Henrik Olsson is not much of a city guy, instead he prefer living in a quiet country side where everything is not so busy and overtake by capitalism or tall buildings. Back in 1987 when he was still a carpenter from a small town in Sweden, he escaped the dark cold season by visiting Asia as a tourist. In 1989 he came to Thailand and he felt in love with the country right away.
“Living in Asia has always been one of my dreams,” 41 years old Henrik says.
“So in the mid 90’s I was thinking about moving to Thailand but I saw the changes that I didn’t like. The country became over-developed and commercialized.”
Henrik came to Cambodia in January 2002 and he was also fallen in love with Cambodia.
“It reminds me very much of Thailand that I discovered in 1989, especially the beach town that I live now in Sihanoukville, it is a really nice place” Henrik continues.
“Big changes will come here within two or three years. I have been here for four years and I’ve seen the great changes in the past six months.”
Sihanoukville has the biggest increase of tourists this year compare to Angkor Wat which has always been the one and only attraction in Cambodia. However more help is needed from the government of Cambodia to rebuild the infrastructure, more and better attractions, and to secure the beach of Sihanoukville on the international tourist circuit.
“Without backpackers this town would never be re-discovered.” Henrik says.
After going around the town it’s not hard to notice that there are numbers of new hotel buildings which are in the middle of construction.
“It’s getting more popular for tourists and it will bring more investors since they’ve just found an oil resource by southwest of the town’s seaport and the opening of a new airport which will have an international route within couple of years. Right now Sihanoukville is like a cake which is getting bigger and everyone just wants a piece of it.” Henrik continues.
Four stories hotel by the name of small hotel located by downtown Sihanoukville right behind the Caltex gas station and it only take ten minutes walk to the beach. It welcomes all visitors with friendly staffs and relaxed environment.
Small hotel has its charm for dining and bar with Swedish cozy atmosphere that will almost make you feel like home. At small hotel you will most likely find Swedish flags, blue tablecloths, Swedish-language newspapers, friendly waitress who always greet you with the smile and behind the bar Henrik who always there to take care of the guests.
“My wife helps me with the cashier and I always sit behind the bar and talk to people. She’s the brain and I’m the mouth.” Henrik says.
“Right now there are about 50 to 60 Scandinavians coming to Sihanoukville each week, especially the Swedes” says Henrik.
“Sihanoukville has become a main destination for Scandinavian package travel, next high season there will be about 200 Swedes coming to town.”
Small hotel kitchen also attract Scandinavian tourists with excellent Scandinavian dishes such as Norwegian cured salmon with dill, the Swedish meatballs or the Swedish “pyt I panna”.
Help the Cambodian Children
If you walk around the lobby of small hotel you would find papers and photos pinned up on a board telling stories of aiding children’s life in Cambodia. It is a fact that Cambodia is still a very poor country and the children are the future of the country since the Khmer rouge wiped out over two millions populations. The children need good education and decent health care. Henrik is one among other good people who are doing good deeds for the country. He is part of “Help the Cambodian Children” organization which aims to improve Cambodian children life everyway they can.
In 2005 Henrik and his other two Scandinavian friends raised a fund by walking from his hotel in Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh with the distance of 240 kilometers.
“We raised $2500 and with that money we ensured that 140 orphaned and disadvantaged Khmer children in Sihanoukville get an education. Later in 2006 we gained enough money to construct a proper school building and set up a full support programme in teaching English called the Goodwill school” says Henrik.
The Goodwill School
The Goodwill School now consists of three classrooms, library and toilet, employs three dedicated teachers and provides an education to 160 children from the poorest families in Sihanoukville.
The school also encourages the children that do not attend school to come in and take part in creative and recreational facilities, which is something the poor children have no access to. At best, they have an old tin can to kick around, if they are not busy working to support their families. The girls are also learn to glass paint, make jewelry and other hand-crafted items, which are then sold to raise funds.
“We also help them with the basic medical treatment by taking them to the hospital for basic vaccine shots and basic health check,” says Henrik.
“It is not easy for Cambodian people to get a Medical care. If you have no money then no Health Care. If I go back to Sweden and dying with cancer, they will give me a chance and treat me. People here don’t even get their first chance.”
“At the Goodwill School we are also trying to teach our students and teachers about sex education. People here close their eyes to this subject and talking about sex is like a taboo here, regards to their culture. But it is very important for them to start learning about this, to protect themselves from the decease or unprepared pregnancy.” continues Henrik
“There are many projects we’ve been working on to help these children. They deserve an opportunity to grow up with good health and proper education.”
Henrik is going back to Sweden this year to visit his family and get married again in Sweden.
“We have already been through the ceremony in Cambodia but I know that my family would like to see us getting married again in my hometown which has no problem to me as long as everybody is happy.” say Henrik.
The small hotel will also expand to another building down the road with 27 rooms which will accommodate numbers of Swedes tourists in the next high season.
“I don’t know what change will come to Sihanoukville. Will I still be here when it turns to be another busy city? I don’t know. For now I know that I love this town and I am happy with what I do.”