Best Part of Sihanoukville: Leaving

Oh I am being a Negative Nelly aren’t I? But I guess that got your attention! Well there’s no point beating around the bush, Sihanoukville wasn’t my favourite place. It’s the most popular (in fact, the only!) beach resort town in Cambodia, and we wanted to see it for ourselves.

I can’t believe I was bored in Kampot!!! Retrospectively, Kampot was amazing. That’s the thing about travel, your perspective on things is constantly changing. And maybe my perspective will change on Sihanoukville too, but for now, it’s on top of my ‘Least Favourite Places in Cambodia’ list.

Maybe I should have called this post ‘Uncomfortable and Guilty in Sihanoukville’, because that’s how I felt the whole time I was there. The thing that has struck me about Cambodia is the warm, friendly people. Not so much in Sihanoukville. Hoards of tourists from all over the globe thirsty for beer and sun flock to Sihanoukville’s white sandy shores, and partake in her offerings of cheap grog, warm sun, white beaches and some other things that I really don’t have the time (or the words) to go into on this blog.

Sound like fun? If it does, good on you, whatever floats your boat. Sihanoukville is a great party place. But it’s not really what I’m after.

I’m also not partial to being hassled on the beach. Boat trips (overpriced), massages, manicures, bracelets, sunglasses, and uncomfortable conversations that go a little something like this:

“Madame, I take off hair for you,”

“What hair?” (offended) “I just shaved!” (adamant)

“No, many many hair, I can take out for you, let me show you one for free, I take out with thread, no pain, you see,” (rolls the thread over my leg, locates a hair or two, ‘removes’ it).

“Ow! Ow! That does hurt, no thank you,” (smiling through clenched teeth, not wanting to offend but feeling rather violated)

“Well I give manicure, very dry skin. I remove.”

And so on, and so on, and so on, untill I remove myself from the beach and go and read in my room, my self-esteem somewhat deflated.

I understand these women have to make a living. And this is their living. But I really didn’t come to the beach for hair removal, I just wanted to read my f#%^* book.

Perhaps I’m insensitive. But Sihanoukville just gave me the heebee-jeebees. If I wasn’t getting poked and prodded on the beach, I was getting harangued on the street:

“Tuk tuk? Motorbike? Where you go tomorrow?”

I’ve been to other places where this is the norm, Bali and India included, and I’m not sure why my tolerance was so low, but I just found the place so frustratingly busy and annoying, like I had to be on my guard every minute, fending off touts at every turn.

Again I get it. It’s their living. But their desperation for the tourist dollar was in such stark contrast to the other places we have visited in Cambodia thus far. People didn’t seem very happy in Sihanoukville, neither the tourists nor the locals.

The warm smiling faces we had become accustomed to were noticeably lacking. In fact, it didn’t fee like the Cambodia we had come to know at all.

That wraps up the uncomfortable part.

Now for the guilty part.

The beggars in Sihanoukville were prolific. Amputees, disfigured people being wheeled along the beach on a hospital bed, a blind man who sings as his young daughter leads him around the beach-front tables during dinner.

And the thing is, I hate saying no. Despite my rationalizations about the fact that I support a Cambodian NGO that helps young children become educated and hence liberated from the vicious cycle of poverty, and do not want to encourage people to beg for a living, it kills me a little bit to say no to someone who is clearly disadvantaged, in a country where even an advantage doesn’t guarantee much.

And it wasn’t just the beggars.

The guest house we stayed at had a restaurant attached. It was the most officious eating establishment I have ever come across. The young male and female staff wore crisp blue shirts, and completed their ensembles with earpieces and walkie-talkies that they barked orders into, making them seem more CIA than FAB (Food and Beverage).

Plus they were really sweet. Even if they did stare at us while we ate.

On my last night, I went down to the restaurant to pick up my laundry. A young guy working in the restaurant made a comment about my necklace. A diamond may not be your idea of back-packing attire, but Tyrhone gave it to me and I rarely take it off.

His obvious infatuation with it made me feel a little self-conscious, and made very obvious the fact that he and I are not from the same world. I mean, it’s obvious our lives are very different. He is from a developing country battling to recover from war, genocide and political upheaval. I am from a developed, peaceful country. Yeah, I reckon we’d have our differences.

Another staff member began conversation, throwing out the usual questions like “where you from?” and “how long you stay in Cambodia?” before asking me when I return to ‘my country’.

“You have long holiday? One month, or two months? You have very happy time.”

“Yes, one or two months,” I lied. I lied.

Oh no, I don’t have to work right now, I’m just travelling the world indefinitely… I just couldn’t bring myself.

You might think I’m silly, or hyper-sensitive or self-obsessed and you’d be right. I’m all of those things. Perhaps I’m too sensitive to the disparity between myself and other people on this planet.

Perhaps I find it uncomfortable. Perhaps (okay, I’ll stop saying perhaps!) I feel guilty that whilst I’m flouncing around the planet writing a blog for fun and following my bliss, people are struggling to make a living, and if they are, it’s just barely. My life would be inconceivable to them.

I have left behind all the things they are struggling to attain – a job, a house, a prosperous country.

How can I explain the reasons why that wasn’t enough for me?

I changed the subject.

“So how long you work here?” Yes, I even adjusted my speech.

“Three years.”

“You work long shifts don’t you?”

“Yes, thirteen hours, every day. Very hard work. No, not hard work, long work. I not have happy time like you.”

And that was the truth. He is not having a happy time like me. I am very blessed, living very fortunate life. If nothing else, when I’m feeling frustrated or upset, maybe I’ll remember his words and remember that I’m having a very happy time indeed.

