A - (A little bit about you and the other members of the collective):
1) How long have you lived in Kampot? Were you travelling before?
We, the collective have been living in Kampot for a combine total of over 20 years now. Each and every one of us have extensive travel experience, though none of us appear to have gone very far.
2) Why did you move?
Rumours of movement are greatly exaggerated. In essence the collective has moved to Kampot to protest the manner in which our home countries have disappointed us.
3) What were you doing before?
We have combined expertise in electronics and control systems, psychiatric nursing, oil company procurement, shipping, import export, computer sales and marketing and bar stewardship.
4) What have you been doing since
Perfecting the art of being in Kampot
5) A little bit about the Kampot survival guide - why did you start it? Why is it no more? (boo hoo!)
Rumours of the demise of the KSG are all false and were perpetrated by our publisher (subsequently demoted to paper boy). An executive board meeting revamped the way we do business (if you can in any way call a publication that earns nothing a business), thus insuring the continuation of the Kampot Survival Guide forever or until the collective melts down.
B – (About Kampot province developments):
1) Loved your tongue-in-cheek comments in the last edition of the Survival Guide - but can you tell us exactly what's going on development-wise at the moment? I saw that a big hotel was being built when I was there last - but are there more (grand) plans?
Once more rumours of or collective tongues being in any cheeks are all false. Every last word in the guide is true…really. Without more details we cannot comment on the big hotel, though it might be the Diamond (now open) which is the only building in Kampot with a lift. The other big hotel rests atop Bokor Mountain and has an attached casino (both open).
The Old Market on the front is now brand new and sports a number of virtually 100% Khmer owned shops. Plans are afoot to revamp the old fish market/night club into a riverside seafood restaurant, entertainment venue and recording studio.
Other grand plans include at least 3 golf courses, a floating eco-village downstream, extending the river promenade to the fishing village, and a new boutique hotel on the former site of the Canadia Bank.
We now have freshly resurfaced roads with lines, reflectors and cross walks, all of which are ignored. More surfaced roads are being thrown down at a furious pace, water system improvements, and more government building/refurbishment. The Kamchay dam is struggling to get above 10% of capacity due to dry season low water conditions.
2) How long have these developments been in the making? Who are the initiators? What's the timeframe?
That’s a little like asking how long is a piece of string? We think the Governor and local government are at the heart of the infrastructure developments, while the private sector is investing at a furious rate. In the past three to five years the city has undergone a rather dramatic make-over and is no longer looking like a dowager in need of a facelift.
3) What's the ultimate goal?
Our ultimate goal is not to answer silly questions over and over and over again…thus the Kampot Survival Guide.
4) What are your thoughts about it all? What are the positives and negatives?
We try not to think as we believe thinking destroys brain cells faster than the local beers. Two members of the collective have business’ that benefit from increases in tourism, while two of us are on pensions and think tourism is a dirty word. Regardless, increased tourism, a vibrant Cambodian economy and government promotion of the area, along with publications such as yours. Trip advisor, Facebook et al are having an effect to change Kampot from the undiscovered paradise it once was into something completely different.
5) What do the locals think?
If you are referring to the local Khmer community, they are at best blissfully happy or at least neutral. Barang Sceut, which in essence means crazy foreigner pretty much covers it. We think for the most part that the local Khmer community see the growth of Kampot as a positive thing, providing more employment opportunities than ever.
The ex-pat community on the other hand prefer not to think very hard or too deeply, which explains the number of sure fire business’ that open and close with predictable regularity. The collective are greatly amused by all the ex-pat activity.
6) How do you think it will impact life in Kampot in general? What about your own lives? What do other expats make of this?
We are of the consensual collective opinion that the more things change the stranger it all becomes. How these changes effect the collective is currently up for debate. As long as we can eventually agree on a meeting date we will strive to arrive at a collective opinion that at the very least is not overly disgusting to any of us.
Our own lives are for the most part mundane in the extreme. As long as it is someone else being hauled off in handcuffs and leg irons we stay amused and emotionally distant from it all. We are collectively disinterested in the growth of Kampot, and as long as the price of staples such as beer and cigarettes remains low we really could not care less.
As to other ex-pats we, as a collective have a problem answering this question. We are aware that there are varying ex-pat factions in Kampot, everything from religious zealots bent on converting the Buddhists to NGO types living high off the donor hog, to suspected criminals escaping homeland justice. Obviously no one will have the same outlook.
PS: The KSG collective have voted on this and we have moved and carried the motion that this is a silly question.
7) It seems that at the moment, the whole of the south of Cambodia is being regenerated - Bamboo Island, Koh Rong... Koh Rong in particular has massive plans in place, having been sold by the Cambodian Government to a Cambodian-based investment group called The Millennium Group, who are partnering with a Cambodian company called The Royal Group, in order to build an airport and 'ecological' resort. Do you know anything about this/have any opinion on their plans/collaborations? Is it really going to be 'eco'? Surely they will have to destroy a lot of the natural forest in order to build an airport?
Well, the collective sighs a collective “Duh!” The aforementioned floating eco village on the river is downstream of the city. With a population of around 40,000 and no sewage treatment, how eco can that village be?
