experience.’

Other side of the coin is that everything in the city in a short time, has become more expensive. ‘Rent a room cost used to be thirty dollars per month, now up to two hundred fifty asked. But I love the net still more over than ever before.”


His friend Phan (20) previously worked as a street vendor in Thailand and is now a security guard in one of the casinos. “I want to be here to stay and to wait and see whether the wages will rise.’ The largest part of his wages he sends home.

‘We knock working days of twelve hours and four days per month off of the Chinese management.’ The staff in the casino itself overnight. “We sleep six people in one room and get three meals per day. There is good care of us, ” he says.

Basically, you as a foreigner cannot buy land in Cambodia. But Sihanoukville was declared a special economic zone. “The Chinese simply buy the Cambodian nationality. They have up to one hundred thousand dollars for over, ” claims Rath.

O Fortuna

I want to finally get such a casino take a closer look at and choose for ‘Golden Sand’, where Phan works. I am the only white staff and security has me immediately in the holes. At the entrance is constantly ‘O Fortuna’ from ‘Carmina Burana’ is repeated. On the tones of the music, appear all kinds of money on a video screen. An animated film shows Chinese dragons and bosses.

The room is big and feels cold, despite the wall-to-wall carpet and the leather and fabric seats. There are Chinese decorations on the wall. Large card tables, the croupiers in a neat red suit. Also here a lot of security officers, but also staff-of-all-utility, such as girls in blue packages with vliegenmeppers by the hall to be tricky insects to death to knock.

Remarkable: Cambodians are allowed by the law itself, not gambling. The customers in the casino are all Chinese. They don’t come in suit and tie, but shorts and T-shirt.

“Most of our customers are construction workers,” says Wu, who is himself one of the many construction sites in Sihanoukville works. ‘They come here to spend the money that they just earned.”

Wu is here for six months and earns seven hundred dollars a month. That is the same as in China, but here is more job security. “In Beijing, it often happens that you have a time to stay at home because there are no jobs. Here is a permanently built.” He works from five o’clock in the evening until five o’clock in the morning and during the day so time to gamble. “But not every day’, he assures.

Not one word of Khmer or English

Ly, another customer, comes from the north of China. He is a tourist and stays here for two weeks, along with a friend. “In China, I also like playing, but there you can only online gambling. Here you can at least get to the casino.’

One customer put constantly full of notes of ten dollars…which he time and again lose. He remains lacks expression new notes lay on the table. A dealer takes a stack of hundred dollar bills through a vote counting machine. The screen displays 111. There is a lot of money resistance.

I go to another casino, ‘The New Macau’. Also here carpets and fabric seats. On the wall hang a few paintings that the atmosphere of the ancient Rome. Furthermore, only Chinese inscriptions; not one word in Khmer or English.

And also here is the staff neat in costume, compared to customers with jeans and cap.

Dong is a worker who is here now for one year of residence. His days he spends at the casino “because I have nothing else to do’. Yesterday he has three hundred dollars lost. “But sometimes I win five hundred dollars’, he adds immediately. He has it to his liking. In January he goes back to the house for the Chinese new year.


The manager wants to just talk, but only if he can anonymously continue. He explains that the casino recruiters bet, that customers make. Srun (28) is such a ronselaar. He is a Cambodian with Chinese roots and works as a tour guide for Chinese tourists. ‘They asked me often the question is where they’re able to gamble. That has me thinking.’ Srun is a number of casinos are going to talk and has a commission to enforce.

“You need to be with Chinese people face-to-face talk,” he says. “I do understand that some people think that the gangsters are because they are always so loud and talk. But that’s just their style of negotiating.’

© Getty Images/iStockphoto

Srun receives one percent of the money that customers exchange for play coins. “That may not seem like much, but in some cases it is about ten thousand dollars for a group of four. Then open the casino and a special VIP room for them and I get so a hundred dollars.” He works together with three casinos. So this is a nice source of extra income.


It is lunch time. I choose the noodle soup in a…Chinese restaurant. On a long table, a noisy family to eat. ‘Come here just Chinese people’, says she Sang, ‘I speak is not itself a Khmer’. She is a year ago with her husband came here from Hangzhou, in eastern China. “Here, customers pay an average of seven times more for the same dish. Then you know it.”

Chinese people do not go to Cambodian restaurants. They only want their familiar dishes and they want to in their own language to be operated. And so is the market open for people like Sang.

She pays her three thousand dollars rent for her restaurant. ‘That’s a lot, but it remains an interesting deal. Also for the owner, by the way. That would be such a sum never of the locals can get. Everyone satisfied so.’

And thus helps the Cambodian owner is actively involved in the Chinese invasion of Sihanoukville. His fellow citizens, who may already have their life to live, should be forced to move if they have an affordable commercial building want.

