Another Side of Ochheuteal Beach

view from our restaurant

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My family and Cambodians in general squeeze everything they can get out of any holiday. When International Women’s Day rolled around last week, Sopheak kept the kids out of school and arranged a day at the beach. We went to the end of Ochheuteal Beach, near the headland/peninsula that separates it from Otres Beach. This is what it looks like from the road.

road at far end of ochheuteal beach

I’ve written about that end of Ochheuteal before, but focused on Sunset Lounge. We went to a more traditional “restaurant.” It was lovely. There’s a string of them at the end of the road that takes you to that end of Ochheuteal Beach. I claimed a hammock. There were three in our little space, but one went unused because it was in the sun.

view from our restaurant

This end of Ochheuteal isn’t entirely unknown. I saw several Westerners walking and jogging on the beach, but none of them stopped for refreshments. They turned around and went back to the Serendipity end of the beach. I was the only barang in any of these more traditional restaurants. We ordered a feast for seven people, but it didn’t cost any more than meals for two at a more upmarket restaurant on Serendipity Road.

I went for a swim. While I was swimming, I noticed a tractor and some workers just beyond the treeline. After my swim, I took a closer look. From what I can tell, they’re extending the pathway from the other end of Ochheuteal through the empty space that once was going to be a huge resort complete with a nine-hole golf course. It may happen one day, but it hasn’t happened yet.

workers making pathway on ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville cambodiaThat may be a road next to the pathway. If that happens, we can expect even more development on this end of Ochheuteal. It may be the end of the traditional restaurants on the beach. If that happens, I’ll be sad. It’s so nice to see these little restaurants thriving. This derelict building may be knocked down and replaced by a new resort, which will also take over the beach in front of it. I hope my imagination is getting the better of me, but fear I might be right. Big resorts are springing up everywhere in Sihanoukville.

derelict building near ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville, cambodiaAnyway, we had an idyllic day until about 3:30 p.m., when the tractor moved onto the beach. I have no idea what it was doing and hope it wasn’t installing sewage pipes. It was noisy and no one paid much attention to the children who got far too close to the tractor, which was digging sand and then swinging to the side and depositing it behind the ditch to create a break-wall. They didn’t want their work interrupted when waves caved in their trench.

tractor on ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville cambodiaWe put up with it for about half an hour, but decided it was time to head home. No one seemed too bothered by the tractor. Even I was fascinated by it. The wind was sideshore and blowing the fumes in the other direction and the tractor wasn’t too loud, but it was getting late and Sopheak had to go open her new bar. She has a buyer and I hope she sells it soon. It’s too much work and keeps her up too late.

While it lasts, the other side of Ochheuteal Beach is well-worth visiting. You may prefer Sunset Lounge or another place that has tables and chairs. If you don’t know Khmer, you probably won’t be able to order what you want in the little restaurants, but you might want to buy a trinket from a vendor walking up and down the beach.

vendor on ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville cambodia

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.

Serendipity Road and Ochheuteal Revisited

It’s no secret that Ochheuteal beach is not my favourite part of Sihanoukville. On Wednesday evening, I decided I wanted to eat at a restaurant that overlooked the water, so I went to the bottom of Serendipity Road, parked my motorbike and walked to the first restaurant I came to on Ochheuteal. The food wasn’t remarkable, but I got to watch the sun set and enjoyed the cool ocean breeze.

ochheuteal beach sihanoukville cambodia

I went back last night. The plan was to eat at the new Yasmine Bar/Restaurant at the bottom of the hill, but it was a little pricey for my taste, so I ended up going to Maybe Later, but not before I took some photographs.