Also refer to Bokor Mountain with an estimated population living atop a national park of between thirty and one hundred thousand, entailing the destruction of untold hectares of Alpine forest. The ecology is not the primary factor in the quest for earning tourist revenue. All one has to do is look to Koh Samui in Thailand back in 1987 when the airport opened there. How much consideration to the environment was given when that decision was made?
8) I believe The Royal Group are quite powerful in Cambodia in general - anything you can say about this? Any opinion?
It is wise not to comment on anything containing the word Royal in the name. The collective are guests here in Cambodia and smart enough to know that no comment is the best comment whether that comment is positive or negative.
9) The general word is that investors have been snapping up long-term island leases as fast as they can. Do you know anything about this? Who's buying them? What do you think of it all?
The collective can only assume that these long-term leases, if in fact they are being registered are being penned with people with much deeper pockets than we have. There is an old saying that goes something like, “Make hay while the sun shines.” Wouldn’t you take a long-term lease on a piece of beach paradise if you could?
10) What about Kep and Battambang?
Kep is a great place to read a book. We at the collective recommend that visitors to Kampot make it a day trip that includes the Kep crab market, the caves and a pepper plantation. Unlike Kampot, Kep has no centre replete with restaurants and bars to visit during those long tropical nights.
Battambang is affectionately called Bottombang by we locals and we believe that is enough said, other than it does have a river.
11) According to an article on Travelfish, Kith Meng (the chairman of The Royal Group) has the power to revoke small business leases on a month's notice. Have you heard anything about this? What are your thoughts/general consensus amongst locals and expats?
No doubt this is true and we have no comment for above noted reasons.
12) Is there a danger that the gap between the poor and rich in Cambodia will become even greater? Are there any steps being taken to prevent this?
Again, this being a political question, the collective collectively have no comment. What we can say is that the danger of the wealth gap increasing on a global scale is high and there is no reason to assume that it’s any different here.
13) Is Cambodian infrastructure/the Cambodian people ready for such mass potential tourism on this more upmarket scale?
Our Khmer hosts, despite the horrors of war and ideology run amok are more than capable of building on success. The Khmer are resilient and resourceful people for who we at the collective have the highest respect. At the high end of the market, the Cambodian business community have proven their determination and ability to excel.
14) Do you think the Cambodian government is selling out? Or, was this inevitable in the long run?
Once more, no comment.
15) Is there a danger that certain places in Cambodia will become yet another haven for the mega-rich only?
Not unless they go the way of Bhutan where only high end tour groups are granted visas to visit. The collective, though they disdain the rock bottom backpacking traveller do acknowledge that there is money to be made from all ends of the spectrum. Do the math. One million tourists at $20 each for a one month visa equals twenty million dollars. If each of those tourists then spends only $15 a day, that’s an additional four hundred and fifty million dollars. This four hundred and seventy million is the minimum every million tourists spend. In 2012 over 2.2 billion dollars were spent by over 3.5 million tourists.
16) How do you think this will impact the vibe/the economy/ecology? Won't a lot of natural countryside have to be destroyed in order to build these big resorts?
Yes, yes, yes and yes. The vibe cannot not be affected even if big resorts are not so big and apparently eco-friendly. But don’t forget that as long as the economic model of globalized tourism (or anything) is based on growth, everything will be effected and not always in good ways.
17) Do you see yourselves staying in Kampot? What would make you move on? Where would you go?
The KSG collective have no intention of abandoning Kampot. It is our home, our chosen promised land. We agree that short of war, pestilence, starvation or building a Wal-Mart in the city, we are committed to stay the course. With a combined age of well over two hundred years, we are becoming too feeble to seek out a new place that offers us the same sense of peace and harmony as we find here.
Moving on is only a last ditch option that none of the collective want to think about. The world is becoming a less and less undiscovered land. We would like nothing more than deter too many other’s from coming here and spoiling our way of life. What’s left? Lao, perhaps but have you seen what’s become of Viang Vien?
18) What do you think of the future of Cambodia?
We think that the future is bright for Cambodia and Cambodians. There is a new generation of young people who have not experienced the horrors of war and are beginning to reclaim their nation and their culture. We believe that with minimal interference from the outside world that Cambodia can prosper.
19) Will it still be a place for backpackers/more freewheeling travellers?
Fortunately Kampot has not yet suffered a massive influx of package tourists. We at the collective note that although there are still plenty of gap-year backpackers visiting, often on their way to Vietnam, the demographic is changing. We have flash-packers and retired hippies on the road for the first time since the 70’s. We have old and young folks coming here to live, to set up a business or work for one. We are constantly surprised that year over year more and more people of all ages are discovering Kampot.
... Any other thoughts or comments on anything related (you can include views on related world politics, whatever you like!) would be great!
Other than the fact the collective think the world is going to hell in a hand-basket due to hegemonistic designs the western world has on the developing world, all we can say is don’t wax too poetic about the charms of living by a river with a mountain range in the near distance to give form to magnificent sunsets. There really is nothing to see or do here, so move on. There is malaria in the mountain jungles, sharks and crocodiles in the river, dengue fever in the city and rumours that the sea monster is returning. Let your readers know that there are other, more adventure driven, way more fun places than Kampot in SE Asia.
The Kampot Survival Guide Collective