Thursday, 7 March 2013

Sihanoukville - New Friends in a Mad Party Town

View from our bungalow
at The Mango Rooms
Another long bus trip from Phnom Penh transported us to Cambodia’s south coast where we were going to mainly chilling by the beach, visiting a couple of island paradises and Paul was going to do his PADI Open Water scuba diving course.

The Serendipity Beach area of Sihanoukville is very quiet, almost sleepy, during the day.  This is mainly because all the teenagers and mad party people, who are the main visitors to this area, go to bed when the sun comes up and remain asleep during daylight hours, crawling back to the bars and clubs when it gets dark so they can start partying again until the early hours.

There are 3 or 4 beaches in the Sihanoukville area and although it is only a new town (building began on the port town in 1950), it still manages to have a colonial feel about it.  The other beach areas are not quite so manic but as we did not intend spending much time here, and everything we needed was located in the Serendipity beach area including The Dive Shop and travel agents it was convenient for us to stay here.

We had booked into The Mango Rooms where we stayed in a little bungalow set into a little hillside with view of the sea for only $23 a night.  Granted, the wooden bungalow was a bit rickety, and Paul put his foot right through one of the rungs of the staircase leading to the veranda, and it was so rustic that at least one beetle fell on my head on the first night but for us it was just perfect.  Our little veranda was surrounded by tropical plants and we could just sit and gaze out to sea and the islands in the distance.
Unfortunately a rather blurry
picture of our little
bungalow at The Mango Rooms

Sihanoukville feels very different from the rest of Cambodia.  It is definitely where everyone comes for sun, sand, beer and clubbing (and no doubt more!).  Staying so close to the beach meant we could hear music almost all night coming from somewhere fairly close by until about 5 o’clock in the morning.  But it wasn’t too intrusive and was to be expected in a place like this.

On our first evening we arranged to meet Danni and Patricia for dinner (the two Canadians we had met at Nature Lodge in Sen Monorom).  They were both heading back to Phnom Penh the following day before returning to Canada at the weekend.  They brought along some friends they had met on the bus down from Phnom Penh, Moon and Ly. 

The bar at The Mango Rooms
Moon was born in a Thai Refugee Camp 32 years ago shortly after she was born left to live in the United States.  This was her first visit to Cambodia since she was a baby. 

Ly’s mother is Cambodian and his father is Vietnamese and he now lives in Switzerland, having emigrated there with his parents when he was a child.  Ly has been back to Cambodia twice and next wants to visit his father’s home country the next time he returns to south east Asia. 

If there's a resident cat, we
always make friends with it
Ly and Moon are cousins and made contact through a social networking website and Ly was spending this vacation introducing Moon to her family in Cambodia.  They both speak fluent Khmer and it was fascinating listening to them passionately speak of their home country but at the same time, grateful for the opportunities they have had in their adopted countries.  

As Ly and Moon were so young when the Khmer Rouge regime ended, they have no first hand memories and therefore it was a little easier to speak to them about their families’ experience without feeling that you were being too intrusive or bringing up painful personal memories.

The Dive Shop
It was a great evening, and it would have been perfect had I not been violently sick just before dinner was served, so I never got to eat my clams and we had to leave early by normal standards but late by ours (9.30pm).

We spent the next few days making arrangements.  First Paul booked his PADI Open Water diving course, and we also wanted to spend some time on the island of Koh Rong and, if possible, the smaller island of Koh Rong Samloem.  We had already been in touch with Dennis at The Dive Shop and spent a couple of hours with him making arrangements.  After booking the PADI course, 4 nights on Koh Rong and a further 6 nights on Koh Rong Samloem at a place called Robinson Bungalows.  We also booked a 2 night Liveaboard trip where Paul would also take his PADI Advanced Open Water course and I would do a bit of snorkelling. 

The pool at the Beach Road
So we now had the next 2 weeks wrapped up, parted with rather a lot of money, and spent the next day or so relaxing in the bar at The Mango Rooms doing mundane stuff like laundry.  When I say “doing” laundry I mean taking it to somewhere that will do it for you for $1 a kilo.  It’s well worth the money even if we do seem to lose an item of clothing on each occasion, and Paul was down to 3 pairs of pants at the last count!

Two days staying on Serendipity Beach was enough for us.  It’s the place to be if you are half our age and while it has been said before that we enjoy the odd beer and obviously love a good music festival or gig, when the time came we were quite happy to leave Sihanoukville and head to the relative quiet of Koh Rong.

Waiting for the sleeper bus
to Bangkok before finally
leaving Sihanoukville and
We were also looking forward to travelling by boat for the foreseeable future instead of risking our lives on Cambodia’s public transport!

We returned twice to Sihanoukville before we left Cambodia for Bangkok.  The first time we booked in for 2 nights at the Beach Road Hotel, away from the mayhem of the beach party scene with the luxury of a pool to cool down in , while we waited to embark on our second Liveaboard trip.  Admittedly this was a luxury but it was my birthday after all and also, Paul wanted to enjoy some more diving purely for fun without having the pressure of doing a course.

When we returned from the second Liveaboard we spent another 2 nights at the same hotel waiting to catch the bus to Bangkok which is another, rather unpleasant story entirely.  The sole purpose of our heading to Bangkok was to obtain 60 day visas for Indonesia so it was a necessary evil.

Otherwise, our last weeks spent in Cambodia, as I will explain in the next posts, were spent having an amazing time, enjoying life on desert islands and exploring the seas around Koh Rong.  Furthermore, we could not have wished for better company.


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