After having a jol in Siem Reap, Salomie and I decided to head on down to Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s seaside ‘resort’ city. Having given it a mild google, I’d gathered that Serendipity Beach was the most popular area with tourists like me (those keen to party and relax) so I bought our flights FOR THE WRONG FREAKING MONTH!
Oh! My! Fucking! God!
Kids, this is what happens when you do admin-y stuff late at night after a long boozy dinner. So don’t be like auntie Leigh (who, after absorbing far too many margaritas, also had to absorb the entire non-refundable expensive cos it was the right thing to do) and only use your credit card when you’re not ‘impaired’.
We discovered my mistake when we got to the airport and the check in peeps couldn’t find us which left us with two options. Hang out in Siem Reap until a cheaper fly date came around or bite the bullet and buy a ridiculously expensive flight on J C Airways for R2000. We opted for the latter so next time you see me and I’m in Checkers digging through the almost expired food aisle for a half price lasagna don’t you daaaare be casting your judgey biets face eyes on me, okay? Also, who am I kidding. I’m always buying (and freezing) about to expire lasagne.
Anyhoo. Prior to leaving, I’d chatted with Siem Reap tuk tuk drivers who, upon hearing we were off to ‘Snooky’ (that’s experienced traveler for Sihanoukville), kind of shook their heads and gave me a bit of an ‘ag, shem’. The general consensus was that Snooky was now a shit hole over run by the Chinese who were buying huge chunks of land to bulldozer into a Chinatown meets Las Vegas by the sea. I wasn’t too put off, however, because I got the impression that Cambodians really dislike the Chinese and would find the presence of just two of them to be ‘too much’. (Apologies Kitty Chen! I know you’ll read this. But take comfort in the fact that I love you.)
Anyway, as it turns out, they were right. Serendipity Beach is a complete shit hole and while our hotel, Beach Club Resort, wasn’t exactly awful, it was old and dated and really didn’t look much like the piccies. Thankfully we’d only paid R366 for the room (not per person) per night, but it was annoying because I’ve paid a lot less elsewhere and enjoyed a far nicer room. The real poohness, however, was its location. They really weren’t joking about the casinos. There’s literally one on every corner with more popping up every minute so the whole place feels like a dirty building site.
Naturally, I was thrilled to once again experience the same ish I had at my first hotel in Siem Reap. The lot right next to our hotel was a construction site. Arrrgh! Work would start at the ass crack of dawn and things would get so loud and crazy that, at one point, it shook our entire room. (You have nooo idea how scary that was. My first thought was tsunami – so much so that I stuck my head out the window expecting blerrie birds to start falling from the sky before the wave came.)
What really should be swept away, however, is the area’s bucket loads of trash. I’ve travelled all around SEA and never seen an area as dense with dirt as ‘Seren-dirty’ Beach.
Speaking of, the actual beach itself wasn’t very mooi and the strip of restaurants facing it were deserted to the point where I wondered if some where completely abandoned. Still, in all fairness, it’s now officially low season and the weather was overcast.
After marveling at the blahness, we ended up at eating at a little spot called Khin’s Shack. The food was good and I couldn’t believe the scallops were only $2 (R25) but we couldn’t really enjoy our meal due to a fly attack. (The waiter looked super embarrassed in a way that made me want to hug him explained that it was ‘mango season’ so sometimes flies where a problem so, again, it would be unfair not to mention that. We had other outdoor meals and weren’t bothered by bugs.)
Later, Salomie and I popped into a casino and the vibe was weiiiirrrd, yo! We were the only two westerners and, aside from the waitresses, the only women in a sea of middle-aged Asian men. Almost all of them were smoking and the majority of them were high rollers and had been given free watermelon because of it. It was like old dudes… ashtrays… mountains of cash… and mother fuckin’ watermelon as far as the eye could see! We only stayed long enough for Salomie to win $4 (R50 – oh baby, baby!) on an automated roulette table.
That night we lay in bed, squealing with the delicious awfulness of it all, going ‘what the fuckedy fuck fuck?’ The posts and pieces I’d read online about Serendipity Beach weren’t that old where they? Or was Snooky’s shift to shitness happening at the speed of light?
