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Published: March 8th 2007
With only 4 days left, our trip was winding down, wanting to make the most of our precious time in Cambodia and trying to see as much as we could. The last leg of our trip took us to Sihanoukville for some beach time, Phnom Penh for some urban life, and finally one last wild night out with the boys in Saigon before heading back to Japan.
Jeff and I were determined to spend some time laying out and doing nothing on a beach- thus making us bound for Sihanoukville! Despite having a large coastline along the Gulf of Thailand, Cambodia only has one small area used as a beach resort, located 3 hours south of Phnom Penh. The main town there is Sihanoukille, with numerous beaches not far away. Although the beaches of Cambodia don’t hold a candle to the beaches of Thailand or other tropical destinations in Southeast Asia, it was definitely a suitable place to lay around and do nothing for a couple of days. In the case of Jeff and I, 2 nights and a 1 and a half days. Some may think we were crazy for making the 3-hour trek there and
Shrimpies for Sale
Eat with Caution...no one knows how long they have been there...
back for such a short time. Once I was sitting on the beach with banana shake in one hand, my other getting a manicure with the sun beating down, I would have gone 10 hours to get there. Based on comments from other travelers, my expectations weren’t very high because Siahnoukville was always compared to Thailand. Upon arriving, I was pleasantly surprised by the cute beach, cafes, white sand, and calm waves which reminded me of the beaches of Koh Tao in Thailand- my favorite place!
Early Saturday morning we met up with the Aussies (the Mekong family down to the Aussies and Americans now) and piled into our private car headed for the beach. Our driver spoke no English and happily accepted our peace-offering or Pringles. He was successful in navigating us out of Phnom Penh in one piece without too many near-death experiences. The drive was easy- good company and beautiful scenery with cows meandering along the side of the road. Just on the outskirts of the city there were these huge elaborate gateways that read ‘Economic Zones’ leading to huge warehouses set further back off the road. That PEIS major being regurgitated, Jeff (somehow I missed
Taking the Plunge
I think they tasted GREAT!
this part of class!) pointed out that ‘Economic Zone’ was a euphemism for ‘Sweat Shop.’ So that’s where all the J. Crew and Gap from the Russian Market comes from! One of those disturbing facts of life that are better heard about than seen.
Upon arriving in Sihanoukville, our driver was very patient with us as we were in search of a hotel. Being a weekend and high tourist season, lots of places were full. We fortunately found a place just 5 minutes from Serendipity Beach called the Diamond Guesthouse. It was a no-frills cheap guesthouse. We weren’t expecting to spend too much time at the guesthouse when the beach was just minutes away so what the guesthouse looked liked didn’t really matter. We quickly checked in, got situated, and my feet couldn’t carry me any faster to the beach. Since the people from the beachside café called the Dolphin Shack were so helpful with our search for a place to stay, we decided to go camp out in front of their café for the afternoon. There are many cafes (no hotels at all) along Serendipity Beach offering up free shade with their colorful umbrellas and cushioned lounge chairs.
Like places in Thailand, I assumed we had to pay a fee to use the chairs. To my surprise, no charge! The atmosphere at Serendipity Beach was so laid back and relaxed. As I said earlier, reminded me of Koh Tao which translates to…Paradise.
