Posts Tagged ‘Cambodia’

Squeaky sand and sexpats

Friday, February 17th, 2017
Golden Lions roundabout

Golden Lions roundabout

I originally wrote this in June 2013 but didn’t get round to posting it; I can’t remember why not.


Leaving Gili Trawangan my plan was to spend a few days sampling the diving in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Afterwards I’ll have a few days in Phnom Penh before moving on to the Philippines to try the diving there.

The diving at Sihanoukville gets very mixed reviews; some people rave about it, others slate it, still others rate it as mediocre. Sihanoukville is a port town undergoing a phenomenal amount of development. In addition to the port there are a number of beach areas, numerous casinos, a “downtown”/city centre area and about half a dozen dive shops.

There is no diving at Sihanoukville itself, most of it takes place around the nearby islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. Day trip dive excursions leave from the pier at the bottom of beach road or from a pier at the port. Most of the shops use converted fishing boats which take about two and a half hours each way to the islands. The boats leave around 8:00 in the morning, some provide a breakfast onboard. There are a dozen or so dive sites around the islands, the dive shops choose which to use on the day depending on conditions and experience of the divers. They offer snorkelling too for those who want it. After the morning dive they generally provide lunch onboard during the surface interval, then a second dive in the afternoon and then the long slog back to Sihanoukville. Accommodation is available on both islands for those who want it. Koh Rong is the busier, more developed island. Koh Rong Samloem is the more sleepy, less developed option.

The dive shops are spaced out along the road from the (in)famous Golden Lions roundabout down to the pier at the north end of Serendipity beach. Prices are pretty similar, both PADI and SSI are represented for anyone wanting to acquire a qualification. None struck me as being obviously better than the others and I opted for Scuba Nation, the closest to the pier. I did a two dive day trip and rate the diving as mediocre. The water was warm enough, about 28C, but quite turbid with about 5-8m visibility on shallow dives, both less than 12m deep.  The corals and fish were unspectacular, not as good as at Tioman or anywhere on Koh Tao. We saw lots of polka dot nudibranchs, a rather large scorpion fish and a selection of the “usual suspects”. Two dives were enough, I didn’t feel the need to do any more. They told me the diving is a lot better around the more distant Koh Prins and Koh Tang islands which they offer as a “liveaboard” whenever there is enough demand.

Sihanoukville is blessed with many long sandy beaches which from a distance look quite appealing. Up close they’re not very clean and are lined with beach shacks selling cheap beer and food. Walking along Serendipity beach the two things which struck me most are the way the sand squeaks underfoot and the large number of sexpats sat swilling beer and slobbering over their rent-a-girlfriend(s). My RTW travel companion, Hannah, would have shuddered at the sight and probably had a disapproving word or two to say about them.


Leaving Cambodia again

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

The time finally came to say goodbye to Happy Guesthouse, Siem Reap and Cambodia. I had stayed an extra three weeks in Cambodia and it was time to scoot on down to Koh Tao for some diving before my flight to China. Even after I’d decided it was time to move on I hung around for an extra couple of days because it was just so easy to do so.

Friends came and went at Happy Guesthouse. They had some long term visitors who were working in schools or women’s refuges or orphanages and a steady turnover of travellers staying just a few nights. There were always friends to say goodbye to, and new friends to say hello to. Chinese Stella who lives in Singapore left a few days before me, headed for Bangkok. Canadians Bobbie and Tracy were going to Bangkok a few days later and I still had a day on my Angkor Wat pass so I stayed and caught the bus with them. We met Stella again at We Bangkok, a hostel recommended to us by Todd, another friend travelling the other direction a week or so earlier.

Travelling from Siem Reap to Bangkok was the usual hurry-up-and-wait bus journey. The Thai side of the border at Poi Pet is renowned for scams targeted at travellers from Thailand to Cambodia. Going from Cambodia to Thailand was a simple and scam-free procedure, although a few more signs would have been helpful. The only downer was changing from a nice comfortable air conditioned coach in Cambodia to a beat up old transit van in Thailand.

I had a really nice, laid back time in Cambodia. Except for the lack of tango I could easily go back there to live. Maybe next April I will but there’s a lot to see and do before then.

Goodbye Laos

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Pakse had one redeeming feature: a Vietnamese embassy which turned out visas in about fifteen minutes. The official even let Hannah off the passport photo requirement for her visa. There was nothing else to recommend the town so we left after one night for a couple of days of downtime in 4000 islands.
We bought bus tickets from our hotel for Pakse to Don Dhet and Don Dhet to Siem Reap. For the Laos to Cambodia leg we were expecting to have to change bus at Kompong Cham but the hotel manager claimed we would change at the border and have one bus all the way through from there to Siem Reap.
We’d read and heard mixed reports about Don Dhet and Don Khong in 4000 islands. We found Don Dhet offered basic accommodation, simple day trips, unexciting food, mind-numbingly slow service (and always with a scowl). There wasn’t much to do except drink and laze around. We notched up quite a lot of hammock time. I hired a bicycle for 10,000 kip (about 80 pence)  for a day and took an hour to cycle all round the island. They wanted 20,000 kip to cross the bridge to Don Khong which is just more of the same plus a waterfall (pay extra to see it) and maybe some dolphins (pay extra to see them). Laos has more scams than anywhere else I’ve been and 4000 islands has the greatest concentration of all. Hiring a kayak and paddling round the island (50,000 kip per kayak per day) seemed too much like hard work, but it was nice to have a swim in the Mekong.
Peaceful it wasn’t. We stayed at Mr. B’s sunset guest house, right next door to a small collection of locals’ houses. They were having a funeral the day we arrived and their PA system started delivering rather loud monk-type chanting and bloody awful music soon after we arrived. It got louder as the day went on and continued until 05:00 the next morning. It resumed at 07:00 and continued until about 15:00. If we hadn’t paid for three nights upfront we would have moved as there were plenty of other places with empty rooms. We met up with Mark and Stacy again on the second day when they arrived from Vientiane and stayed at our guest house.
After 3 nights it was time to move on; another day of sitting around waiting for buses and sitting on buses. For added excitement we had the border crossing into Cambodia. Being a Sunday the visa cost US$29 instead of US$23 – more bribes and “overtime” payments than on a weekday. Transport for the day started with the 08:00 boat from the island (extra 15,000 kip please) and an oversized tuk-tuk to the main road and the waiting “VIP” bus. The “VIP” bus had a temperamental engine and mostly non-functional air conditioning. We went off-road in it several times where the road or bridges were being upgraded. We had the same one all the way to Kompong Cham where we did indeed have to change bus. Those going to Phnom Penh stayed onboard. It broke down or the driver just pulled over and tinkered with the engine four times. At Kompong Cham those of us bound for Siem Reap transferred to a minibus for the last four hours of  the journey. We arrived at the bus station at 22:15 where there was a tuk-tuk sent by the guesthouse waiting for us.
So that’s Laos done. The northen part of the country, the slow boat down the Mekong, and Luang Prabang were really nice. The rest of it didn’t leave such a good impression. The people were generally miserable, unfriendly and unhelpful and always ready to scam you any way they could. However the countryside was really beautiful and I think if you were touring on a motorbike you could have a fabulous time.

The people (actually the adults) were generally miserable, unfriendly and unhelpful and always ready to scam you any way they could.