On the History of Sihanoukville

On your travels around Cambodia, you'll notice one stark difference between Sihanoukville and the other larger cities around the country - the architecture. Sihanoukville is one of the newest cities in the country, and did not exitst until the 1950's, long after the French colonists who built Phnom Penh and Siem Reap were gone.

A New Seaport

Until 1954, Cambodia’s international sea trade was carried out through the Mekong River through Vietnam, as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam were all part of French Indochina. In that year, as Vietnam gained independence from France, and French Indochina was but a memory, the Mekong River came under the control of the Vietnamese, cutting off Cambodia's main access to the sea. Needing a new access point to the sea, a decision was made to construct a new port for Cambodia. Kompong Som on the southern coast was chosen for its water depth and accessibility. The town was later named Sihanoukville, after King Sihanouk.

The construction of the port was initiated by a French-Cambodian construction team from 1955 to 1960, funded principally by France, and was overseen by the government of Norodom Sihanouk. Another major construction project leading to the development of the town was the road to and from Phnom Penh (Route 4), which was funded by the USA. The town first emerged as a settlement for the workers building the seaport, and quickly grew.

The Roaring '60s

In the honor of the King, the new port town was named Sihanoukville. In the 1960's, the town reached its peak due to the success of the port. The booming town witnessed the construction of the Independence Hotel overlooking Independence Beach, the Angkor Beer Brewery, and many villas on Ochheuteal Beach. During the war between Vietnam and the United States, the port was controlled by the Vietcong. Things came to an abrupt halt in 1970 when Lon Nol staged the coup d'état that overthrew the Cambodian Government.

During the Khmer Rouge Years

The port was evacuated by the US Army in 1975 under the threat of the Khmer Rouge. In May of that year, the US container ship SS Mayagüez was captured by Khmer Rouge militants. The US contended that the ship was in international waters, but the Khmer Rouge disagreed, claiming the ship had entered Cambodian territory - a battle ensued, and is considered by American historians to be the final battle of the Vietnam Conflict. When the Khmer Rouge fell in 1979, the port recovered and remained an important part of the Cambodian economy. in 1999, the Cambodian market opened, and ever since, the port and the city of Sihanoukville have been an integral part of Cambodia's continued development. Ever since, Sihanoukville has been growing steadily, becoming the booming resort town it is today.

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