Along the beach many ladies came by selling a wide array of stuff. They carried their goods in a basket on their head which I absolutely loved. Goods included shrimp, grilled squid, fresh fruit, bracelets, sunglasses, and ladies went around offering up massages, pedicures, and manicures. One must be careful when talking to these ambitious women. If you turned them down and said ‘not now, later’ they would ask you 'when is okay?' and make you promise
to buy from them. One would think nothing of these binding verbal contracts since these ladies spend their day wandering the beach approaching all the beach bums, assuming they would easily forget one measly tourist like on most other beaches. Oh Contraire! If you say an hour, they will be back in an hour, give or take five minutes. If they catch you buying from another lady that is not part of their team they will get VERY
mad at you since you broke your promise. It was a vicious game! Be wary on Serendipity Beach what you say and make promises for! I somehow lucked out with the sweetest girl coming up to me at the right time (no need for promises) and offering me a manicure and pedicure that I happily accepted, avoiding all the vicious interchange for ‘betraying’ another lady. Her name was Jenny and she was from Vietnam. She spent time on the beaches of Sihanoukville raking in the cash, then would return to Vietnam after the busy season to help support the rest of her family. She was only 16 years old. I ended up with a manicure and pedicure for 10 bucks- not bad! Granted, I said yes to her before witnessing other people breaking their promises. For all I know if I broke mine and Jenny's agreement she may have swatted me with her nail file yelling at me in Vietnamese. I'm glad it didn't come to that. Since Jeff, Lisa, and Andrew used her as well, I even got little flowers painted on my nails for giving her the business. Mid-afternoon a cow meandered through the Dolphin Shack, as if
This cow would wander around the beach visiting beach goers all day
this was a normal occurrence and we were apparently in his home. Jeff, Lisa, Andrew and I set up camp ordering fresh shakes and food, and enjoyed the lazy afternoon on the beach. When I got hot, I jumped in the water. When I was hungry or thirsty I had waiters from Dolphin Shack bringing me delicious food and drinks. When I was tired, I fell asleep. The three-hour drive to get there was sooooo worth it.
That night was the final Last Supper of the Mekong Family since Lisa and Jeff were headed to the beautiful resort on the next beach over the next night. Being loyal to our Dolphin Shack friends, we returned for drinks, which turned into dinner, and one of my favorite nights of the trip. Dan, a worker at the Dolphin Shack, was becoming a good friend of ours. He personally made us our ‘death’ buckets for the night. When he brought them over he told us ‘I made them extra strong for you.’ Jeff and I ordered a Mojito bucket, which was basically some Bacardi with a few mint leaves thrown in for decoration. He sat down with us and told us his
life story: He group up in a town close to the Cambodia-Vietnam border. His dad had a farm and raised cows for a living. When Dan was a teenager his dad gave him a cow and said that he could now start making a living from this cow. But, Dan had many brothers and sisters and ended up giving the cow’s offspring to his siblings, therefore leaving him without profit. To make money he moved to Sihanoukville to work in one of the beach cafes, the Dolphin Shack lucky to have him around. He did not want to work in a factory. It became a family affair for him, as his cousin and sister also came to work in the area. His best friend was a girl named Lili who also worked at the Dolphin Shack. They were only 22 years old. He said he made $20 a month. He used what he needed to survive, the rest of it went to his family who he tried to visit every other month. It was extremely interesting to hear his life story and how different it was from my own. Although people in Sihanoukville were relatively poor, they all sported some
Brought right to your chair
pretty nice clothes. I guess you could considere it a perk for working in or near a sweat shop! We ended up ordering fresh seafood for dinner. Dan gave Lisa and I Dolphin Shack t-shirts as a gift (printed on Gap t-shirts). The alcohol kept flowing and we found ourselves starting a dance party. People would walk by and join in on the fun. We were dancing on the bars and I was swing dancing with some French guy to hip-hop since it was the only way he know how to dance. It was the hotspot of the night. After working up a sweat Jeff and I decided jumping into sea before going to bed was a fabulous way to cool off. That is, until I was running past a group of Cambodian men in my undergarments back to the guesthouse. Whoops!
The next day we lounged and relaxed. We said our final farewells to Lisa and Andrew. While sitting on the beach a large group of Australians came and sat near us. Whoever said that Americans are loud has never met Australians. They make me look like my Japanese students during English class. I spent the afternoon wandering
Same Same But Much Better
Everything is "Same Same But Different" in Southeast Asia, but apparently this place is "much better." Happy shakes to go around as well.
