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.

The Road from Otres to Sihanoukville Airport

I’ve been wanting to take the new road from Otres to the Sihanoukville Airport for a while now. Today was the perfect day for it: no rain, a little overcast and windy. I was hesitant after a friend hit a rock and had a bad accident, but another friend told me it was smooth now. She was right.

road from otres beach sihanoukville to ream I told myself I wasn’t going to get distracted by new developments. It wasn’t easy, because I saw many as I rode my motorbike to Wat Otres, where the new road begins. I couldn’t help but take a picture of this mural on a wall just outside of Otres, though. I have no idea who did it, but it’s brilliant.

mural near Otres beach, sihanoukville cambodiaThe first thing I came across on the new road from Otres to the Sihanoukville Airport was this.

on road from otres to ream, sihanoukville cambodiaI was impressed but was more impressed when I came across this vista.

road from otres to battrang, sihanoukville cambodiaI took this photograph at a crossroads. I rode to the bottom, but turned around. I thought the other road would lead to a beach. I ran into a Cambodian man I know on my way back up the hill and he wanted to show me the 3 hectares of land he had bought, so I followed him to the bottom. He told me the road comes out at Route 4 in Battrang and was going to be paved next year. I’m glad I went today. I’ve been kicking myself for not taking photos of places before they’re developed. I didn’t see much of interest on his land, but after I turned around, I had to take a photograph of these cows. I suspect one day there will be a resort where this little shack is today.

road from otres to sihanoukville airportWhen I got back to the top of the hill, I went down the road I suspected led to a beach. I was right. It was a beautiful, unspoiled beach with only a couple of families having picnic lunches on the beach.

empty beach outside of sihanoukville cambodiaOther than that, it was completely empty. I loved it and plan on returning soon to enjoy a few hours on an empty beach swimming and relaxing in the sun.

empty beach between sihanoukville and ream, cambodiaIt reminded me of Maui, circa 1969. We used to go to Makeena Beach and swim nude. It was completely empty. A guy told me there’s a golf course there now. It’s getting harder to find empty beaches. No, I won’t swim nude (that was when I was a young hippie), but I’ll enjoy the natural, empty beach for as long as I can.

The BIG Sihanoukville News

Update 13 March 2016: According to the Khmer Times and other publications, it looks like the Sihanoukville beach vendors have been given a reprieve. I’ll keep you posted, but for now at least, it doesn’t look like their establishments are going to be bulldozed.

The big Sihanoukville news is that all those lovely beachfront restaurants on Otres Beach are soon going to be a thing of the past. The story broke on the Cambodia Daily on February 17 and was quickly shared on Facebook. Some beach establishments confirmed it, with one saying they would stay until their business was bulldozed. His words reflected those of a business owner quoted in the Cambodia Daily: “I’ll tell you what my reaction to this is: It’s that I will stay until they f—king shove me off here.”

Otres19Feb2016

The buildings on the right are apparently the ones that have to go

The article says:

According to a statement dated February 12 and signed by Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Yon Min, businesses on O’Tres and those on the southern end of O’Chheuteal have until March 13 to move out, citing environmental concerns.

Those that don’t comply with the order will be bulldozed. I know of at least one business that has been anticipating this since they set up shop on the beach years ago. They made contingency plans, but many others will simply have to close. One thing I’m not clear about is what’s going to happen to the businesses on the other side of the road. I knew the ones on the beach were on borrowed time, but thought those on the opposite side of the road were safe. Some of them have invested a lot of money in their bungalows and guesthouses and have made Otres Sihanoukville’s most popular beach.

According to Sihanoukville governor Y Sok­leng as quoted in the article cited above: “Those buildings are close to the sea—the construction should be more than 100 meters away. In fact, when the tide is high, it often touches the buildings.” The guesthouses across the road are a lot less than 100 meters from the beach, but I was under the impression they were legally there and were subject only to height restrictions so that high rise construction could take place on the paved road that runs behind and parallels the dirt road shown on the photo above.

I took a walk to the end of Otres1 and took the two photos shown below. If they remove all the establishments, it’s sort of a before and after picture of what Otres Beach will look like in the near future.

