Seeing Sihanouk

30 12 2008

Sihanouk Ville, Cambodia

Perhaps this is going to be a controversial statement, but if you only plan to spend a week in Cambodia, forget Siem Reap and head down to the coast in Sihanouk Ville. Yes, I know, I’m encouraging people to ignore a world heritage sight and one of the wonders of the world and that just doesn’t seem logical. There are plenty of people who will not be deterred by stories of hordes of tourists and endless scams and those people will flock to Siem Reap and have a lovely time. But if you want to be just a little bit different and see a part of Cambodia that plenty of people miss, head to the short but glorious coastline of Sihanouk Ville.

Serendipity Beach in Sihanoukville

Serendipity Beach in Sihanoukville

Not that the coast of Cambodia is a secret to westerners. Actually, you will see plenty of white skin on these beaches. The vast majority of this white skin will be from Europe or Australia where they get at least two or three weeks of vacation, i.e. enough time to see more than one city without having to speed travel. These lucky vacationers congregate on Serendipity Beach, our first stop. This beach is lined with tables, umbrellas, and restaurants that come within spitting distance of the water. Of course, being a popular beach, you can also find beggars, roving masseuses, and girls offering manicures and pedicures. It’s the place to stay if you’re a young European looking for a party as drink specials of $0.50 beers line the beach. We stopped in Bar Ru at sunset and enjoyed a barracuda burger and 30 minutes old grilled fish while watching the sun go down.

Ten feet from the beach

Ten feet from the water

Serendipity Beach was just too crowded and, as a result, polluted, for our taste. Though the people watching was great (think European men in speedos and Khmer women in pajamas), we decided to explore the more secluded beaches. So we grabbed some bikes from our guesthouse, Geckozy, and biked out to Hawaii Beach. Actually, I should say skidded and walked as we found out that our bikes’ brakes were more suggestive than authoratative and Gage’s gear teeth were much the same. Not ideal for the hilly terrain of Sihanouk Ville.

Rides on the beach, just not up hills.

Rides on the beach, just not up hills.

The day was made a little worse when we attempted to go to the Indian Curry Pot for some Indian breakfast, something I had been craving since leaving Phnom Penh. There were two Indian items on the breakfast menu, one of which they didn’t have, and the coupon we had been handed when getting off the bus when we arrived was incomprehensible to the girl working there. From Romania to Cambodia, we have realized that only in America do we have the common sense to hand someone a menu and tell them what we are out of before they order. In Thailand we went to a restaurant where we attempted to order three different times before we found something on the menu that the restaurant actually carried. However, all of the frustration of dangerous bikes and a lame Indian restaurant washed away when we set foot on Hawaii Beach. Though lined with restaurants and beach chairs, this was a night time hotspot and we were there in the morning. We had the place to ourselves.

The following day we decided to make the long trek out to the furthest beach, Otres. We figured that this beach would be much less touristed as it not only takes 15 minutes to get out there, but it also requires some serious stunt driving and an internal GPS to find it. Gage and I hired a moto driver and held on tight as we bumped over dirt roads, ducked through fences, and skidded down steep hills. Luckily, Otres Beach was worth almost dying for. The beach was virtually empty with the exception of the quarter sized sand crabs that ran for cover at our approach. Bigger crabs and sand fish could been seen burying themselves in the sand under the waves. I cursed myself for not knowing about the gorgeous bungalows for rent right on the water. Seeing various people windsurfing and sailing Hobicrafts around we were inspired to rent a sea kayak and roam around the coast. We navigated between rocks protruding from the shore and practically tipped over while leaning out of our boat to look through the clear water to the teaming sea life below. A quick game of frisbee at sunset with a cool Australian kid (redundant – all Australians are cool) was followed by a heavenly dinner of soft fish tacos with fresh chopped salsa and sweet mango ceviche. I hope they never pave the road to Otres Beach.

The last night in Sihanouk Ville was Christmas Day (yeah, I know I’m behind on the blog). We decided to celebrate as all good Americans do, by spending more than usual, eating glutinously, and generally being lazy. We enjoyed breakfast at Holy Cow with fresh baked bagels and loaded baked potatoes (Gage just doesn’t do breakfast food). Breakfast, of course, was followed by lunch at the local gelato shop, which coincidentally is run by an NGO. We donated heavily. Dinner would be late, so we staved off our appetite with salad-plate sized cookies at the Starfish Bakery, another NGO restaurant run by the handicapped (See! We were giving!). In support of their cause I headed to their upstairs handicraft shop to purchase a gift for Gage; a wedding band made from a recycled bomb shell. Didn’t I tell you the Khmer handicrafts were amazing?! Our lovely hotelier, Tu-wii, made us a special Christmas dinner of giant Vietnamese shrimp on a bed of Japanese cabbage, drenched in what tasted like a citrus, pepper, mustard sauce. I believe this sauce should be named Glorious. It may have been 85 degrees and sunny, but after a lovely day like that, it sure felt like Christmas.

For more pictures from Sihanoukville, click here.

Suggestions:

  • I have no idea how one would book one of those bungalows on Otres Beach, but for the intrepid traveler, it would probably be worth the hassle of finding out. One word of caution, I believe the restaurant we ate at was running their lights off a generator, which tells me those bungalows may not have electricity. For those with a larger budget, the edge of Otres is inhabited by the Queen Hill Resort which looked pretty nice.
  • We stayed in the downtown area, which is a ten minute walk to Serendipity Beach and has all the conveniences one could want. For those wanting to stay on the beach, choose wisely. Serendipity is a party with plenty of drugs and drinking, Victory Hill is very hilly and full of backpackers (ie, rundown), and Otres is lovely and secluded, but remote and with few conveniences.
  • The Starfish Bakery and Gelato Italiano Cafe can be found in downtown and are a great way to get your fill of delicious food, while helping the community. Be sure to check out the Rajana crafts store above Starfish Bakery for some unique shopping.
  • Holy Cow, also in downtown, is a really wonderful restaurant with fresh baked everything. They also sell handicrafts made by the local orphanage, M’lop Tapang. If your a purse lover, this is the place to buy five (they’re about $7 each).
  • If you are heading to Vietnam, the consulate in Sihanoukville hands out visas within minutes of application. It’s by far the best place to get a visa. The cost is $37 each and you’ll probably want to take a bike or moto to get there. Located just outside of downtown.
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2 responses

30 12 2008
Garrett Bryant

I like ya’lls pictures from this post.. Especially stoic/manly Gage posing on the swing… My butt would be in the sand if I tried to stand on a swing. And like always, a picture of Jen in a kayak brings a smile to my face.

31 12 2008
Amber Toy

Hello Ms. Jennifer! I have enjoyed reading your diary! What a wonderful experience! Great big hugs and of course a wiggle to you. Can you see me wiggling in my chair? 🙂 Glad to see you smiling and your cup being filled! Happy New Year!

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