BootsnAll Travel Network

Sihanoukville: Little Britain

From Siem Reap, in the north of Cambodia, Bec and I wanted to travel south, almost as far south as we could go in fact, to the coastal town of Sihanoukville. But with the deplorable state of Cambodia’s roads, this trip would take two days, and require a stopover in Phnom Penh.

We made it to the capital with few problems, and, after learning that the OK Guesthouse was full, found a rather dodgy looking place in the backpacker region on the shore of Boeung Kak Lake. And by on the shore, I mean hanging out over the lake by a good 50 feet. It’s like a race between guesthouses in the area to see who can be the first to have their patio-over-the-water actually reach the other side of the lake. And by backpacker region, I mean the district where you can’t walk 30 feet without being offered some skunk. Whatever the hell that is (I’m guessing marijuana, but in these SEAsian countries, you just never know).

Our only task whilst in Phnom Penh was to buy some more mosquito coils – little coils of, er, stuff, that you slowly burn to keep the skeeters away. Not far from our guesthouse we found the closest thing to a mini-mart, and attempted to explain to the old lady manning the counter that we needed some mosquito coils. She called over a young Cambodian dude who was lounging around out the front of the place (they do a lot of lounging in this part of the world), who presumably spoke a little English, and we repeated our request, complete with little hand gestures; whipping our index finger round and round in ever increasing circles, that could surely only mean one thing – mosquito coils.

He understodd straight away – it was the hand gestures, I knew it. He fired off some Khmer words to the old lady and she too was soon smiling in recognition, nodding to us and saying a few words we didn’t understand. We followed her to the back of the store, and waited while she rummaged around on a shelf.

She turned round triumphantly, holding……a big fuck-off bottle of whiskey. Mekong Whiskey. She held it out with one hand around the neck and one cradling the base, as though she were a waiter presenting the bottle to Jamie Oliver, with a proud smile stretched across her face.

We walked out a few minutes later without the whiskey, but with the precious mozzie coils.

By lunch time the next day, our bus had arrived in Sihanoukville, and we’d hitched rides on the back of a couple of motorbikes to a British-run guesthouse. We didn’t know it was British-run at the time, but only found out when reading the flyer for the place after checking in. The flyer listed all the features; free pool, cheap beer, dvd’s, cheap food, hammocks, that sort of thing. But number one on the list, before all of the above backpacker treats, it stated boldly, “British run”, as though that were the greatest thing in the world. No points for guessing the target clientele then.

It was only a short stroll from here down to Serendipity Beach. But it was about bloody time we got there. For our last few weeks in Europe, in the cold and the snow, we’d been dreaming of lying on a beach in the south of Thailand. But of course, we’d buggered all that up when we ditched Thailand and headed straight to land-locked Laos. So, finally, we had made it to the beach of our dreams.

And I’ve got to say, it did not disappoint.

From the pearly-white soft sand, to the ultra-warm water that rippled like a wind-blown silk sheet (not that I’ve ever seen a wind-blown silk sheet, but I imagine this is what it would’ve looked like), to the three cows walking along the water’s edge, with not a shepherd in sight, it was exactly what we’d been after. Well, maybe not the cows, but this was Cambodia, not Thailand, and they weren’t exactly causing any trouble, so we didn’t mind.

After a relaxing first day in town (or maybe it was two days, I can’t actually remember, which I think is exactly what we were after in Sihanoukville), we organised to take a boat trip through the nearby mangroves of the Ream National Park the next day. We were joined by a few others from our guesthouse (an Irish couple, a girl from Manchester, and, just to mix it up a little bit, two Yanks and a Danish guy) making 8 in all, and after a short minivan ride we boarded a small boat and headed off through the shallow water.

I had sort of expected a trip through narrow mangrove channels – perhaps being able to touch the trees on either side of the boat if I leant out far enough. But instead, we slowly traversed a wide expanse of water. This was not entirely a disappointment though, as the many fishing boats we passed threw up a delightful contrast of the prevailing conditions.

On some occasions, we passed wooden long-boats with no-one in them. Or so it seemed, until a lone head would slowly emerge from the water like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. ( I think it’s Brando, I haven’t actually seen the film – but it’s on my long list of things to watch when I get home). What they were doing down there in the water I do not know, but it looked rather cool.

On other occasions though, we saw more wooden long-boats, but this time being pushed along by guys seemingly walking on water. The water barely reached over their ankles, and this was in the middle of the huge waterway, hundreds of metres from the trees on either side.

After a couple of hours, we reached a secluded beach and the 8 of us swam in the warm water for a while, before sitting down to a lunch of barbecued barracuda, cooked up for us by our guide while we swam.

Sitting on the beach, listening the sounds of the Gulf of Thialand lapping at the sand, and eating delicious fresh fish, one couldn’t help but feel spoilt.

And this only continued the next night, when Bec and I went out for a great seafood meal courtesy of her Grandmother, the wonderful Flora Miller. Flora had given us some cash before we left on our trip, and we’d been planning to put it towards a nice meal or something, but until now nothing had really come up. But in Siahnoukville, we found the perfect place; a quiet restaurant resting at the back of a narrow little beach, with tables sitting in the sand (actually in the sand, not just on a patio over the sand), where we could sit peacefully and watch the sun set, before eating another juicy dish of seafood. It was as perfect a time as I can remember. And that’s saying someting after spending three-and-a-half years with my amazing lady-friend.

Only problem was, the restaurant was a little out of town, and the moto drivers who usually hung around like vultures (their preferred method of gaining your attention in Sihanoukville, as you leave your guesthouse, is to clap at you) were nowhere in sight. It was then that we learned an important lesson; in Cambodia, everyone with a motorbike is a taxi driver. As we walked along the dark road back to town, we heard a motorbike approaching from behind. We turned optimistically, and saw the driver pull up his bike not far behind us, tell the girl with her arms around him riding on the back to get off, and then ride up to us with a smile. We arranged a price, and he took us back to our guesthouse, leaving the girl stranded on the road. Money talks people, remember that.

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