Sep 16, 2008

Greetings from Sihanoukville

Sihanoukville Station, 1960. 

Sihanoukville was a sleepy fishing village on the Gulf of Thailand when its coastal waters were identified some time in the early 50s as ideal for a deep-water shipping port, one that could help fuel the further modernization of the new nation. The United States provided money and engineering expertise to carve National Route 4 out of the Cambodian jungle, connecting the capital Phnom Penh to this new town, which was named after Prince Norodom Sihanouk, naturally. Wealthy Cambodians used the new highway to visit Sihanoukville from the capital making its beaches part of a new “Khmer Riviera”.

Vann Molyvann helped plan the port, a large part of which was constructed on land-fill, and designed the master plan for the adjoining town. He designed separate areas for tourism, downtown commercial and administrative districts, high and lower density residential zones, open space and an industrial zone by the port. The zones were connected by a roadway system that was phased to feed future expansion and incorporated separate bicycle and pedestrian paths. This plan was an example of the advanced zoning principles which Cambodians have still not put into effect in their cities today.

The political turmoil which started in 1970 brought these plans crashing down and they would never become a reality. Until 1979 the port served as an entry point for weaponry, after that it was occupied by squatters, eventually becoming an undistinguished beach town favored by backpackers looking for a cheap place to crash. It still has that feel, although there are plans for future development and positive signs like the renovation of the Independence Hotel.

There are still lingering symbols of what was lost. Sihanoukville Station is certainly one of them. There is no longer passenger train service to the city, and the freight containers dropped off at the port are transported by trucks. The station is abandoned and deteriorated, left to languish much like most of the better laid plans of its day.

1 comment:

Helen said...

hi from Helen Grant Ross co-author with Darryl Collins of Building Cambodia 'New Khmer Architecture' 1953-1970 and also researcher into Gerald Hanning.

Just for your information Sihanoukville railway station was not deseigned by Hanning.

Your pics are great!
Who are you Remy Bertin? you can contact me at