Sihanoukville. Struth….where to begin ? I have just spent a couple of days down there and this was the fourth time I have been there in 5 years and boy oh boy has it changed. I went down for business on Thursday afternoon as we are in the middle of pitching for a contract at the port. The drive down took about 3 hours and for the most part was plain sailing although the first 20km or so getting out of Phnom Penh is always VERY hectic. The first night I stayed at the The Small Hotel on the recommendation of Paul but I had heard other good reviews and as it was cheap and centrally located it seemed to fit the bill. The young lass I spoke to on the phone a few times whilst booking and then changing plans etc was very helpful and friendly and made things very easy. When I arrived there was a bit of a mix up with rooms as I had canceled one room and extended my own to two nights. I ended up with two rooms the first night and was told ( very politely ) that they had turned away several inquiring customers and so I offered to cover the cost of the room if they did not fill it. i was shown to my twin room and it was absolutely spotlessly clean and well-appointed with mini bar, TV ,AC, Hot water and a DVD. All this for $18 !!
I had a shower and a few beers downstairs and then headed down to Serendipity Beach which is where Sarah and I stayed at Malibu bungalows back on 2006. The first thing that became evident is the road works that have started from the Golden Lions roundabout heading up and over the hill down to the beach. It literally looks like a bulldozer has picked a line and just gone straight through everything in its path. You can actually see where some bars have had their patios and driveways ripped up and many have had to dismantle their verandas and decks. No doubt they were all illegally extended in the first place but still – pretty hardcore. then when you get down to the beach there is a huge butt ugly hotel going up the RHS and a boat pier right at the end of the road where once was just a nice beach ! Then…as you step onto the beach and head right to Malibu and Coasters you realise…hang on….THERE IS NO BLOODY BEACH !! Apparently a storm washed it all away 18 months ago and the water is lapping right up to the walls of the hotels and there are exposed boulders everywhere and you have to pick a precarious route along steps and rocks to get anywhere. I could not believe the difference in just about everything I saw since my last visit in 2008 during John’s wedding. Even the huge Mlop Tapang tree that I sat under with John and Aeke back in 2006 seemed almost lost in the transformation whereas before it was almost the centerpiece of the beach . The below shot was taken from in front of Malibu Bungalows. The new pier is where the guy in the green t-shirt is and the people sitting down drinking to the left of the photo are in front of what used to be Eden Bar. All that beach has now gone and is just water and rocks.
So …yeah…that was all a bit of a shock. As were the endless WI-FI !! / Laundry !! / Fax !! signs and the steady procession of barely dressed, dread-locked euro-trash walking up and down the boardwalk. What a freak show. I had a beer at Coasters for old-time sake and then scored some scampi off one the food sellers which was as good as I remember it and damn cheap too. I was harassed momentarily by beach hawkers before my now greatly improved Khmer signaled to them I was a waste of time. After lunch I headed back to the Hotel and had a very nice Swedish sausage and pasta dinner and by then it was 7pm so I grabbed a dvd ( Million Dollar Baby – great but depressing as hell ) and went to bed hoping for a nice quiet night. Unfortunately there was much noise coming up from the bar downstairs and I am not sure if dudes were drinking or a DVD was being played in the common room but by 11pm it was getting a bit bothersome. I had a crap night sleep due to a bad start and an AC that was programmed to go on and off at intervals and woke up feeling pretty sketchy around 7am. I decided that I would check out of The Small Hotel and try out Pagoda Rocks which Ang’ and Paul raved about when they stayed there recently. I was desperate for some sleep and hoped this would be just the ticket. Luckily I got the last bungalow available and so farewelled the Small staff and headed for the Port. I won’t go over the work details as it is early days for us there and I do not want to give out too much info but suffice to say it was interesting…and damn hot!!
So once all that was out of the way I made my way up the hill towards the Angkor brewery and then chucked a right turn and headed up to Wat Leu. The Pagoda sits on the highest hill in Sihanoukville and with promises of “ocean views from all bungalows” I am getting pretty excited. The PR sign looms large and I headed into the gates and pulled up in the carpark and nice young chap bounds out of the reception area to grab my bags. It is immediately evident that Pagoda Rocks….rocks !. Beautiful gardens, a beautiful pool and bungalows perched on the steep site all facing …yes….an amazing view of the ocean.
After a cold beer and a walk around to take some photos, I was shown to my bungalow. Set on a steep incline so that the doorways are on terra firma but the sea facing decks are way up high, the timber bungalows cost $50 a night inclusive of breakfast. The first thing that hits you as walk in the door apart from the crisp white and dark timber interior , is the view. Its just glorious. The ocean and port peel away in front of you and the wind blows through the room providing a lovely fresh atmosphere. Flat screen TV, DVD, wi-fi,minibar,mozzie net and sumptuous bed all make for an awesome cabin and I cannot wait to hit the hay. A hot shower and I am pronate and snoring like a bugger for the next 3 hours.Bliss.
After my sleep I showered and sat out on the balcony with a cool beer enjoying the panorama and then hit the pool for a quick dip before showering and changing and getting ready for dinner with Humphrey who came down from the city that afternoon. The sunset as I drive over the hill is probably one of the most amazing I have ever seen but I did not have my camera unfortunately. The sun is HUGE and pink and threatens to eclipse the entire sky and it really is breathtaking. When I arrive at the Lions 2 beer garden I am early so I order a beer and stand outside and watch the circus as it circumnavigates the huge Golden Lions roundabout. Speeding Freshy boys lean in to the corners, clueless backpackers on rented scooters come close to death, Lexus’ roar through with impunity and families riding 5 up take their chances. Amidst this maelstrom of metal, people walk across the street as if it was a pedestrian footpath and I am sure I will see a major incident but thankfully don’t. Humphrey and I eat crab and beef and pork ribs and drink a jug or two of beer and then we head up to the Sergio Leone inspired Victory Hill for another few beers. Victory Hill is the penultimate freak act in the entire freak show that is Sihanoukville and after a couple of hours there we move down to Utopia which is only Utopic if you are a topless backpackers an old perverts or a taxi girl. Everyone like…groovy man….and hanging around a tawdry version of the Playboy Mansion pool. More grotty than grotto.
The next morning I just want to get the hell home to my wife and daughter so I pack up and have a cup of tea before skipping the gratis breakfast and hitting the road. The trip home is actually very nice. No traffic and I simply cruise at about 90kph the whole way and I am soon home safe and sound thank Buddha.