Sun, sea, and snakes : Sihanoukville

In great contrast to the functional border town that is Koh Kong, our next stop of Sihanoukville and its surrounding beaches can be regarded as firmly established on the tourist route.

With its solid, multi-level structures constructed of man-made material, the town is distinctly more affluent than the surrounding villages and likely offers a more developed feel than anywhere in the country bar Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

With an abundance of hotels, bars and restaurants Sihanoukville has plenty of accommodation options and offers tourists and all the creature comforts that come with them.

Otres Beach, Sihanoukville

Taking a stroll along Otres Beach, Sihanoukville.

Naturally, we eschew this and head out of town with quick haste, hiring a tuk-tuk to drive us 10km down a dirt track to the laid back beach of Otres.

The future of Otres is in an indeterminate state, the developers Sword of Damocles constantly dangling over its bamboo and thatch buildings.

Otres Beach itself is a narrow, westerly facing strip of golden sand stretching three or four kilometres south towards Riem National Park.

It is a laid back, lazy kind of place which recalled our one time bolt-hole of Palolem in Goa. Here, like there, the only beach-front bars are simple structures made from natural materials where a beer can be had for 75 cents, a cocktail for $2.50 and a seafood BBQ for $4.

There are no discos, no pizzerias and no souvenir shops in Otres.

This really is our kind of place.

As we arrived in Cambodia slap, bang in the middle of high season, we anticipated a bun-fight to find a room so dumped our bags at a beachfront bar.

Constructing with traditional materials, Otres Beach.

Constructing with traditional materials, Otres Beach.

I supped a beer and minded The Boy whilst the 0.5 hunted a place to sleep on the far side of the sole dirt track that cuts through the village.

Many places were fully booked over the Christmas period, but “Done Right” a Swedish/Canadian joint venture were able to provide us accommodation in the form of what are correctly termed “Ecodomes”, but to the sci-fi movie watcher recalled perhaps the desert shelter of the moisture farmers on planet Tattoine, where Luke Skywalker was raised in the original Star Wars movie.

An even more simple description, as we came to refer to them, would be igloos. Concrete igloos, designed to keep the heat out, not in.

“The Boy” was in his element not only on the beach, but in the beach bar opposite our accommodation where each day he encountered dogs, cats, chickens, cockerels and some exceptionally friendly staff.

The evenings were dark, the bar dimly lit, and I must confess we got slightly worried at one point when we were unable to find him following one of his routine walkabouts.

Thankfully, the staff immediately dropped everything and helped us hunt him down.

Beach Vendor, Otres.

Beach Vendor, Otres.

Not to worry though, 50 metres away on a spot where earlier in the day workmen had been erecting a new beach bar, a small white child was stood atop of a wooden platform under the weak beam of cheap torchlight,.

There, to the rhythm of a reggae soundtrack, he was entertaining his teenage Cambodian hosts with some dance moves.

A young member of staff who had the previous day befriended “The Boy” had carried him there, accompanied by some of the other young family members. The lad was give a stern ticking off by the owner and to be fair was always conservative with his wanderings thereafter.

The stand out Otres experience for me had to be night swimming and the joy of witnessing the swirl of phosphorescence with each and every movement of my body.


Lazy days in Cambodia, starring The 0.5 and The Boy

As I would pull my hand through the slow black, crow black waters (as Dylan Thomas might have described them) a trail of shimmering silvery blue was left in its wake.

For a not particularly spiritual person, it was a rather spiritual experience and one which I can understand why people rave about it, and in the case of some Thai islands, literally rave in it.

Most of the bar workers of Otres spoke English to a varying degree, this being reflected in their westernised attitude and clothing influence that hinted at their relative affluence.

However, a fifteen minute long walk to the kampong bordering Otres beach revealed an entirely different world where the poverty that pervades much of this country was starkly obvious.

Basic shelters constructed of wood, tarpaulin and metal sheeting were home to a significantly sized community whose compact abodes fronted onto the dusty unselaed track that led from Otres to Sihanoukville.

Taking a shower Cambodian style

A young lad takes a shower, Cambodian style

Showers consisted of pails of water drawn by hand from a well, whilst other amenities and mod-cons were extremely limited in every sense.

The community also displayed a huge skew towards the under 16’s (it is said that over half the population of Cambodia are would be what we consider to be children) with very few elderly people to be seen in the village.

Whether this bears testament to the disturbing and not-too-distant history of this nation I can’t say for sure, but it was a most unusual balance.

There were also an exceptionally high number of under-5’s to be seen, mostly unclothed, always bare-footed, with dirty faces as a sign of the poverty that they had been born into.

A Cambodian child from the kampong near Otres Beac

A Cambodian child from the kampong near Otres Beach, Sihanoukville

Upon being introduced a week old baby who had been born in one of the shelters, the 0.5 was taken aback when considering how unhygienic and difficult the birthing process must be in such surroundings. This really was as basic as it gets.

Stopping to attempt communication without a common language, we were shown by some villagers how they grind ingredients into a mushy paste which they then used as a marinade on freshly landed fish and seafood.

One local insisted on introducing us to another local delicacy.

That delicacy was snake.

Now, I’m usually an open-minded kind of guy when it comes to epicurean experimentation, though in the case of freshly caught, slithering reptiles, I fear I must draw the line.

Anyway, in the knowledge that at USD $4 there was a slab of Barracuda, two King Prawns and a few pieces of baby squid waiting no more than a few hundred metres away, I really was in no rush to stuff my face was for what I suspected could be a venomous creature.

Snake for dinner, Cambodia

"Snakes for tea boys!" Who needs hot dogs when you've got hot reptiles?

Call me risk averse, but my policy in this kind of situation is to slip off back to a beach bar and enjoy sunset without fear of death.

Anyway, our good friend Miss Marsh was arriving in Phnom Penh the next day and we had a long bus ride ahead of us in order to meet her there. It was only fair that after travelling from the UK to see us, she didn’t have any toxin related fatalities spoiling her Christmas.

Our 12.30 “VIP” bus departure was slated to take approximately 4 ½ hours to reach the capital, but we feared the worst when an hour after leaving Sihanoukville bus depot and crawling around the town picking up the odd passenger or four, we arrived back at the very same Sihanoukville bus depot.

elderly villager, cambodia

One of the few "elderly" folk to be seen at the village. OK, so he's probably younger than me, but you get the jist...


The journey was even slower than anticipated and we finally arrived at our hotel after dark. We had travelled the final few kilometres in a tuk-tuk with The Boy completely naked bar a fresh nappy due to a clothes splattering, payload doors accident somewhere out in the suburbs of Phnom Penh.

The sight of a bare-chested white toddler waving excitedly at them must have been a strange sight to commuters travelling home for the Christmas holiday weekend.

Ah well, if you are going to arrive, arrive in style.


About misterkelvin

I searched, I failed. And then I accidentally found one in Ubud.
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