Sihanoukville

Trip Start Aug 31, 2008
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31
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Trip End Apr 30, 2009


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Sunday, February 22, 2009

We only stayed in Phnom Penh for a few nights because we knew we would be spending a few more nights in the city on our way to Vietnam in a few weeks.  On Febuary 4th, we took the bus to Sihanoukville which cost $5 each through Phnom Penh Sorya Transport and that included free pickup from Kak Lake (which allowed us to avoid the many tuk tuk drivers frantically vying for our services).  We were only on the bus for about 15 minutes when it was involved in an accident on the busy streets of Phnom Penh.  A schoolgirl driving a motorbike evidently tried to cut in on the right hand side of the bus while we were making a right turn. 
The bike got caught under the wheel of the bus and was crunched.  Thank goodness the girl driving the motorbike was unhurt.  We had to wait at the accident scene for about 45 minutes while the police and arguments ensued.  Three different groups of police came all together, each wearing a different color of uniform.  The third group was the traffic police, wearing blue uniforms, and they were the ones that ended up dealing with the issue.  At one point a police officer boarded the bus and tried to drive it away (all the passengers were still on the bus!)  He did not get very far however because he stalled the bus in first gear.  Eventually the real driver got back on the bus and the rest of the trip to Sihanoukville was uneventful.  The land was quite flat but seemed to get less dry as we headed south.
We arrived in Sihanoukville around 5:00 pm and were dropped off at the bus station outside of Sihanoukville town.  As per usual the tuktuk drivers were all over us when we got off the bus.  We eventually settled on a fee of $1 to take us to a guesthouse in town called Geckozy Guesthouse.  When we arrived at the guesthouse only the cleaning ladies were there and they did not speak English (or Khmer we would find out later).  The tuk tuk driver said something to them in Khmer and then turned to us and said "Full, guesthouse full!"  He then tried to talk us into going to a guesthouse he knew of on the beach which cost $32 per night.  This felt like a scam so we got out of the tuktuk and decided to walk around and find our own accommodation.  Before we got moving, the owner of the guesthouse came home and told us she did indeed have a room available for $5 a night with free Internet. 
Geckozy Gusthouse is owned by a really nice young couple consisting of a Frenchman and Vietnamese woman.  We took the room which was located upstairs in their home, and was covered in mosquitoes.  Thank goodness for the mosquito net over the bed and for the "mosquito racket" - a great invention that zaps mosquitoes with electricity and looks like a tennis racket.  The young Vietnamese woman spent 5 minutes with the racket before declaring "I win!" and the mosquitoes were the obvious losers.  The owners of Geckozy shared their living room with the guests that stayed there and encouraged us to use their TV and vast movie collection during our stay.  They even had a few computers setup for guests to use (free of charge I think).  It was quite a deal for only $5 a night.
We spent our first night exploring the town area, which wasn't very exciting.  There are lots of great restaurants and a few small bars in Sihanoukville town, but little else for entertainment.  The next morning we got up and made our way to the Vietnam Consulate in Sihanoukville in order to obtain our visa to enter Vietnam.  This proved to be a really fast, easy and pain free process.  There was only one lady in front of us, so we filled out the forms, paid $35 USD (up from $30 as of Jan 1/09) and waited about 10 minutes for the Visa.   There was one small glitch when the visa was returned to us though; it was only for 28 days instead of 30 days.  Much like the "30 day" visa we were issued in Cambodia, 30 days really means 1 month.  This meant that we got 31 days in Cambodia, but since it was now February we only got 28 days for Vietnam.  Since we had a flight reserved for our 29th day in Vietnam, this could've been a big problem. However after explaining the problem the consulate quickly amended our visas by extending it by a day and we were finished with the entire process in less than 45 minutes.   
We spend the afternoon walking to the Serendipity beach area which is quite a ways from the town and took us about 45 minutes each way.  Serendipity was a nice beach, busy with both foreign tourists and local Khmers.  There are also dozens of hotels, guest houses, restaurants and bars lining the beach and the roads immediately behind it.  It looked like a great place, so we planned to relocate from Sihanoukville town to Serendipity the following day.
Before moving from Geckozy, we sampled some of their cuisine from the attached restaurant.  Lisa got lasagna for $4 and I got a veggie-au-gratin dish for $3.  Both dishes were totally saturated in French cheese which made them very rich and delicious.  However neither dish had the salad that was suppose to accompany it, which made the price seem a little on the high side (considering this is in Cambodia).  There wasn't much in the way of cheap cuisine in Sihanoukville town like there was everywhere in Siem Reap, but the range of dishes that were available was really diverse.  There are lots of European expats that have moved into Sihanoukville and it seems that a lot of them have opened up restaurants.  You can probably find nearly any dish in Sihanoukville that you could find in Europe for only a few dollars a plate.
