Sihanoukville – beaches and beggars

Promised by the local travel agency that the bus trip from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville should take approximately 9 hours, however, in our case more than 11 hours as the “non-stop V.I.P. luxury bus”, as it was advertised, stopped a few times for god knows what reason. The entire trip the staff insisted on playing fantastically bad, and loud, karaoke videos for the locals on the bus (probably paying half the price we did). The quality of the speakers was okay on this bus compared to the one from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, but the songs were, with no exceptions, cheesy love songs where most of the producers never even bothered to record the music by playing an actual instruments. Instead they chose to simulate an entire band by using keyboard synthesizers from the 1980s.

This made all the tunes we listened to the entire trip sound almost identical which was enough to drive any foreign passenger quite mad. They even started to play songs by the Danish band Michael Learns to Rock. Disappearing from Denmark more than a decade ago this band now seems to be providing Asia with apparently much needed cliché filled love songs – and they do indeed fit in very well with all the other generic pop bands they cherish so much here. Fighting to stay sane in karaoke hell we had to keep a conversation going with a couple of nice New Zealanders sitting in front of us and it seemed to help a bit.

Michael Learns To Rock

Enduring one of the worst bus trips ever we arrived to Sihanoukville after sundown, instantly met by a horde of money-hungry hotel and tuk-tuk touts. After settling in and exploring the town next day we learned that this place is equivalent to one of the nicer beaches of Thailand. There is a lot more garbage lying around though and a lot more vendors and beggars to bother you constantly, but the place seems lively and the beach and water is quite good. This time a year is apparently low season so everybody who lives off tourism is especially aggressive, so a simple “No, thank you” won’t do in most cases. So despite spending most of the day fending off beggars and fruit vendors we had a great day at the beach managing to get ourselves very much sunburnt. Again :-).

Another dark side of Cambodia is also seen here: it seems this is where many of the unlucky people who were crippled by the thousands of hidden land mines have gone. We haven’t seen many victims yet in other cities but a lot of them beg or sell stuff to tourists in this area, limping, shuffling, or clawing their way up and down the beaches. Seeing what a land mine can do to a man or child in real life is indeed frightening and serves as another reminder not to wander off the paths at all here in Cambodia.

Shianoukville Beach

It may sound from the rant above that Sihanoukville is a horrible place to stay but it really isn’t all bad. The negative sides of this area are all a part of the experience and the locals are still smiling and friendly so we’ll probably spend another few days here trying out the different beaches and restaurants before moving east towards good old ‘Nam. We are currently staying at Sovann-something Guest House for $7 per night which is quite a good find as the beds and pillows here are heavenly compared to some of the other slightly dodgy guest houses we’ve stayed at especially in Thailand. Generally it seems like you get more value for your money in Cambodia and accommodation and food is still very affordable. Thumbs up for that!

Pictures from Sihanoukville and around.

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