In which the terrible, terrible waves, sink a boat.
Starring bare chested fire jugglers.
To get across the border from Laos to Cambodia you have to go through a quarantine check. This involves walking over to a small stand in the mud at which an official holds up some kind of laser against your head and then give you a nice little certificate saying you have no quarantinable diseases. Reassuring.
The bus was once again highly entertaining as it was filled up first with the western tourists (including the shy American and everyone I had met in Pakse and on the islands) and then the Cambodians are squeezed in next sitting all down the aisles on little plastic chairs for the whole 8 hour journey. We had several breakdowns which required the spare driver to get under the bus and eventually into the engine via a hatch near my seat.
The Cambodian woman sitting next to me was repeatedly sick into a little plastic bag which she tied up neatly and put into the pocket in the seat in front before offering me some of her lunch.
I shared a tuk tuk from the bus station in Sihanoukville to my hotel (it was time for some aircon/pool luxury) with a Swiss guy who had been living in Thailand for a number of years but now, due to the bureaucratic horrors of renewing his tourist visa was seeking somewhere new to live. Without batting an eyelid he asked out loud whether I thought the Cambodian women would be more attractive and less expensive than the Thai women. I decided to treat his enquiry as a rhetorical question.
Unfortunately he was fairly indicative of a lot of the tourists knocking about in the low season. Well them and the tattooed, dreadlocked never-leavers. Me and my kindle full of classic literature fitted right in (I know this grammatically incorrect you pedants but it sounds better!).
The beach is a beautiful but rather desperate place where you are accosted from the minute you sit down by tiny bedraggled looking children pedalling bracelets, women with trays of king prawns and amputees who drag themselves up and down the sand. If you’re not watching out before you know it someone will be stroking your legs or feet and commenting on their relative hairiness/dryness and immediate need for attention. Quote of the week: "You want to buy baby?" "No, not really, but thanks anyway." All rather depressing.
On the second night I bumped into the shy American and his new extroverted Australian mate and we set off for a full moon party at JJ’s bar where we tucked into whiskey buckets (sawn off coke bottle full of Mekong whiskey and sprite) while bare chested Cambodian men twirled fire batons a little too close for comfort. We were soon joined by a trail of prostitutes who I doled my bag of fruit out to before departing.
The big thing to do in Sihanoukville is a trip out to the offshore islands to go snorkelling. I got talked into the slightly upgraded version by the promise of cake. On the morning of the tour it was pouring with rain but I waited patiently at the hotel and eventually a German guy turned up on a motorbike to say that unfortunately we would not be able to go because of the terrible weather.
“Oh really,” I said, “I don’t mind the rain.”
“No,” he explained, “it’s the waves, they are really bad.”
“Goodness,” I said.
“Yes,” he replied perhaps sensing my skepticism, “a boat sink.”
“Oh my,” I said. “Where?”. He muttered some unrepeatable place.
Having collected my refund, I rushed down to the beach to see these terrible waves that were causing such awful disasters all across Cambodia:
By 9:15 the rain had abated and I got on a motorbike to another very nice beach out of town with a lot less manicurists and massage therapists.