Let's start at the beginning. I don't usually get seasick. My constitution is solid enough to handle travel sickness a lot better than when I was younger; having parents that smoked on car journeys will soon teach you the meaning of serious travel sickness. The boat ride to the island was something else. It didn't just bob, it pitched. I can cope with front-to-back motion, but the sea was so choppy that it was throwing bar stools over at regular intervals. Thankfully one of the Canadian passengers had a tablet which seemed to work pretty quickly, and which I was very grateful for.
We stopped at Koh Pos and headed into the water to do some snorkelling. Almost immediately I got water into the mask and up my nose. I had the same issue doing a try-dive in Greece a couple of years ago. It's really frustrating, as it means I can't be underwater for more than 15-20 seconds or so. In Greece, the dive instructor adjusted my mask and did something that sorted the issue - there wasn't really enough time here for that. I must have an odd-shaped face; Gilly didn't have any problems, even when we swapped masks. Hopefully I won't have similar trouble when we learn to dive in Koh Tao. The coral I saw looked pretty dead. but there were still colourful fish swimming in it.
We had a decent buffet lunch on the boat which included some great fish amok and some dubious "garlic" bread, before the next destination.
The second stop was at Saracen Bay in Koh Rong Samlon, a picture-perfect white beach which was deserted other than us. We chose this boat because it visited here unlike the rest of the tourist boats which go to Bamboo Island and other more heavily visited areas. White powdery sand, warm turquoise sea...you couldn't ask for a more lovely beach.
Whilst there, our guide - Rain - gave us a 30 minute tour through a jungle marsh where we were waist-high in warm water, coloured brown from the olive and tea-tree plants nearby. I managed to get a photo of a bird which I haven't yet identified - if any ornithologists know what this is, please let me know!
After a peaceful two hours, we got back into the boat (I swam back, the water was lovely and warm) and headed back to Sihanoukville. It was worth paying a bit more to get to the island, but I would have got more out of it if the snorkelling had been better.
It rained in the evening, so we ran for cover in Seahorse Restaurant and I opted for chicken with Kampot pepper and chilli, the latter of which almost blew my head off. Tasty, though.
The next day we hung out around the Serendipity Beach area and in Monkey Republic we met Barry and Laura, two Dubliners who are working in Hanoi and came to Sihanoukville for a holiday, as well as Rick, a Chicagoan. After relaxing on Serendipity in the afternoon, we met them in the evening and went bar-hopping. The beach bars turn pump out music in the evening and have loads of drinks offers to entice you in. We went to the Dolphin Shack and played some beer pong, the rules of which differed from our games in Vang Vieng. As it was windy, it was pretty tough to get a ping-pong ball across a table tennis table and into a beaker, but Gilly and I managed to win one game. We stayed there until midnight and as the hour hit 12, the speakers pumped out "Happy Birthday" music and I hit the big 3-1.
Barry and Rick took us up to Otres Beach for my birthday proper the next day. This beach is far, far nicer than Serendipity. You get much less hassle from masseurs or hawkers, and it's much quieter and has a far more relaxed vibe. Add into the mix a nicer beach, better bars and food, as well as the perfect sunset spot, and we were smitten. We played pool, swam, sunbathed, and watched the sun go down before heading back to the town.
Back to Monkey Republic for a birthday burger and beer tower, then on to Dolphin Shack where Barry and I performed miserably at Beer Pong against two new Dutch friends, Garwin and Stanzi (who is so good, she can get them in with her eyes closed, literally).
A few games of pool later, and we were on the beach with two more new friends, Dan and Maddy from Hertfordshire. Despite being decrepit, I somehow managed to outpace Gilly who threw in the towel at about 2am. Barry, Stanzi, Garwin and I managed another hour or so, and I wandered back to the hotel...via a casino. It turns out that Cambodian casinos are a bit odd. They had a card game I have never seen before which seems to involve getting dealt two cards, showing them to the dealer, and either winning or losing. There doesn't appear to be any skill to it. Aside from eight such tables, a few automated roulette machines and a stack of slots, there wasn't much else in there. I chucked a few dollars into the machines, lost quickly, then made it back home for 4am.
The next day was predictably a write-off. Luckily, a baguette at Mick and Craig's followed by a piece of amazing fudge cake at Sisters Bakery helped sweep the cobwebs away. We were also fortunate to meet our good friends Patrick and Cayleigh again, who had been cycling just behind us for a few days and had now caught up. Their commitment to cycling Asia is admirable. I could barely cope with a few kilometres - these guys are putting in crazy distances, upwards of 150km on some days. We had a fairly good meal at Holy Cow in the evening, shared a bottle of wine, and caught up with their adventures (including losing one camera in a tuk-tuk, and smashing another during a manoeuvre worthy of Street Hawk). They will hopefully get a replacement camera in Bangkok, before heading into India...now that will be an adventure to cycle around. It may be the last time we see them before we visit them in Toronto in September.
