Stuckville in Sihanoukville
Stuckville in Sihanoukville
The little known beach town of Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s is one of those places that can be pretty much whatever you want it to be. The fact that the long-term travel fatigue was starting to set in, and that I’d also found a place that gelled with me, just meant I was even more reluctant to leave. I met a great deal of long-term expats here, and they’d all dubbed the place Stuckville. Apparently the feeling is mutual.
As this was my first coastal stop in Asia, my main order of business was getting my open water diving certification with PADI (Professional association of Diving instructors) – which is pretty much a bargain anywhere in SE Asia. After getting a private guesthouse called GBT, right on the main serendipity beach for $10 a night (including air con), I wandered 2 minutes up the main road into the first decent looking dive school, was taken through the syllabus and set everything in motion. All up it cost about $350 including the written theory tests, practice pool dives, and 4 open water dives on an overnight boat – since we’d be going 5 hours offshore to the uninhabited island of Koh Tang. That took care of 4 days there, and the whole thing was pretty easy. Even more so since I was the only student for the pool and open water dives, which meant I had one-on-one attention from my instructor – Fabio, an exceptionally chilled out, aging, David Le Roth look alike from France. The only remotely intimidating thing (for the first time) I had to do was taking off and replacing my mask 12 meters under the water.
Overall though, there wasn’t much to write home about in the water itself. I remain more impressed with the underwater world that I saw just snorkeling in the Cook Islands and Vanuatu. But I’m glad I’ve got it under my belt so I’ll be right and ready for Bali and the surrounding islands there, which by all accounts are far superior.
So that was that taken care of, but for me the other priority was having fun and relaxing around Sihanoukville itself. The tourist hub of the town is centred on Serendipity beach. It’s not a particularly nice beach; the waster is murky and it’s crawling with hawkers and panhandlers. But it is full of great seafood BBQ outlets, interspaced with beach bars that are in such fierce competition with each other, the undercutting goes to extremes. The main ones, Dolphin Shack, JJ’s and Serendip, will offer you a free shot just for walking past, as well as offering you an additional free drink inside between certain hours. And that’s not to mention the late night happy hours, featuring 25-cent beers and $1 buckets of rum and coke. Play your cards right, and you could get blind drunk here for less than $5. The funniest thing about these places is the fact that half the patrons are the staff themselves – young western backpackers. It’s unpaid, but they get drinks and board in a dorm covered. In exchange they hand out flyers, encourage people to come inside, and generally give the impression that a venue is bouncing.
Some of these people have definitely been here way to long. As have some of the regular patrons. It seems like the longer you’re in Sihanoukville the dodgier and more depraved you become. One group of 4 guys I met – 3 Danish and one Australian – had been there for over a year and rented themselves a mansion, for which they were paying a paltry $US700 a month between them. They were all drug dealers and invited me over for pre-drinks one time. The place was indeed a mansion, but it was also one of the filthiest places I’d ever set foot in. It had quite clearly never ever been cleaned and almost everything was broken. Bags of weed and casual line remnants of MDMA what were strewn around the place casually. I half expected to see a corpse in the bathroom. I’m half-awaiting their cameo on Banged Up Abroad.
My last night in town I was striked it up well with what was probably the hottest girl on the beach, a Russian stunner. We hung out round her place for a bit and after a bit, found out she was an off duty prostitute. She said she was too tired from ‘work’ to do ‘much’ with me tonight, but she did offer me a few other freebies. I’ll just leave that there. She was probably the only ‘working girl’ in town though. The rest of the beach bars are teeming with local hookers, though telling which ones are girls and which ones are lady boy’s is anyone’s guess. It didn’t seem to matter either way to the hoards of elderly western sex tourists getting their sleaze on with them there. The sight of a fat, balding 60-year-old man with a Cambodian hooker/lady boy appearing to be no more than 14 years old is certainly one of the filthiest perennial sights from Serendipity beach. Fortunately you can easily get away from this.
The town’s best beach, Oltres – is a little out from the main center – but definitely worth checking out. The sand is whiter, the water is cleaner and clearer, and the hawkers are few and far between. In a way, it acts as a teaser for Koh Rong, the main island just off the coast of the town. If you’re really looking to chill out and get away from it – this is the place to ferry over too. The inhabited area of the island consists of a 5 minute walk stretch of bars/guest houses and restaurants – or some combination of all the above. The rest of the island is incredibly untouched and the beaches are the best and unspoiled in Cambodia. Long beach takes an hour to walk too from the main town area but it’s worth the effort. Compared with Sihanoukville, evenings on the beach here are very relaxed; most people lounge around the beach with a quiet beer or joint (acceptable here), the night sky looks amazing and if you venture out into the water, you might even disturb some self phosphorescent plankton to put on an astounding light show. My only complaint about the place was the excess of fucking hippies, that and the sporadic availability of running water and electricity – not to mention Internet.
That all being said, I felt like I could have bounced between here and Sihanoukville for much longer than the 9 days I was there in total. It was only my nagging conscious telling me I should be seeing more of Asia than just one tiny corner of it, that forced me to move on.