Yasmine Serendipity Road SihanoukvilleMy timing was poor yesterday. A big boat full of tourists returning from the islands had just pulled in to the pier, which was recently extended. The bottom of Serendipity Road was packed with tuk tuk drivers and motodops waiting to pick up fares.

bottom of serendipity road sihanoukville cambodia

road to guesthouse sihanoukville cambodiaMy favourite outdoor tables were taken at Maybe Later, so I decided to do a little exploring before dinner. If you go to the end of Mithona Street (the road that parallels the beach) and turn left, you come to the third road up, where you can turn right and go to Otres beach. You can also go straight. It used to be a dirt road, but they’ve paved it now, so I decided to take a look. There’s nothing there for about 200 metres, but now there’s a very nice “boutique resort” standing all alone. It looks sort of incongruous now, but I did see people sitting around the pool, so somehow it’s attracted guests. Beyond that is an area that’s been divided into lots for houses and housing developments. Given time, I’m sure the road will fill in. We’ll just have to wait and see how long that will take, but it may be sooner than I think. As I wrote last time, Sihanoukville is growing fast.

guesthouse outside ochheuteal beach sihanoukvilleI made my way from there back to Maybe Later and saw a few more hotels being built. One of them was quite big. Before I went to Maybe Later, I took a ride back down Serendipity Road to take a photograph of this massive development near the bottom of the hill. I assume it’s another hotel.

new hotel serendipity road sihanoukville cambodia

They’ve made a mess of the road, but rumour has it that they want to widen Serendipity Road. That will be interesting. If they do, there will no longer be outdoor seating at the restaurants because there’s not much frontage left. No one anticipated further widening after they built the new road. I have a feeling it won’t happen, but they will need to come back and fix the existing road, which looks pretty bad after having so many heavy trucks on it.

I finally got my favourite table at Maybe Later and had a delicious Southern California style Mexican dinner. After I left, I had to stop at the top of the hill for a moment and overheard a dreadlocked backpacker I’ve seen a million times tell some new backpackers that “all the hotels are full, but no one parties anymore.” That might be because so many of the tourists are families and Chinese now. Fewer backpackers stay in the area than in the past. One person told me they stay for a day, but then go out to Koh Rong or Otres.

Sihanoukville is changing. Right now it’s having growing pains. While all this building is going on, it doesn’t look too pretty, but I think the local authorities will finally have to clean it up. We’re going to need street sweepers and a vastly improved rubbish collection service if it’s going to look as nice as Siem Reap, parts of Phnom Penh or Kampot. At the moment, it looks like a construction site because that’s what it is. Everywhere I go, construction is taking place.

The Mellow Side of Ochheuteal Beach

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The Phnom Penh Post finds it hard to say anything good about Cambodia, so I wasn’t surprised when I read the headline: Ochheuteal Beach is the worst tourist trap in all of Cambodia. To my surprise, I actually agreed with some of what the 2012 article said. “Ochheuteal is why the rest of Sihanoukville is unfairly tarnished as the creeping Pattaya of Cambodia,” the author wrote and I couldn’t agree with him more. I never go to that end of Ochheuteal Beach, but should go to the other end more often.

sunset-lounge-buddha-ochheuteal-beach

This Buddha greeted me when I rolled up to Sunset Lounge yesterday morning. He set the pace for the entire morning and by the time I finished lunch, I felt like I’d been on a spiritual vacation.

Sunset Lounge is located on the far end of Ochheuteal Beach, just below the headland. Cross over the headland past Queen Hill Resort and you’re at Otres Beach. I only had a few hours to spare, so I made the most of them. I chose a table in the shade on the grass just in front of the beach and went for a swim before ordering lunch. The friendly German couple who run the guesthouse/restaurant looked after my phone and keys while I swam. This is the view from my table.

sunset-lounge-beach-ochheuteal-beach

Notice the white sand beach. They don’t just keep the beach immaculately clean: they rake it, so I felt like I was looking at a Zen sand garden and almost felt guilty for walking across the sand.

It had been about a year since I last came here and Sunset Lounge has only improved. They closed it last rainy season to landscape the grounds and add two bungalows. When I asked them how business was, they told me they were full, but were going to close on May 13 to build more bungalows, so if you want to stay there (highly recommended!), you’ll have to wait till October.

