Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - "Please come and relax at the beach"

"Please come and relax at the beach"

"Please come and relax at the beach"

SIHANOUKVILLE - White sandy beaches, azure sky and not a soul in sight - sounds like

the perfect getaway, except that this was supposed to be the Christmas rush in Sihanoukville.

While a few foreigners and Cambodians braved the latest mercury scare, hoteliers

and restauranteurs reported a sharp downturn in business, with many outlets running

with depleted staff or shorter opening hours.

"We asked [the owner of] our guesthouse in Phnom Penh, whether it is safe to

go to Sihan-oukville", said German tourist Gaby Keller, as she sat in the shade

on Sokha Beach. "He said ëyes yes, no problem', but the guest house where we

stay [in Sihanoukville] is owned by his sister, and when we got here we found she

has fled to Phnom Penh with her children".

Teng Huy, Director of Tourism for Sihanoukville, said there had been almost a 100%

decrease in the number of tourists during December. "Last year we had 2,000

tourists, this year we expected 3,000" over the festive season, he said. And

how many tourists were officially accounted for in December? "ahh. . .ten",

he said, sheepishly.

Huy added that his office had sent a letter to the Ministry of Tourism to request

help with strategies to attract tourism back to the region, but as yet had received

no reply. "We have to tell the truth about the toxic waste", he said. "We

have to tell them [tourists] that it is already removed and now it is safe."

Despite this optimistic assessment of the situation, Huy also noted that the damage

to the economy of the area stretched further than just hotels and restaurants. The

fishing community was being disrupted because locals in Phnom Penh had stopped buying

sea fish, he said, as they believed that it was contaminated with mercury.

Many local market stallholders and beach vendors had packed up and disappeared in

the rush to leave the port town, and even taxi drivers to Phnom Penh were asking

much lower rates than usual, with a price of $10 to rent a car snapped up immediately.

Not everything was bad news, though. Madagascan tourist Edward Lamport said he had

no qualms about eating local seafood, nor drinking Angkor beer, which is produced

at the brewery just outside Sihanoukville. "Absolutely no worries", he

said. Others drinking and eating with him agreed, including Professor J. Santini,

a Director of Studies in health science. All said they would not be cutting their

vacation short because of the scare.

Tou Chiseng, manager of the popular Sokha Restaurant, would certainly welcome more

customers like Lamport and Santini. Christmas was normally a boom time for him, he

said, but this year he had seen hardly any customers. Did he think this was because

of the poisoning scare? "Perhaps", he said with a wistful smile.

By new year, one or two more tourists were starting to trickle back into the town,

but for Teng Huy, the key to reviving tourism here is the local population - once

they have all returned, the tourists will follow.

"This city is a key area for the development of Cambodia", he said. "We

are not going to let this be a disaster city. Please come and relax at the city's

beaches".

MOST VIEWED

  • Temi tourism project approved by the CDC

    The $500.4 million Tourism, Ecological, Marine and International (Temi) tourism project has been approved by the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), according to a notice on its Facebook page on Monday. The project is part of Chinese-owned Union City Development Group Co Ltd’s (

  • Rainsy will return at ‘favourable time’

    Opposition figure Sam Rainsy on Saturday suggested he would not return to Cambodia as he had previously promised, saying that like liberators King Father Norodom Sihanouk and Charles de Gaulle, he would only do so at a “favourable time”. “I will go back to Cambodia

  • NagaWorld casino sees net profit of more than $390M last year

    Phnom Penh’s NagaWorld casino posted a 53 per cent net profit increase last year at $390.6 million, a sum which is almost equal to the combined net profit of all Cambodian commercial banks in 2017. NagaWorld’s parent company, NagaCorp Ltd, is listed on the Hong Kong

  • US Embassy urged to stop ‘disrespecting sovereignty’

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation called on the US Embassy in Phnom Penh on Saturday to respect the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations after it called former opposition leader Kem Sokha “an innocent man” – a move deemed to be “disrespecting Cambodia’s