A steady climb in the number of Chinese nationals moving to Cambodia’s Sihanoukville over the last two years has driven up housing costs in the southwestern coastal province, leaving many Cambodian workers struggling to make ends meet while property owners profit from the increase in rents, sources say.
Nearly 78,000 Chinese nationals now live in the province, of whom only around 20,000 possess work permits, according to official figures. And many of those who come now pay inflated prices to rent rooms or work stalls, raising the costs of daily life for others.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Mo Sopheak—a 31-year-old motorized taxi driver who moved to Sihanoukville city from his home in Tbaung Kmum province in October—said that rents have skyrocketed even during the last few months.
“Before, I could rent a room for $30 per month, but the same room will now go for as much as $120,” he said while waiting for customers outside the city’s Phsar Leu market. “And for places near the market, the rent can be around $400 per month.”
“Both rents and the prices of meals are very expensive. I can’t save any money,” said Mo Sopheak, who now lives with his wife and baby in a corrugated metal house that they share with another family to help meet their expenses.
Family earnings have also dropped, Mo Sopheak’s wife Sous Davy, 25, told RFA.
“In the past, we could make some money,” she said. “But now, the Chinese are flocking to our area, and other Cambodians are coming here to make money too, and my husband is earning much less.”
“When we first came here, we earned from $60 to $70 a day, but now he can make $30 a day at most,” she said.
Landlords' earnings climb
Meanwhile, the growth in numbers of Chinese migrants and investors in the province has boosted the earnings of Cambodian property owners, sources say.
The owner of one six-room flat located in an alley in the neighborhood of Khlaing Leu said that she had once been able to rent her property out at a monthly cost of $300, but now can get much more from Chinese nationals willing to pay as much as $2,500 per month.
“It is the same with the rental of market stalls,” the property owner said, speaking to RFA on condition of anonymity.
“A food-seller’s stand can now be rented at around $3,000 per month, and the Chinese have rented almost every stand in the Phsar Leu market,” she said.
Another taxi driver, Chuob Nin, 36, meanwhile said that housing costs now force him to sleep in his taxi at night.
“Mosquitos bite me, and I develop rashes and catch flu during the rainy season, but what can I do? I’m destitute,” he said.
Though he now makes twice as much as he earned in his home province of Takeo, he still can’t rent a decent room in which to live, and has to take showers in public restrooms for which he pays a fee, Chuob Nin said.
“We Cambodians don’t have as much money as the Chinese,” he said. “How can we earn enough money to run businesses of our own if we just work as their servants?”
“I would really like to see a strong decrease in the costs of our rent!” he said.
'A gambling playground'
Chinese investment has flowed into Sihanoukville in recent years, making the once sleepy seaside town into a flashpoint for Cambodians concerned about Chinese economic penetration of their country.
Cambodians regularly chafe at what they call unscrupulous business practices and unbecoming behavior by Chinese businessmen and residents.
A report by the AFP news agency in January on how Sihanoukville had become a “sizeable gambling playground” for Chinese tourists said there were at least 50 Chinese owned casinos in the province.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.