Sihanoukville or is it Shagaluff?

Welcome to Cambodia, first stop Sihanoukville. My first impression was one of a over-bearing party-town, why then did I end up staying there for a week? What is the draw?

First stop, a hell-hole of a hostel

When we arrived the bus dropped us off at the terminal on the outskirts of the city and the Tuk Tuk’s were there in force to take us down the beach. It was only $2 each, but we stopped here purely to spread the wealth. Oh, sod it, here’s $2, to the hostel James!

Ah, the desired hostel is full. The entire town is  filling fast and you have to act quickly to get a room. We took the first place on offer for $3 – a dorm bed with 23 other people. A meal on the beach ($3 for a delicious Tuna steak and baked potato), a couple of beers and an early night. Or at least, an attempt at an early night.

The hostel we stayed in has free accommodation in rainy season, plays music loudly until 5am, the air-con is “broken”, the room is like a sauna, the fans don’t work or are switched off, people run in and out all night shouting from the bar… It was a terrible, sweaty sleepless night. To further cement my hatred of this hell-hole I’d dropped some laundry off and when I went back to collect it, it hadn’t been washed – the owners response was “we said 3pm, not 3pm today”. He didn’t make it onto my Christmas card list.

Later I found out people have DIED in the hostel (admittedly through alcohol abuse and late night pool action) but come-on. Is there a worse hostel anywhere?!?

The next day I moved to Monkey Republic and all was right with the world. A small 4 bed dorm, comfortable mattresses, a nice cool breeze (to the point I was cold at night), a private toilet and good music which shuts off at 1am… Ah, bliss.

So… Sihanoukville then

There isn’t much to do here. You get up, go to the beach and then drink in the evening. There is a boat tour to the islands for $25 (which I didn’t go on although wish I had) and various booze cruises. It’s mostly about the drinking and we all know where that leads… Lots and lots of people having sex. People seem to be on heat and the bars at night are full of men chasing women and women chasing men. It’s all extraordinarily open and unlike anything I’ve seen before.

It’s fun to watch though. You get to see the rejections and the acceptance kisses. You get to see those rejected start to chase someone else. You get to see the guys looking around to see if there is a better alternative to the predatory lady which has walked up to them and the others stalking each other. You get to see those who don’t care and dismiss attention.  You get to see the overly confident jocks and the under-confident people standing alone. They are all here. They are all after one thing and it all happens in the dorm rooms, the pools, the beach, the side street, the toilets, the sea, the pier…

The beach

Whenever I read the words “The Beach” I think of the novel by Alex Garland. Sihanoukville beach is the exact opposite of the idyllic paradise described in the book. It is a little strip of dirty sand with loungers and seats lining the none tidal part. The sea is luke warm and pleasant enough but go to far and you’re at risk of been hit by the jet-ski’s or speed boats which come way too close to the shore. Sit on the seats for a minute and you’ll start to be pestered. The beggars, the fruit sellers, the masseuses, the bracelet makers, the pick-pockets the hair removal people…

Ah yes, the hair removal people. The slightly amusing but ultimately rude hair removal people. They offer to shave anything that is vaguely hairy using small pieces of string to pluck out the hairs. It’s effective, but not really the sort of thing I want to have done on the beach. One seller in particular disagreed though, she thought I should have my back shaved. She was insistent and for $10 would clean my back entirely. She used all her sales techniques from calling me King Kong, pointing out I looked like a Gorilla and even going so far as shaving my left shoulder. I didn’t want it done so pretended it really hurt which earned more derision from her until eventually she eventually stopped. The others were messing themselves with laughter as he continued her insulting ways and I’m just sitting there saying “no” repeatedly.

My shoulder was really smooth though.

Back to the sand strip, aka the beach. Move along past the Western area and you’ll find the locals and the filth. Piles of rubbish lie along side rotting food alongside people eating. Electric wires hang low over the walkways and everyone is crammed on top of each other on little stools under protective roofs. It’s messy and just plain nasty. Keep going past the stalls and you come to a more open beach which is strewn with rubbish. It’s everywhere and not particularly nice. Keep going and you come across more locals digging away in the sand collecting pebbles. I’ve no idea why, but they are all doing it.

Don’t go to Sihanoukville just for the beach *.

* I’m told that Otres beach is much nicer and worth the visit, but I didn’t make it for various reasons.

So, thats a lot of bad things, what was the draw that kept here for a week?

This whole post I’ve been talking that I didn’t like the place and I appreciate it’s odd I stayed for sevens days when I didn’t like the place. Thats not the entire story, I did like Sihanoukville and I was a little reluctant to leave as I’d settled into a nice routine. It’s relatively cheap at $3 a dorm and ~$3 a meal. The entertainment factor is high watching and chatting to people (see my anecdotes post for some stories).

However, none of these are the reason I stayed. I had a bad stomach and was forced to stay near a toilet and couldn’t stomach (literally) a bus journey for a few days. Not a particularly great reason eh Winking smile

Click here to load a map showing you the location of this post and images from the digitallery taken nearby.