Otres before and after

Before . . . and . . . After

I guess it will be kind of nice to have more beach, but I feel for the businesses that have to go. Most of them have done a great job, providing good food and beverages and keeping the beach clean. True, you have to pay for the privilege, but if you just want to enjoy the beach, Long Beach (on the right) is always there for you.

Some of my friends agree with me that removing the bars and restaurants along Ochheuteal Beach might not be such a bad idea. Many of them attract a clientele that Sihanoukville could do without. Otres seems to attract more tourists who just want to enjoy the beach. When I went down there to take these photographs, I saw three kite surfers, several people sailboarding and more than a few Hobie catamarans on the water. When I stopped in at a restaurant for a coffee and a snack, they were playing mellow music and guests were quietly enjoying the sun and the water.

So that’s the BIG Sihanoukville news. I’ll be sure to take a ride out there on or after March 13 to see what’s happened. I will be sorry to see some of my favourite weekend lunch spots go, but if there is one thing I’ve learned here, it’s that anything can happen and probably will.

Email to an old Sihanoukville friend

When I came to Sihanoukville to stay in 2007, I felt out of my depth and did what most newcomers do — asked those who had been here longer than I for their advice. One of those people was a guy who had only been here a few months longer, but he helped me more than most, not because he had all the answers, but because he admitted he didn’t. What he had to offer was better than advice: he offered support.

He left Sihanoukville a couple of years later because he couldn’t make a decent living here. We kept in touch for awhile. Then he got married, had a child and we were out of touch for years. I heard from him recently and he wanted to know what life was like here now. I thought about writing him a lengthy email. Then I decided to write the email here so others could get an inkling of how much this town has changed.

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Hey –,

Great to hear from you! Everything’s good here. It’s too bad you started your business when you did because I think if you had given it a try now it would be much more successful. We don’t have a long, dead rainy season to ride out, for one thing. The numbers drop, but rainy seasons now are as busy as the high seasons used to be.

When you were here, activity was centred around the Hill, downtown and Serendipity beach. The Hill became a bit of a ghost town after they paved Serendipity Road and the road to Otres. I think they tore down the old bus station before you left. A lot of downtown guesthouses suffered because of that, but some hung in there and a few are doing well again. They keep their prices lower than places closer to the beach and some of them pull in customers because they offer good rooms and have good restaurants.

For awhile, the area around Serendipity Road was a zoo. It still gets busy, but people tell me most of the backpackers only stay in that part of town overnight before they move on to Koh Rong or one of the other islands. Those who stay longer term usually gravitate towards the mellower Otres beach, or so I’m told.

hill - paved

Yep. Believe it or not, this is the Hill

If I’d heard from you a few months ago, I would have said the Hill is the same as it was when you left. A few months can make a big difference here, though. The main road has been paved and even the bumpy road in the triangle has been cemented. Most of the old bars are still there, but some nice restaurants have been started, too. I wrote about the changes on the Hill in a recent blog, Victory Hill Gets a Facelift, so I won’t repeat myself here. Yep. Believe it or not, the picture above is at the corner near where your café used to be.

del marI think you had the first or second espresso maker in Sihanoukville. Well, they’re everywhere now. I wrote about that recently, too, in Coffee Houses in Sihanoukville. My favourite is Café del Mar. I wish I’d written that blog a few weeks later because there’s a new del Mar on CT Road, just a few doors down from the clinic outside one of the hotels there. Same great pastries but arguably even better coffee thanks to the state-of-the-art espresso maker they bought for it.

What else is new? Oh yeah. They’re widening the beach road between Sokha beach and Independence beach to make way for a monstrous development. There’s another one planned for Independence beach, too, but I’m not sure when they’ll get started on that.

I’m pretty sure one thing you’d notice if you visited would be how much more traffic there is now. It used to get a bit crazy at around 5 p.m. when all the kids were going home from work or school, but Ekareach Street is busy all the time now. Remember how we used to notice cars on the road? There are so many now it’s not a big deal. I went to Otres beach on Sunday and it seemed like there were as many cars as motorbikes, if not more. Otres has been divided in two. Between Otres 1 and Otres 2 is a long stretch of empty beach. On Sunday, cars lined that section of road from one end to the other.

