The trip didn’t start as planned. Jessica, Elena and I booked bus tickets from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville through a travel agent and arrived at the bus just before the scheduled departure at 7:30. Comfortable seats, A/C, not too crowded. Things were looking good. According to my ticket I had seat #1, next to some grouchy old German. Upon producing my ticket, he huffily informed me that he had purchased two tickets, presumably so he wouldn’t suffer the ignominy of having to sit next to someone. Seat assignments don’t mean much in Cambodia anyway, so I shrugged and grabbed a free spot a couple rows back. Reps of the bus company came on board a few minutes later and asked for our tickets, claiming there was a problem. They told us to get off the bus and started to take our bags out of the hold, saying the bus needed to leave. Bad. Fortunately, a call to the travel agent fixed the problem, but now a couple Cambodians had taken our seats. The bus company had oversold the seats and was now trying to kick people off at random. At this point the German guy’s refusal to give up his free seat caused all sorts of problems. A couple Italian & Spanish travelers politely asked him for his seat and even offered to pay full fare ($3) for it, but he had no soul. Efforts to guilt trip him only hardened his resolve. After much debate and shuffling about, the bus departed with Jessica & Elena sitting on the front steps, right in front of that old German. I offered my seat on a rotational basis, but they warmed to the step seats and its view of Cambodia’s entertaining roads.
He was the worst. Fortunately, the rest of the trip wasn’t too much of a hassle. Traffic leaving the capital was horrendous, with everyone trying to get home to their families in the provinces. The bus would also stop at random intervals and pick up Cambodians. Some had tickets, others didn’t.
Motodops and tuk-tuk drivers swarmed us at the bus depot in Sihanoukville. We loaded out bags into a tuk-tuk and headed towards lodging near Victory Beach.
Bungalow Village was a hidden gem. I was initially put off by its location near one of the less popular beaches, but it turned out to be a fantastic place to spend a long weekend.
$6/night for a simple bungalow with mosquito net, bathroom and fan. Set amongst jackfruit trees, boulders and wandering chickens, it was an amazingly peaceful place.
Olivier, a French expat from the Loire Valley, owns the place with his Cambodian wife and son. He also runs the restaurant and bar, which has delicious Khmer/Asian/French food.
Sihanoukville is a seriously popular place during Khmer New Year. Ochheuteal Beach is by far the busiest spot in town, with Cambodians mostly hanging out on the southern and central portions and Westerners chilling on lounge chairs on the northern half, also known as Serendipity Beach.
It’s also the filthiest beach I’ve ever seen. Parts were like a garbage dump. Plastic bags of all colors and sizes, bottles, styrofoam, flip-flops, t-shirts, rotten fruit, dead fish, dead birds, turds. Most of this washed up at high tide, and no one seemed to care.
Swimming Khmer style, fully clothed
Sand Angkor Wat
One of the most beloved Khmer traditions during New Year is attacking motorists with improvised water balloons and baby powder.
Kids line the sides of roads and pelt people as they pass by. Pickups also drive around, loaded with Cambodians armed to the teeth with plastic bags and water bottles. Naturally, all this watery warfare can cause many accidents, but as with not wearing helmets or seatbelts safety doesn’t seem to be a concern. One ambush almost cost me my camera. But it’s all in good fun. You’ll have a hard time enjoying yourself during New Year if you take it too seriously.
We met these monks while exploring Wat Krom on Sunday night. They were extremely friendly and eager to practice English. After a while they invited us to have fruit and water with them. The most talkative of them called himself Dan Deadline; I think the other guy was Vibol. Due to pronunciation troubles they decided to call me “Irregular”.
Randonal Beach Party
Sunday night we decided to check out something called the Randonal Beach Party. The ticket said “it’s fun & dancing with your favorite celebrities!” It was a strange experience. I thought it was going to be your basic beach party, but it turned out to be a classic Cambodian banquet. Most attendees were rich, probably military/political/government types from Phnom Penh. The food was good, and the only drink served was Randonal, a weird sweet grape wine. Sort of like port with a couple packets of Sweet n’ Low.
Camera crews were in our face all night. I guess we were just that interesting.
This guy was a legend on the dance floor. There was also some pretty hilarious karaoke and live music from anonymous Cambodian pop stars.
The next day we hopped on a boat to check out Koh Russey aka Bamboo Island.
It took about an hour to get there. We were hoping to stay in the island’s bungalows, but the timing didn’t work out. We did get to do a little snorkeling, spending an hour or so swimming amongst interesting coral and sea urchins.
It was a welcome break from Phnom Penh.