Setting up shop outside the more developed capital Phnom Penh comes with its own unique set of challenges, as Robert Heiduczek discovered.
“To set up a business is very easy in Cambodia,” the owner of Suntours Cambodia boat trips in Sihanoukville says. “The government give you all the opportunities, and the visa, work permits and paperwork is easy. However, running a business is not easy.”
Setting up in the southern coastal town five years ago proved to be a challenge with infrastructure underdeveloped, powercuts an almost daily occurrence and surviving tough low seasons all being on the agenda.
But as with the rest of Cambodia, Sihanoukville has quickly developed into one of the country’s top tourist destinations, with the future only looking brighter.
“Sihanoukville will be a real tourist destination in a few years because the beaches and the islands are absolutely fantastic,” Heiduczek predicts. “I’ve seen a very big development during the last five years. Now there is a kind of town centre near Serendipity Beach. There’s nice coffee shops, restaurants and hotels. It’s almost like a town centre now.”
Powercuts are increasingly becoming a problem of the past. While they still occur, Heiduczek describes the situation as “ok”, compared with the “nightmare” of previous days. “Sometimes it would go off for four to six hours every day and while that doesn’t affect my business, it does many others,” he says. “It’s essential to get a generator, especially with a tourist business.”
Seasons are another major challenge for Heiduczek, who recommends calculating to make no cash for at least two months of the year. “The only problem is if there’s a weather forecast for rain then everybody leaves Sihanoukville,” Heiduczek says, adding it is popular with both tourists and expats looking for a short weekend break.
Living standards are also less than in Phnom Penh, with medical and education services traditionally slipping well below the capital. “Medical care was terrible during the last few years but step by step now it has got better,” Heiduczek says. City Clinic also recently opened its doors and is home to an operation room with three chambers and is of modern, Western standards.
In terms of education, Sihanoukville offers an expensive international school but no cheaper alternative of quality. “Education here is ok if you have the money for a private school but not so good if you want to settle here with children” Heiduczek comments. “There are schools but if you want your child to study later in an international school then you’ve no chance and can’t stay in Sihanoukville.”