Yesterday was an interesting day. It was a lovely day. More than a little stressed from a big workload and a lot of other stuff that happened all at once, I decided to take a working holiday of sorts and go to the beach to work. I went to the place I usually go when I take my laptop – The Small Beach Bar and Restaurant down at Independence Beach. Run by the proprietors of the Small Hotel, it is very well run and I can trust the staff to look after my things when I go for a swim. In fact, one day when I was feeling too confident, they actually took my mobile phone from my table when I went for a swim and cautioned me not to leave easily stolen items like that on my table.
While I was there, I got an email notification came that a reply to a comment thread on Travelfish had been made. It’s an ongoing thread titled Sihanoukville. . . Worth It? My argument is that it is well worth it, but another person, who comes here regularly from Phnom Penh, has less-than-complimentary things to say about Sihanoukville.
From what I can tell, 90% of the people who come to Sihanoukville and have a less than enjoyable time or are victims of pickpockets and thieves go to Ochheuteal Beach. It’s understandable that they would wander down there from their hotel or guest house, but it’s also understandable that Ochheuteal would be the place where thieves would hang out.
What was distressing about the comment on Travelfish was the fact that this time, it was a nice Chinese couple that had their belongings stolen and that even though they tried to do the right thing and get the police to help, they got no help whatsoever, even though, apparently, the most likely suspects were known to the police.
I’ve defended the Sihanoukville police here before and I’m about to do it again, but before I do, I’ll mention an incident that occurred when I was a first time visitor here. A man had his camcorder stolen from his room and went down to complain to the guest house owner. “I’m going to the tourist police!” he exclaimed and she told him not to, explaining that they would not help, but would probably ask him for a bribe. He interpreted that to mean that she or her staff had stolen his camcorder and didn’t want the police to get involved. Actually, she meant what she said and took him to where she suspected his camcorder would be. Sure enough, his “girlfriend” had stolen the camcorder and pawned it at the home of some locals who “fenced” stolen goods.
Now, here’s why yesterday was an interesting day. After I returned home in the evening, a big fight broke out on our block. It was between two groups of young men who had been “celebrating” Chinese New Year by getting blind drunk on the local whiskey. Things started to get very ugly, so my wife called the police. They came immediately and drove them all away.
What’s the moral of this story? I like to think of myself as someone who knows Sihanoukville pretty well, but I realise now that I only know it from my perspective. I never go to Ochheuteal Beach to hang out or work. It’s my least favourite beach. My relationships with the police have always been good ones, but that’s because my family knows who to call. Apparently the tourist police are still useless.
I suggest that when you do go to Ochheuteal Beach, take only what you need with you and never leave your belongings unattended. Stay at a Sihanoukville accommodation that has an English speaking staff and a well-informed manager. Leave your valuables in the safe and get a receipt. If you want to take your camera with you to the beach, keep it with you at all times.
Also, Ochheuteal Beach is, in my opinion, Sihanoukville’s worst beach. There are plenty of others. On Sunday afternoon, for instance, I went to a formerly out-of-the-way beach right next to the new Holiday Palace Resort. There’s just a funky little fruit and beverage stand there, but the proprietors have set up lounge chairs and tables and they looked after my phone and cash while I went for a swim. The Airport at Victory Beach is a little too “exclusive” for my liking, but they keep thieves out, have a nice wide beach and serve good food. If you can afford to, stay at a four star beachfront hotel like the Sokha Resort or Independence Hotel. While expensive by Cambodian standards, at prices starting at around $100 a night, they are a deal by international standards. I mention these two because they both have exclusive, patrolled beaches. Holiday Palace is another option, but as of this writing has only 20 rooms and construction is still taking place. These are all alternatives to Ochheuteal Beach that will ensure your stay in Sihanoukville is a pleasant one.