Serendipity Road Revisited

Looking up Serendipity Road from the bottom

I’ve been having my afternoon coffee at Escape lately. I still like Artisan, but the sun is lower at this time of year and it’s sometimes hard to find a place in the shade. After two weeks of watching tourists, I decided it was time for a Serendipity Road revisited post.

Golden Lions, Sihanoukville Cambodia

It’s easy for me to step back in time and remember the first time I saw Serendipity Road. It was a narrow, rutted dirt road the first time I saw it. I was on a rented motorbike. I decided my motorbike skills weren’t up to the task of negotiating the road, so I continued up Ekareach Street. At that time, there was almost no traffic in Sihanoukville and most of it was motorbikes. Times have changed. Even at 1:00 p.m., when traffic is slowest, there were plenty of cars and motorbikes on Ekareach Street. As you’ll soon see, there were also a lot on Serendipity Road.

I took this photo to show that they’ve widened the top of Serendipity Road. They didn’t widen it as radically as planned, but the extra width helps. There used to be bottlenecks as you approached the Golden Lions. You still have to go around cars and sometimes buses, but the bottlenecks aren’t as bad as they used to be.

Serendipity Road Sihanoukville Cambodia top

Before continuing down to the pier, I stopped for a cappuccino at Escape. Actually I had two cappuccinos and a bottle of water. I’m reading a brilliant book and I couldn’t put it down. After an hour or so, I forced myself to leave, but not before I took this picture. It’s not as dark as it appears in the shade of Escape, but this is the view. Basically, the view is of the passing traffic. When I came here, most of the traffic was male and white. Today, we get tourists of all ages, sizes and races. As many women visit as men and I often see families and groups of older women.

Serendipity-Road-from Escape

I had to stop and take a photo from the top of Serendipity Road where it goes down to the pier. They paved it recently, which was a good idea. The old cement road was crumbling under the weight of the cars and trucks that rolled down it. Building is still going on on the road and some of the buildings are big.

Serendipity Road Sihanoukville looking towards the pier

New hotels on Serendipity Road, Sihanoukville Cambodia

Finally I reached the bottom of the hill, where I took a photograph of the pier. You can see the boats, but the throngs of people on the pier are a little harder to see.

Pier at the bottom of Serendipity Road, Sihanoukville Cambodia

Then I turned around and took this photo up the road. The bottom of Serendipity Road is clogged with tuk-tuks, motorbikes and cars. That’s the main reason why I rarely go to Yasmine for coffee. The views are nice, but it’s hard to find a place to park.

Looking up Serendipity Road from the bottom

I came back from my little tour of Serendipity Road marveling at how much it’s changed in just ten years. Sihanoukville was a haven for backpackers looking for cheap accommodation, cheap beer, cheap drugs and, sometimes, cheap prostitutes. I didn’t like walking down Serendipity Road in the past. Every tuk-tuk driver said, “Want drugs? Want girl?” They don’t say that anymore. They just say, “tuk-tuk?” The tourists are mellower, too. They seem to be here to enjoy the sun, the water and the islands.

The city is growing faster than I’d like, but I have to admit, it’s improving every year. One thing I love about it is that visitors come from everywhere. You see Chinese, Japanese, Korean, European, American and Australian tourists here. Most of the time, I don’t understand a word I hear around me when I’m having my daily cappuccino. Sometimes I recognize the language, but I have no idea what they’re talking about. I like the cultural mix. I think I’ll be staying here for a long time to come. As my book, Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese says: “Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted.” I have a family here and feel wanted. This is my home until or unless something changes.

Looking back at 10 years in Cambodia

I came to Cambodia in September or early October of 2006, but thought it was just a stopover on my way to Thailand. I made the obligatory trip to Angkor Wat. I loved it, but was stunned by the numbers of tourists and the Disneyland-style entrance.

angkor wat 2006I returned to Phnom Penh with plans to take a bus to Thailand. I bought a pirate edition of the Lonely Planet guide to SE Asia from a hawker at a riverside cafe in Phnom Penh and looked up Sihanoukville. The writer didn’t have much good to say about it, so I decided to check it out. Little did I know it would soon become my home.

