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South to Sihanoukville

CAMBODIA | Wednesday, 11 December 2013 | Views [755]

Names of foreign towns and cities can seem so alien and irrelevant in our lives until something happens to put them on our radar. The obvious one when travelling is that it features on your itinerary. Barely a week ago I was struggling with strange Cambodian names - See-an-ook-ville being a good example, affectionately known more simply as Snooky. I am going south in search of beaches said to resemble Thai ones but without the crowds. A $10 ticket for the four (ish) hour trip on the Giant Ibis bus (which is halfway between a minibus and a coach) has a/c, a movie and wifi. I sit back working on my blog, looking out of the window and trying to assimilate all the thoughts and feelings this country has evoked in me. I totally understand why there are so many volunteers here - apparently more NGO's here than anywhere else in the world! The poverty and the warmth of the people inspire you to want to reach out and help.

There is a strong French presence here, past and present. Names, signboards and two pin electric sockets. Driving is generally, though by no means always, on the right side of the road and there are bakeries! Bless the French for the latter. The mini baguette I buy from the supermarket would not sit askance in a Provencal boulangerie. However there are many nationalities and the bungalows I end up at are Italian owned and run. For the first time this trip I arrived somewhere new without having any accommodation booked. My research lead me to Otres Beach 1, also known as 'Near O' as opposed to 'Far O' or Otres 2. Papa Pippo's is the last accommodation stop for some way and fortunately they had a sea view bungalow, the key to which definitely had my name on it! Checking in as the sunset begins it's magnificent display, and what a spectacular sunset it is, further endorsing my choice of location. Absolutely stunning!

And so I find myself on a clean golden powder-soft beach, with clear flat waters, a sea view bungalow and awesome full length sunsets! Not for the first time I tell myself how lucky I am to have found exactly what I was looking for, totally by chance.

The vendors mainly seem to focus on the town end of the beach and those that come here, are pleasant and not too persistent. I take an early morning stroll towards Otres 2 along a completely deserted beach. Before I leave I will walk all the way to Otres 2, a good 2kms I would guess. I also spend an hour swimming in the sea, I can see there is only sand below me and that makes me rather braver than if there was coral and big fish that might nip at my toes!

A round trip tuk-tuk into town costs me $10 and I manage to get my visa for Vietnam done at the Embassy within 15 minutes - but for the outrageous price of $70 for a one month multiple entry. At least she had the good grace to look embarrassed! Cambodia cost $20! I finally get to a small building signed up as a post office and have to sincerely hope that my letter will arrive where it needs to arrive given the original documentation it contains. There only seemed to be two options: post your letter, or don't! I post, and hope that luck is on my side. 

Sihanoukville itself is pretty uninspiring. In fact to be honest its shabby. There is nothing here that is calling me for a close look. The only cash machines are located here and many of the small resorts do not have card facilities. Necessity would be my only reason to come here. I am pleased that having done what I needed to do here, we can head back to the beach.

I am treating myself to five or six nights here, right on the beach where I can fall asleep and wake up to the gentle sploshing of the tiny waves. Time to reflect on so many adventures and so many experiences. With just a month left, I still have Vietnam, Kenya and one last night in Bangkok to squeeze in. I had planned on finding somewhere more secluded but its rather nice to have life all around you and choose whether or not you wish to participate. Not that travellers in Cambodia are very much more friendly than I found them to be in Thailand. I suppose the difference is that it no longer bothers me. Single woman in Asia - a small category - where does she fit into the big picture? I no longer particularly care. I am happy with my own company, living my year in my own way. Travelling alone I find that I observe much more. Like Thailand, and I suppose as a result of poverty, one finds western men who, with a bit of money, strut around with a local girl who quite frankly could be, in some cases, young enough to be their grand daughter. I suppose it's a two-way exchange, but one I find difficult. 

There is an hotel in Sihanoukville that doubles as a training centre in the hotel industry. Paying guests cover the costs. Now that is a useful resource. It is exactly this sort of thing that gives people the chance of a proper career that is so desperately needed here. A long-term solution as Cambodia increases it's share of the tourist market.

Now really is the time to visit Cambodia, before it's original charm and beauty becomes commercialised beyond redemption. Already prices have been steadily increasing, and yesterday's $4 slice of lime cheesecake is a sharp reminder that a poor country is not necessarily a cheap place to travel.


Tags: asia, cambodia, clean beaches, otres beach, papa pippos bungalows, sihanoukville, snorkelling, volunteers

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