I went to Otres to escape the Chinese New Year crowds, but the only way I could escape was by renting a Hobie cat. It was a perfect day for sailing. I headed straight out to sea and when I got to the wind-sheltered side of one of the islands, I just stopped for awhile to enjoy the silence. I couldn’t even hear a firecracker going off in the distance.

Remember that big vacant area behind my house? It’s full of houses now and there are two big new apartment complexes at the top of our road. Just down from there are two more and it looks like another one is going up closer to the main road.

I think you’d be blown away by how much Sihanoukville has grown since you were here. I am. I still remember wondering why Ekareach Street was so wide when I first came here. Now I’m wondering why it’s so narrow. To ease traffic and give new businesses a chance to take root, they’ve widened the road that parallels Ekareach Street a couple of blocks down from the Total gas station. It’ll be interesting to see what pops up along that road in the future.

Anyway, it was great to hear from you after so many years. Don’t worry about bringing your family here. A lot of families come to Sihanoukville now and some come to stay. Hope you and your family can make it here some time soon.

Cheers,

Rob

Christmas in Sihanoukville 2014

sailing off otres beach, sihanoukville cambodia

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On Christmas day, Sophie and I were in Psar Leu fighting the crowds. “Go Otres now,” Sophie said out of the blue. “Justin come now.” I wasn’t expecting him for at least another hour, but I’ve learned to listen to her when she says something like that. She can be amazingly intuitive.

Sure enough, Justin and Annameeka were checking in at the beautiful new Sahaa Beach Resort when we rolled up on our motorbike. Because of Sopheak’s exquisite timing, we were able to have lunch with them before they went to their bungalow to recover from their long, overnight flight and drive from Phnom Penh.

sahaa beach resort, otres beach, sihanoukville cambodia

Sahaa Beach Resort

That evening, Justin and Meeka took my advice and ate at Papa Pippo’s. They loved it and loved everything about Otres. When they came over to our house for lunch the next day, they told me how quiet and mellow it was and how friendly the people they met at the beach were.

lunch on 26 December 2014Over lunch, we made plans for the following day. I would come over at about 10 a.m. and we would go sailing. That and dinner at Maybe Later were the two things I wanted to do with him in Sihanoukville. Otherwise, I left it to him and Annameeka to decide what they wanted to do. Fortunately, sailing was on their agenda, too, so there was no conflict of interest.

The breeze was just starting to kick in when we got to the Nautica Sailing Club at Otres 2. I was as surprised by the new Nautica as they were. It’s been expanded since the last time I was there and is as much a bar/restaurant as a place to rent Hobie cats and kayaks now. After Justin and Meeka drank fresh coconut milk and I had a coffee, we headed out to sea with me at the helm.

sailing in sihanoukvilleI had big plans, but the wind died down, so after we got out to this little island, we turned around. Then the wind picked up again, so we turned around again. I made only a token effort to head towards another island, but my preference for speed won out over a desire for a change of scenery, so we pretty much just retraced our steps.

sailing off otres beach, sihanoukville cambodia

After sailing, we walked a few steps up the beach to Elephant Garden for lunch. Everyone agreed it was delicious and there’s no mellower place to hang out than in their restaurant or on their beach lounges. Now you can stay at the Elephant Garden Resort just across the road. I’m sure it’s just as well-run as the restaurant.

That afternoon, Justin and Meeka rented a jet ski. The guy put it in sports mode, whatever that is, and Justin said they went from zero to 35kph (or was it mph?) in about 2 seconds. How Meeka managed to take this photo is beyond me.

justin-meeka jetskiBefore they moved on to the Serendipity Beach Resort, Justin and Meeka managed to squeeze in a night at the Otres Market, which they thoroughly enjoyed. Things turned a little south after they moved to Serendipity beach, though. We had a great dinner at Maybe Later, but they said they could hear music coming from the concert up the road and fireworks going off at the beach all that night and the next. New Year’s is a three-day event here in Sihanoukville.

