Sihanoukville – Paradise Defined
There are certain places that are chanced upon; if I had gone to Cambodia solo without a tour group, I would never have known Sihanoukville existed. Even Google Maps has trouble; it offers a suggestion, but it’s not marked as a physical place on the map. Odd, seeing as it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever had the fortune of spending my time.
We were in Sihanoukville for days six and seven of our month-long tour. With our bags dumped in reception until our rooms were ready, we walked the 200 metres or so to the beach from our aptly named “Golden Sea Hotel & Casino.” Yes, a casino. In the hotel. The odd thing? Not an ATM in sight. But that’s Cambodian logic for you. The beach is privately owned by the hotel it sits in front of, but we were given access as we were meant to be staying there before they overbooked themselves.
That evening, we went into the town. It is important to take these terms loosely – imagine a small British hamlet, change all the cottages into bars, and put it on the beach front. There, you’ve just imagined the town of Sihanoukville. What followed was probably the happiest evening of my life so far: sitting at a long table on the beach, eating seafood barbecue and being hassled by happy children to buy fireworks, all with good company, a warm evening sea breeze and the knowledge that we had no commitments for the next three weeks; no bills to pay, chores or bores to worry about.
After dinner we walked down the beach to Joe’s Bar, complete with three beer pong tables, although, being a non-drinker, Pepsi pong would have been a more accurate description. I’m sure being a non-drinker helped in the outcome of the game also, as Kirstin and I threw our way to victory in remarkable style.
With a good evening had by all, our group spent the next day unenergetically soaking up the sun on the beach. Coconut shakes were the drink of choice in Cambodia, and by the time the sun was going down, we had drunk the hotel dry. When in Southeast Asia, one speaks of the massages, so that’s what we decided to do as a group.
The massage parlour we visited that evening was incredible, and the first professional massage I’d ever had. When my masseuse woke me after an hour, it was time for dinner, and a birthday on our tour. Dane, an Australian from Sydney, was turning thirty, and how better to celebrate with a misspelt cake on the beach?
Cambodia was incredible, and surprised me, partly because I had no idea what to expect. I learnt a few very important things: don’t joke with locals when they offer you prostitutes, don’t play with the monkeys, don’t engage with the children selling tat, and finally, if you have a name longer than three letters, don’t expect it spelt correctly by a local.
We left Cambodia very happy and excited for what was to come in Vietnam.