While the Vietnamese border building was a fairly unattractive concrete slob that reminded me of east Germany the Cambodian one was build like a temple with a golden roof and big pillars. However the beauty was limited to the outside as the interior was as plane and as boring as it is in most such establishments. The border was fairly unguarded and attaining the visa stamp was rather simple and not too much of a wait (it did take longer than usual because a big Cambodian general came to visit that day).
In many countries in official buildings, restaurants and the like one will find a nice framed picture of the monarch, dictator or president smiling down on you. One thing that I found rather amusing about the visa office was that instead of a golden frame there was an a4 sheet of paper that had been stuck up with tape (perhaps just for the generals visit).
We continued our journey and started driving through Cambodia to get to Sihanoukville (named after a previous king). Driving through this country reminded me more of Kenya than Vietnam. The roads themselves where a lot less busy than the Vietnamese and the driving here is a lot less aggressive (less honking and not so many aggressive overtakes). The roads themselves were pretty awful, no street markings or traffic lights and many cows that block the street. The reason that these roads remind me of Kenya is the poverty one can observe from the car window, wooden shacks instead of concrete buildings and a much more agrarian society. Finally, while rice paddies still make up a large part of the landscape other crops appear here at a much higher percentage than in Vietnam.
One thing I found rather confusing about Vietnam was the religion, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism and Daoism, crossing into Cambodia I saw many women wearing head scarfs and occasionally a mosque which added another religion into the mix. Once I get home i’ll try and educate myself a bit about how this mix came to be. We also noticed that the people looked different, darker skin and fewer Chinese features, people here look more Indonesian.
Finally the alphabet changed again. While Vietnam uses the Latin one, which we could read, we found that the Khmer language had its own alphabet.
Once we arrived in Sihanoukville we took a tuk tuk (first since Bangkok) to Otres beach where our hostel was. Our hostel was on the beach a few meters above ground on big wooden pillars, below which where tables and soft furnishing. After we dropped our bags in the room (one big room with many mattresses on the floor, corrugated iron roof and wooden walls) we went for a swim in the sea, which was extremely warm and very calm.
After our swim I was able to take a better look at the people that were working and staying here. Otres is a hippy beach and we could see that clearly in the people that were employed here. Dread locks and multi coloured hair, juggling and astrology courses on offer and some of the clubs had not only drinks on their menu but also a variety of pills and powders. On some evenings while watching the sunset we could also observe one of the hippies smoking some chemical out of a steel tube and dancing and then passing out where the waves broke. While most of the people here were friendly some we felt sad for as they didn’t seem to have their life together. The stories we heard here and the people we met were always interesting though, one example being a guy who went to prison in India for murder.
The police let most of this happen as laws are fairly relaxed in Cambodia but occasionally when a superior comes to visit or they didn’t receive a bribe they will strike down and enforce the law. The bar where they had drugs on the menu was shut down a few weeks after we left and a few guys were sent to prison.
Although drugs are something you shouldn’t take anywhere, taking them in Asia is especially unwise as they cut whatever you are taking with all sorts of horrible stuff and you hear many stories of westerners dying after taking something like rat poisoning or snorting heroin believing that it was something else.
Even if you don’t voluntarily take the drugs, you might take some any way as people (often ladyboys or flirty girls) spike drinks and then rob the victim. This happened to one of my friends who woke up on the beach with no memory, phone or wallet.
The days here were spent on the beach reading (I read catcher in the rye and then Jamie’s book about economics “the paradox of choice”) or swimming. I also walked/jogged up and down the beach as far as I could to explore a bit.
The beach can be separated in to 4 zones, the hippie shack area where we were staying, a nicer resort area, a hidden beach and a beach where the locals go. The latter two are the ones I found most interesting. After walking over ‘our’ beach, on which there are many wooden bungalows comes a beach with no buildings where the Cambodians go on the weekend. We stayed here over Cambodian new year, so this beach was packed and I found it really interesting to see the Cambodian’s on holiday. They were always in huge groups, rarely under 8 people and cooked gigantic feats on small BBQs. Some were big families with varying age groups and some were groups of teenagers my age, the latter of which always offered me to join them for a beer. They also always had enormous speakers from which they blasted Cambodian music. This one song especially was played constantly, I shall link it below. One thing that bothered me a bit was that these people left all the plastic bags and cans on the beach and half was blown into the water. I found it sad how oblivious they were to what they where doing and how easily this could be prevented as there was a bin just by the road 20 meters from the beach.
After walking further (I walked past a stranded giant jellyfish with a 1 meter circumference that had attracted a bit of a crowd) one reached a part of the beach with nicer resorts and then a empty beach to which you could only get by swimming. This beach stretched for about a Kilometer and was really lovely, not a soul insight, however quite a bit of rubbish had washed up. It really felt like paradise with the sand between my toes and the sun in my eyes. (When walking on the sand here it makes a squeaky noise because it is so fine).
We also met two groups from London, one of whom Harry and Jamie had met previously in Australia and did things with them such as go on top of a floating parkour. In the evenings, we either stayed at our local bar or went to one of the other bars along the beach. Some played the normal kind of music you might expect to hear on the beach while others catered to the hippies by playing psychedelic dance music.
Relaxing on the beach for a few days was nice but the road was calling to me and I wanted to go travelling again, to see new places and experience new adventures. Kampot seemed like a town one night be able to fulfil those needs, so me and Harry got a bus there.
If you ever find yourself in a big water fight against a lot of Cambodians with white powder on their faces and wonder what the hell is going on like I was when I was in that situation, you are in the mids of the new year celebrations. Instead of fireworks they have water guns, instead of champagne a BBQ on the beach.
PS. Apart from drugs, another thing I would advise you to stay away from in Asia is locally produced suncream. I made the fatal error of buying some and was punished for this decision by turning as red as the sunset over Phu Qouc.
I could not find the song but this one is similar.
It is hard to explain how I felt about this music after hearing it constantly for days and just incase you feel like you lost a few brain cells listening to that here is a quote from the catcher in the rye.
“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, the mark of the mature man ist that he wants to live humbly for one”.