After a delightful lunch, I went for another swim and headed home for a shower before my weekly writing group meeting. Speaking of writing, I’ve finished the first draft of my book and am now doing the hard part — editing. It’s gone through a couple of name changes. The first title was This Could be Heaven. Then I changed it to Serendipity Road. I like that title, but that’s just one reason why the group has been so valuable. Someone pointed out that it sounded like a romance novel and it dawned on me that you’d have to read the book to understand why I chose that title. The title’s on hold now, but something will come to me.

I left early and wasn’t able to enjoy the sunset at Sunset Lounge. I caught the sunset at the park near the port the other evening, though. Imagine this without the port blocking your view and you get an idea of how mellow watching the sunset from Sunset Lounge would be.

sunset-in-sihanoukville-cambodiaOne thing I can say for tourist traps is that they herd all the people I don’t want to be around into one small area. While the other end of Ochheuteal Beach is populated by “inert tourists, without exception clad in knockoff Ray-Bans and propping up their foreheads with their hands, lest they all pass out in unison and knock out their two front teeth on the table”, the mellow side of Ochheuteal Beach is sparsely populated by tourists thoroughly enjoying the best of what Cambodia’s beaches have to offer.

 

Sand War on Occheuteal Beach!

Serendipity Road, Sihanoukville Cambodia

Okay, that’s my first attention grabbing headline. Before you panic, the “war” is a peaceful one between Sihanoukville authorities and owners of restaurants on Ochheuteal Beach.

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If you’ve ever been there before, you’ve noticed how the sand is covered with tables and chairs from the pier to the end of the developed area. If officials get their way, the tables and chairs will have to be removed so beachgoers can enjoy the beach without having to pay for the privilege.

I first heard about the controversy on Facebook. Most of the comments, including mine, favoured the removal of the beach seating and dining furniture. We seem to agree they are an eyesore and during the day, are usually empty anyway.  It’s a different story in the evening, though. Although we never go to Ochheuteal in the heat of the day, we occasionally go there in the afternoon so the kids can splash in the water. When the sun gets low on the horizon, we’ll order meals and enjoy the sunset while we eat.Ochheuteal beach

Of course, we’re just one family. Others like being able to sit in a lounge chair and enjoy lunch or a beer during the day.  They do seem to be in the minority, though.  Even on the end of the beach where Cambodian families congregate, the family stays in the shade of the restaurant while the kids splash and play in the water.

The Cambodia Daily reported that the beach front restaurant owners are the ones who are most opposed to the new regulation. According to the article, Beachfront Proprietors Won’t Take Ban Sitting Down, they claim the ban will cut their business in half.  Authorities argue that the beach should be free for everyone and removing the furniture will also help relieve the problem of rubbish on the beach.

I don’t want to jump into the fray. I just thought I’d give you fair warning. If you come to Sihanoukville, there may or may not be seating and tables waiting for you on Ochheuteal Beach.  Not to worry, though. If you go to Otres Beach, you can choose between a lounge chair in front of a restaurant or a place on the sand along Long Beach. If you stay in the Serendipity/Ochheuteal area, you can always wander down to the free end of Sokha Beach if officials relent and allow the furniture to stay on Ochheuteal Beach.

That’s one of the things I love about Sihanoukville. You still have lots of options.

My first days in Sihanoukville

far end of ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville, cambodia, 2006

I’ve been cleaning out my drawers in anticipation of the arrival of a new and much-needed desk and office chair. I’ve collected an astonishing amount of unneeded papers over the years and was tempted to simply turn the drawers over and dispose of everything. Luckily, I didn’t, because I stumbled across some real gems amongst the rubbish. One of them was a diary I started in Ho Chi Minh City in September of 2006 and totally forgot about. I’m not going to bore you with the whole thing, but do want to share my first days in Sihanoukville with you. The following is verbatim from my diary plus a few photos from those first few days:

