Monkeying Around in Snookieville

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
Trip End Feb 28, 2013

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L' Ambassade Guesthouse

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Monkeying Around in Snookieville

Sihanoukville, Take One

Neither of us had ever heard of Sihanoukville before February when Henrik had told us in Luang Prabang about it. It is a newly emerging beach area with the Bay of Thailand on three sides. Miles of undeveloped white sand beaches, cheap accommodations, great western food and bars, and an attitude to let the foreigners do whatever they please.  "It is wild-west like. It is an open town" Henrik had told us. “You can do smoking, and whatever, and no one will bother you” “It's quite nice for that” he said. Henrik had liked it so well that he stayed for two and a half months. From young backpackers, we heard it was a place with peaceful little islands where you can stay in a grass shack for a week or two and bliss out. That is what Sophie, a 20 year old Swede, had done here.

A guidebook explains that Sihanoukville, named after a former ruler, Prince Sihanouk, has Cambodia’s largest port. Viet Cong began using the port to bring 85% of its heavy arms to the south during the Vietnam War causing the Americans to begin bombing this supply line in 1969. Eventually, the US would drop a half of a million of tons of bombs on Cambodia in an effort to choke off the VC war supplies.

3/17 Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville; 12:30 to 6:30 PM, 247 kilometers

The bus was a far cry from the deluxe bus with toilet we were promised. We sat in the front seat . We had  the view, leg room and air conditioning. It could have been a lot worse. The bus stopped at numerous small bus stations in Phnom Penh picking up more and more passengers and a few strays that ended up sitting on small stools in the aisle. We didn’t get out of Phnom Penh until 2:30PM. Phnom Penh is pretty flat, no spectacular scenery; mostly dry fields and small communities, a market here and there. Skinny cows grazed on the meager yellow fields. Somehow, the buffalos we saw were fat and round and wallowed in mud holes.

We had reservations at L’ Ambassade Guesthouse. Henrik had given the place high praise. We called Michael, the French owner, so he could pick us up when the bus arrived. He was waiting in small watering hole across the street and when we called him he told us his car was the one with the open trunk. The guesthouse is located about 4 kilometers north of downtown Sihanoukville on Victory Hill.

We followed the main boulevard toward Victory Hill and Michael told us he was taking a shortcut, down a dirt alley with bars and small shops. Michael explained that this was the red-light district and called out to a lanky girl in a flowing gown. She is an elegant Vietnamese prostitute Michael explained. The clientele on this lane appear to be mostly older guys. After turning off this lane, within 200 meters, we were in front of L’ Ambassade.

We walked to the open air restaurant lined with whirling fans and were soon shown to our room in the back. It was a smelly room. Sewer smell came from pipes near the door but also seemed to come in when we opened a window in the rear. Fresh paint in the room failed to mask the exact nature of the odor. We hoped the AC would mellow the smell a bit. The bed sheets were a dark color which always makes me doubt if they are really clean. Henrik had given the place such a glowing recommendation that we were extremely surprised and disappointed. We decided to give it just one night.

We took quick showers and settled in the restaurant for dinner. Dave had a stew while I had couscous with chicken. Scrumptious. We concluded we should stay here just for the food! L’ Ambassade has such a good restaurant that they get a lot of business from people staying at other hotels.

One guest caused a stir when she accused the hotel staff of stealing a gold necklace she had left on the nightstand. Her accusations drove the cleaning girl to tears. When the girl could talk to us alone, she tearfully defended herself saying that she would never do such a thing. The woman in charge also explained that they never have had this kind of problem before.

3/18 Victory Hill Area on Foot

First thing after breakfast, we moved from the stinky room in the back to one near the front that was a lot better. Then we explored the area on foot. We walked a dirt road down a hill to Victory Beach while checking out other hotel options on the way. Most the air conditioned view rooms were full but there were plenty of fan-only rooms available. We were getting our AC room at L’ Ambassade for $10 per night because we planned to stay awhile and the peak season was over. They would have given it to us for $6 if we had wanted to pay the electricity bill separately!

We got to the pier where several boats were moored. One yacht “Gilligan’s Island” was down from Fort Lauderdale according to its tags. And there were several wooden tourist excursion boats. The water was a bit cloudy. We found a different way back to the hotel.

In the evening, while we played cards in the restaurant, a couple of 65+ guys arrived with pretty local girls on their arms. I overheard one of them tell the other expat, in Dutch, “they (the girls) think I’m a big shot CEO of an American company.” We could not help but notice most the clientele were mostly 60+ men with big smiles on their faces and were having the time of their lives here……  

3/19 / 3/20 Scooter Time

We rented a scooter for $4 per day and explored the main part of town. We found the short strip of road lined with hotels and restaurants that leads to Serendipity Beach. While having breakfast, we realized the average age of the tourists here was 10 years younger than in Victory Hill. Then we recalculated. It was probably more like 25 years younger. Here, everyone seemed to be in the 20 to 30 year old bracket. Yikes! We later made it over to the quieter Ochheuteal Beach.

We visited Otres Beach a few kilometers east too. It is the most peaceful beach on this side.