We woke up on the morning of Feb 6th, 2009 and promptly checked out of Geckozy Guesthouse.  Many of the places that we wanted to stay in Serendipity (which is the northern end of Occheuteal Beach) had explained to us that they were really busy and that the best chance to get a room was to arrive early in the morning, so we didn't waste any time finding a tuktuk and heading over there.  We agreed to pay the tuktuk driver 5000 Riel and he drove us to a place called Cloud 9, which is situated on a hill between Serendipity and Sokha beaches.  The road to the hotel was very steep and really more of a loose gravel trail then a road, so we got dropped off and had to walk a few hundred meters on our own.
After we finally made it, we found out that all the cheaper rooms were already taken and that the cheapest one available was $20 a night.  We decided that we would rather have a room right in Serendipity and continued to walk along a path and eventually climbed down a hill to get to Serendipity Beach road (which is slightly better than a trail.)  Many of the places where we planned to stay were fully booked, but we eventually found a large, air-conditioned room at Sbov Meas Guesthouse that came with a fridge and cable TV for $15 a night.  They also had fan cooled rooms for $12, but we were so hot after hiking around with all of our luggage during the last hour that we decided to splurged a little.
Shortly after booking in to our room, showering and cooling down, we started exploring the town looking for a meal.    There are no shortage of restaurants along Occheuteal Beach, but most of them are clustered towards the northern end of it, where we were staying (Serendipity).  Prices ranged from $1 for a simple soup to $4 or $5 for some of the fancier dishes.  After looking around, we figured out that the restaurant that is attached to Sbov Meas Guesthouse (GoldenGrass Garden Restaurant) was one of the cheaper options in town and ate there.  Aside from the country music in the background, it was a very comfortable place with a free pool table (outside) and a large canopy to provide shade under a bamboo thatched roof.
We ended up moving rooms the following day, but we often came back to the GoldenGrass Garden restaurant to eat.  They had several types of curry dishes which were some of the tastiest that I've had for this whole trip.  There was green, yellow and red chicken curries, served with a large dish of rice for $2.50 that I can easily recommend (green was my favorite).  Another excellent dish is named massaman, which is a curry based Cambodian specialty and it also cost $2.50.  The reason we moved rooms is because GST Guesthouse was right next door and had smaller fan cooled rooms available for $8 a night.  After our first sunset on Occheuteal beach, we knew we were going to be staying in the area longer than we first anticipated so finding a cheaper room helped us stay under budget.
Around 15:00 on our first day in Serendipity, Lisa and I went for a walk down the beach.  The beach spans north and south for a few kilometers, but the southern half is mostly undeveloped and unoccupied.  We started at the northern edge and started walking south looking at the menus of the restaurants that line the northern half of the beach.  Each restaurant has bamboo papasan chairs that they provided to their patrons and nearly every single one offered $0.50 draft beers.  We had nearly walked to the end of the restaurants when we found a place called Chins Shack that looked particularly inviting to us. Chins Shack was a family run place that not only offered cheap beer and food, but also free accommodations.  I am not sure how thee free accommodations worked, but I found out that the family lived in this beach hut and I guess they shared their place out to seriously budget-challenged travelers. One of the daughters of the family kept us well stocked with draft beers and by the time we had finished our fourth beer we were looking at a beautiful sunset. Occheuteal beach faces almost directly west, so the sunset scenery was nearly perfect to take in while sipping on cheap Angkor drafts. 
Right around sunset, nearly all of the restaurants on the beach start setting up a BBQ to sell grilled fish, chicken, pork and beef for $3 to $6.  We were comfortable enough where we were and decided to try the chicken and beef for $3 each.  The chicken was good enough for my drunken palette, but Lisa said the beef was overdone.  We ended up returning to Chins Shack for a few beers with sunset nearly every day we were on Occheuteal beach.  They had a limited menu that included things like spring rolls, french fries and hamburgers and even some things you wouldn't expect to see, such as joints for $1.50 and hash for $2.
The following morning we relocated to the GST Guesthouse, which was next door to where we spent the first night in Serendipity.  Our room had seemed so cool that we decided that we didn't really need air-conditioning, but the room in GST was quite a bit warmer and by midday I was missing that cool stream of air.  We got into the habit of having a midday siesta because it was just too hot to be outside from 11:00 to 15:00.  Our normal routine consisted of waking up around 9 or 10, having breakfast at GST restaurant (coffee for $1, fruit salad for $1, tomato and onion omelet for $1.25, BLT on a bun and fries for $1.50) then going for a walk through town and the beach before it got too hot out.  Walking around town we saw many interesting things, like a young boy that had converted an office chair into a skateboard device that he rode down paved hills.  He would use the brakes on the wheels to steer as he went I circles down the hill and seemed to have a great time.  After our afternoon siesta, we would usually head back to the beach to enjoy Angkor drafts until the sunset and then eat dinner and head to a bar on the beach at night again.
One day early in our stay, I rented a motorcycle so that we could tour around the area and see the other beaches.  There are several in the area, with Victory Beach, Independence Beach and Sokhu Beach being the ones I wanted to see.  Victory beach is located close to Weather Station Hill, which has plenty of really cheap guesthouses and restaurants.  We had heard that the beach wasn't that nice there and that most of the action had moved to Serendipity, but I wanted to verify this for myself.  It turned out to be true and the beach was very disappointing compared to where we were staying and the area kind of dull when compared to the action of Serendipity.
