Hidden Asia: Sihanoukville, CambodiaPosted in Where to Travel to Now
Our intrepid Editor, Seb King heads for Cambodia's coastline.
The rain drove with purpose against the thick frames of the double-decker bus. For the majority of the five hour journey from Phom Phen the sun had failed to grace us with its fiery presence.
“I guess that’s why they call it the rainy season”, remarked my Skinny Friend noticing my concerned expression and vacant peers out the window.
Sihanoukville is renowned throughout Cambodia for its breathtaking beaches, sultry weather and deep-sea diving opportunities. It seemed rather appropriate that we’d managed to pick the only day of the year that it decided to teem with rain. Sods law.
When our modern-looking bus broke down for half an hour twenty miles short of its destination, it soon became apparent that today’s destiny was out of our hands. It was going to be one of those days where the powers that be purposely sought to remind us that they were in control and we were nothing but insignificant dots in the ever expanding universe.
Standing outside on the dusty street, afar from the plumes of smoke that spiralled into the air from the nose of bus, my Skinny Friend lifted the mood. “Sun’s out Seb. Looks like we’ll be able to get some beach lounging action after all”, he said. I nodded my approval, and before long the technical battle fought beneath the bonnet was won. The wheels on the bus went round again. Everyone was happy.
Sihanoukville town centre, although significantly less congested than its capital city, Phnom Pehn, was livelier than I first expected. Street vendors wheeled pork dumplings or weird looking fruits on rickety old carts. Hawkers made intermittent cameo appearances from street to street while wide eyed backpackers jumped into tuk tuks on their pilgrimage to one of the last remaining public beaches.
Above: If You've Hired A Moped In Sihanoukville The Petrol From The Street Traders Is A Lot Cheaper Than From A Shell Garage (In The Distance). Buying Petrol From Traders Also Helps The Local Economy In An impoverished Part Of The World.
I say last remaining public beaches because as it turns out, the majority of Sihanoukville’s beaches have been privatised by-super luxurious five star chain hotels that could compete with airports in terms of creating a venue that’s completely out of proportion to its local surroundings. This means that backpackers and tourists without five figure sums resting gently in their current accounts are excluded from experiencing a large amount of Sihanoukville’s natural beauty. But I suppose beauty has its price.
We headed straight towards the aptly named Independence Beach; the largest stretch of sandy paradise still open to the non-paying public.The tuk tuk dropped us off outside The Reef Hotel. Here we dumped our bulging rucksacks, donned our swim shorts and headed off down the pebble strewn hill to where the land collided with the ocean. Sizzling grains of silicone as fine as caffeine powder slipped between our toes despite the protection offered by our flip flops. On the horizon small offshore islands jutted out from the Gulf of Thailand.
Above: The Pool @ The Reef Resort
We were soon greeted by regiments of sun loungers. My Skinny friend instantly threw himself onto the soft foam of his sun bed. “I do like a bit of dappled sunshine I do. Oh yes”, he said as he motioned towards the straw umbrella wedged between our loungers. He broke into a yawn. The yawn transformed into a fully fledged stretch. In mid air his right arm flinched as though he was waving to a long lost relative in the distance. Within seconds a heavily pregnant woman appeared by the side of my Skinny Friend .
“You wanna drink?” she asked in a heavy Cambodian accent. My Skinny Friend and I looked puzzled.
“You put arm in air. You wana drink?” The waitress thrust laminated drinks menus into our arms and we each ordered some exotic, over indulgent cocktails.
“So when baby comes, I go Manchester... to see baby’s father. Flight already booked.” This was the end of the waitress’s story. The rest of it went a bit like this: Middle aged married man from Manchester arrives in Cambodia, sleeps with waitress whose name it would be unfair to mention. Middle aged man neglects to tell his wife and children about his exotic fling with a Cambodian woman. The Cambodian woman is now determined for the baby to meet his/her father.
We tried to explain to this expectant mother that a northern hemisphere family reunion was probably not a good idea but she was having none of it. “Baby wana meet daddy”, she would say over and over again as she waved her finger like sonic the hedgehog. God help him
we both thought...
Aside from chatting to the locals, who spoke very reputable English, we also managed to catch some shore-side masseuses as they made their way past the armies of sun loungers. After a little bout of haggling we delved into our wallets once more and handed over a whopping $5 in return for one hours pampering. This was service like no other in a place like no other. Never has the phrase ‘Lording it up’ seemed so appropriate.
Above: Beachside Traders @ Independence Beach
Top Tip: When the sun goes down be sure to venture to Independence Beach for some extreme fire shows, cool beats, killer pool and probably the biggest paper lantern display in town.