The next day was a bit of a catastrophe. They couldn’t get an 8:00 a.m. boat to Koh Rong, so they settled for a 12 o’clock one instead. It hadn’t arrived by 1:00, though, so they asked for a refund. Going all that way just to have an hour or so didn’t seem worth it to them. They finally got the refund, but the worst was yet to come. Justin sent me a message, but I didn’t read it, so we weren’t able to take advantage of the car Sophie had for the day and take them out to Ream. They ended up going to the free end of Sokha. That night, we all met up at Olive & Olive and had a great meal, but the day could have been so much better.

On the 30th, I rode out to the airport to see them off. Afterwards, I continued on to Ream, where I found a great restaurant in a beautiful spot. Then I went on a motorbike ride up the beach. I had a relaxing time, but it would have been so much more fun with them.

beach in Ream, near Sihanoukville Cambodia

My private beach in Ream

I don’t want to get all cosmic on you, but if you ever get a chance to read my book (shooting for June 2015 completion), you’ll learn that my best guide in life is a goddess I call Serendipity. . Sophie had worked at a wedding the night before and drove some of her police friends home in one of the cars they used to get to the party. The Mitsubishi Pajero was hers for the day. She wanted Justin and Meeka to change their plans and take advantage of having the car. Had we done so, Meeka could have gone snorkelling at the empty beach in Ream we took Jan Cornall to and it would have been nicer than Koh Rong, which is kind of a zoo now that it’s so popular. We barang aren’t very good at spontaneous changes of plans, though, so Serendipity’s gift to us sat in the driveway all afternoon.

Actual photo of Serendipity and her sister Fortuna

Actual photo of Serendipity and her helper

All’s well that ends well. Justin and Meeka are now in Siem Reap and having a great time. They loved Sihanoukville, too, except for the hiccough in the end. Can’t say fate didn’t try to lend them a hand, though. When Serendipity speaks, it’s best to listen. She’s a lot better guide than Lonely Planet or Trip Advisor.

What’s happening at Sihanoukville’s Otres Beach?

A little over two years ago, I wrote about the New Road to Otres Beach. A couple of months later, I wrote Sihanoukville Master Plan Revealed! This photo accompanied the article:

This is what the area behind Otres may look like by 2040

2040 is a long way off, but they have to get started sometime, don’t they? Well, they have. See those yellow roads going off into the distance? One of them has been paved. It links up with Route 4 just outside of Sihanoukville near the “Welcome to Sihanoukville” sign on the highway. Nothing is being built on the road yet, but I have it on pretty good authority that a Chinese developer has bought/leased a big chunk of land near this crossroads and plans on building a housing estate on it.

new road otres beach sihanoukville cambodiaI think the fact that they paved the road even though it’s next to useless for through traffic substantiates that rumour. That much construction requires easy access and the road offers access without having to pass through the city.

There is also a direct road from the airport to Otres in the works and someone told me they have already started working on it and plan to bring in the heavy equipment in 2015. That, too, is clearly marked on the Master Plan. It’s the orange road that goes through Otres.

Let’s come back to the present and take a look at Otres Beach as it is. A seemingly odd thing happens as you approach the beach. The paved road takes a left turn down the second road back, but comes to an abrupt end just before the popular beach road. Isn’t that doing things backwards? Not according to the Sihanoukville Master Plan.

crossroads at otres beach sihanoukville cambodia

The bumpy dirt beach road is slated to become a pedestrian road only. The bungalows on the beach are going to have to go (that’s why they’re made of timber) and even some of the bar/restaurants will be demolished and in fact one that was illegally constructed recently was. The bungalows and hotels between the two roads will stay as long as they conform to building regulations, but their main entrances will be on the paved road.

I took a ride down that road and noticed something interesting. One new bungalow complex is in the process of making an entrance on the paved road. Right now it looks like a service entrance only, but notice how the pool is most visible from here instead of the beach side of the road. Are they thinking ahead?

bungalows at otres beach, sihanoukville cambodiaAlso notice how the bungalows are positioned well away from the fence. That’s because zoning laws state they have to be at least six metres from the road — for parking, I think.