On our way from Victory Beach to Independence Beach we passed through a forested area where there were a troop of small monkeys hanging out.  We parked the bike to take some pictures and were soon joined by a few other tourists and some locals with some food. The food brought out the entire troop and we took pictures as they fed.  Even the hulking male was quite polite and grabbed the food directly from the hands of the local man with care.  The young daughter was scared of this monkey and the male sensed it and tried to mug her for her food but daddy just had to gesture towards the large male to put an end to his plan.  These monkeys were different than the ones we had seen in Thailand and Indonesia, a little smaller and they seemed quite tame.
Independence beach was nothing special but the beach called Sokhu was very nice indeed.  Most of the beach is owned by two high-end resorts, but there was 100 meters or so still available to the public and nearly completely deserted.  This beach would've been an easy walk from the Cloud 9 guesthouse, so if you are looking for a beautiful beach experience without the commotion of Serendipity it would be wise to stay at Cloud 9 if you don't want to paay the $100+/day the high-end resorts on this beach command.
One day while we were eating our breakfast an Aussie guy walked out completely naked, but using his hands to hide his private parts.  He was upset that he was only given one towel in his room that day, when every other day him and his mate had their own towels.  His friend had come out to grab a second towel but I guess they would've give him one and that led to this new tactic.  He spent about five minutes walking around as the other guests laughed and cheered him on before finally a nervous Khmer employee handed him a second towel.  The Khmer people seemed to be very modest and conservative when it comes to public nudity or affection.  Even when they went swimming, most Khmer folks went swimming fully dressed even wearing jeans and long sleeved shirts into the water.
The water around Occheuteal beach was very warm but not particularly clear.  There were lots of people swimming in the water, but after we saw some mysterious pipes that drained straight into the water, I decided that I didn't want to do much swimming off of the beach.  We had heard about the cruises to the islands off the shores of the beach and decided that this would be the best way to enjoy a swim in the water.  We booked a "Big Bass Stereo Booze Cruise" tour for $10/each through Utopia, a popular guesthouse, restaurant and bar for our last Saturday in Serendipity that listed snorkeling, cliff jumping, and a BBQ on an isolated beach on the itinerary.  We had been to Utopia the previous Saturday for an unlimited pizza and pasta buffet for $3.50 and it was a crazy busy and happening place.  This pizza buffet goes on every Saturday, but they cannot pump the pizza out fast enough for the dozens of hungry backpackers that go to this event.  If you are going, try to get a table close to the buffet table to get a head start on the madness that happens every time a fresh pizza comes out.
When the booze cruise started (11:00), we soon realized that our naked friend from a few days earlier would be joining us.  There were nearly 100 people that swam out to the boat to join the booze cruise and a vast majority of them had a similar personality to the naked guy.  The boat drove to the cliffs and then the driver told us that the water was too low to do any cliff jumping.  No big loss really, the cliff was no more than 5 meters high anyhow.  We hoped this meant that there would be more time for snorkeling, but the boat just drove up to a deserted island and unloaded for the rest of the day.
Nearly everybody on this trip got seriously drunk, but Lisa and I only drank moderately and enjoyed our day on the beach without being bothered by the touts on the main beaches.  We did get to go swimming, but there was no snorkeling to be had, which was a big disappointment.  Lunch consisted of barbecued chicken, beef or fish and it was enjoyable enough, but we spoke to some girls that didn't even get lunch before they ran out of food.  Really all this trip consisted of was a boat ride to the beach, providing music and lots of cheap beer ($1 for a can of Beer Lao) with some music.  Most of what was listed on the flyer (snorkeling and cliff-jumping) just didn't happen, but it made for an entertaining day.
On the way back, some of the more intoxicated guys started jumping off of the boat.  The boat turned around and then decided to stay for 30 minutes and let people jump off.  It was nearly dark at this point and I was glad to be dry and just watch as there seemed to be a contest for who could jump off the boat in the most painful manner.  Bellyflops from 15-20 feet is where this contest started but by the end of the half hour they were thinking of much more creative ways to land in the water uncomfortably.  Despite some of the people being insanely drunk, nobody got hurt and soon we were heading back to port.
By the time we got back to Serendipity, it was completely dark outside and now we had to swim back to shore through a maze of boats with everybody rather intoxicated.  Many of the guys that were having the bellyflop contest were now too drunk to swim on their own but managed to make their way with the help of a life jacket.  One of the girls was puking and needed to be put in the boat with our bags.  By the time they had taken care of her, everybody had swam to the beach and had to wait nearly an hour for their bags to finally arrive.  Since we were all wet and dressed only in our swimwear, most people were cold and annoyed by the time our bags finally arrived.  All in this entire booze cruise was not what I was looking for and I wish we had spent a little extra to go on a real snorkeling/island boat tour.
We spent 11 days in Sihanoukville all together and it was one of my favorite places on this trip so far. 
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Where I stayed
GST Guesthouse
Sbov Meas Guesthouse

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