What We Saw in Sihanoukville

We were in Sihanoukville, a beach resort town, for a week.

  • Tubing: The end of Otres 1 Beach closer to town (as opposed to the end closer to Otres 2) has a bunch of kiosks for water sports. (One of them even has these boots that make you hover in the air using hydraulic pressure; it reminds me of something from a Spiderman movie.) We went to one that had tubing, pulled behind a jet ski on the sea. The guide recommended a more ‘fun’ tube, which turned out to look like this and entailed B and I holding on to the handles for dear life, or we would fly forcibly off the thing. I was concerned about how much flying off would hurt, so I held on tight; so tight, in fact, that my various arm muscles still hurt, a week and a half later. (‘Feel stronger?’ was the first thing our driver said as he hopped off the jet ski, and we tried to detach ourselves from the ‘tube.’) I’m pretty sure that force of will was the only thing actually keeping me on that slippery thing, as the driver took turns and created wake for us – and he wasn’t even going that fast. But despite how this all sounds, it was a lot of fun, and I might even do it again… once my arms stop hurting.
  • Jet Skiing: Tubing wasn’t enough for us, so right after that, we rented a jet ski. I drove! As I’ve mentioned, this is generally not a good idea. One example why: it’s good that B’s not motion sick because the moment I start to feel like we’re in danger of tipping, I let off the gas entirely, which causes very unfortunate lurching action. My lack of skills aside, this was actually a really fun experience – and I even managed to get up to 38 mph. We happened to go right before sunset, and there was a gorgeous pink creeping into the sky at the time. So, I could aim the jet ski towards the horizon, with nothing in our way and the phrase ‘ride off into the sunset’ in our heads. Really fun, especially at this time of day.
  • Saturday Otres Market: Otres Saturday MarketAs B said, this market typifies what people think that Berkeley or the Haight is like, but no longer is. It is very similar to Copenhagen’s Freetown Christiana, except all in one big barn-like building. Inside, people sit, stand, talk, drink, smoke, eat, and listen to music in a relaxed, hippie atmosphere. The food variety was broad: B had chili con carne, while I ate a Russian perozhok and American chocolate cake. Vendors at small tables sold necklaces, t-shirts, and even photo booth-style photo services. On stage was a guy who had set a Guinness record for playing the highest (up on Kilimanjaro – though I initially thought it referred to a state of intoxication, not a geographic location), playing his guitar. People covered every available surface, sitting on rugs on the ground, on fragile wooden benches, or on the ground. But this is not a local institution: all of the participants and vendors are foreigners, speaking English with varying accents as they create an Australian-British-German-Russian-American enclave in a small Cambodian town. The locals have learned to cater to the inebriated foreigners: kids collect their beer cans for the recycling fee, and drivers await eagerly at the entrance, enthusiastically saying ‘tuk tuk’ when anyone makes a motion to exit the barn. It can be a fun, relaxing night, but the incongruity with the rest of Cambodian culture hit me a little too hard to enjoy it. My perozhok was good though.
  • Massage: There are massages offered directly on your beachside tanning bed by roving local women. To me, it seemed that this would be hot, sandy, and not very relaxing, so we went into town to get ours. The cost was almost twice what it was in Kampot: the horrors of an $8 massage! But it was decent enough. (A few doors down from Jee Boom and ‘You and Me’ massage, if you’re looking.) [It was one of the best massages I’ve had, anywhere! -B]
  • Swimming: The water in Sihanoukville is some of the clearest I have ever seen. This makes it all the more sad that locals dump so much trash in it, though it’s a common practice across all of this part of the world. The water is very shallow for a very long time: you’re walking in shin-to-knee length water (depending on your height) for about 25 feet when you get in or out, and it’s not over your head until you’re at least 500 feet out. The temperature varies from brisk sea to bath water, pending the level of sunlight. The bottom of the sea is soft, flat sand – except in a few places right next to the islands. There are tiny anchovy-like fishes near the main beach, and slightly larger, but not terribly interesting ones near the islands. Playing around in the water is fun, and I was surprised that there weren’t more people in the water.
  • Three Island Tour [includes Koh Ta Kiev island]: Sihanoukville SunsetTouts walk across each beach daily, recruiting unsuspecting tourists for these tours. The idea is: pick up, breakfast (depending on the tour), snorkeling at island #1, lunch and beach time at island #2, snorkeling at island #3, and then drop-off. The boats are medium-sized, and the crowding depends on the success of the particular tout that filled that boat. (Given my motion sickness, my tout’s relative lower popularity was the best news of the day – for both me and my potential neighbors.) The stated price is $15, though a Cambodian girl got it down to $11 by negotiating. It leaves at 8:30 am and returns around 4 pm. Overall, the trip was decent and similar to the description; a few watch-outs:
    1. Breakfast didn’t happen. If you want to avoid being ravenous, either ask about it as soon as you get picked up or bring a snack. On the other hand, once we told the tout that we hadn’t gotten it, he comped us beers, so they definitely try to remedy issues.
    2. If you’re motion sick, take Dramamine. The boats rock. Our driver was actually the best of them and somehow managed to keep the lurching to a minimum! (We took Mickey’s boat, if that helps. Our guesthouse owner verified that he was ‘legit.’)
    3. They may tell you tall tales. Another couple wanted to go to island #2, and the tout presented the tour as a shuttle to that island. Koh Ta Kiev CowThey had to sit through pick-up and island #1 first – and drop-off was on the wrong side of the island; they were not happy. If you end up in this situation take it easy! But if you’re not there yet, ask lots of questions to make sure you know what’s happening.
    4. This is not Australia, so don’t expect that kind of snorkeling. Also, the currents are very tough in places. I had to swim hard just to stay in one place. Take a life jacket to help you, or get an excellent husband. (Thanks B!)
    5. You can make friends on the middle island (Koh Ta Kiev). See B’s new pal!

What We Missed

  • Kite Surfing: This looked like a lot of fun. However, we were initially trying to be careful of B’s stitches <link coming> and then ran out of time. Next time!
  • Four Wheeling/Buggies: This was really expensive for Cambodia, so we passed.
  • Scuba Diving: Also expensive for here, plus the fish we saw on the snorkeling trip did not inspire much confidence.
  • Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem: These are the bigger islands, and some even people stay on them, to get away from internet, etc. We need internet, plus getting there is expensive for this part of the world, and it didn’t seem enough better than the regular beach to merit it.
  • Market and Night Market: We saw these in Phnom Penh and Kampot, so we passed. Plus, too many touts in town.

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5 thoughts on “What We Saw in Sihanoukville

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