Thursday, January 19, 2012

Day 97 - 98: Sihanoukville - Arrival

The bus dropped us off near Serendipity Beach road, which was exactly where we wanted to be. It was a 5 minute walk to Sunday Guesthouse (we'd pre-booked to avoid any issues), and we were all checked in to a large, comfortable room with hot water. We walked back to the beach road, and stopped at The Big Easy for some decent western food for lunch. Sometimes you just need to have a burger.

Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse so we decided to head back to the room for a few hours to have a nap and catch up on reading. The rain bucketed down until about 7pm when it slowed somewhat, and we went out for some unexpectedly good seafood at Black Grouper restaurant on the beach road. The owner is a 66 year old Aussie who only bought the place 3 months ago and has turned it into a decent place to eat. The service is pretty abysmal, even by Khmer standards, but if you can get over that then it's worth the wait for food.

Sihanoukville has 4 main beaches: Independence, Victory, Serendipity/Occheuteal, and Otres. We were originally going to stay at Victory for new year before we found out the entire town was booked out, and it turns out we had a lucky escape, as we are told that Victory is now the haunt of drug dealers and prostitutes. Serendipity is part of Occheuteal beach, which is the main backpacker area stuffed full of beach bars, cheap drinks and deckchairs galore. Otres is the nicest beach, with not much going on in comparison, but lots of clean white sand and far fewer tourists.

We headed to Occheuteal the next day to laze about in the sun, drinking beers and cocktails, eating crab, and frolicking in the sea. It's nice not to worry about visiting site after site, monument after museum, temple after statue, and Sihanoukville has no pretensions: it's a tourist town, it knows it, and it is good at it. People may tell you that travelling is hard work. On occasion, it is. Most of the time though, we've not been stressed. I think a lot of it comes down to the places you visit. Oldy and Fi had a rough time of it in China but undoubtedly came away more enlightened than someone who say, spent their entire travels island-hopping. I think we've picked a good mixture of culture and tourism. There's an ongoing argument that asks whether you are a "traveller" or a "tourist", as if the latter is a pejorative. Sure, you can visit all of the same places and see the same sights that everyone else visits, but does that make you a tourist? Does being a "traveller" mean that you have to rough it up with the locals for your entire trip, eat where they eat, sleep where they sleep, learn the language and so forth? How much time do you need to spend away from tourist areas before you're classed as a "traveller"?

I think a decent argument was made by Nomadic Matt in response to someone claiming he was a "safe" traveller who didn't venture away from the well-worn tourist paths. I do this for me.

Whilst on the beach, you'll be approached by various people selling things. They may be kids with bracelets or fireworks(!) - don't buy from them, as it only keeps them out of school and Cambodia is actively trying to cut out child exploitation. They may be bar staff offering free drinks if you go to their club in the evening. They may be tour operators selling snorkelling trips out on boats. They may also be old Cambodian women who practice "threading". I'd not heard of this before, but it's essentially an alternative to leg waxing which involves two pieces of cotton thread (which look like dental floss) and some talc. Gilly decided to give it a go and found it effective but painful. They also tried to get me to partake by trying it on my nipple. Not the best marketing technique I've come across. It was not pleasant. I politely but firmly declined.

We were also approached by an English guy offering snorkelling trips out to 3 islands in one day which had breakfast and lunch thrown in. After some consideration, we decided to take him up on the offer and booked it for the following day. The weather forecast predicted thunderstorms, but then it predicted thunderstorms on the day we booked it and there wasn't a cloud in sight. I'm pretty sure meteorology is just guesswork. I may regret saying that when we get on the boat and it is pouring with rain.

Food that night came courtesy of Seahorse Restaurant on the beach road. I ordered chicken with green kampot pepper. It also must have had some seriously hot chilli in it as halfway through I found my mouth was on fire. Tasty though, and they do cracking spring rolls too.

Snorkelling awaits tomorrow!

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