Besides the dictator pretending to a prime minister, Sihanoukville is subject to some huge power problems. In Denver, the biggest outage I can remember was about two years ago when a heat wave fried and, subsequently, exploded an Xcel hub. Everyone ran to the nearest bar where they prayed the beer was still cold.
Here, it’s a daily occurrence. At work, the city turns the power off when there’s a thunder storm. Being rainy season, I’ve learned to save whatever I’m working on because the computer could shut off at any moment. At home, the owner of my guesthouse runs everything on an antiquated diesel generator. With diesel prices soaring at $5 per liter, he’ll turn off the power to save cash. According to Lonely Planet:
1Kwh of electricity costs a whopping 1200 [riel]. That’s seven times the price in the UK, 10 times what you’d pay in teh USA and 14 times what consumers are charged in Australia or Canada. To put it another way, an Australian earning minimum wage has to work for 18 seconds to buy one kWh of electricity while your average Cambodian has to work 1.5 hours — 300 times as long!
When you run your hotel room’s air-con unit at these rates, just three hours of coolness costs about US$1 — what many Cambodians earn in a day.
Just now, the power suddenly turned off when I was getting dressed after the shower. It’s already dark, so I grabbed the first clean shirt I should, threw it on, then went outside to survey the situation. The generator just turned off on its own. The owner was out starting it like a lawn mower, revving it like an F-150, followed by kids cheering when the lights in the courtyard turned back on.