Cambodia: three days in Sihanoukville
We departed Ko Chang at 7:30am after stuffing our faces with our final banana pancake made by Tara. We had a minibus booked for the whole journey Ko Chang to Sihanoukville which we were told would arrive at around 5pm for a total of 9 hours of travel. Bizarre considering that it’s only 315km.
But of course, there is a border in between to exit Thailand and enter Cambodia, and that’s the time consuming bit. We were warned that there would be scams, and we thought we were prepared for it. It ended up being much much worse than expected. As we arrived at the Ko Kong border, in our minibus we had a part from ourselves, a couple of Germans, an American solo traveller girl, and two couples of Welsh, and a couple with baby from Russia. We exited the minibus, as our vehicle was not allowed to drive in Cambodia, where only Cambodian vehicles are allowed. As soon as we stepped out, all our luggages were loaded on a three wheel rudimental trolley by three people, each one trying to get money out of us for moving our luggages ten metres away. We took our luggages out, not without resistance and we walked ourselves towards the office. Getting out of Thailand was easy enough but the real folly started when we had to enter Cambodia.
In between the two offices there are 20 metres of no man’s land where trucks are parked and rubbish is everywhere making it smell like something you don’t want to remember. As we got to the Cambodian border, our driver had completely disappeared, and we were approached by a guy that said to be looking after our bus since he saw the stickers we had on our t-shirts. He brought us to a “health” desk which we read about as being a scam, where they certify that you don’t have diarrhoea by making you sign a yellow piece of paper, and then obviously ask you to pay 30Baht. per head We refused to pay, and tried to say to the rest of the bus to avoid this desk but then our new guy which we thought was our new driver, got really annoyed and started yelling at us.
We then got to the passport queue, which was anything but a queue to the English standards, and we had to scan all our fingerprints as well as taking a photo. We already had our visa, and they didn’t seem too happy about that since it’s much more expensive to do it from here – and no doubt they get some commission. They made us fill a new form, and we then had to start the queue again. Finally after one hour in the boiling heat at 12pm we got our stamps, with the right dates, and we thought the worst had passed. The Welsh were still trying to get their visa made, so we together with the American girl and the German couple got escorted to a parking lot with a small bar where we could sit and get a drink. Once the Welsh arrived, we were all there and ready to get going. But our man didn’t seem to be ready at all. After waiting for half an hour, we asked whether we were waiting for the Russians, but we were sure they disappeared, and it came out that we were waiting for a big public bus, which would show up in two hours, and we then would have to change again to get to Sihanoukville by 8pm if lucky! I started complaining, saying that we had already paid for a minibus for the all way, and we were not going to wait to get on a public bus! Brucey was trying to keep me calm, but it wasn’t the easiest… (below is the name of the transport tour to AVOID!)
In the end a minibus conveniently showed up just at the right time, and told us they would bring us to Sihanoukville direct and it would take much less time, without changing buses… they were trying to “sell us” what we had already bought the cheeky fuckers! In the end we had to pay an extra 180 Baht each to get going. We were very angry and tired, and were just hoping that the stress for the day would be over… But there is more.
The highway towards Sihanoukville is pretty rough, with unpaved roads, a lot of tight turns, and hills up and down. The driver was going pretty fast, despite water buffalos often crossing the road. Until at some point he closed his eyes and was falling asleep! We started shouting at him to keep him awake, and we bought him a gin seng energy drink as soon as we could find a stop. The rest of the trip we were praying for our lives, until Thank God we arrived. Only a day later we saw a small wise note on the Lonely Planet saying: avoid minibuses if you care about your life…
We ended up getting a tuktuk from the bus station with the Germans, with all our four big luggages, loaded on a scooter with a trolley at the back (I’ve quickly learnt that each country has its own version of a tuktuk) where we were sitting. We were going so slowly since we were so heavy, but were very happy to have a safety speed compared to our previous trip! We arrived at our accommodation called Sunset Lounge, near Otres beach. Andreas the owner is a very nice German guy, very helpful and welcoming, and the bungalows are beautiful and clean, each with a mini veranda with a hammock (they love hammocks here in Cambodia – their main dish is called Fish Amok – delicious, and they have bars / party areas full of hammocks, and people sleep in hammocks rather than beds!). You can definitely feel the German organisation here. We were so relieved and happy to be alive that we treated ourselves to a nice dinner at the guesthouse with Red Snapper and a red curry. Certainly days like this help you remember that you shouldn’t take your life for granted! Ps: the misfortune wasn’t over for Brucey, who got – yet again – smashed his head on the low bathroom doorway for the shorter South East Asian gentleman! He must have learnt this incredible skill from Rob Senior aka Chief Guide in Namibia.
