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Cambodia Continues Developing Big Tourist Area along Coast

Rebuilding Cambodia’s Gambling Mecca
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Cambodia Continues Developing Big Tourist Area along Coast
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Cambodia is making plans to finish developing large tourist areas along its coast on the Gulf of Thailand.

Five years ago, Chinese investors began turning Sihanoukville, a small coastal city, into a large gambling center. But that ended with a ban on online gambling and the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 200,000 Chinese workers had to return home.

Casinos closed and construction on many buildings was not finished. Now, many people in Cambodia want Chinese investment to return.

“Many Cambodians want the Chinese investor to return because the property prices are dreadful, and we want the Chinese businesspeople to return to help the market to recover,” said Chantha Lack, a private Cambodian investor.

Officials are making plans to complete work on more than 1,100 unfinished buildings in Sihanoukville. And they are thinking about ordering developers to either tear down buildings or finish the construction by 2026.

Cambodia is also considering a plan to lower taxes and make it easier for people from other countries to come to the area.

David Totten is a director of the investment company Emerging Markets Consulting in Phnom Penh. He said about half of the unfinished buildings have created legal problems relating to ownership and responsibilities. Because it is not clear who owns the buildings, he said there would be difficulty in dealing with claims for the properties.

Investors are coming back

Chinese investment is helping to pay for the development of the Ream Naval base, about 30 kilometers east of Sihanoukville.

The U.S. government worries that the base could extend China’s military in Southeast Asia. However, both Chinese and Cambodian governments say it is not a Chinese base. Cambodia also says the base will be open to many countries.

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows a Cambodian naval base in Ream, Cambodia, April 25, 2022. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows a Cambodian naval base in Ream, Cambodia, April 25, 2022. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

A new tourist area, called the Bay of Lights, is also under development near the naval base. The project is expected to be completed by 2028.

Harrison White is the editor of Cambodia Investment Review. He said much more is planned for the area. And he noted that additional construction could last until 2040.

“The project’s going to be bringing a very large amount of investment, approximately $16 billion, could even be more,” he said.

White said the area’s population might grow to 160,000 and that the development might include 330,000 jobs. He added there could be three million more tourists visiting the area.

Cambodia wants economic growth to return to pre-pandemic levels, helped by Chinese investors and tourists. In 2019, about 2.36 million visitors brought in about $1.8 billion.

Cambodia’s Tourism Ministry said Chinese investment in tourism-related areas was more than half of total foreign direct investment. China has also helped pay for highway projects connecting the Phnom Penh capital to Sihanoukville.

“Cambodia is very much in need of appealing to foreign buyers,” White said. The country of 17 million people, he added, is surrounded by billions, “with China, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and many more, are looking to enter the market.”

I’m Andrew Smith.

Luke Hunt wrote this story for Voice of America. Andrew Smith adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

casino -n. a building or venue where gambling is legal and regulated

dreadful -adj. very bad, awful

editor -n. a person who reviews and edits another person's writing, usually in preparation for publication

approximately -adv. close to an amount, or roughly

tourism -n. the business and activities related to travel


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