Although change doesn’t happen too quickly in Cambodia, many of the idyllic islands around Sihanoukville do have a shelf life. Since 2006 the government has leased numerous islands (possibly as many as 22) to international companies for the development of luxury hotels and golf courses destined to wipe out the fragile communities of wooden bungalows. So far, around fourteen five-star resorts and a staggering eighteen golf courses have been mooted, and a Russian company, which has leased both Hawaii Beach and its off-island, Koh Pos (Snake Island), has already built a bridge between the two, juxtaposing grimly against the crystalline waters and the lush jungle on either side.
On the upside, these developments will provide much-needed employment for Cambodians, but it would seem that the downsides are greater, with the money spent by tourists going directly to the overseas corporations, and the resorts adding a further drain on resources such as water, which is already severely limited (in summer it’s not unknown for Sihanoukville to run out of water for several weeks).
For now, plenty of stalwart bungalows and huts are weathering the developers’ storm, but time is of the essence if you want to visit the islands before their humble tranquillity is obliterated entirely.