I liked Sihanoukville. At that time of the year it was quiet. I found a nice guesthouse with a pool near Ochheuteal Beach and took a walk to the beach after lunch. I thought I was going to see a bunch of hippies smoking weed because that was what Lonely Planet told me I’d see. Instead, I saw monks having a day off at the beach.

far end of ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville, cambodia, 2006

I didn’t want to take a tuk tuk to explore the city, so I rented a motorbike. That was a good call. I’d read about all the thefts in Sihanoukville, so was a little paranoid when I went for a swim on an empty beach. My motorbike was there after my swim even though a couple of motorbikes with three young men rode up to watch me swim in the balmy water. I decided to take Lonely Planet with a grain of salt after that.

Then I met Sopheak. I tried to leave once. I went overland to southern Laos. It was beautiful there. It was a bit of an adventure. I changed cars about three times because there were no ferries for cars, but the man who organized my journey for me did a brilliant job. There was always a car waiting for me on the other side of the river. When I crossed the border, I was stunned. The Cambodian side had been cleared for grazing or (I think) rubber plantations. On the Laos side, it was all jungle and the road was a rutted dirt road. You can read about it in my Deforestation in Cambodia blog.

My plan was to travel through Laos and then move on to northern Thailand, but I decided I didn’t want to be a sightseer. I returned to Phnom Penh just in time for the Water Festival. I called Sopheak and invited her and her family to come to the festival with me. That sealed my fate. I went back to Australia a few weeks later and returned on January 10, 2007. I had no idea I’d stay 10 years, but fate arranged things so I couldn’t return to Australia.

Before I left, I took Sopheak to Kampot and we went up to the top of Bokor Mountain. Back then it was a bit of an adventure. There was only a dirt road and only 4-wheel drives could get up it. Occasionally there was an accident. Fortunately, this wasn’t the car we traveled in.

bokor mountain cambodia 2006On the way home, we stopped in Khmeng Wat, the village where Sopheak’s family lived. This was their house.

khmeng-wat-cambodiaThen it was time to go back to Australia and get my affairs in order. When I returned, Sopheak threw a birthday party for me at the hotel where we stayed. Since we didn’t know anyone, she invited the hotel guests to come. They were happy to sponge free food and beer off of us and we had a great party.

10 Years in Cambodia

Then it was time to get serious. I wanted to buy land and build a house. After looking at a land, we finally agreed on a long, narrow block of land on a cul de sac near downtown Sihanoukville. I chose it partly because a couple of neighbors spoke English. Then work began on our house. There were no cement pumps in Sihanoukville then, so we hired a bucket brigade to pour our second-storey slab.

building-in-sihanoukville-cambodia-2007We finished half the house in 2007 and managed to squeeze a trip to Svay Rieng in while we were building. It was the dry season then, but it was still beautiful and quiet. Sopheak’s family came from a tiny village in that province. We were surrounded by rice fields, but they were dry. When we returned the following year, everyone was planting rice.

svay-rieng-2008I may have made a fatal mistake in 2007. Our next door neighbor was devastated because he was losing his job as director of a little NGO. He wanted to start a new one for the people on the Sihanoukville dumpsite. We agreed to help him and I became the secretary of his little NGO. We got enough donations to pay his salary and get a doctor to visit the villagers occasionally. Sokha wanted to start a business and one donor gave us enough money to go to Siem Reap and learn how to make paper from scraps.

Our NGO logo

It sounded like a good idea, but it never got off the ground. I got so wrapped up in the NGO, I barely noticed I was running out of money. Just when things were getting critical, one of our supporters rented a home for the children, sent them to school and fed them. It was time for me to think about our future, but one good memory remains. I learned that the dumpsite residents were like the rest of us. They were a village in the true sense of the word. True, the conditions were terrible, but they made the most of what they had.

I loved rural Cambodia and we went to rural locations whenever we got the chance. We had a car in 2008, so we could indulge. We also got married in 2008. Between that and finishing the house, my money was getting seriously low. I was still imagining I could get a job teaching English. I had a great recommendation and there were a few English schools in Sihanoukville. I never bothered to find out about the pay rate, though. I never got a job, but learned from a friend that they paid $3 per hour. Fortunately, the same friend had returned to the United States where he got a job for an SEO company.

