Sihanoukville also known as 'Kompong Som' (Khmer: កំពង់សោម), is a coastal city in Cambodia and the capital city of Sihanoukville Province, located at the tip of an elevated peninsula in the country's south-west at the Gulf of Thailand.
The city is flanked by an almost uninterrupted string of beaches along its entire coastline and coastal marshlands bordering the Ream National Park in the East. A number of thinly inhabited islands – under Sihanoukville's administration - are in the city's proximity, where in recent years moderate development has helped to attract a sizable portion of Asia's individual travelers, young students and back-packers.
The city, which was named in honour of former king Norodom Sihanouk, had a population of around 89,800 people and approximately 66,700 in its urban center in 2008. Sihanoukville city encompasses the greater part of four of the five communes (Sangkats) of Sihanoukville provinces' Mittakpheap District. A relatively young city, it has evolved parallel to the construction of the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, which commenced in June 1955, as the country's gateway to direct and unrestricted international sea trade. The only deep water port in Cambodia includes a mineral oil terminal and a transport logisticsfacility. As a consequence, the city grew to become a leading national center of trade, commerce, transport and process manufacturing.
Sihanoukville's many beaches and nearby islands make it Cambodia's premier seaside resort with steadily rising numbers of national visitors and international tourists since the late 20th century. As a result of its economic diversity, the region's natural beauty and the considerable recreational potential, a constantly increasing number of seasonal and permanent foreign residents make Sihanoukville one of the culturally most varied and dynamic population centers in Cambodia. As of 2014 the tourism sector remains insignificant in comparison with neighboring Thailand. Sihanoukville's future will largely be defined by the authorities' capability of a successfully balanced management in order to protect and conserve natural resources on the one hand and the necessities of island - and urban development, increasing visitor numbers, expanding infrastructure, the industrial sector and population growth on the other.
|POPULATION :||• Total 89,846|
• Urban 66,723
• District 89,846
|TIME ZONE :||UTC+07|
|LANGUAGE :||Khmer (official) 95%, French, English|
|RELIGION :||Theravada Buddhist 95%, other 5%|
|AREA :||80 km2 (30 sq mi)|
|ELEVATION :||15 m (45 ft)|
|COORDINATES :||10°38′N 103°30′E|
|SEX RATIO :||• Male: 48.80|
• Female: 51.20
|ETHNIC :||Khmer 90%, Vietnamese 5%, Chinese 1%, other 4%|
|AREA CODE :||034|
|POSTAL CODE :||18000|
|DIALING CODE :||+855 34|
With more than 150 regular hotels in all price-categories among an undisclosed number of guest-houses, Sihanoukville can easily handle current visitor quota and can generally cope with all standard demands. As of 2016, the islands have a more than ample supply of accommodation, ranging from budget guest-houses and bungalows, to an international 5-star resort. Despite these factors, the city and its region are still considered to be under-explored by foreign tourists. In order to satisfactorily manage the future increase of visitors, Sihanoukville's infrastructure requires large-scale upgrades.
In a land with thousands of years of history, Sihanoukville is a colourful but tragic upstart. A mere fifty years ago, a joint French-Cambodian project carved a camp out of the jungle and started building the first deep-sea port in a newly independent Cambodia. NamedSihanoukville in 1964 after the ruling prince of Cambodia, the booming port and its golden beaches soon drew Cambodia's jet-setting elite, spawned the first Angkor brewery, and the modernist seven-story Independence Hotel which, claim locals, played host to Jacqueline Kennedy on her whirlwind tour of Cambodia in 1967.
Alas, the party came to an abrupt end in 1970 when Sihanouk was deposed in a coup and Cambodia descended into civil war. The town, renamed Kompong Som, soon fell on hard times. The victorious Khmer Rouge used the Independence Hotel for target practice and, after they hijacked an American container ship, the port was bombed by the U.S. Air Force. Even after Pol Pot's regime was driven from power, the bumpy highway to the capital was long notorious for banditry and the beaches stayed empty.
Peace returned in 1993 following historic elections organised by the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) and in the ensuing ten years Sihanoukville has been busy picking up the pieces. First visited only by a few intrepid backpackers, guide books still talk of walls pockmarked by bullets, but any signs of war are hard to spot in today's Sihanoukville, whose new symbol seems to be the construction site. After 30 years of housing only ghosts, the Independence Hotel is up and running again, more and more Khmers and expats have settled down to run bars and restaurants, and the knowledge of what the New York Times dubbed "Asia's next trendsetting beach" is starting to spread.
