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.

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.

 

A Yoga Retreat in Sihanoukville Cambodia? Yep!

Sihanoukville isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you’re thinking about attending a yoga retreat, but it may be in the future. Not only do we have a yoga retreat, it’s doing very well. Vagabond Retreat is located near Independence Beach in a quiet and sparsely populated residential area. I first heard about it years ago, but couldn’t find its old location. After they moved, Shazia at Dao of Life told me how to find them and I finally found time to pay them a visit this morning.

Vagabond Temple Sihanoukville Cambodia

Photo courtesy Vagabond Temple. Click image to visit their gallery

About 10 people were meditating inside their temple when I got there. I didn’t want to disturb anyone and almost left, but one of the directors, Kobi, invited me to sit down for a chat. He was very friendly and mellow. We didn’t talk long, but I came away with an invitation to come back any time for a group meditation session or meal.

meditating at vagabond retreat sihanoukville cambodia

The Vagabond Retreat website will tell you all you need to know about them and the teachings they follow. All I want to add is that they enjoy a very good reputation and draw students from around the world, many of whom come to Sihanoukville specifically to attend their retreats. Shazia tells me they are also starting to attract some Sihanoukville expats, who come for yoga and meditation classes.

Dao of Life (our one and only vegan restaurant) and Vagabond Temple have a great reciprocal relationship. When I go to Dao, I often see people who are staying at the retreat dining there and Shazi’s customers hear about the retreat from her. I would never have found it if not for her. It’s on a side street and they don’t even have a sign outside their retreat. Kobi gave me permission to show where it is on the map. The easiest way to find it is to go up one street from the Independence Beach roundabout, turn right and look for a big house on the left side of the road.

vagabond retreat mapYoga isn’t really new to Sihanoukville. About five years ago, Sophie attended yoga classes at one of the bungalow hotels on Serendipity Beach. She loved it, but the teacher was just in town for a few months. Other yoga teachers have come and gone, but now it’s getting a foothold here. They have regular classes at Dao of Life and Katie teaches yoga at Excellence in Service, the best English school in town. Vagabond Retreat is the first place dedicated solely to yoga to stick here, though, and from all reports, it’s for good reason. Everyone says they do everything right.

Speaking of Dao of Life, if you’re ever in Sihanoukville on a Wednesday night at about 7:00pm, make Dao your stop for dinner and you can enjoy a free movie with your meal. The movies are usually documentaries and are both informative and entertaining. I’m trying to make a habit of having dinner there on Wednesdays. Even if you’re not a vegan (I’m not), you’ll like the food. Their non-dairy ice cream is delicious, by the way.

Where should I stay in Sihanoukville?

Pagoda Rocks, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

I’ve received three emails recently from people asking, “Where should I stay in Sihanoukville?” One was from someone I know well and I didn’t have a problem with recommendations. The other two came from a professional acquaintance and a friend of a friend. I was a bit stuck for answers because I don’t quite know what they would prefer. One was a woman in her late twenties, the other a man in his forties. Both of them are exploring SE Asia with a view to settling down here.

I was going to write them both long-winded emails, but decided to do it this way instead. Before I begin, though, a disclaimer: I don’t stay in guesthouses and don’t go out late at night. What follows is my opinion based on time spent having meals and hanging out in these areas.

Off the Beaten Track

I’m going to start with a couple of places that are a little off the beaten track because, in my opinion, they’re two of the best places to stay in Sihanoukville.

Pagoda Rocks, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Pagoda Rocks

If you’re looking for a retreat-like atmosphere and don’t mind having to take transportation to the beach, check out Pagoda Rocks. It’s opposite Wat Leu at the top of the Hill behind downtown. Its semi-isolation is part of its charm. The bungalows overlook the ocean on the port side of the city. Unlike bungalows in other parts of Sihanoukville, these are set amongst trees on the semi-rocky slopes of a steep hill. They have a great al fresco restaurant and a swimming pool, so there’s really no reason to leave the grounds, but if you do want to leave, the staff can provide you with any kind of transportation you like — from ride yourself bikes and motorbikes to tuk-tuks, mini buses and taxis.

