Beachin' it

Trip Start Jan 10, 2005
Trip End May 10, 2005

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Thursday, February 17, 2005

Question: How many people can fit in two side-by-side seats on a Cambodian (Vietnamese, Thai) bus?

Answer: As many as you can fit! (We've seen five.)

Question: How many people can fit on a Cambodian (Vietnamese, Thai) motorcycle?

Answer: As many as you can fit! (We've seen five. A motorcycle is often the only vehicle a family has so the whole family squeezes on - Mom, Dad and kids. They can also move/transport just about anything on a motorbike.)

We decided to head off to the beach for a few days, since we've been on the road now for over five weeks and haven't taken a lot of time for R n' R. I came down with diarrhea from eating in a sandwich I ordered (I think it was the lettuce, though I didn't order lettuce, but received it anyway) and Martin had a cold, so it was time to lie low for awhile. I popped a couple of anti-diarrhea tablets and we took off on the bus to Sihanoukville on the south coast of Cambodia. After all our purchases in Vietnam (clothes and souvenirs) we are loaded down with two extra bags and wouldn't mind staying put for awhile (travelling light, you say?????).

Sihanoukville is a popular beach resort with the locals as well as the backpacker crowd. When we arrived at Serendipity beach, because it was Tet and also the weekend, the beaches were jam-packed. Families were crowded around tables under beach umbrellas in the shade, sharing food, playing cards and enjoying their time together. There are local photographers staking out the beach, offering their services to families on holidays. Film containers littered the sand. Some people were playing in the water, but I noted that it was very few who actually wear bathing suits (mainly just the very small children). Everyone else bathed fully clothed. Most Cambodians would consider bathing suits immodest (plus they don't want to get any browner than they are). I can't imagine what they thought of the European woman down the beach who as bathing topless.

I also notice a lot of women and children, particularly the street vendors/beach hawkers, wearing what we would classify as pajamas. I don't know if this is a hangover from Khmer Rouge; everyone during that time were forced to wear a uniform consisting of black pajamas and a red sash. Now the pajamas are lighter colours and often checked.

Of course, there are people selling all sorts of things. The women carry large baskets of springrolls, fruit or prawns/lobster on their heads. Others offer massages, manicures or will thread your legs (remove the hair with a thread - sort of like waxing - I had this done in Hoi An and it wasn't too painful!) Young children flog sunglasses, scarves/sarongs or necklaces/bracelets they carry around on plastic coat hangers. Many drag around a rice sack or plastic bag picking up bottles or cans they can exchange for a few cents. There are also lots of one-legged beggars dragging themselves through the sand, their seats of their pants worn through from rubbing on the ground. Those you have two knees still intact can also crawl. Some women with very small children beg for money as well. It's a sad, sad sight.

So here we sit at our beach front $30 USD per night (inc. breakfast) hotel, which is splurging compared to what we've been spending. It's a lovely spot, though, and it's nice to be that close to the beach. Our room comes complete with its own cockroach. I tried to kill it, but it skittered behind the TV - they're speedy little critters.) We've spent the last few days just lounging and soaking up the warmth from the beach chairs. It's amazing how tanned you can get just sitting in the shade. I've seen too many westerners who have burned themselves to a painful crimson. No thanks.

The ocean here is very warm - it's like taking a bath. Most days, the wind picks up and the waves increase in size as the day progresses. We decided not to take a boat trip to one of the islands as I would probably have been sea sick and Martin was still suffering from his cold.

After our first night here, I woke up to find that the mosquitoes (or some other biting insect) had had a party on my face during the night. Everywhere I hadn't been covered with the sheet or what I was wearing (a T-shirt) was covered with bites, especially my face and my arms from the elbows down. Guess we should have brought along that mosquito net we purchased but I didn't have room. We really haven't been using repellent much because we haven't encountered many bugs. The mozzies haven't even touched Martin - they just take a whiff and say, "Phooey"! Every night since I've been going to bed in long pants with a long-sleeved top and lathering myself with mosquito repellent. I look like I have the chicken pox.

We met a young English physician from London who was staying at the same hotel at Serendipity Beach. She's a specialist in HIV medicine and had interesting information to share. She told us about "health tourism" in the UK - they have a lot of people from Africa coming to England for AIDS treatment. The problem is that they are unable to sustain their treatment once they return home. (She also believes that susceptibility to insect bites has a lot to do with blood type. People with B blood type are the most vulnerable (tastiest?). Since I'm AB, that fits!)

We were here for my birthday (another interesting one to add to the list) and for Valentine's Day, though the only indication of the latter is a few of the places selling red roses. I indulged in seafood several times. The prawns are huge! Pizza is also popular here, Italian style (thin crust, not a lot of topping). Here and in Phnom Penh there's "Happy Pizza" on the menu (i.e., pizza topped with marijuana). Martin has been solicted many times in SE Asia to purchase pot.

There's only a few small guesthouses/bungalows and hotels on this beach, along with a long strip of thatched-roof bars and restaurants. At night, we've been walking along the shore to a restaurant to eat; the strip of eateries is lit up like a small circus or amusement park. Young travellers pack into the various places, drinking, eating, partying, making new friends. Music blares. It is such a beautiful spot that it won't be long before some big hotel chain builds here and the locals are forced out. A conversation with a local fellow named Vutay who runs a restaurant confirms this.

It is so nice to hear birds once again! We heard no birdsong in Vietnam, except for birds in cages. It's also wonderful to see all the stars in the night sky again - they really haven't been visible since Chiang Mai. I always search out the big dipper to orient myself.
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