Since Snooky is a relatively new city (1950) and grew along with the steady growth of tourism, all the negative elements came along too. It is not safe (even for men) to walk alone on the beach after 21:00, there are plenty of glue sniffing children and a lot of java (methamphetamine) smoking girls and boys and a price-fixing tuk-tuk cartel.
Classical Period (before 1700)
Prior to the ports' and city's foundation works of 1955, the port of Kompong Som must have been only of regional significance - due to the absence of navigable waterways that connect the port with the kingdom's settlement centers. During the many centuries of pre-Angkorian and Angkorian history – from Funan to Chenla and during the Khmer Empire, regional trade was centered at O Keo (Vietnamese: Óc Eo) in the Mekong Delta, now the province of Rạch Giá in Vietnam. The township of Prei Nokor (Saigon) was a commercial center of the Khmer Empire. The Chronicle of Samtec Cauva Vamn Juon - one of the 18th and 19th century Cambodian Royal Chronicles - briefly mentions the region as the country was split into 3 parts during a 9-year civil war from 1476 to 1485: "In 1479, Dhammaraja took on the throne at Catumukh (Phnom Penh) and controlled the provinces of Samraong Tong, Thbong, Kompong Saom, Kampot up to the Bassak, Preah Trapeang, Kramuon Sah, Koh Slaket and Peam"[mouth of the Mekong].
Early Modern Period (around 1700–1863)
From the end of the seventeenth century, Cambodia lost control of the Mekong River route as Vietnamese power expanded into the lower Mekong. During the Nguyen-Siamese War (1717–18) a Siamese fleet burned the port of Kompong Som in 1717 but was defeated by the Vietnamese at Banteay Meas/Ha Tien. A Cambodian king of the late eighteenth century, Outey-Reachea III allied with a Chinese pirate, Mac-Thien-Tu, who had established an autonomous polity based in Ha Tien and controlled the maritime network on the eastern part of the Gulf of Thailand. Ha Tien was located at a point where a river linking to the Bassac River flows into the Gulf of Thailand. Landlocked Cambodia tried to keep its access to maritime trade through Ha Tien. In 1757 Ha Tien acquired the ports of Kampot and Kompong Som as a reward for Mac's military support to the King of Cambodia. Until its destruction in 1771 the port developed into an independent duty-free entrepot - linked with several Chinese trading networks.
Alexander Hamilton, who traveled on the Gulf of Thailand in 1720, wrote that "Kompong Som and Banteay Meas (later Ha Tien) belonged to Cambodia, as Cochin-China was divided from Cambodia by a river (Bassac river) of three leagues broad." and "King Ang Duong constructed a road from his capital of Oudong to Kampot". Kampot remained the only international seaport of Cambodia. "The traveling time between Udong and Kampot was eight days by oxcart and four days by elephants." French Résident Adhemard Leclère wrote: "...Until 1840s, the Vietnamese governed Kampot and Péam [Mekong Delta], but Kompong Som belonged to Cambodia. The Vietnamese constructed a road from Ha Tien to Svai village - on the border with Kompong-Som - via Kampot."
The British Empire followed a distinct policy by the 1850s, seeking to consolidate its influence. Eye witness reports give rare insights, as Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston's agent John Crawfurd reports: "Cambodia was...the Keystone of our policy in these countries, - the King of that ancient Kingdom is ready to throw himself under the protection of any European nation...The Vietnamese were interfering with the trade at Kampot, and this would be the basis of an approach..." Palmerston concluded: "The trade at Kampot - one of the few remaining ports, could never be considerable, in consequence of the main entrance to the country, the Mekong, with all its feeders flowing into the Sea through the territory of Cochin China The country, too, had been devastated by recent Siam - Vietnam wars. Thus, without the aid of Great Britain, Kampot or any other port in Cambodia, can never become a commercial Emporium." Crawfurd later wrote: "The Cambodians... sought to use intervals of peace in the Siam - Vietnam wars to develop intercourse with outside nations. The trade at Kampot which they sought to foster was imperiled by pirates. Here is a point where the wedge might be inserted, that would open the interior of the Indo-Chinese Peninsula to British Commerce, as the great River of the Cambodians traverses its entire length and even affords communication into the heart of Siam".
