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Published: December 26th 2008
Tuesday 23rd December - Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville
Our intention is to spend Christmas on the beach so we caught the bus south to Sihanoukville. On the way out of Phnom Penh we saw families obviously living on the street. The bus was rickety but okay. The road is sealed so the ride was smooth. The scenery changes from a dry dusty plain to densely forested hills. We caught a tuk-tuk from the bus station to the Serendipity Beach area. We stopped off at various lodges and to cut a long story short ended up back at the first one visited after seeing 4 or 5. It is a bit more than our usual budget but we're treating ourselves for Christmas. It is a lovely room in a hotel right by the beach and end of a dusty track. It is easy to get things out of perspective because it is still only $25 US per night. The beach is a lovely thin strip of lovely sand lined with beach shacks selling food and booze. It is immediately disconcerting because alongside us wealthy sunbathing westerners there are many beggars including many amputees with missing arms and legs, no doubt due to
disgusting land mines which are still a major problem in the remoter regions. (In fact anywhere in Cambodia the advice is to not stray from marked paths when out of built-up areas). There are numerous fruit and knick-knack sellers.Once night falls there are many children selling fireworks. It is disturbing to see a child of about 6 or 7 selling such them. We saw a glorious sunset - just as the globe of the sun settled on the sea horizon, a fishing boat was silhouetted against it in a magical scene. Beach food is cheap at the shacks. We had a whole delicious barbecued red-snapper with roast spuds for $4 each. Draught beer is 50 to 75 cents. An unusual thing for us is that some of the beach shacks openly sell joints and offer a 'happy' version of some of the menu items such as shakes and pizzas. Having overheard a conversation on the effects of some of the happy stuff on some youngsters nearby we decided to give it a miss (losing feeling in lower half of body just part of the mentioned results). The poverty is never far away - when we finished our fish, a young
boy pointed towards the fish heads and the bones remaining on our plate, so we gave them to him. On the positive side there are some excellent charities here such as 'Child Safe' which tries to provide some care and keep them safe. The advice is to give money to these charities rather than individual beggars (especially the children as it encourages them to spend the day begging instead of going to school). There are also some cafés whose profits go to help.
Wednesday 24th December
We settled into the comfy seats on the beach outside the 'Full Moon' shack. Luckily the unpredictable camera has decided to work today. Plastered in sun-tan lotion we just soaked up the sun pausing only for a cooling dip in the lovely clear water away from the hot sun. I had a delicious vegetable curry and Jen vegetables with noodles. The sun was lovely. After lunch the sky became overcast and the temperature more comfortable. Whilst Jen went for an afternoon nap, I strolled into the main town which a bit non-descript. I found a mini-supermarket and resisted the amazingly cheap spirits (70cl of Polish vodka for $3.60 - about £2.20) and
This one was selling squid which she barbecued on the charcoal stove that she carried with her
instead bought a bottle of French Merlot for $5.40 as a Christmas treat. I bought a can of the local stout (called ABC) to try. We spent Christmas eve back on the beach for a meal. I couldn't resist barbecued fish again and Jen had fish in sweet'n'sour sauce. My nightcap was the ABC stout which is delicious.
Awoke on Christmas morning to discover that Father Christmas has given me a sore throat and stinky cold as a present. Nevertheless we were still on our loungers outside one of the shacks for about 10am. The sun was again sensational. There was some cloud cover as lunchtime approached but this mostly dispersed for a scorching afternoon. Strangely both Jen and myself managed to get just our toes sunburnt. For our Christmas lunch we shared a nice vegetable curry. (Some places were offering a traditional turkey meal). The sun finally defeated us at about 3:30 as we were turning into crisps so we headed for the shaded luxury of our hotel room and watched the second half of some film with a nice cuppa. For a change in the evening we headed inland rather than to the beach in
a lovely thatched restaurant and had a meal of local seafood and vegetable curry washed down with a Angkor draught and gin and tonics.
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