I don’t know what it is; perhaps being born seaside plants some primal desire for salt water and the smell of the sea. Life in Phnom Penh was good but being landlocked too long makes you stir crazy. Ignoring a number of warnings from fellow travelers it was time to escape the confines of the city for Cambodia’s premiere seaside resort, Sihanoukville.
Five hours on the bus and we arrived at the home of the humping lions (a pair of golden statues sit atop the hill near Occheuteal Beach). It is an appropriate emblem for what is, well and truly, a backpacker town.
There are guesthouses everywhere, loads of western restaurants, beach bars, night clubs and casinos. Accompanying all this is the obligatory horde of hustlers and hawkers chasing the tourist buck. Old women selling squid skewers, kids hawking beads and bracelets or hustling at the pool tables, Tuk Tuk drivers demanding exorbitant fares then taking you to the guesthouse they will get a commission from irrespective of where you had asked them to take you.
People often say, “It’s a small world” and it is, especially when you get out of a Tuk Tuk in south-western Cambodia and run into three dudes you went to school with in South Gippsland more than a decade earlier. Jock, Jarv and Benny Dennis’s South East Asian Odyssey had taken them from the Phillip Island Penguin Parade to the shores of Sihanoukville. Our seaside escape had taken us from our one-bedroom apartment in central Phnom Penh to the very same shores. We all happened to walk down the Serendipity Beach Road at about 12:37pm.
While running into somebody you know whilst traveling isn’t all that surprising (considering you meet a lot of people through the course of your life and people do travel a lot) it doesn’t mean that it isn’t cause for a beer (or twenty seven). We had a bit of chat and made a 6pm appointment at the Dolphin Bar.
Amy and I spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering in and out of the beach shacks of Occheuteal Beach. The beach runs about two kilometers from Serendipity Beach, which is lined with bars and restaurants, along to Otres Beach, which is largely undeveloped as yet. Some of the shacks have built so close to the tideline that they have to sandbag to maintain the minuscule strip of sand in front. Being the end of the wet season (the off-season) the town was pretty quiet but it was still good to be back ocean side.
We kept our 6pm appointment with the boys and the night turned-out as expected, we ate, drank a power of piss and talked a load of shit. I made it back to the hotel around 5am, incoherently merry.
The following day Amy and I wandered around the headland to Sokha Beach, a private stretch of of immaculately manicured sand. To use it you have to pay a fee (unless you are guest of the Sokha Resort hotel) so it was quiet and free of hawkers, the perfect place to nurse myself through a well deserved hangover.
The plan, hatched in a drunken stupor at 4am, was to to catch up with the boys again that night. But come 6pm, everybody was still pretty dusty from the previous nights shanagains so we rescheduled that meeting to Phnom Penh later in the week. Instead, Amy and I enjoyed the last night of our weekend retreat over a couple of quiet ones at the hotel.
We hopped the bus back to Phnom Penh the following day, better for some salt water therapy and our serendipitous encounter.