I’m sitting in a thatched-roof, open-air café by the side of the road, sipping on an ice cold banana and coffee shake and watching the world pass ever so slowly by. It’s the low season: traffic is light. Aside from the occasional putt-putt of a motorbike, only the sound of a small generator at the construction site across the road reminds me that I’m still living in the petrol age. At the restaurant next door, a young man dressed incongruously in Western attire deftly shimmies up a palm tree. Two brown-skinned children, a boy and a girl, watch him in wonder. When the first coconut falls, the little boy excitedly runs over to retrieve it, but his father calls him back. I imagine he’s saying, “stay away or the next one may fall on your head.” The boy and his sister retreat to a safe distance and watch as one, two, three more coconuts fall. One splits open on impact and is shared amongst the onlookers. The rest are for sale.

ochheuteal beach, Sihanoukville 2006

My crépes arrive and I become absorbed i my morning meal. I marvel at the blueness of the sky and am grateful for the cool, gentle breeze. My reverie is broken by the squeaking of timber spoked wheels. A bullock-cart laden with earthenware jars and other goods is passing slowly by. Dammit! Where’s my camera? It’s just a passing thought. It would take a lot more than a messed up photo op to disturb my peace of mind on this perfect morning.

After a time, a minibus stops briefly in front of the café. The side door opens and a little girl, 8 or 10 years old I guess, in a blue-pleated skirt and crisply ironed white shirt steps off. The logo on her blouse tells me it’s her school uniform. The man sitting behind me, the proprietor with the gold grin (literally and metaphorically – he has gold caps on his front teeth) calls out cheerily and she runs to him. She hops on his knee and after a bit of lilting but incomprehensible conversation with her, the man begins to sing a song to her. He has an exquisite voice, soft and melodious. Tranquillity gives way to something deeper as I listen to this fatherly serenade.

far end of ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville, cambodia, 2006

Where am I? Just 20 metres behind me, warm tropical wavelets lap peacefully against a narrow strip of sand. After breakfast I’ll go for a leisurely swim. Tonight I’ll struggle with the biggest dilemma my trip has to offer: where to eat? Will it be local fare or maybe European, Australian, Indian or Mexican?

Where am I? What tropical paradise have I stumbled across, persuaded by the impending arrival of a hurricane to change my travel plans almost as soon as my plane touched down? This end of town is called Ochheuteal beach, but that’s all I’m going to tell you for now.

I ended up at this end of town simply because my driver suggested it. The Orchideé is the only guesthouse in town that has a swimming pool. I guess my age and/or the fact that I shave regularly marked me in his eyes as an upmarket tourist. The cost of the room – $10US per day for a double bed, hot water and satellite TV convinced me to stay.

It’s absurd. $10US is about $13.50 Australian dollars. The guesthouse can’t be more than five years old. It’s set out in a courtyard style, with lounges and umbrellas surrounding the pool. Huge wicker chairs in the restaurant invite you to stay and chat. If you think I’m talking about Bali, you’re wrong. But imagine Bali 30 years or so ago, before Jalan Pantai, the beach road, was lined with hotels and you’re getting close.

victory hill, sihanoukville cambodia 2006

And like Kuta Beach, hawkers sell their wares on the beach and a manicure or massage can be purchased for a song. But this is a white sand beach, unlike Kuta’s hot black volcanic sand. Food stalls and umbrella shaded lounges take up half the beach. The other half serves as a footpath, just wide enough for easy two-way traffic. Unlike Kuta, this beach on the edge of the Gulf of Thailand (No! I’m not in Thailand) has no waves. Just wavelets lapping serenely against the shore. You can walk out 20 metres before the water becomes chest deep. And instead of one well-sealed beach road, there are two, separated by just enough land for beach side development. Clearly those who decide where to build roads and why are expecting a tourist boom, but for now at least, there are wide empty spaces between guesthouses and hotels.

I don’t want to tell you where I am. If I do, it will probably scare you away.

