Round the World

Phnom Penh & Sihanoukville

There are two ways to get between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap; boat and bus. I’d used the boat on the way up, but at $22 vs $5 I couldn’t justify it for the way back down, especially given the difficulty of getting to it. The ride doesn’t take much longer than the boat and in a year or so will be much faster as many delays were caused by work to seriously improve the route. On my return to Phnom Penh I stayed to the north west of the city centre by a lake called Boeng Kak. Its a small traveller hang out area and its nice supping a cold beer on a balcony over the lake at sunset, even if the water is so polluted you’d never consider getting in. I’d left the National Museum to visit so I’d have something to do between journeys.

The museum is housed in a spectacular building of traditional design (and which I failed to photograph). Apparently the building has one of the largest bat populations for an artificial structure. Unfortunately bat dropping are corrosive and were falling through the ceiling onto the exhibits and visitors. The Ozzies came to the rescue; in exchange for borrowing some exhibits they built a second false ceiling to catch the droppings. The problem with this museum is that it is very old fashioned, a bunch of stuff with small label cards and no other explanation. Whilst it nice to know the treasures in the museum’s collection are protected from the looters that have raided so many of Cambodia’s historical monuments its a really dull museum to visit, imparting little information on those who visit.

I only spent a couple of night in PP this time, enough to get over one hourney, book tickets for the next, buy some more malaria pills and see the museum. I was keen to head down to Sihanoukville and check out the beach. This is Cambodia’s most important seaside resort with an older backpacker area near Victory Beach and a newer one at Serendipity Beach. On getting to town I jumped onto a moto taxi and asked for Serendipity. After a bit we headed off down a bumpy unsealed road to a scruffy collection of guesthouses. I assumed the driver was bucking for a commission from a less popular area of the beach and set off to explore on foot. Nope I was at the right place and the scruffy guesthouses were charging around double what I expected. I checked into the least bad immediate option and headed to check out the beach and bar life. Really quiet was the answer with small crowds only at two neighbouring bars, one of which tried to make up for teh lack of peole by damaging eardrums.

I had hoped to spend a week here chilling out and getting to know a small group of people, but after two nights where things looked little better I decided to move on and give Victory Beach a try. I jumped on a moto and headed north through the centre of town, eventually turning onto a badly rutted dirt road that became steeper and steeper. This was looking even worse, with no sign of life anywhere. When the bike gave up tryin to climb the hill with the driver, myself and my rucksack proving too much for it, we were next to a guesthouse. I was persuaded by the manager to have a look, but the first room was a bit basic. He had something better, someone was just leaving and why did I not look at that. The room was being vacated by an Irish guy who had been there for a week and a half. “Was the any life in this place?” I asked. “Yeah down at Serendipity” he answered. “Thats it!!”, I exclaimed. He shrugged and suggested it wasn’t a party town. I’ve been to quiet beaches in Samoa and happening ones in Oz and this town seemed to fall somewhere nasty between the two.

It was 11 o’clock and the daily boat to the Thai border left at midday. I jumped back on the moto, change of plan, take me to the docks. The boat was one of the river express boats pressed into service on the coastal run. Though fast I was pleased to see the water was calm as boats designed for shallow rivers don’t handle waves well. A few air conditioned hours later I was in Krong Koh Kong and jumping on yet another moto for the 6km ride to the border, crossing a new 1.9km long bridge and saving me from the the boat mafia that used to rob visitors blind here. I was lucky enough to be one of the first off the express boat to reach the border post and was stamped out fairly quickly. I wasn’t sorry to be leaving Cambodia; I found it fascinating and wanted to learn more about its history, however I hadn’t fallen in love with the place. After Thailand and especially Laos I found I was hassled too often for money and that the tourist and backpacker areas were too removed from local life.

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