2040 is still a quarter of a century in the future. At the rate building was going on a few years ago, there wasn’t much chance Sihanoukville would be as developed as the Master Plan envisions. Even at the rate it has been growing since 2012, it is hard to imagine it looking like this:

otres futureHowever, the rate of construction investment increased 210% in Cambodia in the first five months of 2014 and there’s no sign of it slowing down. According to the Global Post article I got this information from, the total investment was 2.77 billion dollars and came from investors in a variety of countries.

Another sign of the times is that real estate prices are rising in Sihanoukville. In the Phnom Penh Post, Sum Manet reports in At the beach, prices on the rise:

Property prices in Sihanoukville are on the rise with premium main road and beach front properties selling for about 10 per cent more than this time last year, says Po Eavkong, managing director of Asia Real Estate Cambodia. Eavkong said properties along backstreets had gone up 5 to 7 per cent.

He goes on to say that one thing holding development back is that “some land owners were demanding unrealistic prices and keeping developable [sic] property locked up”.

So that’s what’s happening at Sihanoukville’s Otres Beach. I don’t want to be a party-pooper, but personally, I hope Sihanoukville stays as it is a little longer. We’re already looking at land outside the city, where prices are still low, but hesitate to sell because there’s a great school near our house and Sihanoukville has all the amenities we need. We’re looking, though, because we are starting to feel crowded out. The land behind Otres is still rural and we go for motorbike rides out there frequently just to get out of the city, breathe the fresh air and look at the greenery. When that’s gone, so will we.

Modern Architecture in Sihanoukville

modern architecture in sihanoukville cambodia

I stumbled across a new online service the other day. momondo offers flights from London to Sihanoukville. Aside from the obvious (that Sihanoukville is now a bona fide international travel destination), it got me thinking about what surprises were in store for first time visitors here. Sihanoukville’s modern architecture might be one of them. Then again, they may not see it unless they go to Otres beach or the hills behind the city, where some European expats are building mansions that would cost millions in the U.S., Europe or Australia. Here in Sihanoukville, an ocean view mansion like this one costs about the same as an average suburban home in Australia.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been in this house and saw it while it was under construction. Since I also write for an Australian home improvement site, I’m up with the times about what inclusions people want in their homes today. All I can say is that this house has everything and it was all available in Phnom Penh. My best guess is that it would cost about 5 times as much to build in Australia. Add in the ocean view and it would be at least 10 times as expensive. Okay, Australia is notoriously expensive, but how much do you reckon this would cost to build in your home country? If you say half a million dollars, you’re still paying more than this house cost, including the land.

I mention modern residences first because I’ve noticed it’s becoming a trend. People who have a portable income come here to visit and then decide to invest and live here. Why wouldn’t you? A friend told me about a guy he met recently. He has a very successful business in New York and has beach front property in Los Angeles and elsewhere in America. He chooses to live here, though, because he likes the slower pace of life. Kind of amazing when you think about it. Here’s a guy who can afford to live anywhere and has travelled extensively, but he chooses to call Sihanoukville home.

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Tamu Hotel’s minimalist architecture would be striking anywhere. The fact that it is on a dirt road in Otres 2 makes it even more striking. In June, I tried to book a bungalow for my son and his girlfriend, who are coming over on Christmas day. Despite the fact that it was six months away and rooms cost well over $100, they were already booked out. What was I going to do? Fortunately, a friend was working on an equally nice accommodation at Otres 1. I was able to reserve a room there because the bungalows hadn’t even been built and no one knew about them. Sahaa Beach Resort just finished the landscaping last week and as you can see, the bungalows aren’t too shabby:

SaHaa Beach Resort(2)What’s the point of all this rambling on about modern architecture in Sihanoukville? Well, it’s my usual agenda — to present this amazing place as it is, a dynamic and growing city that is always full of surprises. True, it’s going through some growing pains, as many business owners on Serendipity Road can attest. They’re planning on widening the road and if they go ahead as planned, many businesses will be losing their al fresco dining areas and some will be virtually cut in half. I’ll keep you informed about that as I learn more.

Otres beach, too, as radically different today from what it was like before the road was paved, is due for yet another transformation. I’ll cover that in more depth in my next blog.

