David Hutt, writing for The Diplomat, takes a look at how the city and the countryside – and perceptions of them – are evolving in Cambodia, and uncovers some possible implications for domestic tourism:
While researching an article I wrote in early 2015 about the emergence of a Cambodian working class, I spoke to dozens of garment-factory workers who live in the peripheries of Phnom Penh, often in multi-story dormitories surrounding the factories. The majority were recent migrants from the countryside. Most were women. And many said they were struggling to adapt to their new lives in the capital: the size of the city, the loss of social connections, and so on.
But what struck me was that almost every single interviewee said that they wanted to return to the countryside once they could afford to do so. In hindsight, this shouldn’t have been surprising: the dissatisfaction with urban life for migrants is understandable since many lack the funds to enjoy the fruits of city living while a good number move back and forth regularly between the city and countryside, making neither locale permanent.
However, for the majority of Cambodia’s migrants from the countryside, and for the established urban population, the task of creating an urbanite identity in a country whose culture and mores remain predominately rural while it undergoes profound social changes is not an easy one. Cambodia has had one of the fastest rates of urbanization in Asia in recent debates. Phnom Penh’s population doubled between 1998 and 2010 and the urban population now accounts for 21 percent of Cambodia’s 15 million inhabitants.