Setting up our wedding party

In 2009, I ran out of money and we had to sell our car just to survive. Luckily, I got an online job through my friend that paid $10 an hour. That didn’t last long, but I discovered freelance writing. The first couple of years were hard, but I’m doing alright now.

Running out of money wasn’t as tragic as it may sound. I was freaking out, but Sopheak told me, “I never have loi (money) before, not dead.” She was right. We found ways to get by, some of them fairly miraculous. She started playing the lottery behind my back. She used her dreams to help her choose numbers and won far more often than chance accounted for. That’s just a taste of the “magic” I’ve seen in Cambodia. I just finished a book that was published in 1997, A Fortune-Teller Told Me, that recounts many similar stories. It was a great find because I was a little afraid no one would believe the stories I tell in my book.

By 2011 things were going more smoothly. I had steady work and a routine. Things would change over the years, but I’ve never regretted a minute of my time in Cambodia. I love it here. I can’t quite put my finger on why I love it so much. It’s not always easy, but it’s always real and the challenges keep me going.

I wanted to celebrate my 10 year anniversary with something special, but fate had other plans for me. Sopheak started a bar/restaurant her employer set up for her. She was going to throw me a big party, but I had an ache in my side that got worse on my birthday (the 9th). We went to the doctor, who told me I had appendicitis. He recommended Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital in Kampot, so Sopheak drove me there in her boss’s car. On the 10th, I celebrated my 10th anniversary by getting my appendix removed.

In a funny way, it was perfect. After 10 years and a changed relationship, I learned the relationship we have is still solid. What happens next, I don’t know, but I do know one thing. I’ll never regret moving to Cambodia. It’s been a wild ride, but an exciting one. What more can you ask for?

 

Vegan restaurant in Sihanoukville

I know I just posted something the other day, but I want to share this as soon as possible because it’s the busy season in Sihanoukville. Dao of Life is the only vegan restaurant in Sihanoukville. I’m not a vegan, but their food is delicious and they are the friendliest people in Sihanoukville if not the world.

dao of life vegan restaurant Sihanoukville Cambodia

This is their fourth location. First they were in an out of the way spot up towards the Hill on Ekareach Street. Clever marketing and events drew people to the restaurant in spite of its location. Then they moved to two locations on Serendipity Road. They got more customers, but things didn’t work out too well for them in those locations. Now they’ve moved to the bottom of Serendipity Road. Yasmine is downstairs and Dao of Life has taken the upstairs.

They’re easy to find. Yasmine is the last building on the right facing the pier. I think this is potentially the best location Dao of Life has found. The views are beautiful and they have a geodesic dome covering the restaurant.

dao of life vegan restaurant Sihanoukville CambodiaThat’s Shazia. I’d say she’s the “boss,” but Shazia doesn’t act like a boss. That’s part of the joy of eating at Dao of Life. Everybody is smiling and happy. How they found Nit, I don’t know. Nit is Cambodian. She loves her job and shows it in a million ways.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the Buddhist ceremony before the grand opening. A lot of people attended. I had to leave early, but managed to take a photo before I left.

dao of life vegan restaurant Sihanoukville CambodiaThen I returned and had dinner there last night. I was happy to see a couple of customers there. I am under orders to dine early, so seeing people there between 5 and 6 was encouraging.

Excuse me for jabbering on, but I’m trying to write as many words as possible and include “vegan restaurant in Sihanoukville” in my story in hopes of getting the keyword ranked on Google. I want more people to discover Dao of Life in its new location. They deserve to have a successful business. By the way, the view is nice even after dark.

dao of life vegan restaurant Sihanoukville CambodiaOkay, I’m running out of things to say. When you’re in Sihanoukville, visit Dao of Life. You won’t regret it. It’s the only vegan restaurant in Sihanoukville and even if you’re not a vegan or vegetarian, you’ll love the food and the wonderful vibe. You’ll also enjoy the wonderful view and the fresh breezes that waft through the semi open-air restaurant.

Independence Beach Update

It was almost a month ago that I wrote about the big changes going on at Independence Beach. In the second paragraph, I speculated that they might be building a resort. Well, I was right and it looks like it’s going to be another mega-resort and I suppose condominiums. In preparation for the Water Festival, they’ve plastered signs across the site. Not a very good photo, but you can see from the picture that it’s another high-rise beach development.

