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Published: April 22nd 2014
Everybody love to party but no one wants to hang around to clean up.
Sihanoukville was full of visitors when we arrived. All of them attending the Lunar New Year celebration. Along the beach the government had built a temporary beach volleyball arena worthy of an Olympian. It was broad-striped in reds and whites and the stands were sprinkled with the few folk who could afford the price of a seat. Next to it rose a large stage fronted by a two-acre field for the standing room only audiences. Every night there was a parade of performers. People like Hip-Hop DJ's and matched set, too cute for words, fashion model, young girl pop groups who danced precariously in high-heeled synch while belting out Khmer hits. A TV camera mounted on a large rotating boom spun it all together for a live, nationwide broadcast. Powerful spotlights sliced through the air. It looked like London during the 'Blitz'. Pre-recorded exuberant cheers covered for the silent Cambodian standing room only crowd who really didn't know what to make of it all or how to act in front of a camera.
Street kids sold 4-foot long Roman candles from bundles slung over their thin shoulders. Asian sky lanterns rose continuously in a sea breeze driven arc over the
A charming sight as they rise. But now their popularity has reached the point where various organizations are vying for 'Most Sky Lanterns Launched' awards. Sometimes less is more.
city where they flattened into yellow diamond stars over the Cardamon Mountains. Khmer families surrounded by their happy, scruffy kids and Styrofoam clam-shell boxes of street food were camped out along the roadsides on tattered blankets. Everyone had a huge grin on. For most of these people, the 3-day New Year celebration is the only vacation they'll ever know in their lives.
Hotels were stuffed with Cambodian families who could afford the tab. Sometimes 8 of them to a double room. They arrived via a fleet of Toyota Camrys. They love their Camrys here. The cars' trunks were crammed tight with large white ice chests full of red shellfish. The visitors placed these on their balconies and ate from them continuously. With so many cars in town, parking was at a premium. Lot attendants spent all of their time jockeying automobiles from one tight spot to even tighter ones. From our balcony we watched the black velvet sky fill with flaming gold lanterns and popping-red fireworks while on the giant stage, the performers enthusiastically consumed their Warholian 15-minutes of fame with both hands. And the beat goes on.
We had flown down from Siem Reap which was new
View From Our Balcony
Looking south to the sea.
to us. Sihanoukville opened their small airport to passenger traffic only a couple of years ago. Unfortunately; Cambodian Air has a monopoly on domestic flights and they really stick it to ya'. The cost for the one hour, turbo-jet, puddle-jumper hop is $133.00 US. But when compared to the dangerous, time consuming bus ride from Hell we took the easy way out. While Thailand has opened its air market to competition, Cambodian government officials refuse to let go of what they consider their personal golden goose. There is no 'long term' thought given to tourism in Cambodia and it shows.
We stayed at the Orchidee Guesthouse near the beach. A beautiful, top floor room with a designer bath, lots of electrical outlets (always make sure you have enough outlets. Between Smart phones, tablets, laptops and coffee pots you may need a few and a few in one room can be hard to find.) LCD TV, frosty arctic A/C, comfortable beds, WIFI, room safe and an expansive balcony shaded under a striped awning. $50 US per night for three with a decent breakfast included. Try getting that at your local Motel 6.
Sihanoukville is a parched, flat-spread beach town.
Loaded Cambodian Mini-Van
If you ride on the top you get 80% off the normal fare and I am not joking. You're probably safer up there in case of a collision. Easier to get away from the flames.
The better strands like Serendipity Beach are south of city center. North of that is the port area where container ships drop their cargoes. During the Vietnam war this facility was a major entry point for Soviet military gear destined for the North Vietnamese army.
There are more restaurants in Sihanoukville than diners. Food is fairly cheap but the quality varies. Cambodian cuisine generally involves the coating of meat in black pepper and then stir frying it with veggies. Fortunately there is no shortage of foreign visitors who come to town on holiday and decide that they can start a successful eatery here based on some secret family recipe for self-inflicted disaster. You can eat Mexican, Greek, French, American (Bob's Burgers), Vietnamese and seafood by the trawler full. Bars run by Yanks with names like 'Back Home' cater to the anemic supply of Americans wandering around town. Beer and hard liquor served at the bar. Harder stuff is available in the back room. A wink to the barkeep is your ticket in.
After the holiday ended the town looked desolate. Thousands of plastic bags, water bottles and Styrofoam containers littered the ground. The volleyball arena and the stage
Karlie Is Surrounded
Bus ride to the Thai border. Put your headphones on, tuck in your feet and elbows and try to go brain dead for five hours. Or just take a pill....
were disassembled, packed and gone in a day. A platoon of nut-brown, floppy-hatted Cambodians set about sweeping the place into a state of relative cleanliness. After five days we were quite done. I bought $10 US per person bus tickets to Koh Kong which is a small town on the Thai border. I do not like taking buses in Cambodia. They are poorly maintained. I examined a full-sized tourist bus while we were in Phnom Penh and it had NO tread on the tires. I mean; not even a squiggle. The more common 12-passenger minivans that ply the back-roads here are driven by young men who seem intent on pursuing a career in Formula One. This month a minivan in Burma crashed at high speed, caught fire and killed 12 people. Last year two minivans collided head-on in An Khe, Vietnam killing everyone on-board. It happens often but is reported rarely.