Welcome to the Future of Sihanoukville

road works in sihanoukville cambodia

Photo published in Travelfish

Update: Wednesday, 9 July 2014

On Sunday, July 6, Joe and I took a ride around Sihanoukville. When we got to Otres, Joe suggested we drive out on the new road. “I’m not sure the car will make it,” I said. “They’ve finished the road!” Joe replied. That sealed the decision. I was starving and it would take twice as long to get to the place we had chosen for lunch, but I wanted to see the road.

Sure enough, it was smooth and paved. Obviously, paving the new road to Otres was a top priority project. Why, I don’t know, but I’m sure it has something to do with development plans at Otres beach and the Otres area in general.

 

Original article begins:

I took the photograph at left in January 2013. It appeared in a Travelfish article I wrote, Rural Sihanoukville by Motorbike. After a marathon 10 days of working 12-15 hours a day, I decided to take a day off today. After spending some time relaxing at Sunset Lounge, I decided I really didn’t want to spend the rest of the day at the beach or any place else I go to regularly. Ideally, I wanted to go somewhere rural, far away from the tourists and traffic in Sihanoukville, but I didn’t have time. Remembering the lovely afternoon I’d spent in rural Sihanoukville the previous year, I decided to take a ride out there.

I took the photo below at the spot where I had taken the photo above 13 months previously. Looking into the distance, I noticed the entire road had been widened considerably. Obviously, work on the new road to Otres, the one that links directly from Route 4, was being undertaken in earnest. I knew it was on the Sihanoukville Master Plan, but thought it would be awhile before they got around to building it. Looks like I was wrong.

road works in sihanoukville cambodia

I continued up the road, past where I’d turned off the year before. I hadn’t been up here for about 5 years, mainly because it had been so rough before. Well, it’s not rough now. It is sandy in places, but it’s twice as wide and there are piles of crushed rock on the side of the road. I had to stop for trucks to pass twice and wait for their dust to clear.

When I got to the top of the hill, I saw the beginnings of what will probably end up being a lookout or, maybe, a restaurant:

lookout at sihanoukville, cambodiaI took a walk out on to it and the views were spectacular. This isn’t a very good photograph, but it gives you the idea:

overlooking sihanoukville, cambodiaI just spent the past week writing Australian suburb profiles for a real estate site. Part of the assignment was to write brief histories of the suburbs I wrote about. Several of them were in the Western suburbs of Sydney. Most of them were farmland until the 1950s. Then they started to grow, much like downtown Sihanoukville and surrounds have grown since I arrived here. Then, in the sixties, they experienced population explosions. Hills and plains that once looked similar to the photo above turned into vast suburbs within 10 years.

I couldn’t help but reflect on those articles as I gazed into the distance. If Sihanoukville grows as planned, that semi-flat area down below will be housing estates. Up on the hill will be where the more exclusive residences will be built. Does that sound like a fairy tale? Well, the plan is for Sihanoukville to become the second largest city in Cambodia after Phnom Penh.

Most tourists only see a tiny portion of Sihanoukville. They don’t know about the Special Economic Zones and don’t notice all the commercial banks that have appeared in downtown Sihanoukville. Tourism, though, is just one aspect of the city’s planned development and Western tourism is only a small fraction of the tourism envisioned for Sihanoukville.

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I don’t exactly want to see housing developments down there. In fact, I categorically do not want to see them. Sihanoukville is just about the right size for me, but I’m not the one making the decisions. I’m just an observer, like I was when I was writing about all those suburbs that sprang out of nowhere in Australia.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the CNRP will get its wish and Cambodia will be torn apart by civil strife and take a step backwards to the post-Khmer Rouge era. Maybe the United States will decide to start WWIII and we’ll all die. Maybe there will be a world-wide economic collapse. Anything’s possible, but if things continue on their present course, the next photograph I take of this view will probably look much different.

feb-28-14-04This little Khmer restaurant is just up the road from the new structure and is somehow connected to it. I stopped in for a water and called Sophie to ask her to talk to the woman who was in charge. Yes, she said, they are building the road — paving and all.