The only ‘nice’ thing we found there was a restaurant a stone’s throw from our hotel called Titanic. Despite being surrounded by a dead zone two seconds from being trampled by zombies, it was pumping! (The clientele included smoking, (shirtless!) Asian high rollers, Russian women in their late 40s and leathery, old white guys. The kind of dudes who went backpacking in their youth and just never came home. Still, once I tasted Titanic’s INCREDIBLE chicken cordon bleu FOR JUST $3,50 (R44) – OMG! – I totally got it. The service was fabulous too – enough for me not to care that the power went off but soon recovered FIVE times.
Our bill came to $8,25 and I left the waiter a $10 note (R125), telling him to keep the change and he looked so happy and surprised I thought he was going to cry which made me want to burst into tears too.
If my experience here had been a bad one I’d probably be all ‘fuck this third world shit hole!’ but because I was eating something incredibly yummy and being treated so nicely I was all ‘ah, the charm of crazy Cambodia’, so I think it’s important to remember that when you read any travel write-up including my own. Everything’s subjective but I do my best to be fair.
The next day, after booking a bus ticket the hell out (our next destination would be Kampot – more on that in another post) we decided to grab a $5 (R63) tuk tuk to Otres Beach (about 5kms away from Serendipity) and this was much, MUCH better. The beach was cleaner, the area was more populated and it had a vibe. Behind the beach strip, the ‘road’ was a dirt one, but it was dotted with palm trees and fairly busy hostels, bars and restaurants which gave it some charm.
After a dip in the crazily warm sea (the warmest I’ve ever felt and biets has been arrrround), we stationed ourselves on a lounger at a popular bar and restaurant called Papa Pippo where the service was friendly and the drinks and food, while not ‘cheap’ due to the location, were still affordable. It was also free of flies! The only downer was the number of hawkers, offering everything from sunglasses to beauty services, who don’t really leave you alone. On the plus side, one of them threaded Salomie’s legs for $10 (R125) and did a really good job.
Oooh! And when I sat on my lounger I could tell there was a dog under it but I didn’t care. It was in the spot I wanted. We lay there for aaaages and when we finally left I was surprised to discover the dog was still under me because I’d forgotten all about him. I gave him a bit of a poke and dude DID NOT MOVE and we totally thought he was dead and screamed and screamed and screamed (because of course this would be something that would toootally happen on this semi-tragic beach break ‘It happened to me: I caught a tan on a dead doggie!’) but it turns out he was totes alive but far too lazy to even flinch.
After all that, we should have caught a taxi but embarked on a hideously sweaty 15 minute walk, powered on by beer, Bloody Mary’s and impending sunstroke, to Mom’s House, a little restaurant we’d read good things about online. As it turns out, it’s fab rep is well deserved thanks to great service and delicious pocket-friendly food. I can’t remember the price of Salomie’s green curry, only that she loved it and hoovered it down with bits of super garlicky naan while my red snapper ($5/R62) is still one of the best fish dishes I’ve eaten during my entire trip. (And I’ve eaten a lot!)
That evening we lay in bed not exactly regretting that we’d booked a quick exit via bus but decided that if we’d stayed in Otres and hadn’t seen the poohness that was Serendipity we might’ve lingered a little longer. But it’s important you know that Otres isn’t a patch on the epicness that is just about any beach in Thailand. So if you have to choose between either or, please know there’s never a competition.
P.S. If you decide to visit Cambodia as part of a ‘bigger’ trip to the east, I’d give Snooky a skip and enjoy the beach in Thailand. BUT you don’t want to miss nearby Kampot, a cutesy little city right outside the pepper farms which are fabulous. Kampot is also a quick taxi ride away from Kep, a super scenic beach town.
So, my advice is to merely use Snooky as an air portal that allows you to bus to Kampot then get to Kep. If you do linger in (in Snooky), stay in Otres using Papa Pippo as your landmark for accommodation. Anything a stone’s throw from there will put you in ‘a good area’. Alternatively, fly from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and take a quick three hour mini bus to Kampot. All travel by road is cheap cheap.
P.S.S. Why are you still taking travel advice from me at this point? Isn’t it quite clear I am every inch the idiot abroad?