Either I’m not very observant or they built this building in a hurry because I didn’t notice it last time I passed by. I assume it’s where people are meant to go to find out more about Blue Bay.

It took me about 20 minutes to get from Ekareach Street to the beach yesterday. They were already setting up stalls in anticipation of the Sea Festival, which starts on the 23rd. Trucks unloading products for the stalls were blocking traffic. I couldn’t take any pictures as I crawled through the traffic, but about 50 stalls were already filled with goods. I saw everything from clothes and shoes to gifts and one place was even selling mattresses. They were just getting started along the beach road. I was able to take this photo of one stall. They are all about the same size.

As I made my way towards the Hill, where I was going for my almost nightly meal at Irina Franca, I passed under this banner. It’s much smaller than the one on the other side of the beach, but I was tired of fighting traffic, so I didn’t go back to take a picture of the larger banner.

Also note the now completed sculpture on the left. There’s a wide footpath leading to the Independence Hotel pier. It looks like it’s going to be open to the public.

Next time I’ll give an update on Dao of Life. They’re moving down to the bottom of Serendipity Road. I think it’s a great location. Just have to take a few photos.

Big changes at Independence Beach

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I have no idea what it’s going to look like when they’re done, but Independence Beach is going through some big changes. They’re widening the road, for one thing, but that’s only the beginning.

Construction at Independence Beach SihanoukvilleThey seem to be doing major excavating at one end of the beach. They’re digging deep holes and may be planning on building a resort or something. Tractors were grooming part of the land closer to the Independence Hotel, so perhaps that’s going to be a park. We’ll just have to wait and see. Further along, the little beach restaurants are still there, but they’ve removed the goddess riding on a crocodile’s back I liked so much. They’re building a grander entrance.

Further along, in the area that used to be closed off, it looks like they’re creating public access. I read somewhere that they wanted Sokha Resort and the Independence Hotel to make beach access open to the public. It’s a good idea and I hope that’s what they’re doing.

New Independence Beach Sihanoukville sculptureThey’re also widening the road that leads from Ekareach Street to Independence Beach. It will be super-wide when they’re done and they’ve planted palms down the middle. From what I can tell, they’re attempting to make Independence Beach a major beach: probably to attract more customers to the huge developments that are going up between Independence Beach and Sokha Beach.

widening road to Independence Beach, Sihanoukville Cambodia

In July 2015, I wrote Sihanoukville Cambodia: a metropolis in the making. The article included a photograph of the site of the Sunrise Bay condominium site. There was nothing there at the time, but it seems to be going up fast. This is what it looked like when I rode past the site today.

big condominium development near Independence Beach, SihanoukvilleIt’s still just a shell, but gives you an idea of the scale of the project.

A recent article in the Khmer Times had the title: Up All the Way for Preah Sihanouk. The article quoted the CEO of Century 21 Real Estate, Chrek Soknim. He said improved infrastructure and the airport are attracting big investors. The article also mentioned a $3 billion dollar Chinese development slated for the province. The article didn’t say where it was going to be built, but at that cost, it probably won’t be in the center of town.

The article concluded with a quote from Dith Channa, owner of Lucky Real Estate: “There is only one direction for the province’s property sector, and it’s up all the way.” Whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends on your point of view. It doesn’t matter, though. It’s all happening and all we can do is sit back and watch.

Lunch in Otres Village

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I wrote about Otres Village back in 2013. I’ve been back there since then, but haven’t taken pictures. I had some time on my hands the other day, so I decided to have lunch in Otres village. I went to Hacienda, which is right across the street from the Barn, where they have the Otres Market. The Otres Market put this out of the way village on the map.

Legacy Resort Otres village

In 2013, not much had changed on the main road in Otres Village. There was a row of traditional shops on the road, but that was about it. Now it extends around the corner and you can find fairly luxurious guesthouses and bungalows on the main road. The Legacy is probably the nicest, but there are others springing up, including a fair sized hotel.