After paying for my water, I continued up the road. Within a couple of hundred metres or less, I was out on the highway, about 10 kilometres outside Sihanoukville. About 10 or 20 metres was about all that hadn’t been widened. From the highway, it still looked like a little dirt side road. One of these days, it’s going to be the main road into the new Sihanoukville — if all goes according to plan, that is.

 

What’s new at Otres 2?

Ker Chunk! Ker Chunk! Ker Chunk! For the past 5 days a machine has been driving big concrete poles into the ground 2 doors down from my house. Every time the pile driver hammers the 4 metre long posts, the house shakes. They start up at about 8 a.m. At 8:30 this morning, I decided it was time to get out of Dodge. Where to go, though? Now that there’s no Water Festival in Phnom Penh, holiday makers are flooding to Sihanoukville. It looked like there was no escape until I thought of Otres 2

tamu, otres beach, sihanoukville cambodia

Otres 2 is at the far end of Otres Beach, after Long Beach. The last time I was there was the day I capsized a catamaran. My first thought was to go to Nautica and have another go, but first I decided to cruise on down further and check out the progress on a resort that was being built the last time I was in Otres. As you can see, it’s finished and it’s beautiful. At $110 a night, Tamu isn’t a budget Sihanoukville hotel, but compared to what you’d get elsewhere in the world at that price, it’s still a deal.

white-beachI’d already had lunch downtown, so instead of settling down on Tamu’s beach, I went for a walk up the road and checked out what’s new at Otres 2 besides Tamu. White Beach is just about finished, but what I loved the most was the sand path leading to these beach umbrellas. It looks like someone stuck them on their own private beach on an undeveloped piece of land, which I guess is exactly what was done. I suppose White Beach Bungalows has future plans for the rest of the land, but for now it looks perfect to me just as it is.

secret-gardenThere are other new developments at Otres 2. Elephant Garden’s entrance has been improved and as I completed my short loop, I noticed the garden at the Secret Garden has filled in. It looks pretty tempting. The Secret Garden is just next door to Tamu, so after taking a quick photo, I decided to plant myself at Tamu beach. It’s only been open a month, but word seems to have spread, because there were about a dozen people taking up space on the nice wide, brilliantly white sand beach.

The construction near our house combined with a heavy workload last week had taken its toll and I was finding it hard to unwind even at Otres 2, so I did what I usually do when my stress levels are high. I’ve been doing brainwave entrainment off and on for years — sometimes to help me focus on work and sometimes to zone out completely. I didn’t have my laptop with me and therefore didn’t have access to the program I usually use, Neuroprogrammer 3. I had the next best thing, though — a free app called Brainwave a Day. The daily programs are random, but today I was lucky. Today’s was a Theta brainwave track that mimics the deep meditation states of accomplished yogis and Zen practitioners. If you don’t know what brainwave entrainment (bwe) is, check out Transparent Corp’s Beginner’s Guide and then try NP3 for free for 2 weeks. You don’t even need a credit card to try it. It just self-destructs after 2 weeks if you don’t want to buy it.

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10 minutes into the 50 minute track and I’d gone from stressed out to blissed out. Not wanting to disappear altogether, I opened my eyes and took in the scenery. The bwe track had done its job. Colours were brighter, details sharper and although I was stilling listening to the track, I could hear the breeze passing through the tree whose shade was keeping me cool and the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore. It always amazes me how our perceptions are shaped by the state of mind we’re in. As I sat there gazing out to sea, my senses seemed to absorb everything that’s beautiful and mellow about Otres beach. The stress was forgotten and once again I was able to appreciate how lucky I am to be able to live here.

beach-river-resortThe easiest way to get to Otres 2 is to take the paved road behind the Otres beach road. Just keep going straight. Eventually the paved road ends. Keep going on the dirt road. After 50 metres or so it makes a hard right. Check out the Khmer style resort, Beach River Resort, just at the bend. You can’t tell at a glance, but it’s right on the estuary and they have lovely rooms and bungalows. It might be a great alternative to some of the busier beach bungalows and the room rates start at $48, which is probably cheaper than you’ll find for similar quality rooms along the beach.