Beaches & Boredom
29.03.2009 - 01.04.2009
We left for Sihanoukville from Phnom Penh on the 8am bus from our hotel. It was a big AC bus and it was quite nice and the ride was uneventful--it was just a bit bumpy, and really, really dusty. We arrived in Sihanoukville around 1pm and were bombarded by moto drivers when we stepped off the bus. We decided to go with one of the less annoying ones and bargained hard with him until they finally agreed to bring us to the GST guest house for a price that seemed reasonable to us. The guest thouse was quite large and was just a five minute walk from the beach, the rooms were nice and only $5 a night, so we were happy. Shortly after arriving, we headed out for some lunch and got some Khmer food at a nearby restaurant. The food was good, but not amazing (as we learned through experience would be a trend of the food in Cambodia).
We then headed to the beach to check out what was going on; it was a Sunday so the beach was filled with both locals and tourists alike. The Cambodians were easy to spot as they were the only ones swimming with all of their clothes on. Unfortunately, as we have found to be true in most countries we visit, the locals also treated the water like a trash can and in areas where they were swimming the water was quite dirty. The beach was quite nice, however, and was lined with restaurants and bars which also provided "free" lay-out chairs (you have to buy stuff from them while you are laying out, of course). After walking the length of the beach, we headed back to get cleaned up for dinner. We decided to try out one of those nice restaurants on the beach and had a delicious fish BBQ along with a couple of drinks. As the night wore on, quite a little dance party was started and we joined in the fun until we were too tired and went back to our room and crashed!
After the late night of the previous day, we decided to sleep in a bit and got up around lunch time. We had a leisurely lunch at our hotel and were getting ready to walk to the beach when it started raining! Our beach day was ruined, but luckily our room was nice and had satellite TV so we spent the afternoon watching National Geographic and Discovery, channels we haven't seen in a couple of years! Around 5, the rain let up and we took a walk through town, searching for some fruit but strangely finding none (the first city in SE Asia to NOT have a fruit stand every 20 yards!). We wandered back to our hotel and the rain started coming again and spent the rest of the night playing games and continuing out TV marathon.
The next morning was bright and sunny, and since we had had so much rest the day before, we got up early and were laying out by 10am, it was a little overcast but we were determined to have our beach day. Since it was cloudy, the regular hawkers who sell things on the beach didn't have many people bother, so after 10 minutes our lay out chairs were filled with kids selling friendship bracelets, men who could shine and fix shoes, and women offering to shave my legs (unfortunately, I had missed a 1 inch spot on my leg that morning and every women on the beach seemed to see that and offered to help me with my "hairy leg"). The kids were fun and there didn't seem to be as much tourism this year, so there wasn't as much work for anyone. The kids were bored so they sat around and chatted with us for about an hour. We ended up buying a few bracelets from them and goofed around while they made them. More and more kids kept coming telling us it "wasn't fair" to buy from one person and not from them. They did an excellent job of making me feel guilty but had I bought one from everyone, I would have had more bracelets than I have room on my arms for!
Just after noon, the clouds turned darker and there was a mad scramble by restaurant workers to get chairs inside, sure enough, the rain was coming again = ( We made it back to the hotel before the downpour came but we were left wondering--isn't this dry season?? The afternoon was spent much like the day before (TV & games) although this time it was less exciting, there was rumor of rain the next day as well so we decided that it was time to move on and bought tickets to Kampot. All was not lost however, we were able to have pizza delivered to our room that night and we ate it in bed while watching a crappy movie, and a bad movie night was actually kind of fun. Overall, our beach vacation was kind of a bust, but we managed to have a nice relaxing time anyway, we just didn't get tan...
The next morning we took the early bus to Kampot and arrived around 10am. We were both sleepy and decided to take a short nap before setting out for the day, we were excited to get some dirt bikes and check out the Bokor Hill Station, a part of the Bokor National Park, which, according to our guide book, contained only one solitary and largely unmaintained dirt road up to the top of the hill. Nate was really excited to take this challenging ride, as we had read that Cambodia was one of the best places to ride dirt bikes in Southeast Asia. When we woke up, we found a Kampot City Guide on our desk and started to read it, finding that the first line of the guide was "Bokor Hill Station is closed due to road construction". Our faces fell in disbelief--how could they close the road to the only interesting thing to do in the city? We decided we didn't really believe it and went to check with some tour agencies, but found that sure enough, the entire park area was closed. So our plans were shot, we had already missed the last bus out of the city, and we had no idea what to do with the day. We sat and had a glummy lunch, suddenly noticing that we were pretty much the only foreigners in town and now we understood why...
We booked the first bus to Phnom Penh for the next day but wanted to redeem this trip in some way. The tour agent recommended renting a motorbike and checking out a nearby cave temple and a city called Kep, just 17 kms away. The bike was cheap enough to rent and we had nothing else to do, so we followed his advice. We got near the cave and were approached by a very young-looking 17 year old boy who offered to be our guide to the cave. We were still a ways away so he decided to hop on the motorbike with us, squished between me and Nate, all three of us on a motorbike. This left me with nowhere to put my feet so I had to ride with them sticking straight out for the rest of the ride! To get to the cave, we had to go through a small village and down a narrow dirt path. We arrived and found that the cave was quite cool, with an eagle-shaped stalactite forming the temple where a carving of an image of the Buddha was located. We looked around for a bit and then our guide took us out of the cave the "fun way". It involved some crawling and grabbing vines while balancing on stones which led through a cavern down to a cave pool; this made the guided tour worth it as we would not have found that path had it not been for our friend! We drove our guide back to his village, passing his chuckling mother on the way back. He asked for $5, which seemed a little steep for the 40 minute guide--that was how much our room cost! But he was a nice kid and we settled on $4, all of the small change in our wallet.
We continued our ride to Kep, another beach town on the southwest coast. It seemed like an okay place, kind of spread out like Mui Ne had been, but the narrow, sandy beach outlined by trees and park benches, was really beautiful. The sun was starting to set and we wanted to get back before dark so we headed back and did some reading. Around 7pm we decided to check out the city. We discovered that it is a sleepy little town (probably due to the lack of things to do there at the moment!). The street along the river had a few Western restaurants and bars but that didn't really tickle our fancy, so we went back to the hotel. I got a banana pancake and coffee for "dessert". During dinner, Nate went back to the room to get bug spray, and while he was in the bathroom he chased a giant hissing cockroach out of the room--luckily he didn't tell me until the next morning as we were packing our bags to head to Phnom Penh!