Main road in Otres village

You take a right turn onto a dirt road to get to the Barn and all the other new restaurants and guesthouses that have been springing up in Otres village. I was a little stunned by how many there are now. There’s even a mini-mart, but it doesn’t look like they’ve stocked it yet. There’s also a small row of shops. Only two were occupied when I drove past, but it’s a sign of the times. Sihanoukville is growing and Otres village is growing with it.

new shops in Otres village

I finally arrived at Hacienda. I knew what I wanted. The last time I went there for lunch, it was to meet Brian Gruber, author of the very excellent book, War: the Afterparty. I tried their falafel last time and it was very good. That’s what I had this time, too, and it was just as good.

Hacienda at Otres village

Hacienda turned out to be a perfect choice for lunch. I could have gone to the beach, but there’s nothing new or different about the beach to me. I wanted a change of scenery. At Hacienda, you’re surrounded by trees and water. I think if I came to Sihanoukville for the first time and knew it was there, I’d stay in one of their bungalows. They’re a deal at $8 a night and the bar/restaurant serves good food at decent prices.

bungalows in Otres village

In spite of its rapid growth, Otres village is still pretty mellow. It might remain that way because that’s why people seem to be drawn to it. Hacienda was playing jazz when I was there. It seemed perfect and was a welcome relief from the nostalgia-rock you hear everywhere in Sihanoukville.

The people at the bar were talking quietly together and most of them were drinking smoothies. That, too, was a relief. Just last week while I was having dinner on the Hill, the woman who runs the bar across the road from the restaurant I was dining in kicked a patron out. She actually knocked him to the ground as she shouted, “Don’t say ‘fuck you’ to me or my family! Get out and don’t come back!”

I love the food at Irina Franca and Raphael’s on the Hill, but sometimes the atmosphere isn’t so great. I like to eat outdoors, but sometimes I eat indoors to escape the blaring music and loud voices. That wasn’t a problem in Otres village. I was the oldest customer by far, but the young bartender was very friendly and courteous. If you’re looking for a more relaxed atmosphere, you may find it in Otres village. I’ve never been there at night, but I suspect it’s nice after dark, too.

Phum Khmer Dey Meas Park in Sihanoukville Cambodia

I was kind of torn between writing about Phum Khmer Dey Meas park in Sihanoukville or writing about our day in rural Cambodia. Since this blog is about Sihanoukville, I decided to write about the park, but please read A Day in Rural Cambodia: the perfect Cambodian lifestyle after you’ve finished this article.

When you go to Otres Beach from Ochheuteal, you drive along a long straight road that’s next to what once was going to be a big resort and 9-hole golf course. It may become a resort one day, but for now it’s all fenced in. Eventually you come to a left turn that takes you to Otres Beach. Pretty soon you pass over a bridge. Just past the bridge you come to a sign you can easily miss.

park-entry-sign I missed it for a long time and when I noticed it, wasn’t curious enough to go inside. Last weekend we went to the far end of Ochheuteal for lunch and afterwards had a look around. It’s an amazing park and entry is free. The first thing you see is a huge collection of Hindu and Buddhist statues.

park-hindu-buddhist-statuesNothing is neat and orderly in the park. It seems to be set up kind of randomly. The next place we went was a kind of mini-forest complete with an old timber stilt house. As soon as we stepped into the trees, I felt like I was in a village in old Cambodia.

park-homeI turned around and saw more things to discover in the mini-forest. Aside from Hindu and Buddhist sculptures, there were sculptures of dogs and other assorted things. These two girls caught my eye.

park-statues-girlsThere are also lots of places to sit down and have a picnic lunch. Like I said, entry is free, but you have to bring your own food. Some of the picnic spots were concrete tables and benches in random spots.

park-tableOthers were on piers over the water.

park-diningThen there was this bridge that led to a bunch of picnic tables on the other side of the water.

park-bridgeI thoroughly enjoyed Phum Khmer Dey Meas Park. It was quirky and interesting. Apparently a rich man bought the land and built the park. He brings guests here once in a while, but leaves it open for the public all the time. I’m looking forward to having a picnic lunch here one day. The caretakers clean up the rubbish, so we didn’t see plastic everywhere. The only downside was the dogs, who hadn’t figured out they lived in a public park. They barked at me, but didn’t bite me. I ignored them and the caretaker called them off. After that, they just eyed me suspiciously.

park-buddhaSo if you’re ever on a motorbike or tuk-tuk heading towards Otres Beach, stop in at Phum Khmer Dey Meas park and have a look around. It’s not big. You can see everything in ten or fifteen minutes. It’s worth checking out. It’s quirky, but beautiful and these photos are just a taste of what you’ll see in the park.

park-jugNow that you’ve read about this delightful park in Sihanoukville, don’t forget to visit rural Cambodia. We had an amazing day there yesterday.

