Well it's been forever since I've done any blogging, but here we go. I'm back in Cambodia, but this time around I'm based not in Phnom Penh, but in the much smaller coastal city, Sihanoukville. On one hand, it's nice being near the beach, on the other hand you miss out in quite a few ways. The food is nowhere near as good (or diverse), the nightlife options are much worse, the massage places are weak, and shockingly, it's more expensive to live! There has been a massive Chinese influx and they've basically been buying up the whole town, driving real estate prices way up. If you had owned property in sleep little Sihanoukville, you're now in luck!
Of course this is bad news for backpackers and expats who are used to living on the cheap down here. All of the backpacker bars down by the beach have been knocked down to make way for a new resort. The backpacker scene has largely been forced out of Sihanoukville and down a few kilometers away to a place called Otres Village. People who have been living here long term have seen their landlords sell out their apartment units with rents subsequently being jacked through the roof. A one year lease you say? Not anymore. The Chinese are a very sore subject in the ex-pat community. So while many people are unhappy, life is great if you're a poker player, as the games here are nothing short of amazing. It has the be the best place in the entire world to play at the moment.
The main draw for the Chinese in Sihanoukville isn't the islands, the beaches, Cambodian culture or anything like that it. It's the gambling! Gambling is illegal in mainland China, so many people are coming to Sihanoukville, which is a cheaper alternative to Macau, the Chinese version of Las Vegas. When I was here last year there were a few casinos around, this year there's around 20! It's amazing the scale of things being built around here. In the next year or two that number will be at least doubled. The Cambodian government has basically sold out the whole town to Chinese developers. Hotel/casinos are currently being built in any halfway decent location you can imagine. The whole town feels like it's under construction. The sheer scale of it is really something to see.
There is so much money coming into this town! If you just walk around the table games in some of these casinos you see some of these guys sitting with $10,000 bricks, rifling in hundreds or thousands at a time. And many of them are so young! I don't know where some of these young Chinese kids are getting this kind of cash to throw around, but they've got it. Then there's the shadier side of the industry, as it's widely known that a lot people want to get their money out of China and these casinos are perfect way to launder lots of cash. It's kind of the wild wild west out here. All these casinos and basically no regulation. Supposedly the Chinese mafia has a strong presence around here as well. God only knows how much some of these casino operators are currently making.
Driving around town you can play a fun game called count the Bentleys. If I cruise around on my scooter for an hour I'm sure to spot at least a couple, plus maybe one or two of the various Rolls Royces and Ferraris that are also around. It's a stark contrast the rest of town that is relatively poor and undeveloped. The roads in Sihanoukville are still by and largely atrocious! Chinese infrastructure spending is supposed to change that, but it hasn't happened yet.
In a bunch of these casinos you can find poker tables set off to side, offering Texas No Limit hold'em, the poker game of choice. The people who operate these poker tables pay the casino itself to rent out the floor space for a table or two. As it happens the best games are usually the ones in the most popular casinos where anyone can watch the game from the side and decide to sit in. There's good money to be made running these games so there's lots of card rooms all vying for a piece of the pie. This is also good for the poker players as you can sit in any game you like and if it's not good you can hop around to try and find a better one. And there is almost always a good game going on somewhere.
Compared to the games back in the States, these games are just incredibly soft. Poker is much newer in China so most of the Chinese players don't have very developed poker games. Of course there are some good players, but your average player is pretty pretty bad. But also pretty pretty loaded. Most of these guys don't really mind losing, poker is just another form of gambling entertainment to them. They expect to lose like most people playing roulette expect to lose, but maybe they'll get lucky for a bit and run up a big stack every once in a while and that keeps them happy. Or they have a trial by fire type mentality, where the only way to get better at poker is to learn the hard way, by getting stacked many, many, many times!
So yea, poker is good here. I've already stayed much longer than I expected to and honestly can't justify leaving. But my visa is finished on June 15th so that kinda when I have to get outta here. I originally had some grand plans to hop around Eastern Europe and parts of the Middle East fpr a few months, but now I'm not sure if I really want to take that much time off from these games. So we'll see.
Here's some semi-random iphone shots from various places around town
Ok that's all for now! Snooky is an interesting place!