Let me confess: I wanted to go to Sihanoukville. Yes, I voluntarily wanted to see the place. It has a nice name and many people rave about the place. Although I knew that I was going to a beach town, I realized on the bus that choosing this destination might have been a mistake. It was full of backpackers putting a lot of effort in looking cool, means: posh behaviour and wearing shades to avoid eye contact.
It seems that this fashion season, the sunglasses have to be oversized with white frames – also for men. So these cool lads all looked like Elton John. Seeing so many unmanly guys trying to behave extra-macho was quite fun. Halfway through the trip to Sihanoukville, the bus stopped for a lunch break, where “Cool & the Gang” were standing clueless in front of the roadside food stall. Nope – this was not the beach and there were definitely no titties in sight. And no beer. Just a true roadhouse in the countryside with true local Cambodian people. Anyway, by the time I finished my lunch, the sunglasses crowd realized that they just missed eating, but the bus had to leave.
However, once arrived at our destination, the cool backpackers proved to be pretty useful to me. Hordes of hawkers and drivers were standing at the bus exit door. They wanted to provide ‘cheap’ rides to the resorts. And while the others tried to figure out where to go and how to speak, I quickly grabbed my backpack and walked calmly away to my guest house. None of the drivers was following me.
Actually, I decided to stay downtown Sihanoukville. There, I rented a moto (kind of small Vespa bike), to explore the place. This was actually fun, although I did struggle with the awkward gear changing which means shifting into higher gears by pulling the foot lever down (having driven many motorbikes in the past, I was searching for the clutch, plus I wanted to shift in the opposite direction). Therefore, more than once I did change – when accelerating – from third to second gear – instead of fourth. This definitely was uncool and my performance gave a good laugh to all the spectators alongside of the road.
To be perfectly honest: Sihanoukville and its beaches are actually very nice. I do understand that some travelers just need to chill after a stressful overland trip. My issue with this was that I already came to Cambodia fully relaxed from the Central Asian trip. I was looking for nature and temples and found drunks and prostitutes.
Sure, I went to the beaches to relax for an hour or two. Although I didn’t really enjoy the bar where you’d get a free beer when you show your titties. Didn’t work for me. And I found beaches which are still in an undeveloped state. One of them is “Otres” beach (you need a moto for this). There, the cows are peacefully grazing next to the locals who hang out picnicking under palm trees or swimming in the sea.
Sihanoukville was my first encounter with Cambodians and I am surprised how easy it is to get along. Sure, they try to make a living by wanting to sell me stuff (or give me a ride) all the time. But a smile with a firm “No” actually does the trick. I never had to fend off hawkers like in so many other places.
Food is very tasty in Cambodia and I find myself constantly ordering meals I hardly know in advance what it contains. But so far, I had no bad experiences. On the contrary: On my first day, I did order the national dish, Amok – most probably because I was able to pronounce its name. However, the food in Sihanoukville is prepared for the tourist’s taste. It will be probably another, harder experience, once out in the wild of Cambodia. But that’s probably a worth wile story to tell in the next blog…