********************************

Sihanoukville may have not been my cup of tea, but no experience is ever wasted when travelling. At least I know what I don’t want. I may not know exactly what I want to experience, except to continue to grow and learn and become the person I am destined to be. It sure is turning to out to be an interesting journey, even if I do feel uncomfortable at times.

Leaving Sihanoukville…

Just because I didn’t love Sihanoukville doesn’t mean we didn’t have a good time there. We swam in the cool, clear water, we drove scooters along the coast and sipped sugar cane juice on the waterfront. There were plenty of ‘excursions’ on offer, but their ‘package deal’ style of tourism scared us off, and we didn’t partake in any.

As soon as the bus pulled out of the city, a magnificent landscape presented itself. Small villages, buffalo grazing in fields and before long, the spectacular Cardamom Mountain Range emerged, covered in dense jungle. We arrived in Krong Koh Kong, near the Thai border about four hours later.

It’s a dusty city with not much character to speak of, but it’s surrounding natural beauty is what we came for.

Today we rented motorbikes and drove to Tatai waterfall. We swum in fresh, clear watering holes created by shelves of rock, the water cascading through about four levels before joining the river. It was wonderful. Oh, except when I fell off the back of the moto as we were leaving. The trail leading from the waterfall was quite uneven, and at one point the bike tipped backwards under our weight as we were going uphill.

The funny thing was, seconds before, I said to Tyrhone, “If anything happens, I’ll just hold onto the bike.” I was worried about unbalancing us.

Well, I held onto the bike alright! As Tyrhone tried to manoeuver the bike over a mound in the trail, the front wheel lifted, and I hit the dirt with a thud. The turn around time from tears to laughter was about ten seconds, so that’s a good indication of the seriousness of the incident.

Tomorrow we are off on a two-day jungle trek, with a night at a homestay tomorrow night. We have met some lovely people at our guest house, and will be trekking with a great group of people. Greece, Argentina, France, Holland, South Africa (Tyrhone) and Australia (Marty and I) will be represented, along with our Cambodian guide.

I think it will be a very happy time indeed.

 

Comments

Best Part of Sihanoukville: Leaving — 16 Comments

  1. Sarah, I can’t wait to hear about the jungle trek.

    I worry that I will struggle with the same things you struggled with in your beach town (can’t spell it off the top of my head). The guilty- how to justify what you are able to do vs. what most of the world could never conceive of doing. Why? Why you (or me)? And how do we make something good come out of the gift we’ve been given?

    I despise party towns- I don’t think I would have loved that place much either.

    • Thanks Kim, yeah I think it’s more about acceptance than anything, I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy touristy areas as much as towns that function for local people, with a bit of tourism on top. It’s nice to feel like you’re contributing to the local economy, rather than being the sole reason for its existence. But that’s just me… :)

  2. I second what Kim said. It’s difficult to make sense of the poverty divide and I often have a hard time with it when I am travelling. Well, I say often… I mean always. I too feel guilty, and am terrible at saying no to people selling their wares or begging. I don’t really know how I will ever change that. I hope that by volunteering and just trying to understand different cultures and beliefs, that it will help me feel like I am able to give something back, and maybe help set someone else on course to bring their dreams to fruition, just like we have been able to do. Much love and enjoy the jungle trek, it sounds amazing xxx

    • Thanks Hannah, glad I’m not the only one! I probably let it affect me more than I should, and perhaps in time I’ll learn to accept it more. I hope so anyway!

  3. Very interesting read. I spent a month in Cambodia last year and while Sihanoukille wasn’t my favorite (Kampot was), the beggars and touts didn’t seem as bad to me as other places I’ve been (Agra, India comes to mind).

    • Hi Adam! I really enjoy reading about your travels too!! I loved Kampot too, but as we were only two weeks into our adventure, I was eager to explore and see more. Youre right, but I think I expected it in India, but wasnt prepared for it in Sihanoukville as it was so different from the other places we visited In Cambodia. We are in Koh Kong now and I’m loving it! Thanks for your comment :)

  4. Time to let go of that guilt and unease. I think what you are experiencing might be the start of proper self awareness. You know, the kind that comes from the removal of the self imposed blinkers we wear, when we go on holiday, to stop actually seeing the negative side of tourist areas.
    This is all part of your experience.

  5. Hi Sarah!

    Beautiful blog, I’m excited to have come across it and follow your journey!

    Sorry to hear about a somewhat depressing stay in Sihanoukville! I find that very often those vacation resorts tend to be depressing, but the man asking about your necklace and “good” time sounds like the cherry on top of the pie!

    Have a great jungle trek!

    -Molly

    • Thanks Molly I love your blog too! Learning what we don’t want out of travel is just as important as what we do, so it certainly wasn’t a wasted experience. Nothing in life is really! Thanks for reading :)

  6. Other than beach jogging, swimming and fresh crabs, I agree that Sihanoukville is overtouristed hate to say ugly but the word does come to mind and only a good place to go if you want to party.
    The long work days: Crazy brutal yes, and often even seven days a week. Life is so hard for most of the people in the world. We see it everyday when traveling in affordable countries. I sometimes think: What do these people think of me. To them I must be filthy rich. To me this is the furthest from the truth, but to them, in their eyes, it is true and in a way they’re right.

    • Yes, I guess what I am learning is that I am rich because I have opportunity, whereas so many do not. Making the most of that in a way that enriches the lives of others as well as my own is the challenge, I guess. Thanks for your comments Mike :)

  7. Hi Sarah,

    Missing you! Fun reading about your experiences, the fabulous and the not so. xx

  8. Loving reading about both your external and internal journey Sarah. Don’t forget to be kind and compassionate and accepting to yourself as well as others!

    • Thank you Sally, I will try :) I am already feeling more accepting of myself and others after that experience, even though at the time I found it hard to deal with XXX