PHAT Sokhom, 32, is one of the many women who line the road running along the small public beach in the heart of Kep. As a car approaches she rushes out hoping to draw some custom.
“I offer tourists my food menu and if they like it I cook food for them beside my hut,” she says.
Just across the road from the beach, Phat Sokhom’s hut is identical to its neighbours. Constructed only two years ago as part of municipal improvements, it is modern with a concrete base and metal pillars.
“I used to have a wooden stall here,” she says admitting that the previous huts would break endangering her customers. “The new huts are safer.”
The improvements have come at a cost. Phat Sokhorn now pays $25 per month for her hut, whereas she used to pay $13 per month for the previous wooden one. This though has not dampened business.
“Before the hut was not so good and we also rented at a cheap price, but now it is better and we rent at a higher price,” she says. “On a normal day if customers just want to sit in the hut and not order food, we charge $5 per day, at weekends and on public holidays we charge US$10.”
Although she does get some foreign tourists, the majority of her customers are Cambodian.
“Saturdays and Sundays are very good, but the best days are the public holidays and especially Khmer New Year and Chinese New Year,” she says.
One problem is the increasing number of huts. While there were only 30 wooden huts, now there are 42 modernised ones. This has stiffened competition. “I think there are too many huts,” she says. “This week I have only had one customer.”
Phat Sokhom views the changes to the beach huts as part of a more general recent improvement in Kep.
“If we compare with three years ago we have seen a lot of changes,” she says. “Lots of roads are paved and more guest houses are open. Everything is cleaner and car parking is better than before.”
INTERPRETER: RANN REUY