I booked a ride through my hotel for $11 on a 16 seat, very comfortable bus. I had ticket number 1 which was the front seat beside the drive. Score! The ride was an uneventful 4.5 hours but it did give me a interesting glimpse of the Cambodian countryside, one of the main reasons I like taking a bus when I travel outside of North America. I have been going strong since March 26th. Xian, Chengdu, Kathmandu, EBC, India, and now Cambodia. As I have mentioned before, traveling can be hard work and I am tired. My own beach hut, sunshine, the Bay of Thailand, beach chairs, palm trees and happy hour beer will do the trick.
The beaches in Sihanoukville are considered some of the best in SE Asia without all the people and development. That being said, Chinese investment has arrived and this place will not be the same in a couple of years. Get in while the going is good.
There are three main beaches, Ocheteaul, Otres 1 and Otres 2. Ocheteaul is near the town and is considered the "party beach" with young back packers doing what they do best. Otres is about 3 km east and a bit tamer while Otres 2 is still being developed but quieter still. I chose Otres as partying like a rock star every night was not even closer to being on my agenda. Still, I could walk to Sihanoukville in about 40 minutes or take a 15 minute moto to the centre of town.
Sihanoukville is a typical growing port town that has had its share of interesting history. The hotels were used as target practice during the war from 75 to 79. When the war ended the Russian mafia arrived to control the town and the beaches. They were forced out, if that was actually possible, by the government in the mid 90s. Now the Chinese have arrived in a very big way. Needed an alternative to Macau there are new casinos springing up all over the town giving it a bizarre look. Every day, plane loads of Chinese arrive to gamble and hit the beach so much so that signage all over town is in Chinese. Construction, mounds of stinking trash, dazed backpackers and cheap restaurants. It may not be an ideal place but it isn't boring.
Chez Paou in Otres 1 was going to be my home for a week. At $7 a night for my own bungalow and 10 steps from the beach I knew I would get comfortable pretty quick. An open concept restaurant with a great menu and meals running about $4, free pool tables and a nice bar facing the beach. It also had Chez in the name so it must be fancy. It was an easy walk to Otres 2 and in between was a little street village just to mix it up a bit. This is exactly what I needed. I got a street side haircut for $2 then found a damn good Greek restaurant and devoured souvlaki like a mad man. It was not all paradise. There were roosters and lots of them and I hate roosters as much as barking dogs. 5:30 am was the standard wake up call but they screeching poultry tired quickly in the morning heat allowing both the roosters and myself to go back to sell. It did allow for a few incredible sun rises over the Bay of Thailand.
I could walk to the far end of the beach and back in about 90 minutes and did so every morning. There were great people hanging around my hotel and nightly beers and pool games with Andy and Jenny were great. The intrepid Andy is a chef and has been riding his bike through Asia for the last 3 months with 3 to go. One of his goals is to learn the foods and flavors of Asia so he can write a book. he is also a bit of a doppelganger for a former colleague of mine in Mexico, Tom Webster. The free spirit Jenny is a message therapist and has been traveling Asia doing volunteer work where she can. She also looks 20 younger than he actual age. Good spirit, good health, good body.You meet great people on the road when you take the time to say hello.
Ladies would come by and offer manicures, pedicures and messages on the beach so I said yes, yes and yes. The beach dogs became friendly and the nightly lightning storms fantastic. Dude selling sunglasses and boat trips would stop and just chat knowing you were not going to buy anything. One guy would come by every morning selling boat trips for $15. It included a hotel pickup, breakfast, lunch, snorkeling, swimming and cliff jumping if that was your thing. Sign me up for that.
When I got on the boat there were smiling faces greeting me. "You want a beer mate" was the first thing that was said to me by a group of young Aussies. The fact it was 9 am had no bearing on anything at all so a quick "absolutely" and I had new friends for a day. Its a crap shoot when you sign up for these types of day trips. Often everyone is coupled off and the conversations are limited or people just do not mix. I hit the jackpot today.
The snorkeling was not great as the water was murky but who cares. We climbed up some rock faces that were 7 metres where I took one look down and thought "nope" and walked back down. I was quickly followed by a few others to shy to go first and feeling a bit of peer pressure. We dove into the water off a rock at sea level and cheered each other for our amazing feat. This brought cheers from our more daring friends standing 7 meters above us. It was by far the best day I have had in Cambodia, it not on this trip so far.
Now not all is great in paradise. The beaches were full of plastic coming in from the ocean. There were intrepid travelers who would walk the beach with garbage bags (plastic) to pick up the trash. "Be the change you want to see". It did not stop the daily deluge of plastics coming a shore but they were doing their part. Yes, I partook one day with 4 others. We each collected 2 large bags of garbage in about 4 hours.
Locals burn their trash, including all plastics, on the side of the road as they do not know any better. Recycling education and the infrastructure to support it does not exist. There are some great people doing innovative things when it comes to cleaning our oceans from the plastics that are destroying it. Cities in the USA and Canada are banning items such as plastic drinking straws, single serve water bottles and plastic bags and I applaud everyone. However unless the situation is dealt with on a global grassroots level it is only going to get worse no matter the efforts being put forth. The plastic issue in the oceans and on the planet is very real and very dangerous and I feel it is beyond the critical stage. "Be the change you want to see" is all that needs to be said about this topic.
Cambodia has been everything I imagined and more and I only scratched the surface. I will certainly come back here again and it has moved into the top 5 places that I would settle down and live in. Here is my updated list.
So it's off to Vietnam. I can only imagine whats going to happen.