the beach and headed down the Cambodian swimming area. It was very separate from the area we were in. I was pursued by a young boy named Nat who wanted me to be his girlfriend, and found myself in the middle of a beach game with a bunch of Cambodia teenagers. I treated to myself to a massage for a mere $5. It was a great afternoon. That night Jeff and I were lounging at the Dolphin Shack and a group of foreigners walked by- it was Paige and Tyrre! The Canadians from the Mekong family! They were with 3 other Australians. They quickly pulled up chairs and we had another party going. What we thought was going to be a quiet night turned into another night of death buckets, fire dancing (Dan was the man!), Tyrre throwing burning logs into the sea, and a dance party. I even got to test out the fire throwing...danger. The Dolphin Shack had this Italian guy that was ‘working’ there, yet not exactly sure what his responsibilities were. He was quite the interesting character, not really speaking Italian, English, nor Cambodia. It was more like a bunch of mumbling of the three. He
Death Bucket Happy Hour
Lisa, me, jeff, and Andrew enjoying our last meal together.
joined our party as well and we found ourselves having some interesting conversation late into the night. The next day Jeff and I were up early and got to see the beautiful sunrise, although the purpose of rising was not for that, but to catch our bus back to Phnom Penh. Jeff’s moto driver got lost and I was afraid we were going to miss the bus (fear of leaving Jeff behind #1). Fortunately the moto driver came through, and we found ourselves back in Phnom Penh by eleven.
We hired a tuk-tuk for the day to drive us around the sights of Phnom Penh. I have decided that Phnom Penh is one of the dirtiest cities I have ever been in! Behind the dirt and grime I was able to admire the beautiful buildings adorned with French architecture. The people all still wore the krama like everyone else in Cambodia. All women rode the motos side-saddle (except for me!). There were more cars in Phnom Penh than Saigon. Although the cities were similar in many ways, they were also very different, fitting the famous Southeast Asian quote, ‘Same Same but Different.’ I even bought a shirt sporting the
Well, it was basically bacardi with some lime leaves, courteous of Dan
quote. We first went to S-21, or the Tuol Sleng Museum. We knew that it was not going to be a happy day of sightseeing in Phnom Penh. Most sights are reminders of the death and torture under the Khmer Rouge Empire. S-21 was originally a high school that was turned into prison and torture center for people who spoke out against Pol Pot. It grew to be one of the largest in Cambodia. Hundreds of people were detained and tortured here. I felt the same way about his place as I did when I was walking through the concentration camp in Austria. After that we headed out to Choeung Ek Killing Fields. After S-21, the prisoners were sent here to be killed. Getting there was quite the adventure. Halfway there the paved roads disappeared and we were off-roading it, our driver Hueng doing his best to keep us on the road and out of potholes. The Killing Fields were not as harrowing as S-21. The most gruesome part was a large building which had a tower of real skulls in the center. Other than that it was all ground with large holes where bodies were once buried. It wasn’t
so much looking at the Killing Fields, but knowing what took place there and what used to be thre. Upon returning to Japan I watched the movie ‘The Killing Fields,’ which just makes your stomach curdle knowing what the Cambodians went through during the Khmer Rouge. Between the concentrations camps of Germany and the Killing Fields/S-21 of Cambodia, I am disgusted that humans can be so cruel to each other.
To end the day we headed back to the Russian Market for some more retail therapy, realizing we did not buy enough the first time around. On our way out to the airport we saw a moto with a world-record of five people on it! After a long day on the tuk-tuk coupled with our lengthy journey to the airport, Jeff and I were covered in a film of dust and smog - we were gross! We randomly met up with Tiffany and Dave in the airport. While going through customs the officers stopped Jeff, claiming that it was not him in his passport photo. If we were in any other country I would have felt a little safer. But, we were in Cambodia. For a brief second I
thought Jeff was going to be sent to a Cambodian prison and I would never see him again. Thankfully, they let him through with a warning and recommended to change his photo (fear of leaving Jeff behind #2). I don’t know what they were talking about - it was clearly Jeff!
