Seeing Sihanoukville: it’s a matter of perception

Ironically, I’ve become a workaholic since moving to Sihanoukville. At first it was out of necessity, but lately it’s been out of habit. I finished my weekly assignments by noon on Friday and had I not received notice about a new Brainwave Entrainment App, I probably would have spent most of the afternoon blogging. After downloading the app, though, I gave it a try. The app of the day happened to be called “Midday Holiday” and by the time I’d finished listening to the 18 minute track, I was so mellowed out, I decided to extend my “holiday” and went down to Serendipity Beach.

I walked past the Cove and Cloud 9 to this magical track that is one of the few remaining bits of untouched jungle in Sihanoukville. If you take the trail to the end, you come out at Malibu Bungalows Resort, but I didn’t go that far.

jungle-pathInstead, I turned around and just hung out around these rocks for awhile, soaking up the illusion of having sailed to an unknown stretch of the Cambodian coast seeking shelter from an impending storm. After about 10 minutes of successful fantasising, two backpackers arrived, followed shortly by some other curious travellers. That was okay and I was happy to tell them they could safely continue walking until they eventually emerged at Sokha Beach.


When you’re in a tranquil alpha brainwave state (sort of like a meditative state), your surroundings come into sharper focus. And so it was that I was able to see Ochheuteal Beach from a perspective I’d never observed it from before:

ochheuteal-from-serendipityFrom here, it was a return to “civilisation”, albeit a gradual one.

After discovering that Coasters had closed down, leaving only a spooky looking, cluttered with rubbish shell behind, I became curious. What else had changed in this part of town over the past few months? Instead of returning to my motorbike, I continued on down the Ochheuteal Beach walking track. It wasn’t long before I discovered a new (to me) café I might return to again — at least during the rainy season. Café Noir boasted “the finest coffee in Sihanoukville”, so I gave it a try. I don’t know about the “best”, but the coffee was very good; as was the freshly baked cookie.

Snap 2013-06-23 at 11.55.30These were the things I discovered in the backpacker centre of Sihanoukville in a matter of hours.

If there’s a moral to my story, it’s that seeing Sihanoukville (or any place else, for that matter) is largely a matter of perception. The Age Traveller ran a story the other day called Somewhere, just over the rainbow. The story was mostly about Louise Southerden’s camping trip in the Cardamom’s. It was well-written enough and I’m glad she and her partner got off the beaten track a little bit, but sorry they apparently took a guidebook adventure instead of seeing Cambodia through fresh eyes. If they had, she may not have described Sihanoukville as a seedy “backpacker town on Cambodia’s south coast, where beds cost a dollar, you can get a beer for 25¢ and happy hours last all night”. She must have been referring to Utopia, which even younger expats who like to party avoid like the plague, but which merits a write-up in Lonely Planet.

Had Louise and her partner perceived things differently, they might have rented the catamaran at Café Noir and visited a nearby island. They may have followed the trail I took or they might have spent a night on Otres Beach. Instead, they followed their guidebook and guides. Still, they did better than thousands of other backpackers, who pass through Koh Kong and label it a “seedy little town” before burying their heads in their laptops and smart phones on the way to Sihanoukville from Bangkok and don’t even look up to see the Tatai River flowing beneath them when they cross the bridge on the outskirts of town.



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About Rob Schneider

Rob Schneider is a writer based in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, where he has lived since 2006.

2 Responses to Seeing Sihanoukville: it’s a matter of perception

  1. A Fellow says:

    There’s a vast minimal electronic music scene that you might tap into – same affects, better listening.

    So tourists are herd-followers? What else is “new”? The kids have their lists-of-buckets that they blog and boast to gain status. It gives them a magical aura to think they’ve had experiences that others wished they had. There’s no use in having experiences that no-one else wants! Whatever would you tell them?

    Tourism is an industry.

    • Can you give me some suggestions? I can tack some bwe beats onto the music for an even better experience. Yes, there are always more in the herd than herd leaders. I just get annoyed when so-called journalists repeat what they’ve read in a guidebook or make judgements based on about 5 minutes observation.

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