After a well deserved lie in and breakfast, we headed to the beach Otres 1 which is just around the corner from where we are staying, passed a bridge and down some stairs. The beach is very nice, with unusually squeaking sand that sounds like snow, but very soft and pleasant to walk on. Otres one is about 2km long, and as we reached the end, passing by cool bars with a bohemian / hippie vibe, we got to a bit without any bars which is the strip in between Otres 1 and Otres 2. We decided to walk it, another 2Km, with just sand, trees and sea.
On the way there are huge colonies of mini white crabs that move around as to avoid your feet as you are walking by. We arrived at Otres 2, walked towards the end, and tired and hungry after a long walk we had a quick lunch at Tamu since it was already 1pm. Very tasty fresh fish by the beach, it doesn’t get much better than that.
In the afternoon we found a spot to sunbathe and chill, Bruce even had his third massage of the trip, for $4 on his sun lounge. Cambodian ladies walk around trying to convince you to give massages by straight away rubbing oil on you even before they start to talk to you.
At about 5pm we started wandering back the 5km walk we came from, and on each way we met again the German couple, now lobstery bright red after a full day in the sun!
We arrived back at Sunset Lounge just in time for sunset, and we had a nice beer on the comfy sofas in the private beach in front of the guesthouse.
After a shower to take the salt off, we wandered down town with a tuktuk to the backpackers Serendipity area. We had a nice dinner at Sandan, a restaurant that is run by an NGO called M’Lop Tapang that helps street / orphan kids to get trained into the hospitality sector. Some of the waiters had a t-shirt that said student and others that said teacher, and it was really sweet to see them learn and be extremely polite following the guide of the teachers. Some of them must have been 10 -12 years old. There are a lot of NGOs trying to help people in need here in Cambodia, which makes you wonder why there isn’t more of them in other countries. The food was also delicious and I would recommend it as must if you are passing by Sihanoukville!
After dinner we had a stroll towards the beach, and saw some of the clubs / bars where the backpackers hang out. They didn’t look too appealing I must admit. Some dodgy locals also approached us a few times asking us if we wanted different types of substances to make us “happy”, the most common one was “do you want to smoke ice?”. We felt a bit too behind with the latest transgressive scene, and had no idea what they were talking about. Smells around this part of Sihanoukville were pretty strong, puke mixed to sewers mixed to rank streetfood seafood probably a few weeks old and still sold as fresh.
We had a drink at the Rhumbar, owned by a western couple, with nice rare groove music, and a couple of frogs hopping about on the floors. We then got a tuktuk home, the first one tried to say $10 when we only paid 3 to get here. We are learning to laugh and leave in this cases, and in the end got back for an acceptable 4 dollars negotiation.
The last day in Sihanoukville, we had a huge breakfast to start it with the right foot. Next to us was a big bloke with tattoos all over his body, head, and face who was already on the beer at 9am, and Brucey tried to be very open minded and started to chat to him since he had a British accent. The guy, from Essex, started with the phrase “I left London as I had enough of the Muslims and the Blacks – too many you know”. Rob was speechless for once! That goes to show that prejudices are sometimes there for a reason! We made our excuses and left in a hurry…
Most of the morning was spent planning our next few days, since Angkor Wat has proven to be a bit of a challenge to plan! We are actually glad that we planned most of our trip, since last minute organisation only means wasting your time while you are away! Other chores included securing the Japan rail pass, which we had to send to Vietnam as it cannot be purchased in Japan, and my next visit to DHL for family reasons yet again – the second one after Sri Lanka and not the last one I am somewhat sure! I am starting to put it as a non-bucket list to see as many DHLs in as many countries as possible in these 6 months…
We finally got to the beach at 1pm and chilled at Otres 1 for the rest of the day, despite the strong wind and the sand hitting our legs fast, it was pretty pleasant! Another sunset beer of course, and we ended up staying in and having a nice Lok Lak cambodian dish in our guesthouse and catching up with both families over skype – which we miss rather lots! Tomorrow we are hitting the road in the morning towards Phnom Penh, ready for some tears.