When we returned to the area one evening to have some hummus and peta at a guesthouse/restaurant, In the back of the menu, they had guesthouse rules of etiquette. It advised that if a girl falls in love with you and you want to bring her to your room 1) she must show proof of her age to the front desk, and 2) don’t be so naive to think you will not be expected to pay for having sex with her.

Sihanoukville, Take Two

Okay, we now are figuring out why they call this Snookyville or Snookieville. It is not because the Prince’s name is difficult to pronounce. The facetious name rhymes with nookie. However, except for the short street up by our hotel that Michael told us about, there are not a lot of working girls around town during the day.

3/21 Sihanoukville’s Best beach!!

Another day exploring around on the scooter. We headed southwest. We planned to cross the big bridge to an island off the coast we had spotted from Victory Beach.  We were stopped in our tracks at the gated off entrance to the bridge. A security guard told us we were not allowed to continue on to the bridge. Dave did consider ignoring him but then thought better of it.

We checked out the deserted Independence Hotel perched on hillside overlooking the bay's turquoise water. It was open but just did not have any customers. What a waste. The beautiful spa beckoned us to come in and get an hour massage for a mere $35.

Back near the road, we discovered monkeys playing in the trees and along the fence. It’s baby time and we were mesmerized and took so many pictures of them.

We continued on and turned off on even narrower road thru forest and past a dilapidated building to the most perfect beach so far. And best of all, it was almost deserted, just us and the sound of the waves rolling in over the white sand. We watched a few small fishing boats come by with their bounty on their way to the harbor..

A few people had lunch under shaded pagodas at Treasure Island Seafood Restaurant. We ordered a cool drink and planted ourselves under shade tree and relaxed for the better part of the day, with the ocean lapping at our feet. So peaceful, no smell and noise from jet skis, nor loud music coming from all directions, no droves of people trying to peddle fruit and fish, no massage ladies or kids selling cheap souvenirs.

We read, relaxed and planned the rest of our stay in Cambodia. We will get our Vietnam visa tomorrow. 

3/22 Vietnam Visa in Sihanoukville

The whole visa process at the Vietnam Consulate took less than 20 minutes & $45 each. We decided to make April 2 the start day and give us to May 2nd to exit by default. Vietnam is odd in that you are given a 30 day stay from the date you state on your visa. You can enter later but not earlier. And you still need to exit by the date on the visa. April 2nd will give us about 10 days to visit other spots on the Cambodian coast, Kampot and Kep

We decided to return to our favorite little beach between Independence Hotel and Hawaii Beach. We made another quick stop by our monkey spot. The pictures we had taken yesterday had not turned out well because the sun's backlighting through the trees. Again we spent more time than planned. Most of the moms have adorable little babies. We were hypnotized and amused. Boy are they cute! A French guy staying here through the French winter started talking. He told us he visits them every day and feeds them bananas and peanuts.

There is one colony of 2000 monkeys on that spot. He told us about another nice quiet coral sand beach about 10 kilometers up the coast from the port.

We enjoyed a fantastic fresh fish lunch at Treasure Island fish restaurant right there under ocean front pagoda at our beach.  Afterwards we moved over to tree shaded lounge chairs and read, wrote in journal and snoozed a bit in the pleasant ocean breeze. Surprisingly, the masses have not discovered this perfect beach. The sea is crystal clear here and shallow for 20 or 30 meters out.

3/23 Sihanoukville, Searching for the Mysterious White Coral Beach

We didn't know the way to the beach recommended by the Frenchman. We didn’t know the name of the beach exactly. All we knew it was '10 kilometers north'. We followed the main road out of town towards the airport and some resort. It didn't look like we could cut through the port so we had to find a way around it. After we reached the top of small pass we could see that we were getting further and further away from the coast. We asked someone and we were directed down dirt road. This led us through small village where became THE event. We saw wide smiles, from kids and adults alike, waving as we motored by. At a split in the road, we turned left until the road became so sandy that we decided to turn around. When we asked locals about the beach we only got big smiles and blank stares.

Back at the main road, a guy told us to head back to the pass we had given up on then turn right.

We spent hours following different dirt trails to nowhere past huts and very simple houses. In the end we were directed down a rocky and sandy trail which finally led us past a frozen food packing factory, which smelled awfully fishy, to the Port road.

Here we passed through great little fishing village where women set out racks of marinated fish to dry in the sun. And finally a few km past that village, we got to the broad white sandy beach we had been looking for.  With the exception of a crew working on some impressive landscaping, the beach was totally deserted. We had hoped to find a little cozy fish restaurant there but only found small roadside stand where we bought a coconut, drank the juice and packed up the coconut meat that the girl had expertly separated for us with big clever.

We ended up having a late lunch at a café near our hotel. It was a simple place with decent food. It ended up costing $1.50 each, our cheapest meal to date. We sat with a 63 year old Canadian expat who had lost everything in the great financial collapse of 2008, 'GFC’ is the shorthand we hear most often referred to the event. He has been bouncing between here and Thailand scraping by until his Canadian pension kicks in in two years. What a life! From observing him and listening to his story, we estimated he might have been living on less than $10 per day, maybe closer to $5.

It was time to get the nookie out of Snookieville. It was fun! But, one week here was plenty. We bought bus tickets from the local travel agent for tomorrow morning.
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