Sunset Lounge, Sihanoukville Cambodia

Sunset Lounge

If the crowded end of Ochheuteal beach isn’t to your liking, but you don’t want to stay as far away as Otres, try Sunset Lounge. It’s at the very end of Ochheuteal, just before the bridge that takes you up to Queen Hill Resort. Sunset Lounge is run by a lovely German couple. They have bungalows, a very good restaurant and lots of shaded lounges, hammocks and tables on the beach opposite the restaurant. It’s possibly the best deal in Sihanoukville. While we’re in the area, Queen Hill Resort is also very nice and there are spectacular views from the bungalows.

Ochheuteal Beach and Serendipity Beach

The Serendipity end of Ochheuteal Beach from the Golden Lions to the bottom of the Hill at Mithona Road and the pier at the bottom of Serendipity Road is where the largest concentration of Western tourist oriented restaurants, bars, clubs and other tourist amenities are located. You can find everything from cheap backpacker accommodation to rather luxurious hotels in this area. There are Italian, Indian, Mexican, Greek, Japanese,  and Western restaurants  within easy walking distance of each other ranging in quality from so-so to world-class.

What else? There are two bookshops, a couple of places where you can download music, ticket offices for boats to the islands, gift shops, clothing stores, Western-style grocery stores and just about anything else you can think of to make yourself feel at home. Since Koh Rong and other islands became hotspots, a lot of people stay in the area now because you can can pick up a boat to the islands from the pier.

Nataya Resort, Sihanoukville Cambodia

New hotel on Serendipity Road

There are so many places to stay in that area, it’s hard to recommend just one or two — especially since I don’t know the first thing about a lot of them. I will mention Coolabah Resort, though, because it was the first place I know of that catered to couples and families. Their success led to the establishment of other mid-market accommodation in the area and helped change the atmosphere of the whole area. And simply because if you haven’t been to Sihanoukville in a few years, you won’t believe it’s real, the hotel at left, Holiday Villa Nataya, has now surpassed Serendipity Beach Hotel as the biggest and most luxurious on Serendipity Road.

On the downside (in my opinion), it is the main tourist area and Ochheuteal is my least favourite beach. It’s easy to get to other beaches from the area, but even easier to stay put and end up thinking Ochheuteal is all Sihanoukville has to offer in the way of beaches. If you do stay there, don’t judge Sihanoukville or Cambodia by some of the people you’ll run across on the beach there and do venture down to the free end of Sokha beach for a swim or take a tuk-tuk to Independence beach if you want to spend the day at the beach.

Otres 1 and Otres 2

After the road to Otres beach was paved in 2012, development followed at a dizzying pace. Fortunately, most of the development was designed to preserve the atmosphere of the beach and Otres is still one of our most pristine beaches. The difference is that you can now take your pick of accommodation and places to plant yourself at the beach.

Otres 1 is the first beach you come to. The beach is filled in with a variety of beach bars, cafes and restaurants ranging from inexpensive Cambodian-run beach restaurants to more upmarket European-style bar/restaurants, many of which also have bungalows you can stay in if you’re lucky enough to find a vacant one. The bungalows on the beach are pretty basic, but comfortable enough and it’s hard to beat waking up in the morning and walking ten metres to the water for a dip before breakfast.

You’ll find more substantial accommodation on the other side of the road, where zoning laws allow brick structures. Some, like Mushroom Point, have wonderfully quirky designs and others have more standard layouts. Most have their own restaurants and prices range from backpacker to mid-range depending on the quality of the accommodation.

When you reach the end of Otres 1, you come to a long, empty road with some picnic spots dotting it. After that, you’re at Otres 2. After spending a couple of nights at Wish You Were Here in Otres 1, a new friend moved on to Castaways at Otres 2 because Otres 1 was a little too busy for her taste. She originally intended to stay in Sihanoukville just for a couple of days, but liked it so much at Otres 2, she extended her visit long enough to check out the Saturday Otres Market.

