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Beach Life, City Lights

CAMBODIA | Sunday, 15 December 2013 | Views [1832]

Eleven months on the move and only now I am enjoying a real beach holiday! What was I thinking?

This blog starts on a beach lounger on the beautiful beach outside of Papa Pippo's bungalows On Otres 1, Sihanoukville. Overhead branches of the large pine tree sway in the cool sea breeze. The wind strength is enough to bring out kite surfers today and the normally flat water is even quite choppy. The sky is baby blue and there are wisps of thin white cloud just above the horizon. Colourful fishing boats rock rhythmically on the sun dappled water and there is an overall feeling of pure relaxation that is bordering on enertia.

Women stop by with heavy trays of fruit balanced on a rolled cloth on top of their heads. For breakfast I have freshly cut mango, wedges of sweet, succulent pineapple and a banana. No amount of wishful thinking will ever make a mango from Sainsbury's taste as exquisite as these that have sun ripened to perfection. I soon have a group of ladies sitting beside me. The reason for this is less my anticipated purchases and rather more to do with a lady who has appeared with a tray of small green and speckled red fruits that are covered in salt and chillies. Notes are changing hands, along with small bags of fruit and the latest gossip. I am invited to try one of the fruits whose English name they do not know, and am grateful for the soothing sweetness of my mango! Hand woven bracelets, anklets, serongs, platters of salted lobster, offers of massage or pedicures. You wont need to wait long for sunglasses or boat trips. It's all here, brought to you on the comfort of your sun lounger.

The weekly Trivia Night on Tuesday was a well attended event. Expats and holiday makers joined in together to create a very convivial atmosphere. Our team (The Bloody Nomads) finished midway on the scoreboard and we were actually quite pleased with that. Thinking does require quite a concerted effort these days. The life left behind surpassed by new adventures and experiences, which generally don't include impressionist artists or classical literature. There is a big expat community here and it was interesting to meet a few of them. I have heard it many times around Asia - people who come to visit, only to find they can't leave. And why would you if you can support yourself in a place of paradise. This morning I strolled down the beach to the little Hummingbird shop where Michelle, a hairdresser, cut my hair. At long last I can get it cut properly, sitting outside just a short way off the beach. Who needs hair dryers and gels. I get a good cut, sensible for someone travelling but with some style.

After two days lazing on the beach I decide that I really ought to do a boat trip as I'm interested to see some of the islands and compare the snorkelling to other places in Asia. I book a three island tour but have to confess that the only name I remember is Bamboo Island as the other two had Khmer names. The mini van deposits us somewhere near the port where we have breakfast while vans from other beaches pull up. We are then divided into groups according to which tour we have booked & are taken to the jetty on Serendipity Beach. The snorkelling is pleasant. Not as many fish as in Amed but the water is definitely cleaner. The corals are mostly large and while we see some dead coral, it is not an alarming amount. We are allotted just over three hours on Bamboo Island. After a tasty lunch of barbecued Baracuda, we stroll over to the other side of the island to the beach there. Apart from a few bungalows, the only visitors here seem to be day trippers. From there we head to the last island where we again snorkel. I find it hard to get too excited as the colours are really quite muted. The sea urchins, with their exceedingly long spines, defy you to investigate the coloured jewel-like dots, which presumably must be their eyes. It's not somewhere you would want to put your feet down! 

Back at Papa Pippo's, I relax with a great pizza and a large glass of wine. The sunsets have been amazing here, as has the company. About three years ago Papa Pippo was persuaded to visit his son Mickey and his girlfriend Martina travelling in Cambodia. Things had been tough for him and they hoped the trip would perk him up. Exactly two years ago they first opened their doors for business here and they have been creating their little piece of Italian-flavoured paradise here ever since. Perhaps it is because of the unexpected happiness he has found here that everyone is made so welcome, but it takes the whole team to keep it running efficiently. Leaving just never gets any easier!

After a final swim and the last goodbyes, its back onto the Great Ibis bus up to Phnomn Penh. We are greeted by Saturday night traffic and getting from the airport approach road into town takes almost an hour and a half. The streets, dark by now, are filled with people promenading along the river front, keeping the food street sellers busy to the strained sounds of music on the evening breeze. Looking closely at a food cart I see fried bugs of every sort, induing scorpions on offer. I decline to take any more than just a photo. I love the bustle of this city, it's functional simplicity with its underlying social complexities.

The King Grand Boutique Hotel, although only $10 a night more than a beach bungalow is a little touch of luxury for my last night in Cambodia. Up on the seventh floor there is a roof top jaccuzi and great views. Although it is almost 8pm by the time I get out, I manage to exchange travellers cheques and book a ticket on The Mekong Express bus to Ho Chi Min City (Saigon) tomorrow. It's a six hour drive, and visa in hand. I am ready to journey to the last new country on my itinerary for something I'm dying to say...!

Waiting for my pickup I have managed a quick 30 minute foot massage and so feel ready for the reasonably long bus trip. Cambodia has jolted me back to reality, from it's troubled past which no doubt has contributed to it's present challenges. Sadly the problems created by poverty give opportunity to unscrupulous countries to buy up assets for their own benefit. Filthy paediohiles and perverts abound and corruption prevents many from getting the punishment they deserve. The dedication and passion of the many volunteers and NGO workers give hope to people who have come to expect none. It is wise however, to remember that where there is poverty, there is often crime and drive-by bag snatching is not unusual.

Tags: bamboo island, beaches, cambodia, expats, otres beach, phnom penh, snorkelling

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