Our second day in Phnom Penh was spent at the equally difficult Tuol Sleng prison, where we met one of just seven survivors, Chum Mey. Most of his “inmates” were taken to the nearby killing fields, if they lasted that long.
We therefore used our evenings to drown our sorrows, and sadly after all the stories we’d heard, we felt confined to the hostel. This turned out to be no bad thing – the bar was a lot of fun and we met awesome people. We’ll hold fond memories of the Mad Monkey for a while yet. Them and their “bazuka” shots which were like jagerbombs but with two shot glasses in the big glass! One of cointreau, the other of vodka, you do one shot to let the other fall in and then down the lot. The point of this exercise – as well as getting drunk – was to score points for your country. Unsurprisingly, England were winning 318 to 172 with only two days to go…
We also played an epic game of jenga with an awesome Geordie we’ve become friends with. Ash managed to get thrashed by one of the Cambodian bar staff at foosball. And we never did get round to partaking in beer pong because it was always packed! Ah well, there was always the rounds of bazuka shots…
We did manage to explore the city a little – a walk up to the grand palace via the independence monument gave us a brighter insight to the country than the genocide museums, and I loved seeing monks everywhere, whizzing by in tuk tuks or standing outside the palace saying hello. But we weren’t really feeling the place, and on our third day, it was time to head down to the coast.
Sihanoukville is another place we’d heard bad things about. “Don’t go to Serendipity beach,” everyone would say. “You’ll get mugged or spiked. Go to Otres.”
In our fantastic wisdom, Ash had booked us a great looking hostel which turned out to be the best part of 3 miles out of town – and not in the direction of Otres. We were up on Victory Hill, and as it turns out, it didn’t matter one bit for us. We needed some downtime after almost 5 weeks of solid travel.
Our hostel was perfect for this – not the most amazing rooms we’ve seen, and some ARSEHOLE kept literally stealing the air con remote, but it had a swimming pool! It had cheap drinks! It had good, cheap food! And it was £3 a night each. (comparatively we saw dorm beds for $14 down by Serendipity)
We had 3 nights here, and it was just what we needed. Our area was full of expats and the restaurants that go with the community, the closest beach wasn’t great, and one day we (I…) decided to walk into town so we could at least have a day on the main beach. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to get to Otres after all, but you know what? We loved Serendipity.
Maybe it’s because it was just getting into low season, but the beach wasn’t at all crowded and we were approached maybe twice by vendors, for fruit and massages. Even the bracelet kids who I’d heard so much about were nowhere to be seen – I saw one in a bar we stopped in, but that was it.
I swam in the sea, wrote in my journal, and we chilled in this bar for hours when we noticed a sign up asking for Western staff. We got chatting to a girl from Jersey (funnily enough we met another Jersey girl in Saigon and then saw her again in Phnom Penh!) who had signed up to work for two weeks, and nine months later, here she still was!
If we hadn’t got plans to be in Bangkok for Songkran, we would have absolutely done it. We are still thinking of going back one day – if that bar isn’t looking, twenty more are. It seems like a great thing to do, and their job entails pouring drinks for people, and standing around encouraging people to play beer pong. Any time off, you’re on a beautiful beach with free drinks.
And ignore all the rumours, she said. She’s had no problems on the beach. Or maybe she’s just lucky.
So that was our time in Sihanoukville. Catching up with ourselves by the pool and the beach, and making plans for “next time we come back”.