One of the customers says that he is also considering to come here to start a business. “The rents are constantly rising, so I would better now try to get a good deal. On the other hand: if I still have a few years wait, there are probably more customers.’ He expects the number of Chinese people here is only going to grow, once the New silk road more tangible.

Great location on Otres Beach

About ten kilometers outside the city lies Otres Beach. Three years ago, when I for the first time in Sihanoukville was, had Belgian expats here for me travel. ‘Cambodians usually go to Sokha beach or Independent beach (near the roundabout with the lions), but the western tourists come to Otres,” she said then.

It was indeed a very nice weekend at the sea. Our guest house was on a dirt road, where cows had to cross. The beach bars were out of bamboo wood. It was all something very authentic. Therefore, I would like to return to.

The bamboo constructions and the dirt road are still there. The cows also. But the place looks desolate. Umbrellas are blown down, chairs are rotting in the water. Admittedly, some of the beach bars are closed because of the rainy season. They will only be in november the opening of the doors, as the daily rains stop. But many things are for sale or to rent. And others are already taken…by the Chinese.

“I also consider to my case, to rent,” says one of the few uitbaatsters that its beach bar still open. ‘Chinese people can be up to three times more to pay rent than Cambodians because they can earn more.’ Chinese tourists travel in a group and they occur throughout the year. Europeans come individually and only during the dry season.

‘In addition, Otres known with backpackers and those trying their budget is very limiting, so you may not have much money. Most of the backpackers go today to one of the islands: Koh Rong or Koh Rong Sunlum.’

China town

And so you see a lot of Chinese inscriptions appear in Otres. Zhang (56) is a Chinese laborer on the beach, a tavern renovates, together with seven colleagues. “I get eight hundred dollars per month. We usually work nine hours per day. As our task done a lot quicker than planned, we can take a few days off. And then he would go to the casinos. “I guess many here rather than in Macau. There is the minimum bet bigger.’ He advises me to also have a look to go to ‘the big project’.

A little further was the beach Otres 2. The beach bars are removed and the end of last year, has started the construction of a new town that is three square kilometers in size. There are apartment buildings and shops, a huge casino and a swimming pool.

I buy a bottle of water Tharat, that her merchandise has on display under a plastic cover just next to the yard. Her son-in-law is one of the 1500 workers at the giant yard. There is both Chinese as well as with Cambodian workers worked. And it’s going fast. Very quickly. “The company has a building permit for three years. Then everything must be finished. That is why there is round-the-clock work. The workers sleep in there. They are almost not to the outside.’

Because the yard for a steady income, the whole family moved from the province of Prey Veng, in the southeast of Cambodia. They will remain here until the new city is ready.

Two separate communities

A little further along I stop at a typical Cambodian coffee shop. Plastic chairs, a few wooden tables and young and old gathered around a television screen showing a Korean soap opera-dubbed in Khmer. Loeung tells her daughter here ten years ago, the bar started. “When were twenty families in the forest. But three years ago it has spectacularly changed.” Many older people now sell their homes and attract to nearby Kampot to with the money building a new house.’

“If that yard is complete, I pull maybe away also. The sale price for my property rises every day, ” she says.

On the way back to Sihanoukville points the translator to me on another new project. “That is a typical Cambodian house,” he says. ‘Cambodians that their property sold, building together a new home.’ And so the two groups separated and you can create a separate Cambodian district in addition to a growing Chinese community.

The New Silk Road

Sihanoukville is the One Belt-One Road route, or the New silk road connecting China with the rest of the world need to connect. It is a port city and is therefore very interesting for China. The Cambodian government has recognized it and sees the money like to come.

Cambodia is looking to be yet another reason for rapprochement with China. Prime minister hun Sen, already 33 years in power in Cambodia, in July of this year, win the elections after the largest opposition party, CNRP simply had to forbid. This led to reactions in Europe and the USA. But Beijing does not set any awkward questions about human rights.

China is the largest foreign investor in Cambodia. Last year was officially for 1.6 billion dollars of Chinese money into the country pumped. According to the Cambodian foreign minister would have bilateral trade agreements by 2020, six billion dollars.

In return for the large investments Cambodia for China, for example, if it’s about the right of ownership in the South China Sea. China’s claims there as well as all the islands, but that is in conflict with the international law of the sea. ASEAN -the association of South-east Asian countries – wild China therefore, in 2016, unanimously condemn, but Cambodia asked his veto.

According to the provincial governor, there are 6385 foreigners in Sihanoukville, of which there are 4498 Chinese.

Chinese choose Cambodia also like to as a holiday destination. In 2017 there were 5.6 million international tourists to Cambodia. The most important group are the Chinese, accounting for 1.2 million. (Figures from the Cambodian ministry of Tourism)

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