A quick hour flight later and we found ourselves in Saigon one last time. I was dropped off to pick up my suits. I had left them over 10 days ago saying when I would pick them up, hoping that it would all work out. I wasn't sure how much of my Englis they really understood. When I walked up they immediately remembered me and pulled down the suits. Problem #1: They got the patterns mixed up for the pants and the skirt! But I didn’t have the heart or time to tell them that. They still looked good. Problem #2: I didn’t like the 3-button jacket when on. That was my fault and had to deal with it. Problem #3: The butt in the pants was too big. I took off my pants and they were given to the seamstress. She quickly undid the stitch, re-sewed it,
and five minutes later they were the perfect size. Talk about service! Since I have lost so much weight, they are the first pants to actually fit me in over a year. Unsure if I was happy or not, I thanked them and left. I flagged down a moto and again felt like I was going into a battle zone on the back of a moto going through traffic. I once again had the white knuckles and sweaty palms. Arriving at Casa de Andrew and John, their third roommate Ryan was back from Thailand. I tried on my suits to decide if I liked them (and to show off hehehe). They were liked by all, including myself. Jeff passed out, but the rest of us headed out for Bia Hoi 33 for a few more drinks. I bought my beloved Vietnamese sandwich for dinner which hit the spot. The time went by quickly and before we knew it, it was 3 am. We soon headed back. The boys were up early/didn’t sleep the night before, headed for the Mekong Delta. Jeff and I said our final good byes, bought some last minute straw hats, and were headed to the airport.
Jenny, my spa girl
She knew how to take care of us!
Somehow on the flight to Taipei, we got put in first class! We had huge plush seats and great service. I swear Jeff is my good luck charm. We met up with a bunch of Hiroshima JETs in Taipei all with wonderful stories to tell from their trips. We arrived late in Hiroshima tired, yet with huge smiles from the wonderful memories.
What an incredible incredible trip! Before arriving in Saigon Jeff and I had a good idea of what we wanted to do, but the only thing that was planned was our couchsurfing in Saigon. From there, the trip fell into place and went without a hitch. I loved Vietnam and can’t wait to return to explore the north (in 5 months from now!). Cambodia and its treasure Angkor Wat were more astounding than I expected. The people we met made the trip the best ever: couchsurfers, the Mekong Family, and the numerous locals that helped us along the way. I first learned it while backpacking through Europe and was again reiterated on our trip: people make the place. To all those met along the way, my favorite quote from an Easy Rider ‘The world is round.
I know I will see you again.’ I hope I do see you all sometime sooner than later.
The most important part of my trip definitely had to be my travel companion Jeff. It would not have been the same without him. We only fought once over which temples to visit in Cambodia. I was lucky to get to travel with him.
My most memorable highlights summarized: couchsurfing, Batista the monkey, Vietnamese beer, Vietnamese food, Lam and Hai our Easy Riders, feeling like the only one for miles on the back of a moto in the central highlands, Christmas in Saigon with motos for miles, cheap prices, putting my life in the hands of the numerous moto/tuk-tuk/bus/boat/car/cylco drivers, Angkor Wat, my American Andrew, Lak Lake, my Australian Aaron, the warm sea of Sihanoukville, my manicurists Jenny, fresh seafood, cheap beer, death buckets, Angkor What?, Happy Pizza, Mt Sam, Vietnamese hot sauce, the weird Italian in Sihanoukville, Vietnam Disneyland, the pool at Jane and Evania’s hotel, Vietnamese straw hats, white cows, kramas, floating markets, fresh fruits, shower shoes, getting suits size ‘Casey,’ eating frog, dancing on the bars, falling off curbs, meeting up with JETs, New Year’s dancing in
taking them home with me
Phnom Penh, Vietnamese coffee, the Discovery Channel, the Rose Bowl, Vietnamese dong, our numerous shithole hostels with all their charm and originality, Dan and Lili from the Dolphin Shack, keg petrol stands, Cambodia countryside, poisonous orange fruit, listening to Orichas and the Scissor Sisters, ‘Fucking beer fucking beer’ sung through the streets of Saigon to the melody of Jingle Bells, tiny dancer, cu chi tunnels, cheap dvds, fake designer glasses, not getting sick, and I know I could go on forever. I sit here smiling from ear-to-ear as I write the list.
This only made me want to get out there again….5 months and counting!!!!
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