French rule (1863–1954)
Under French rule Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia became a single administrative and economic unit. The coastal regionCirconscription Résidentielle with Kampot as its capital contained the Arrondissements of Kampot, Kompong Som, Trang and Kong-Pisey. The establishment of another international trading center near the existing city of Saigon was not considered necessary. Focus remained the Mekong and the idea to establish an alternative route to Chinese and Thai internal markets along an uninterrupted navigable waterway all the way south to the Mekong Delta.
An insurrection that took place from 1885 to 1887 further discouraged French ambition. It started in Kampot and quickly spread to Veal Rinh, Kampong Seila, and Kompong Som, where the insurgents were led by a Chinese pirate named Quan-Khiem. He managed to control the northern part of Preah Sihanouk for some time until he – an old man - was arrested by the local governor.
The most notable infrastructural improvements of this period were the construction of Route Coloniale No. 17, later renamed National Road No.3 and the national railway system, although work on the "Southern Line" - from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville - only began in 1960.
After independence (since 1954)
The city's and province's alternative name Kampong som (Kampong Som) was adopted from the local indigenous community. After the dissolution of French Indochina in 1954, it became apparent that the steadily tightening control of the Mekong Delta by Vietnam required a solution to gain unrestricted access to the seas. Plans were made to construct an entirely new deep-water port. Kompong Saom (Kampong Som) was selected for water depth and ease of access. In August 1955, a French/Cambodian construction team cut a base camp into the unoccupied jungle in the area that is now known as Hawaii Beach. Funds for construction of the port came from France and the road was financed by the USA.
During the Vietnam War the port became an intensive military facility on both sides, in the service of National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam and after 1970, under the government of Lon Nol, in the service of the United States.
The port was the last place to be evacuated by the US Army, only days before Khmer Rouge guerrillas took control of the government in April 1975. The events surrounding the taking of the US container ship SS Mayaguez and its crew on 12 May by the Khmer Rouge and the subsequent rescue operation by US Marines played out on the waters of Koh Tang off the coast of Sihanoukville. During the two days of action, the US commenced air strikes on targets on the mainland of Sihanoukville including the port, the Ream Naval Base, an airfield, the railroad yard and the petroleum refinery in addition to strikes and naval gun fire on several islands.
After the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979 and the subsequent opening of the economy, the port of Sihanoukville resumed its importance in the development and recovery of the country. With the further opening of new markets in 1999, the city regained its role in the economic growth of Cambodia.
In 1993, the Ream National Park was established per royal decree of former King Sihanouk.
The Sihanoukville Municipality was elevated to a regular province on 22 December 2008 after King Norodom Sihamoni signed a Royal Decree converting the municipalities of Kep, Pailin and Sihanoukville into provinces.
In 2006 the Koh Puos (Cambodia) Investment Group submitted an application, planning to invest $276 million in converting the 116-hectare Koh Puos - Snake island into a luxury residential - and resort complex. After the completion of certain elements of the infrastructure, the investor announced alterations of the original blueprints, as "Reapplying for permission will happen in 2014..." according to the Council of the Development of Cambodia.
On 26 May 2011 Preah Sihanouk area joined the Paris-based club Les Plus Belles Baies Du Monde (The most Beautiful Bays in the World). The organisation officially accepts the Bay of Cambodia as one of its members at the 7th General Assembly.
Sihanoukville lies in the Tropical monsoon (Am) climate zone. The city has two seasons: a wet season and a dry season.
The maximum mean is about 30 °C ; the minimum mean, about 24 °C. Maximum temperatures of higher than 32 °C, however, are common and, just before the start of the rainy season, they may rise to more than 38 °C. Minimum night temperatures sporadically fall below 20 °C in January, the coldest month. May is the warmest month - although strongly influenced by the beginning of the wet season, as the area constitutes the easternmost fringe of the south-west monsoon. Tropical cyclones only rarely cause damage in Cambodia.
The total annual rainfall average ranges between 1,000 and 1,500 millimeters (39.4 and 59.1 in). The maximal amounts fall in August and September. Relative humidity is high throughout the entire year; usually exceeding 90 percent. During the dry season daytime humidity rates average around 50 percent or slightly lower, climbing to about 90 percent during the rainy season.
