Tuesday, July 25, 2017
July 24 – Sihanoukville
Our hotel was owned by a couple of French guys, or at least we assumed they were the owners as they were hanging around the restaurant and bar all the time, smoking and drinking, so we thought it would be a good bet for food. We saddled up for a breakfast that could only be described as...sad. The American breakfast consisted of two small pieces of white bread toasted just enough to hide their stale nature, a couple of pale fried eggs and one piece of greyish, fatty bacon. It was startling to a stomach used to full spread Asian breakfast buffets, but we made the most of it and, besides, lunch is never too far away.
We decided to stay one more night in Otres so we had three jobs to do today: get a load of laundry done, get our Vietnamese visa from the consulate in Sihanoukville (which we learned is sometimes referred to as “Snooky”), and find a place to stay for our final night. One of the tour vendors had a sign out front advertising laundry service for a buck a kilo so we dropped off 7.5 kilos of very used backpacker clothes and then started negotiating with a tuk-tuk man for a ride to Snooky. This was a strange sort of vehicle as it looked like a small pickup but with tuk-tuk like seating in the back, and it was meant for six but we were pretty sure it could fit eight close friends. We weren’t even sure what to call it, but as soon as Magnus stepped outside, he said excitedly, “All right! A truck-tuk!”
We bounced, swerved and jerked our way to Snooky, which was about 10 kilometres away. As we approached we got into the familiar dirty, gritty tangle of roads packed with motorcycles and scooters and lined by small commercial businesses such as welders, machine shops and mechanics. We dropped the Henriques on the main street near the beach area and continued onto the Vietnamese consulate. We arrived there, went in, and were the only ones there so filled out the minor paperwork, handed over US$160 and were told to return at 4:30. That was quite the deal, considering that the Vietnamese embassy in Ottawa was going to charge north of $500 for processing the exact same one-month, single entry visa.
The truck-tuk took us back downtown and dropped us off in the middle of Crazyville. I immediately disliked this place. It smelled bad, looked ugly and felt just…gross, somehow. We walked down the hill to the beach where there was a large ferry terminal with boats coming and going from and to the many nearby islands. It was called “Serendipity Beach” and looked quite nice at first glance, and stretched for at least a mile to the south, so we started on a beach walk. But we soon discovered that there was an uninterrupted row of scummy bars running the whole stretch of the beach, and thousands of worn out and puked-on beach chairs. There was a shabby boardwalk and signs everywhere advertising beer and food specials. Garbage littered the entire area and it stunk. I nearly stepped on a broken bottle in the sand.
Have you ever heard of somebody described as “Nice from afar, but far from nice”? It is often used to refer to a woman your drunken buddy picked up in the bar the night before against everybody’s advice, and then the next morning crawls out of the basement like a swamp monster and everyone just gets out of the way and lets her slither out the door. The lyrical genius Willie Nelson would say, “Last night I came in at 2 with a 10 but at 10 woke up with a 2. Well that’s Serendipity Beach, and it’s a damn shame they used up that lovely name on this mess, because it’s far from a serendipitous discovery. She was a morning hag. Cheap, with smeared makeup. A complexion resembling potted, mucky Cambodian roads. Flammable breath, born of tequila and cheap smokes. A gargled razor blade voice that croaked out obscenities and demands for instant coffee. A hill donkey, ridden hard and put away wet. I’m sure you get the picture.
We ran into the Henriques, who were also exploring the worn-out beach, and we played a game of foot birdie with the awesome Cambodian hacky sack Magnus bought in Phnom Penh. It was difficult as hell and I don’t think we achieved any more than four or five consecutive hits. As we played, Angela was mobbed by vendors, and before she knew what was happening she was propped up on a beach chair having both legs threaded; by which I mean two retail beach gypsies muckled onto her legs and were using their fingers and a piece of thread to yank stubble out, one excruciating strand at a time. The whole thing looked horrifying and painful. Tony too fell victim, but he was just getting a leg massage, although the entire time she was kneading his calves, she was also trying to recruit us and passers-by for our own massages. Sensing more sales, a whole crowd of beach gypsies began to scrum around, some carrying backpacker bracelets, some grilled octopus, some inflatable toys, and God knows what else. The whole gang wisely bolted, but I stayed behind to offer some moral support, and possibly physical support too if it came down to that. Fortunately, the beach gypsies finished up, returned Angela and Tony’s legs, and we exited stage left, dodging the beggars, vendors, and broken bottles on our way out.
We tuk-tuk’d it back to Otres at top speed, not looking back, and after we arrived Ana and I went for a walk down the street to find a new hotel for our final night. We stopped at a tour centre that was in front of a hotel to check on bus tickets to Ho Chi Min City. the centre was being run by a French/Croatian girl who lived in Singapore but worked in Otres. Everybody you meet in this part of the world has a story, and I’m sure she had a great one, but didn’t get down to the nitty gritty; instead we just had her book bus tickets for us and then show us to the lobby of the hotel, called Otres Lodge. There, one of the Cambodian staff showed us a family room bungalow, which we immediately liked, so we booked it and then stopped at the bar for an ice-cold beer, and there we met the managers Joey and Meegan and their beautiful little one-year old girl baby Mia. Within ten minutes we knew their story and had been invited to Joey’s birthday party the following night, which we happily accepted. Joey also recommended a place for lunch – Mushroom Point, which we took him up on.
We gathered the troops (except Tony, who had gone for his own Russian massage) and walked down the beach to Mushroom Point for our final lunch on our final day and got seated. If there was a more perfect beach setting in the world, I couldn’t imagine it – eight comfy beach loungers, the crashing surf steps away, the shade of tall, swaying palm trees, and cold beers at the ready. Ana kicked off the conversation by asking what everybody missed from home. It was a very, very short list indeed, limited to one person missing their bed and one person missing their girlfriend. In general, we were all quite satisfied with our current position in life. How could we not be?
At 4 pm I decided to go back to Snooky to retrieve our passports so I negotiated a five-dollar rate with a local dude on a motorcycle, which included an awesome pink helmet for me. I was back within the hour, passports in hand, and after a nice pool swim with the kids, we all sat down in the room for a reading and chill out session. It was soon time to feed the beast again so we gathered Holriques for our final dinner together, and settled on a hippie joint we noticed earlier in the day that was full of people. What did we discuss during the final dinner of our epic adventure? We talked about our trip. We talked about what we liked and what we didn’t in the countries we had visited. We talked about the value of travel. We talked about our kids and how they seemed to be enjoying the trip. But before long, eyelids began to droop so we called it a night and walked back to the hotel, on our last night together as the Holriques.