Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Sihanoukville Travel Blog

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We arrived back in Bangkok with the mission to get out again as soon as possible.  However, a spontaneous large night out delayed things somewhat.  We stumbled across a bar which, by day is a Shell petrol station and by night converts into a bar!  We were literally drinking in between the petrol pumps.  I hope they switched the pumps off or there could have been a highly flammable situation on our hands.  Anyway, being the crazy travellers we are (?), we ignored the obvious health and safety risk(s) and grabbed a table.  We decided that it was time to try the local delicacy of a 'bucket'.  This is basically a large amount of whisky, vodka and redbull served in an actual bucket (the type you take to the beach) - nuts!  The sensible ones amongst us would have shared one between five, but where's the fun in that!  The drinking games ensued and the buckets were flowing until the wee small hours.  Needless to say, the 7am bus journey the next day to Cambodia was NOT going to happen.  When we were working way back when we would have partied until late and then got up early for work, but as we're travelling we don't have to get up for anyone - I love it!

Thus we headed out to Cambodia a day later than planned.  The 12 hour bus journey only cost 2 pounds each, which was suspiciously cheap but we went for it anyway.  About 10km from the Cambodian border the bus stopped for lunch, conveniently at a place that also happened to issue visas for Cambodia.  We knew from our guide book that the visa should only cost in the region of 20 US dollars but suddenly our bus 'tour' guide is trying to convince us to pay 32 dollars to get the visa at this restaurant under the pretence that it takes at least 2 hours to process the visa at the border, they will charge more than 32 dollars at the border, I'm doing you a favour, the bus cannot wait 2 hours for us ect., ect.  Anyway, arguements ensued.  We refused to accept this as truth and not to be ripped off on principle and boycotted the restuarants visa service and took the chance of being stranded at the border.  By this point the 6 of us had accumulated a further 3 others on the boycott. We decided that 'safety in numbers' was the best plan of attack.

When we arrived at the border, low and behold, the visa only cost 25 US dollars and took 15 minutes to process - what a surprise! Feeling adequately smug with ourselves (even though we had still been conned out of 5 US dollars each - apparantly the 20 US dollar visa required a 3 hour wait - not really a lot we could do once you are stood in no-man's land), we decided to ditch the bus which would have taken a further 8 hours (but only 160km) to reach our destination, Siem Reap, in favour of taxis. Although more expensive, and not really the traveller's way, the decision was made easier to make, a) because England were playing Portugal that evening and we would have missed the game (in hindsight may not have been a bad thing anyway), b) the roads, if you can call them that, are basically one long pothole, with a few dirt tracks thrown in (plus it was raining - rumour has it that a particular airline are paying an undisclosed sum of money to the Cambodian government to not put down proper roads), which all mixed together makes for one very bumpy journey on a bus, and c) had we stayed on the bus we would have had to run the gauntlet of guesthouses that we were taken to, but "had no obligation to stay in", i.e. somewhere where the bus company would have earnt a decent commission on the back of the extortionate prices we would have been charged - a trick that we are very weary of.

Siem Reap is the main destination for those wishing to visit Angkor Wat, a vast area of ancient temples which have been relatively well preserved. Supposedly you need at least 3 days to do all the temples justice, so being the culture vultures that we are (we refer to this fact a lot you may have noticed), we hired a minibus and toured the cream of the bunch, all in one day.  The temples were basically like stepping back in time.  A couple had been used for Lara Croft Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones films so I was Pamela Croft and James was Indiana Edkins for the day - very sad!  Our guide also managed to squeeze in the local military museum, which was just a good excuse to get lots of pictures of us holding some guns and practising our war faces - not the most frightening sight!  The highlight of the day though was going to the highest temple to watch the sunset whilst eating cheese and buscuits and drinking red wine - a rare travellers treat!