Climate data for Sihanoukville, Cambodia
|Average high °C (°F)||31.3|
|Average low °C (°F)||23.9|
|Source: world weather online|
Sihanoukville town is located at the tip of the rolling hills of a peninsula at the Gulf of Thailand. To its North-West and at its center it rises up to 15 metres (49 ft) above sea level, whereas the land gently and steadily flattens towards extended coastal plains, marshlands and beaches in the South and South-East. These hills, that provide a great variety of housing ground, good perspectives on the coastal plains, the beaches, the sea and the islands define the region's natural character and value. Another agreeable fact is the Gulf of Thailand's low depth and the local climate - very moderate in contrast to the South China sea to the East and the Indian ocean in the West, wheretaifuns and monsoonal extremes are permanent perils.
Architecture and city-scape
As a result of its clearly defined purpose, its very brief but turbulent history and its location, Sihanoukville is distinct from other urban centers in Cambodia. Established after the period of the French Protectorate, bourgeoiscolonial style quarters as in Kampot, Siem Reap or Phnom Penh do not exist. Architecture and street layout are subject to modern concepts of reduction and functionality. Famous Cambodian architect Vann Molyvanndesigned elegant objects, public buildings with a distinct function, some still operational. This brief era of New Khmer Architectureended in 1970 - inconsistency and chaos during the long civil wars had far greater impact on the city's current image.
In 1959 the first urban plan for the city was completed for a population of 55,000 residents; it included cycle paths and green spaces. The plan also clearly marked out zoning for the port, the railway network, the town center with municipal offices, business and residential housing, and finally a tourist zone to the south along the beaches. A feasibility study by the United States Operations Mission (USOM) looked at drawing new water supply from the Prek Tuk Sap and existing lagoons; these were subsequently improved (cut off from the sea) and used as the initial source for town supply. The reservoirs are still operational, although insufficient for today's demands.
The years of turmoil that followed meant that little of the original plan was implemented. The current state of structural inconsistency is testimony to decades of upheaval as layout planning was by no means a subject of aesthetic considerations and applied sciences.
Beginning at the port, a moderate raster of streets spans up to the Weather Station Hill (Victory Hill) and along the local (Victory) beach. Between the National Bank complex and Victory beach pier is one of the very few spots in town, that give the impression to have been planned in advance. The area connects with the city's center along a single highway via typical irregular successions of residential buildings, bare of any distinct features and landmarks. These highways were designed to connect the very few and widely dispersed actual settlement foundations. The neighborhoods lack intimacy, due to a one-dimensional infrastructure. The city's center is a sequence of alternating single blocks of solid urban edifices, such as banks, middle-class hotels, gas stations, pharmacies, Chinese bakeries and electronic retailers followed by long rows of low-end food stalls, makeshift shops, motor-bike repair services, mini-markets, laundry, gas, lock-picker services and mobile phone shops.
The economy of Sihanoukville City is defined by the commercial imperatives of the international port and its nearby oil terminal. Attached is a regularly modernized cargo storage - and logistics facility which serves numerous shipping companies, freight forwarders, suppliers and maintenance contractors. All of these are based in the port's vicinity.
Other sizable economic sectors of the city are fishery, aqua-cultures and frozen shrimp processing, the garment industry, food production (the Angkor brewery), the vast tourism industry with its constantly growing service branch and the resulting boom of the real estate market.
Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone
The Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone (SSEZ) is an overseas economic and trade cooperation zone which was designed to promote favorable market conditions such as: policy advantages, a safe political environment, favorable trade status, completed infrastructure supporting, low labor cost and excellent services, among others. In addition to its areas around the port, a sizable industrial center, exclusively composed of Chinese companies has been developed since around 2010.
Sihanoukville is the capital city of Sihanoukville province and is governed by its deputy governor. Sihanoukville occupies the greater part of four of the five communes or Sangkat(Sangkat Muoy Commune, Sangkat Pi Commune, Sangkat Bei Commune, Sangkat Buon Commune) of Sihanoukville provinces' Mittakpheap District. The port has its own autonomous administration. The Sangkats are divided into 19 villages.
Sihanoukville's area code is 034.
There are many Internet cafes and some guesthouses and many hotels offer Internet access. Many now have Wi-Fi, some for free.
The new main Post Office is near the Victory Park on the left hand side of the road as you go to Victory Hill. There is also a branch at the market downtown, but here you can only leave your postcards during office hours, as it does not feature an outdoor mailbox.
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