Coffee Houses in Sihanoukville Go Upmarket

twin lotus sihanoukville coffee house outside

Even the World Bank has figured out that Cambodia’s economy has been growing. They’ve elevated its economic status to “lower middle income.” Since the economy has been growing by 6 to 7 percent per year since before I came here almost 10 years ago, it kind of makes sense. Yes, there’s still a lot of poverty here, but there is also a growing middle class. You can see it in the traffic and you can see it in the coffee houses in Sihanoukville, which are going upmarket, but thankfully aren’t adding more to the cost of a cup of coffee.

twin lotus coffee house in Sihanoukville

Grand opening of Twin Lotus. There’s a small playground downstairs and an upstairs area, too.

I’ll start with the latest addition, Twin Lotus, a Cambodian owned restaurant. It’s beautifully decorated and they’ve done something with the acoustics. Unlike most noisy places, you don’t have to raise your voice to have a conversation. Well placed acoustic panels must be the answer. The clientele here is mostly Cambodian. I had a coffee with a friend here once and the richest man in Sihanoukville sat down with us. He was a nice guy, too. Some people get snobbish when they have money, but he was quite modest and seemed to really care about lifting Sihanoukville’s image.

twin lotus sihanoukville coffee house and restaurant

Inside Twin Lotus. There is also an upstairs balcony area

Next on the list is Cafe del Mar. They’ve been around for a while now, but they had out of the way locations. One did well because of their steady clientele, but they’ve moved to Ekareach Street and seem to be busy all the time now. They’re right next door to EIS (Excellence in Service), the best English school in Sihanoukville (if not Cambodia). That might help explain why their clientele consists largely of Cambodians. My guess is that they stop in for a coffee after they drop their kids off at school.

Del Mar Sihanoukville Coffee House

Not a very good photo. Del Mar is very nice inside and the patio is not as dark as it appears here.

Douceur du Cambodge or Artisan Café has been here for a long time. They serve great coffee and great pastries. They always kept their old location clean, but it was an old building, so it never looked very upmarket. They’ve moved to Ekareach Street and their new place is large and modern looking. Fortunately, they haven’t raised their prices. I go there almost every day because:

Artisan sihanoukville coffee house

Artisan Café has moved to bigger location on Ekareach Street

  1. They are so friendly
  2. Their cappuccinos are hot and not as milky as others
  3. Their pastries are world class

These are just three Sihanoukville coffee houses on Ekareach Street. There are many more. I’ve already written about the Ocean Box Café. That’s another one that’s frequented by more Cambodians than Westerners. It seems to be popular with students.

Coffee houses of Sihanoukville Ocean Box

Then there’s Eno Café. They serve wonderful meals and have fresh bread, a few pastries and very good coffee. Like Artisan, they seem to have regular customers, but tourists looking for better quality coffee and/or food wander in as well.

Eno Sihanoukville coffee house

Eno Café

I pinched this photo from Eno’s Facebook page.

There are others, too. Many have a largely Cambodian clientele and some have mostly barang. I sometimes complain about Sihanoukville’s growth, but there are perks. I can get world class coffee and pastries in Sihanoukville and at the prices they charge, I can indulge every day. If I lived in Australia, it would be a once or twice a week treat, if that.

 

Pchum Ben in Sihanoukville 2016

I’ve written about Pchum Ben before. The first time was in 2011 and the second in 2012. There are probably other posts about it, too, but those two will give you some background about this two week long celebration. We usually go to wats (temples) far from Sihanoukville over Pchum Ben, but this year we stayed close to home. Last week we went to Wat Otres.

Pchum Ben Wat Otres Sihanoukville 2016This week, we went to Wat Leu. It’s been so long since I’ve been up there, it seemed like an adventure. Wat Leu isn’t the best maintained wat I’ve been to, but it has wonderful views and is surrounded by trees. You don’t really feel like you’re in Sihanoukville when you’re up there.

