Koh Sdach (King's Island) : A Socioeconomic Survey
KK II socioeconomic team
Koh Sdach is a Cambodian fishing village situated on an island just
off the Cambodian coast and is midway between the port of
Sihanoukville and Koh Kong on the Thai-Cambodian border. The village
is young having started only after the Vietnamese liberation of
Cambodia from the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) regime of Saloth Sar
(better known as Pol Pot) in 1979. Before this date, only seven
families occupied the island. The people in the village mostly consist
of immigrants largely from Kampot province and from Kampuchea Krom in
southern Vietnam. The current population is estimated to be around
four thousand. The village does not seem to have been seriously
affected by the civil war in the eighties and nineties. This is not
surprising as the neighbouring backers of the Khmer Rouge, KPNLF and
other rebels (Thailand and other ASEAN countries) had significant
economic interests in the region, mainly illegal fishing and timber
The island of Koh Sdach is the long narrow one near the centre of the image.
To collect information about the village, we supplanted observations
with interviews of the local villagers and reference material
available from books and online sources. A brief review of the
interviews that we conducted is given in the appendix to this report.
In this report, we will outline the developmental and economic status
as well as the social organization of the island. We will also outline
what we consider to be the main developmental issues for the island
and its possible future.
As in most of Cambodia, the government is largely nonfunctional even
to the extent that the de facto currency is the Thai baht. A
large portion of the economy is of a subsistence nature with a large
reliance on fishing. Roughly 70% of the working population are
fishermen with most of the rest being farmers or small time
bussinessmen. Most of the fish that is caught is sold to Thailand.
The government has built a main road through the island and a school
in the peaceful periods over the last decade. There are a surprising
number of shops in the village with several pharmacies, provision
shops, eating houses, karaoke joints, pool houses and even a brothel.
The extent of this economic activity can be explained by the fact that
the village is on an important trade route from Thailand to Cambodia
and that it has abundant exploitable resources of fish and timber.
Global Witness claims that significant timber smuggling from Koh Sdach
took place in the 1990s. The value of the timber exported illegally
annually from Koh Kong province is estimated to be in the region of
US$150,000,000 which is a significant portion of the economy. It was
not possible to determine how much of this trade was from Koh Sdach.
The main industries in the island seem to be the sawmills and the ice
factory. The sawmills process timber for export and for the local
construction industry (virtually all houses in Koh Sdach are made from
wood). The ice factory produces ice for the fishermen to aid in
keeping the catch fresh besides supplying the island's electricity
from its generator. The ice factory is owned by Mr. Panya, a Thai
immigrant from Trat.
Due to the relatively low presence of government, most services
including electricity and water supplies are provided by the private
sector. The electricity and water supply in the village are both
controlled by Mr. Panya. They are both very expensive with prices of
around US$0.40/kWh for electricity and as much as
US$7/ for water. There does not seem to be any public
distribution system as all the shops seem to be private. Most of the
goods in the shops seem to be imported from Thailand. The local goods
comprise seafood, bananas and coconuts.
The service sector seems to be a large component of the economy,
especially for a small village. There are a large number of eateries,
pool houses, karaoke joints and video houses. There is even a brothel.
This is compatible with the relatively large share (42%) of services
in the Cambodian economy.
The average income of the fishermen seems to be about US$3 per day.
Absolute poverty as defined by the UNDP (less than PPP $1 (about
$0.20) per day) seems to be virtually nonexistent. This compares very
favourably with a national poverty rate of 36%. The rapid economic
growth of Cambodia after the end of the civil war seems to have
benefitted this village as well. The small impact of the war on Koh
Sdach also meant that it has had a longer time to develop and grow.
The island has a primary school which seems to be reasonably well
equipped. The school has basic facilities such as a concrete building,
blackboards and stationery. Instruction is in the Khmer
language. Children will have to go to Sihanoukville for secondary
education while university education is only available in the capital
Phnom Penh. We noticed that several children were not enrolled in the
school. The enrollment ratio for Koh Sdach is not known.
Koh Sdach has a hospital but it seems to be used more as a venue for
volleyball practice than for medical treatment. According to
information from one local resident, the doctors in the hospital have
set up private practice and all patients are forced to visit them in
this capacity. However, another resident claims that the medical
services in the hospital are inexpensive and of reasonable standard.
Access to clean water is marginal as the water was supplied to the
houses was not particularly clean. Sanitary facilities do not exist in
many houses and where they do, the sewage seems to be directly
released into the sea. Spotting fecal matter in the sea around the
island was hardly unusual.
Surprisingly, there are seven pharmacies on this island. This
abundance of pharmacies is also seen in Phnom Penh and seems to
indicate the poor allocation of resources in the medical services.
There is also a dentist in Koh Sdach. His clinic also doubles as a
pharmacy and was undergoing renovation when we were in the village.
AIDS is a serious concern in Cambodia with estimates of its occurence
as high as 4%. We did not directly encounter any AIDS cases in Koh
Sdach. The manager of the brothel claims that he mandates the use of
Most of the houses are made of wood and have tiled roofs. A few
concrete houses also exist and seem to be owned by the wealthier
members of the community. Interestingly, Mr. Panya, one of the most
prominent locals, lives in a wooden house (though one which is large
and adjoins the jetty). The land for a wooden house costs US$8,000 to
US$10,000 with the materials and workmanship costing another
US$1,000 and represents a very significant investment for a local
There is one main road and several walking trails on the island. A few
people have motorcycles and we even saw one or two pick up trucks.