Yesterday, I rode my rented motorbike outside of the city, just to see what was there. More of the same, really, minus the shops and the people. I stopped by the side of the road, went for a swim and dried off in the sun. About halfway back to my guesthouse, I got a flat tyre. After trudging along for awhile, I saw a dilapidated little shack with a little shingle on a tree. The words were in a foreign language, so I didn’t know what they meant, but the old tyres hanging on the tree around it told me what I needed to know. I was at the local equivalent of a Bob Green’s T Mart.

The guy had me by the proverbial balls. He could have asked me for any amount of money to fix my tyre and gotten it, but $3.50 and 15 minutes later, I was back on the road. I’m not sure I’d have gotten such friendly, honest and efficient service in an outback garage in Oz.

The diary entry goes on from there, but that’s all I want to share right now. What struck me about it was how impressed I was with Sihanoukville and how now, nearly 8 years later, I’m still impressed. I see the downside, but the good outweighs the bad by a long shot and although it’s grown, there are still spaces between hotels and you can find an empty stretch of beach to call your own if you want to.

Discover the Quiet Side of Ochheuteal Beach

view of ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville cambodia, from Sunset Lounge

To each their own, but when I go to the beach in Sihanoukville, I almost never go to the popular end of Ochheuteal beach. I do go to Ochheuteal, but I go to the quiet end of the beach.

food stalls at Ochheuteal beach, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

We often go to this spot at the south end of Ochheuteal. The stall sells cold drinks and snacks. While Sophie sits in a hammock chatting with whomever happens to be around, I go for a swim. Sometimes we take the kids with us. The water here stays shallow, so it’s a good place for them to splash around.

We go here often, but for some reason hadn’t gone the 100 metres or so to the bridge that leads to the Queen Hill Resort, a lovely collection of bungalows at the top of the headland that divides Ochheuteal from Otres beach, since last December. What a difference a year can make! The first thing I noticed as we rode towards the bridge was this big house. They started building it years ago, but for a long time, it looked like the project had been abandoned. No, it’s not a hotel. It’s apparently a private home and they don’t intend on painting it. They want it to look old.

house on ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville, cambodiaI was so busy looking at the house, I failed to notice the speed bumps that have been installed on the road on either side of it. Fortunately, we got over them unscathed and continued on over the bridge and up to Queen Hill Resort, where we wandered around for awhile, just taking in the views. Sorry, I forgot to take any pictures, but I did take one from the bridge:

bridge at end of ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville, cambodiaOn the way back to the food stalls, I noticed something else was new on this end of Ochheuteal beach and promised myself I’d come back again and try Sunset Lounge for breakfast.

sunset lounge

Notice the two palms growing through the roof

What a find! According to the super-friendly proprietors, Kati and Andreas, they’ve had the lease for the property for a few years, but only settled down in Sihanoukville last year. Sunset lounge is the latest addition to their bungalows. I ordered an omelette and a cappuccino. Both were delicious.

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I didn’t get a peek inside the bungalows, but judging from everything else, I’m sure they are lovely and clean. At $12 for a single, $14 for a double or $25 for an air-conditioned room, they have to be one of the best deals available anywhere in Sihanoukville, especially at the beach, where similar brick bungalows cost from $35 upwards. The location is ideal for anyone who wants easy access to the busy end of Ochheuteal and Otres, but wants to spend most of their day hanging out at a quiet and stunningly beautiful beach.

view of ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville cambodia, from Sunset Lounge

or you can sit under the shade cloth closer to the beach

You can easily walk, take a tuk tuk or ride a motorbike or bicycle to either Ochheuteal or Otres from Sunset Lounge and bungalows. The easiest way to get there from the Golden Lions is to take the 3rd road back from the beach straight through. Don’t turn right at the intersection where it appears to almost end. Keep going. After a little while, the now fully paved road makes a sharp right and takes you to the beach stalls. Then take a left and you can’t miss it. For more information or to book a room, contact Kati and Andreas directly via their website, SunsetLounge.