Pchum Ben Wat Leu Sihanoukville 2016We had a great time, mostly hanging out in the shade after going to the temple. They sell cold drinks and treats outside the wat. The atmosphere is relaxed and casual. That’s something I like about religious holidays in Cambodia. You’re expected to dress modestly in long dresses or long pants, but no one puts on spiritual airs. They do pay their respects to their ancestors in the temple, but after that they go back to normal.

Pchum Ben 2016 at Wat Leu, Sihanoukville CambodiaWe stayed for an hour or two and then went down to Independence Beach for lunch. After lunch the kids went for a swim and I stayed on shore making sure they didn’t drift away. Cambodians in general don’t understand ocean currents. Fortunately, the current was going sideways today, but I still had to herd the kids back when they drifted too far. There was a rip and a deep spot I didn’t want them to get near. Not sure if I mentioned it here, but one day I went to the beach and just after I dove in for a swim I had to rescue a kid who was being pulled out to sea. 10 people drowned over that week. Lucky I was there or he would have been the eleventh. Easy enough for me. I just told him to put his arms around my shoulders and I walked him to shore.

Independence Beach, Sihanoukville Cambodia 2016That was our day. We were home by 2:30, so I went to my “magic Cambodian cafe” for a cappuccino and cookie after we got home.

While I’m here, I want to mention two wonderful restaurants on the Hill. It’s a shame they don’t get more customers, but nobody gets many customers on the Hill. Raphael’s and Irina Franca are right next to each other. Irina Franca is run by a very nice Russian woman who is a superb cook. Unfortunately, I’m about the only person who knows it. She still makes a special every night. Last time I went there it was spinach and ricotta gnocchi.  I don’t usually like gnocchi, but hers was excellent. Raphael’s has a new owner, an Italian man who makes great pizzas and pastas.

Restaurants on the Hill in Sihanoukville CambodiaI don’t suppose my little post is going to change things for either restaurant, but I wanted to give them a plug. They’re both very good and it’s a shame they don’t get more customers.

A Visit to Klang Leu

When you drive into or out of Sihanoukville on Route 4, you pass an uninspiring looking row of retail shops. That’s the visible part of Klang Leu. What you don’t see is the residential district just behind the shops. Sopheak’s sister lives there and we visit now and then. It’s like another world from Sihanoukville.

klang leu near Sihanoukville Cambodia

Klang Leu and Route 4

I took the shortcut to Klang Leu. It took less than 10 minutes to get there from the new Douceur du Cambodge (Artisan Cafe). They moved from their old location between Samudera Supermarket and Psah Leu on the 1st of September. Now they’re on Ekareach Street next to the Sokimex station. The new place is much larger and nicer than the old, but they haven’t upped their prices.

Artisan Cafe Ekareach Street Sihanoukville CambodiaThe shortcut takes you up a steep cement street that is often crowded with traffic moving too fast for such a narrow road. The first thing I noticed was that building was going on even here. This large apartment building wasn’t there the last time I took the road

back road to sihanoukvilleYou can barely see the little roads that lead to the residential district of Klang Leu. A couple of them are paved, but the paving peters out quickly and the dirt roads get rougher the further you ride. After just a couple of hundred metres, you feel like you’re in rural Cambodia. The houses are simpler and wide areas separate them. I took this photo at a birthday party, but if you look at the background, you get the idea.

Klang Leu residential area near Sihanoukville CambodiaKlang Leu isn’t a rich suburb, but it’s not poor, either. Most of the people have jobs at the port, the nearby Cambrew Brewery or in town. It has a rural feel and most of the people seem happy. I ran across these boys playing with their homemade kites and they all smiled when I asked them if I could take their photograph.

kids with kites in klang leuWe have our eye on a piece of land in Klang Leu. We’re not likely to sell our house, but if we could, we would buy it. It’s a large parcel and has hard title. It has a wonderful view and a rural feel, but it’s just 10 or 15 minutes away from Sihanoukville. I imagine we’d have to improve the access road. It’s hard to get down even in the dry season, but 20 or 30 metres of gravel doesn’t cost that much and the land is cheap at the far edge of Klang Leu.

So next time you’re on Route 4 and you pass one of the many dusty towns along the road, don’t judge what you see by the shops on the side of the road. Behind those shops are thriving villages where Cambodians live much as they lived before the Khmer Rouge.