One step ahead of the Neon Invasion
Trip Start Oct 28, 2006
29Trip End Jan 09, 2007
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but fortunately not with a woman, it's with a place the peaceful seaside town of Sihanoukville, Cambodias biggest commercial port, resort beach and my first point of contact with this wonderful country.
Whoever called Thailand the land of smiles obviously never visited Cambodia (at least not in the last 10 years). Despite their dark past the people here are some of the friendliest I've ever encountered. On my first night in Sihanoukville my moto driver invited me out for drinks, alright here comes the scam I'll have to overpay for a ride to some expensive tourist drinking hole and end up dissatisified and poor... But amazingly he's genuine and I end up drinking cans of Angkor beer (which he refused to let me pay for!) on a raised wooden platform at the back of his friends house while his wife BBQ's fresh fish and we chow down on a massive meal of crab and spicy duck which despite the 50/50 bone to meat ratio is still the tastiest thing I've indulged on so far in my travels
Sihanoukville is what I imagine the beaches of Phuket would have been like 30 or 40 years ago. It enjoyed a brief period of resortdom during the French colonial era but the relics from this time are now abandoned and a new tourist infrastructure is emerging. The beach is littered with restaurants and bars, the first ATM just got installed in town and you can find sunscreen at the local petrol station but the Neon Invasion hasn't yet conquered all. The restaurants are decorated with fairy lights and the people possess an innocence and friedliness I've failed to find on other beautiful south east asian beaches. There is no Holiday Inn or Club Med but my $5 room at the GST guesthouse with tv and private bathroom certainly does the trick.
I was in need of a quiet relax by the beach but the reason I ended up staying 5 days and eating up half my time in Cambodia was the people. My moto driver Hohn took me out with his mates almost every night and while respectfully putting up with hours of aural torment I still managed to enjoy myself partying at Angkor Tech where Khmers dressed well enough to get into Kink danced and sang local songs under flashing lights more in line with a primary school dance than a nightclub. I was the only farang and garnered a few looks at least some of which were from the large population of hot young Khmer girls
As well as Hohn I almost made fast friends with Nary and Sovat aged 16 and 25 (although at first I was guessing 11 and 19) who more or less ran one of the beachside restaurants (their old mother stays out back and cooks). Despite their soggy noodles and amateurish cocktails I ended up eating and drinking there every day but sadly I was often the only one. 13 new beachside restaurants opened recently presumably when an investor decided to parcel off leases so competition is extremely fierce and there simply aren't enough tourists to support the amenities that have arisen to cater for them
Unfortunately though not all the tourists are prepared take these people at face value. There were two sour incidents I witnessed which perhaps offer a chilling glimpse of what the Neon Invasion has in store. The first was an American who got into a massive argument over whether the moto he hired was supposed to have a full tank of gas(value maybe $2) after arguing his lungs out he then proceeded to fill up at the petrol station(fuel drum with hand pump) in front of the guest house and told the poor bewildered girl that the guest house would handle it. The argument ended with him yelling "THIEF!" "You're a fucking thief!" at the top of his voice and attempting to wheel the moto back to his room at the other end of the beach(200m?) because they wouldn't give him a free ride back while me and a few other aussies sat laughing in the hotel restaurant cracking Bush jokes.
The other incident involved an old drunk German fuckwit who refused to pay a girl for a massage and then got physically violent with her when she harrased him. This I think was mainly due to the effects of alcohol but was a truly disturbing thing to witness and amazingly instead of turning him away from the bar the propietors trusted his also ridculously drunk friends to keep him under control and simply kept plying him with more booze, worth the risk I guess..
I also managed to squeeze in a few day trips. One out to the islands was a must and that is where I really found the deserted beach paradise we so often fantasize about; not a soul in sight apart from the occasional fishing boat in the distance. Apparently they have some very basic infrastructure on one of the islands but most are deserted and with a boat, a tent and some basic supplies you could have a real Robinson Cruso adventure out there. I also took a trip to the local waterfalls which was full of locals. With the falls totally open to swim in and play it's a prized day trip for the kids of SIhanoukville but also a favoured destination for local farmers and their families on weekends. Finally I got to visit some other beaches in the area from the local farmers favourite where huts are built out over the sand loaded with hammocks and mats for playing cards to the government officials favourite by far the most beautiful beach in the area and the only one that is cordoned off to public as part of the 5 star Sokkha Beach Hotel complex...