Although still a little isolated, Otres 2 is where you’ll find some of the best accommodation in Sihanoukville. Tamu Hotel costs over $100 a night, but has just about everything you could wish for. I go there sometimes to have lunch at their beach bar/restaurant and go for a swim. The clientele is predominantly a mix of couples and families. Before Tamu was completed, The Secret Garden boasted the only swimming pool on all of Otres. It still has a lot to boast about and is less expensive than its neighbour. Other places are being built at Otres 2 as well, but there’s nothing after the estuary begins and it still has a remote feel to it thanks to the small area it takes up and its stunning island views.

Downtown and the Hill

I’m lumping downtown Sihanoukville with the Hill because they are both basically part of urban Sihanoukville. Why would you want to stay in a heavily populated area away from the beach when you have your choice of places to stay at the beach?

A surprising number of people stay in the downtown area. Some stay at a downtown Sihanoukville guesthouse or hotel because they tend to be cheaper than those at the beach, but even more seem to be gravitating towards the many apartment complexes that are springing up all over town. Since you can rent a studio apartment for around $100 a month, they’re a great way to extend your holiday.

The Hill was once backpacker central in Sihanoukville, but it got a bad reputation from the bars and when Serendipity/Ochheuteal was developed, it became almost a ghost town. It’s a shame because the Hill is potentially a great area to stay in. There are some really nice places to stay there and cheap restaurants that serve decent food line the road at the edge of the hill. I noticed a new accommodation called Backpacker Heaven the other day. It’s just past the triangle of roads that sort of define the Hill. Whether or not it lives up to its name I can’t say, but it looks nice enough from the outside. Then there are the old stand-bys like Mealy Chenda and Da Da Guesthouse.

Victory Hill, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

The view from Mealy Chenda on the Hill

The Hill has been a tourist area since the 1990s when only intrepid travellers ventured to Sihanoukville. One of Sophie’s first jobs was as a waitress at Victory Beach. Back then, she sometimes made as much as $50 a day in tips and loved the Western tourists who came to Sihanoukville. They all seemed to come for the same reason: to stay at a genuinely Cambodian beach town off the beaten track. Her most famous customer was John Chena, the professional wrestler, who was a complete gentleman and great tipper. After I met Sophie, I moved from the beach to Da Da Guesthouse and we ended up staying there for a month while I was looking for land. It was just starting to go downhill then and within a couple of years, several of the better restaurants on the Hill sold out and moved elsewhere because they didn’t like how the area was changing. Hopefully, it’s turned another corner and will live up to its potential in the coming years.

That just about covers the main areas of town. One word of warning before I go. If you like to party until late, stay close to the area where you party. The dark roads can get dangerous late at night after the traffic dies down.

Halloween in Sihanoukville

Monkey Republic had their relaunch party on the 26th. From what I read on Facebook, the party was a big success. If you’re one of the multitudes of backpackers who call Monkey Republic their home-away-from-home, you should be following the Monkey Republic Facebook page.

monkey-republic-27-10-13-cropped

They’re following it up with a big Halloween party:

halloween02

 

There’s also a big Halloween bash at Otres Beach. It’s at Moonlight Rock Resort. A new Sihanoukville resort, I haven’t been there yet, but will definitely check it out next time I’m at Otres. In the meantime, here’s the Moonlight Rock Resort Facebook page.

halloween01

Clearly, Halloween in Sihanoukville 2013 is going to be huge. I’m sure there will be other Halloween parties, but these are the two that came to my attention.

Sihanoukville continues to grow faster than even I can keep track of and I live here. As it grows, competition between businesses and even beaches becomes fiercer and for every 10 businesses that start up, others close. Red Club folded awhile back and the Airport at Victory Beach is now gone. From what I’ve been told, the land was sold (or more likely, leased) to a Chinese company that is going to build a casino there.