The ride to the border was 5 hours long. The bus was full of Westerners and Khmer. A pack of corpulent, older Western men waddled onto the vehicle. Silver-back gorilla guts peeked out through unbuttoned shirt fronts. Behind Karlie sat a Cambodian woman. On the seat beside the
woman writhed her three young sons. The youngest did pull-ups from the bus curtain rod. Next to Karlie a young Khmer girl napped in between cell phone calls. In the aisle on Karlie's left, two local Khmers sat on little plastic stools. The bus drivers will often augment their incomes by picking up ticket-less passengers along the road and pocketing the cash. It's the way of it here.
We exited the bus at the border to be met by a horde of cigarette sellers ($7 per carton), luggage porters and con-artists all vying for some cash before you make good your escape. On the Cambodian side of things a wedge of people pressed forward against the only customs official window open to them to get their exit stamps and be fingerprinted. From there it's a 100 yard walk to the Thai side. Any bags you carry will be searched by Thai soldiers for weapons. Any bags you gave the porters back at the bus will sail into Siam unexamined and they will be waiting for you after you get your Thai visa. (No visa fee in Thailand. All Thai tourist visas are good for 30 days no matter what
Western Owned Operations
Owned by 2 guys from Pennsylvania. It sounded like a good idea at the time.
the Cambodian hustlers tell you back at the bus.)
It was hot. Dripping, soaking, wet blanket, gamma radiating Chernobyl hot. The kind of heat that squeezes every drop of liquid out of my body and into my clothing. We joined a small group of folks who were fanning themselves in the shade while waiting for transport to various places in Thailand. We were going to Trat about an hour's drive away. Most of the others were going to Bangkok or Pattaya. The only bus transport available is, of course, a 12-passenger minivan. Karen and I had taken one of these to Bangkok three years ago. We found ourselves packed in like sardines. Our teenaged driver hydroplaned for 200-miles through a monsoon rain without windshield wipers nor, apparently, any fear of death. Fool me once.... I hired a private driver to take us into Trat. $42 total and worth every penny from a safety standpoint though our chauffeur had an annoying habit of picking up the occasional local passenger along the way. The term 'Private Driver' has a different meaning in SE Asia.
Crossing from Cambodia to Thailand is like passing from night to day. Thai roads are excellent.
Karlie chills out at the Cool Corner restaurant in Trat. Good food and no other customers to bother you.
Well maintained and policed. Better houses and fewer hungry people. Aqua farms abound. We rode along that strange narrow land corridor that defines this part of Siam. The lines were drawn up in a treaty between the French and Siamese governments early in the 20th century. In exchange for concessions in Cambodia along the Mekong River the Siamese were given approximately 60-miles of beautiful coastline. Blue waters studded with brilliant diamonds of light.
Trat is a small city. Once a major producer of Rubies its mines are now totally depleted. Besides tending to tourists passing through town on their way to the Thai islands the other source of income is the raising of Swiftlet birds. Their nests are a culinary commodity. Think: Bird's nest soup. About 8 years ago somebody discovered a building design that made the birds very happy. Before that, the nests were collected by acrobatic men in dark sea caves along the Andaman coast. They would climb rickety, swaying bamboo scaffolds at great personal risk to reach their prizes. I wonder what they're doing now?
We spent the night at Pop's Guesthouse. Our room was in a long motel-like building that had been built within
Pop's Place Guest House
Looks like a Gitmo interrogation center.
No water boarding after 10 PM please.
Guests are trying to sleep.
what looks to have originally been a large factory. One of the strangest places I have stayed in to date. $18 a night. No breakfast. A/C, decent WIFI but only one electrical outlet. We were probably fortunate to have the one. Good Thai restaurant called: 'Cool Corner' just down the street. The next morning Karen and Karlie headed out to the islands while I made a detour north to Chiang Mai to see a machine that goes BEEP.
I'm short on pictures in this Blog. Sorry but my upload times here are abysmal. I will add more as I can so check back.
Shouts to My Bro Dave who I may never be able to successfully phone. Karen and Karlie: Keep your hair out of your snorkel masks. John and Kelly: Thank you for my sense of security. Markus and Mel: Hang in there. The weather will get better soon. To my Weisbaden guitar students: Wie Gehts? Claus and Ulf: Alles ist gut ;-P Noah: I love you. Keep doing what you're doing. To the Braden Oaks crowd: Is it summer there yet?
Jerry Baker: I have not the words.
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