Almost all the locals have boats, mostly wooden fishing ones. Several
people also own speedboats and some of the prominent fishermen have
trawlers as well. A normal fishing boat costs US$300 to US$400 which
is also the cost of a motorcycle. The mainland is only a few minutes
away by boat and is visited often by the locals. A ferry service
connects Koh Sdach to Koh Kong and Sihanoukville. The ferry takes two
hours to go either to Koh Kong or to Sihanoukville and it runs once a
The chief entertainment seems to consist of watching videos, eating
out, singing karaoke and playing pool. Several eateries and roadside
stalls can be found from morning to night. Many of the eateries double
as video houses during the night. Food costs are moderate with a meal
costing around US$0.50. Many karaoke joints are to be found on the
side of the island opposite to the main area of habitation. Many pool
houses are there on the main street and charge around US$0.70 per
hour. Most of the locals seem to combine playing cards and pool.
There is a brothel on the main street which was started five years
ago. Since prostitution is technically illegal, the brothel
masquerades as a ``guest house''. Most of the girls come from the
poorer surrounding areas and work for a few months in the village. The
brother mainly serves the locals. The cost ranges from US$2.50 for a
short time to US$10 for a night. The manager of the brothel claims
that police and other government officials use the services but do not
The island is still traditional but progressive in its outlook. Many
of the young people go to Phnom Penh for university education but
return after their education is done. Most marriages are not arranged
and are by choice. Over the last three years, about one third of the
population has converted to Christianity. Most of the rest are
Buddhist and follow the Theravada school. There is a church and a
Buddhist temple in the village.
The mainstay of the economy is fishing and any effect on it is sure to
reverberate throughout the entire economy of the village. Most
villagers admit to sharply diminishing fish yields due to
overfishing. This has resulted in economic problems and pessimism
among most of the locals about the long term future of Koh
Sdach. Several of the immigrants are planning to leave if the
situation does not improve over the next few years. The rapid growth
in the number of shops has also resulted in increased competition and
smaller profit margins over the last few years. In other words, the
economy of the island seems to be firmly in recession and has long
term problems if the overfishing problem cannot be controlled.
Controlling overfishing is likely to be difficult as the main culprits
are illegal trawlers from Thailand which do not practise
environmentally friendly fishing techniques.
We also saw many forest fires in the surrounding islands. This area
was well known for illegal logging and export of timber to Thailand
and other ASEAN countries during the civil war but we were not able to
find out if this is still the case today. In any case, the forest
seems to have significantly reduced in size and it is unlikely that
timber will be able to sustain the local economy.
If the government is able to implement plans for a marine park and
resort, the economy can still have a bright future as the area still
has significant amounts of marine life and many kilometres of empty
beaches. The government has been taking steps in the right direction
in this regard by inviting teams from Singapore and Australia to do
studies on this. If it is not able to succeed with this plans, it
could spell economic chaos for Koh Sdach.
I would like to thank Ms.Mellisa, Ms.Athena and Mr.Voon for helping
me with the interviews. I would also like to thank Mr.Khoot without
whose translation services it would have been impossible to conduct
the interviews. I would also like to thank the other members of the
team for their support.
We interviewed the following people
- Mr. Lin is one of the pharmacists in Koh Sdach. He was one of
the original seven families that lived in Koh Sdach in 1979. He is
ethnically Teochew and studied Mandarin in Phnom Penh. His family of
six children currently reside there. He spent the years of the DK
regime in Koh Sdach and said that there were no significant problems
except for the banning of the use of English and Mandarin. He was
quite satisfied with his life in Koh Sdach. He provided us with a
lot of information about the economic and social conditions in Koh
- Mr. Rajaram, 31, is a small time Indian businessman from
Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, India. He rents a shop and sells clothes
in Koh Sdach. His shop is considered upmarket there. He came to Koh
Sdach eight years ago from Thailand and was one of the first to sell
clothes in the village. His wife and two children still live in
Gorakhpur. He is fluent in Thai, Khmer and Lao. His analysis of the
conditions in Koh Sdach were very useful as he had knowledge of
other less developed countries.
- Mr. Thaikit is the manager of the brothel in Koh Sdach. He was
originally from Thailand but has stayed in Cambodia for many years.
He was very garrulous and had many comments to make about the
corruption that is endemic in the government. His wife, two sons and
a daughter stay in Thailand. While he was very forthcoming with
information, he did not allow us to interview any of the
Koh Sdach (King's Island) : A Socioeconomic Survey
- Phnom Penh Post, Vol 10 Issue 15, July -
August 2, 2001.
- The World Bank Group (URL :
This document was generated using the
LaTeX2HTML translator Version 99.2beta6 (1.42)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996,
Computer Based Learning Unit, University of Leeds.
Copyright © 1997, 1998, 1999,
Mathematics Department, Macquarie University, Sydney.
The command line arguments were:
latex2html -split 2 report
The translation was initiated by Marakani Srikant on 2002-02-06