Trip Start Apr 23, 2010
6Trip End May 10, 2010
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I write this from the airport terminal in Phnom Penh after experiencing my final few days in Cambodia in Sihanoukville, more specifically at Otres Beach...
The night bus from Siem Riep was as relatively painless as a 12 hour bus journey could be. Before my light and fractured sleep we had a late night stop at a restaurant where I met a Canadian called Bruno. We discussed places to stay at the Beach resort and resolved to share a cab together on arrival at our destination.
Our driver took us to our preferred destination, a hostel / bar called Utopia situated at the top end of Ochheuteal Beach. It was 07:00 and we arrived to find a deserted bar area which looked like it had seen a good party the night before with no signs of a reception or anyone to deal with new arrivals. The accomodation claimed to have allow guests to stay for free as long as they ate and drank there but looking at the dorms the place looked like a battery farm for backpackers with bunks crammed into a room with NO space in between each other. We decided to check a few other places including GST and then a place called Cinderellas. This proved to be a problem however when our driver seemingly refused to take us to Cinderellas and insisted on taking us to Markara Guest house for a look. By this time we were tired and not in the mood to argue. The rooms were clean and had a fan and were $6 a night for a single so we agreed and headed to our rooms for a bit of proper sleep.
After a few hours Bruno and I reconvened at the beach with some other people from the bus and discovered the place was awash with persistent young Cambodians, mainly girls, trying to sell bracelets trinkets as well as offering manicures, pedicures and hair waxing using an ingenious method involving cotton thread. Eventually we were both persuaded to have a little taken off our backs (as they'd already started without our approval) but were soon to realize as with most situations such as this in Cambodia that we'd paid over the odds ($3 for 5 mins work is close to extortion over here).
I wasn't feeling the vibe. This wasn't what I expected. I expected Thailand style beach huts and peace and quiet, massages and smoothies whilst listening to the ocean lap against the shore. I decided to hire a scooter and explore a little, specifically looking for a place another traveler I'd met in Phenom Penh had recommended and was staying at called Otres Beach (and the elusive Cinderellas). Moto's (scooters) are dirt cheap to rent here... $4 for the day and $1 for the gas will see you up and running with enough fuel to go wherever you want. A quick form completed and retention of my passport at the guest house saw me shooting off on my manual scooter to get fuel. I hadn't ridden a bike in over 10 years and it felt pretty awesome... good to be free.
Otres beach is a bit of a trek... the road becomes unsealed and there is a big steep hill to navigate. I had to ask to make sure I was going the right way as it was feeling a bit sketchy. Turns out I was correct though and soon enough I was rolling past one straw guest house after another. Eventually I found Cinderellas and my friend Ella Mona from Sweden. She was staying in a grass hut built on the deck of a boat moored on the beach, 10 meters from the ocean. Agreeing to get lunch we went up the beach to a bar which served the best Pizzas on the beach run by a couple of Australians. While we waited for our food I got talking to a couple of guys smoking large spliffs. Upon asking where they were from I realised that one of them, Chris, was from Seattle and was around 40 years old. Doing the maths I figured he'd been a peer of those pioneering the Seattle grunge scene of the early 90s and asked him if he followed it at the time. In a cool American drawl he coyly said that he had worked as a Production manager for shows by the bands and knew a lot of the big movers and shakers on the scene including specifically the guys from Soundgarden. As I began to prove my knowledge of the scene to him we started riffing off each other about some of the big events that shaped the music and the bands. I was like a pig in shit, this guy was a gold mine of information on THE formative music scene of my youth. Soon enough I agreed to pay the slightly more expensive $10 to stay in his as yet unfinished and not yet open for business Ying Yang Pirate Bar.
That evening I went out with the crew off the bus and got royally plastered on cheap cocktails. Drinks were mixed with reckless abandon and at one of the bars on the beach at around 2am inevitably someone suggested skinny dipping and soon enough we were in the water with no clobber on. Looking back, losing my phone was probably inevitable. I still had it however after getting out and getting my kit back on. The drunken walk back to hotel resulted in people attacking each other and trying to fling others into the ocean. Mine was a close call but as I tried to retain my balance one of my Jandals (aka Flip Flops - I've been in NZ ok) went into the ocean. I used my phone as a torch, waste deep to find it. Eventually a friend found it... but the risk for my beloved Nokia N95 was not over yet. The beach has some fairly unique inflatable pyramids in the water which I had really fancied climbing when I saw then during the day. There was a charge of $1 so going out at night seemed like a great idea. Dodge the dollar charge... all I had to do was leave my wallet and phone on the beach... it was dark... it would be fine. The pyramid was really hard to climb up and very difficult to jump off convincingly. In hindsight, inevitably on my return I only had my Jandals on the wooden beach bed. Gutted. My phone had some great photos and a particularly awesome video of the kids at the orphanage I was volunteering at on it. I am, clearly, a drunken idiot!
After shaking off the hangover I headed to Otres Beach and checked into Chris's place. Before I knew it I was experiencing the laid back vibe of Southern Thailand... massages, lapping water, the works. Bliss!
That evening, after more Pizza and fixing up an old guitar I chilled at Ying Yang bar with Chris and his girlfriend and drank his specialty Kam Pot Pepper Margaritas whilst I keenly listened to his tales of the glory days of grunge. A lot of the stories are probably libelous and could get some major celebs into a bit of trouble, but suffice to say he painted a picture of an exciting and integrity filled music scene which in many ways has not yet been bettered.
Another day of chilling out and massages followed. It was with a sadness in my heart that I left Otres Beach, it's a wonderful place. The guest houses that are there are on a knife edge, the land owners themselves have not formally approved ANY of the bungalows or bars on the beach and, as happened at another local beach, with only a days notice the owners could come in and bulldoze down the bungalows and burn them all to the ground. At present, Otres is a quieter and relatively well kept secret of Sihanoukville. Long may it stay that way.
Presently due to fly to KL, traing back to Singapore tomorrow night.
Catch ya x