From Siem Reap we then headed to Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital.  We stayed in a really cool hostel whose communal area was built over a lake.  So we had great sun set views over beers and games of pool.  A minor distraction from our main purpose for being here was a visit to the local Shooting Range where James and others took the opportunity to to fire off a few rounds from an AK-47 and a Colt 45 Pistol.  Unfortunately, we could not justify the expense of 200 US dollars to fire a rocket launcher, although we were are still trying to convince Ade that its worth it!  Perhaphs not the most politically correct thing to do but where else would you get the chance.  Steve stuck to his principles and avoided it as being inappropriate (well done) and I saved my money for shopping (not quite so well principled)!

The main reason for being here was to visit the Killing Fields and the S-21 Prison. The Killing Fields are bascially where they buried millions of Cambodians in mass graves who had been tortured and killed for not supporting a particular political regime - the Khmer Rouge.  Basically the leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, was very much like Hitler - totally nuts.  This happened 30 years ago and was really moving, as I'd never heard of this before we arrived.  The S-21 Prison is where a lot of the torturing took place.  Of the 20,000 prisoners that were held here over a 4-year period only 7 came out alive - it was just awful - most died of torturing injuries or starvation and exhaustion. It was just impossible to think how barbaric people can be to each other.  The most shocking part was a lot of this was perpetrated by children. 

After spending a day in such morbid surroudings we needed to cheer ourselves up so we headed to the beach (again) to a place called Sihanoukville in the south.  We headed down on the poshest bus - frosty air con, free water and snacks and the obligatory fried cricket - yes you did read it correctly.  Our hostess with the mostest told us about crickets/grasshoppers being a delicacy in Cambodia and wanted us to share the experience.  The girls obviously squeeled when presented with one and the boys puffed out their chests at the challenge!  Becks managed a leg only.  James and I ate a whole one, minus the head.  Steve, being of iron stomach, had the head as well - hardcore!  Ade pretended to be asleep to avoid the whole experience.  The verdict:  not bad - crunchy and beefy!

When we arrived in Sihanoukville we discovered that we had luckily just missed 9 solid days of rain - hooray - so we hit the beach! No sooner is our first foot on the sand we are bombarded with offers of massages, fruit, bracelets, sarongs, manicures, predicures from adults and children alike.  All very sweet but not the relaxing experience we were hoping for.  Anyway, the kids are smart and just start talking to us.  They decide to make us all bracelets for free, for friendship so they say.  They are actually really cute, speaking excellent English.  Some of them join in with the games of football with the lads and the mission to sell is soon forgotten.  But we were good beach go-ers and we all ended up buying their fruit anyway.  Their tactics had worked!  So much so that we girlies all ended up having a manicure and pedicure on the beach - when its only 3 US dollars in total its hard to refuse!  The next day we also succumbed to the barrage of offers and indulged ourselves in hour long massages.  Suitably relaxed we decided we needed some excercise so joined a half day tour to trek though the Cambodian jungle for a couple of hours, swim in a waterfall and take in the sunset over Sihoukville - very nice! We finished off our time here with a visit to a restaurant known as the Snake House. No three guesses required here as to why. Each table was glass topped, and was the only thing between us and the snake inside. This along with the numerous glass cages containing all kinds of snakes around the outside of the room made for a very disconcerting meal, not forgetting the crocodile that was eyeballing us from a raised pool, and only seemed to be restrained by a very thin looking chain.  Certainly different.

Although our time in Cambodia was limited, the little that we did see certainly whet the appetite. The country is stunning, if a little tarnished around the edges. It is very poor and unsurprisingly there is a huge gap between the rich and poor, but with 70% unemployment, not without good cause. However, despite this, the people are so lovely and friendly. Thailand is supposed to be the land of the smiley face, but is not a patch on what we experienced in Cambodia. There are obviously downsides aswell, mainly being the fact that we are often viewed as walking ATMs. However, this is always combatted by just being good humoured and accepting that this is the only way many people can earn their living.

So, as always (and fortunately what is now becoming a regular phrase for us) all good things must come to an end and it was time for us to make out way to our next destination - Vietnam.............................

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