After spending all that time on the beaches of Thailand we thought we would mix it up a bit and stay on some beaches in Cambodia. Our first destination in Cambodia was therefore Sihanoukville in the South. There we met back up with some friends we had made on Koh Phangan and in Chiang Mai. Sihanoukville sounds excellent on paper – a backpacker town on the beach in Cambodia. I was expecting a barely developed, laid-back little seaside town with some guesthouses and a bar or two, but I was wrong.
The main strip of Sihanoukville is centred around Serendipity beach, but we spent our first night meeting up with our Koh Phangan friends on Otres beach, which is pretty quiet and a bit further out of town. First impressions were good – beachside barbecues were much cheaper than they were in Thailand and you seemed to get more on your plate as well. After a few 50 cent beers and some stories traded with our friends and we were starting to think we really liked this place. It seems that there are less rules in Cambodia compared to England and Australia. Need to take a baby across town? Just ride that scooter one handed. Is your exit too far around the roundabout? Just drive around it the wrong way. Not finished your drink before you get to the next pub? Just take that thing inside with you, bro. Bar staff taking too long? Pour your own beer and tell them to put it on your bill.
Or, get a minor to do it for you.
I used my boundless wit and came up with the name Canbodia – because you can do things here you probably couldn’t at home. There was a brief spell of polite laughter.
The next night we wanted to move a bit closer into town and so we all moved into a guesthouse right near Serendipity beach. This part of town is like the Haad Rin of Cambodia, only kind of less well executed and less pretty. It doesn’t have the white sand and clear blue water of Haad Rin, but it does have an endless supply of Cambodians trying to sell you everything from wristbands to foot massages. One kid swore at me and then grabbed me on the nipple when I refused to buy a wristband from him. It was weird. It also has a stupid number of bars, complete with westerners handing out leaflets trying to encourage other westerners to go to them (a bit like Koh Tao, actually). Also, we learned that Cambodia is prone to frequent and occasionally extended large scale power blackouts.
I used to think head lamps were lame. They aren’t.
Serendipity had a few interesting offerings. We managed to discover a decent beer – Black Panther Stout. Only available in a can but cheap and a welcome change from the usual piss available.
Black Panther: Not the usual piss.
One day we hired scooters and braved the chaotic maelstrom that is the roads of Cambodia in order to ride out of town and visit a waterfall. There hadn’t been a lot of rain so the waterfall itself was underwhelming, although the trip out was fun enough on its own. Before we had even left the city we were pulled over by some police who asked to see our international motorbike licences. Turns out even the police are out to line their pockets, as there aren’t any laws in Cambodia requiring a licence to ride a scooter. A few dollars changing hands seemed to remedy the misunderstanding however and we were soon back on our way. Got an issue with the law? Just get that wallet out, friend.
Cop bribing outlaws.
Similar to the western leafleters, Serendipity beach has roving bands of white douchebags trying to recruit people for their party cruises. We got ourselves signed up for a regular boat cruise out to some islands before we encountered these guys, which was probably a lucky thing because when we saw the “party” boats it looked like a shirtless sausage fest of douchebags being douchey and disappointed at the lack of women on the boat. Our little boat tour took us around a few islands and included a few stops for some snorkelling. Another thing Sihanoukville has a lot of is sea urchins – big, weird sea urchins. A few unlucky campers managed to step on some after being warned not to, but it was no biggie because you can’t really sue anyone over duty of care in Cambodia. One of the Cambodian guys picked one up with a stick and then grabbed it by the spines. The spines were moving all strange and it had a floppy eye. The ocean scares the living shit out of me.
On one of the island stops we went for a walk over to the other side and discovered a lonely bungalow resort on a quiet beach. Unlike Serendipity, the water was clear and the beach wasn’t covered in sunbeds, trinket hawkers, and people trying to get you to go on the douche cruise. This apparently magical place was called Koh Ru, and after returning to Serendipity and having a night or two getting rowdified we decided to move ourselves over to this little slice of paradise and away from the crowd.
A bit of this.
Koh Ru was quiet, but had a young enough crowd and friendly staff. It had an intimate feel to it that meant you got to know quite a few of the other people staying there. Electricity only came on after 6 pm and the internet was limited to one usb modem you had to shotgun, but there were plenty of other things to do such as drinking a few lazy beers, laying on the beach with a book, or having a chat with the bar staff. If you stayed up late enough you could see phosphorescence in the surf. We went on a sunset fishing trip and caught some sweet fish as well.
Check out the ghetto fishing apparatus. O.G. hunter-gatherer man skills.
One night Jenny drank too many buckets and spent the entire next day laying on the bungalow veranda. Everyone laugh at Jenny.
I got up early one morning, walked outside and saw a waterspout. It was awesome. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a picture and don’t have much else to say about it but come on, waterspout! Also we found a hermit crab, we called him Pete.
Unfortunately, Koh Ru is due to close within the next two months. The owners had sold the land onto some French developers who were going to build a big classy resort on it. The staff all seemed pretty bummed by that, but we were stoked to have had the chance to stay there. Despite Koh Ru being a bit limited edition, we had to move on. We had spent over a week at Serendipity and Koh Ru and when you consider the time we had just spent on the islands in Thailand, it’s probably unsurprising that we were pretty fed up with sand by this point. Sand in your bed every night gets old real quick. Also, the food was kind of bad. My beef burger had questionable meat in it, if you catch my meaning.
The fish we caught was a hit, though.
Our next destination was to take us North, away from the coast and into Siem Reap. I shall get along to typing that one up soon.
N.B. Some advice for potential Cambodian travellers: during our time in and around Sihanoukville/Koh Ru, our friends lost/had taken a wallet with a considerable amount of cash in it. In order to claim this sort of thing on travel insurance you need to fill out a police report. Do not expect Cambodian police to be especially helpful in this regard. You may have to visit multiple police stations depending on where the incident occurred, and fill out multiple forms. Our friends were lucky enough to find a tuk tuk driver willing to help out – he had pretty good English and acted as a translator/facilitator. In the end, what could have easily been a drawn out and arduous process was completed quickly through getting a local onside. Our friend said that the police had feigned ignorance of English throughout the whole process to gauge how much money they could milk out of the situation, only revealing afterwards (by accident) that they could understand at least most of what he was saying. After the process had been completed, the chief officers at the stations he visited both politely asked for some additional money for their troubles. He did not have to give them anything, but they would very much appreciate if he did. Read into that statement what you will.
TL;DR if you need a police report, recruit a friendly Cambodian tuk tuk driver to help you out, and give the guy a 20 for his time.