On the 23rd we said goodbye to Patrick and Cayleigh, and hello to fellow Miltonites and super-awesome friends Paul and Fi. We hadn't expected our paths to cross before Thailand, but they sped through Vietnam and were keen for some well-earned beach time after a fairly torrid time in China. Since it was Chinese New Year, all the hotels doubled their prices for a few days, so we took the opportunity to move to Otres Beach. It was the best place to be in the day anyway, so it made sense to have it on our doorstep. It was a bit of a risk, as we just turned up on the beach front and hoped to find a room. It was looking pretty shaky until just before 12pm when we got lucky and managed to got ourselves and Paul and Fi a double room each at Moonlight Rock. We paid $14 for what was basically a small room in a large hut above the bar with a mattress, fan and mosquito net, and with a shared cold water bathroom. It was by no means ideal, but far better than the only other option we could find on the road - a filthy mattress in a shack, with rubbish and rusty nails strewn on the floor. The pair arrived at about 7:30, and as we were all hungry we headed to Dany's for a seafood and chicken BBQ which filled a hole quite pleasantly. We'd been well prepared and bought a bottle of red ahead of time, so sat by the beach catching up and drinking wine, beer and a few cocktails - bliss.
It was fantastic to catch up with friends from back home, and we'll be seeing some other good friends, V and Colin in a couple of weeks too, as they are flying out for a 3 week holiday in Cambodia and Thailand.
We could only keep Paul and Fi's room for one night as the guesthouse had a booking, so on the morning of the 24th, after some pancakes and a plate of fruit, I did some recon on the bungalows to see if I could find them a place to stay. I was in luck - we'd found some new bungalows run by a lovely chap who had offered us a floor in his place if we'd been unable to find anywhere the day before. And on that morning, a couple of bungalows became available for both of us. One dollar more got us our own standalone bungalow, a big room with ensuite and hot water, and a deck with a hammock. The actual property was still in the process of being finished, but these bungalows were practically brand new and a complete steal. Having got our digs sorted, we spent the day at Otres beach and introduced Paul and Fi to the concept of "not doing a fat lot": something they hadn't had the opportunity to do (or rather, not do) for quite some time. What can be better than sitting on a sunbed, occasionally popping to the bar for some beers or food, and enjoying a great sunset? When you think "beach holiday", I expect Cambodia doesn't come anywhere near the top of the list. It probably doesn't even cross your mind to put it on the list in the first place. But after spending over a week here, I can definitely say that I would return in an instant to Sihanoukville if I wanted a relaxing fortnight on the beach. We had fish amok at Dany's beach house which was hands-down the best amok I'd eaten in Cambodia, and huge portions - more than enough for two people. So good in fact, we had it 3 days in a row for lunch. In the evening we took a trip to the Beach Road to meet up with Barry, Laura, Rick, Garwin and Stanzi. I had a pool score to settle with Barry which I did (but only just) and after some burgers at Monkey Republic, we headed to the beach front for some drinks where it proceeded to bucket down with rain for 45 minutes solid. We had a free drink at JJ's thanks to picking up some flyers from a drunken tout (the only thing worth going to JJ's for, as the place smells of vomit and the staff are pretty much all wasted), before moving on to an odd little bar next door run by a Korean family where the owner - who must be in his 60s - acts as barman and DJ, whilst his elderly wife sits at the cashier desk. A surreal experience.
Then it was on to Dolphin Shack, where the body paint was out in force. Gilly got a pattern from a bar girl, I painted a star on Fi (or possibly a man: I like to leave things open to interpretation. As artists go, I'm a bit of a maverick), and Fi added a bumblebee to hers before painting a picture of...erm...something on my arm. Not entirely sure what, but it was a tremendous effort and I'm pretty sure if I'd cut my arm off and put it in a museum, it would have won the Turner Prize.
From then on out, we were set for the night. Much partying ensued, as well as the obligatory "floor photos".
We also met up with a couple of Aussies, Darcy and Ben, who had beaten me and Paul at pool earlier in the evening. They were 19. I felt ridiculously old. It does help somewhat that most new people we meet have me firmly pegged at around 25. I can cope with that.
3am rolled around, and it was time to head home. The tuk-tuk driver was probably not in the best condition. He almost crashed immediately after setting off, and then when we were 15 metres away from our bungalows, he stopped, ran to the side of the road, and relieved himself. I guess when you gotta go...
We decided that it would probably be a good idea to take it easy the next day.