Finding the right hotel just got a whole lot easier - HotelsCombined.com

Meanwhile, some businesses on Serendipity Road have been doing well, while others are really struggling. It’s not because of a lack of tourists. Backpackers are coming to Sihanoukville in ever increasing numbers, but they have more options to choose from than in the past. One business owner who has his finger on the pulse and has a big stake in Serendipity agreed with me that there were more backpackers in town than ever before, but business was slow in his area because they were gravitating towards Otres beach and Koh Rong. That was just after the fire destroyed Monkey Republic and damaged Mick and Craig’s, though. Now that they are back (and better than ever), I think business should be good again in the Serendipity area. We’ll see.

Okay, I have to go make a living now. I just wanted to post about Halloween in Sihanoukville before it comes and goes.

Live Music at Led Zephyr Sihanoukville

Two things I miss about Australia are beaches with waves and good pub artists. I don’t think the waves will be coming any time soon, but Led Zephyr is bringing one of Australia’s best blues musicians to Sihanoukville in October.

led zephyr, sihanoukville cambodia

Live Music from Phil Manning, Australian Blues Legend at “The Led Zephyr”, Sihanoukville

ONE NIGHT ONLY — SATURDAY 12TH OCTOBER 2013

““Electric fingers on acoustic guitar” – Blues Deluxe
A veteran of the music industry in Australia, Phil Manning has been at the forefront of blues and roots style music for 4 decades.
During this time he has displayed great talent on both the electric and acoustic guitar while absorbing influences from folk, blues, country and world genres and crafting them into his unique style.
His high energy playing and relaxed delivery make him an engaging artist performing both original and traditional songs.
He has toured throughout Australia and New Zealand, as well as appearing at many festivals and venues in Ireland, UK, Vietnam, Cambodia and even Bali.
Over forty years he has recorded a large number of albums, both as a soloist and as a member of Chain, not to mention the countless sessions on other artist’s recordings, film music and product ads.
His latest CD ‘Checkmate Move’ features an eclectic collection of recent original songs.
A highlight of 2011 was winning two categories at the Vic-Tas Blues Awards – Solo Artist of the Year and Producer of the Year.
Phil Manning is a consummate live performer and it is here that he shines.
    “…an Australian national treasure…can play the hell out of an acoustic instrument so good that it leaves you breathless…” – Folk Roots magazine, U.K.”
One Night Only at the Zephyr, don’t miss it!!!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjQbqO2J4FI  ‘Travellin’ Hwy Blues’
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXgvxfBFdCU  ’32-20 Blues’ + ‘Northern Sun’

And if that wasn’t enough, Roger De La Paz will be singing an entertaining mix of classic and modern pop/rock tunes from the 60’s to the present accompanied by acoustic guitar from 6:00pm:

Subscribe to “The Led Zephyr”, Sihanoukville events list at:
Also, join or post to the new Facebook group “Live Music Asia” to be kept informed of Live Music happening in Cambodia and all over Asia:
The best nightlife in Sihanoukville at “The Led Zephyr”!

Visiting Buddha in Sihanoukville

It dawned on me the other day that I’ve settled into a routine and become a creature of habit. And so it was this morning. I went out for breakfast and then called a friend to arrange our usual Sunday get together. “I’m on my way to Phnom Penh,” he told me. Okay. Plan B was Otres Beach. Then I thought, “Why? Why not try some place different?” Without having a clue where I’d end up, I headed out Route 4. About 1/2 an hour later, I found myself turning off on the road towards Ream, but instead of going straight, I turned off on the new Sun Moon Resort Road.

creek

A creek by the side of the road

Good move. There’s no resort out there as yet, but there is a good road through some beautiful scenery with almost zero traffic. I cruised down the road slowly, enjoying the scenery and the cool breeze on my face. I’d never been down this road before, but thought it led all the way to the beach where the resort is set to be built. After a few kilometres, I discovered I was only half right. There was a guard stationed at the point where the paved road ends and the old dirt road takes over. He told me the road was closed, so I turned around. For a few minutes, I thought about taking the road down to Ream and having lunch by the water, but then Wat Samathi caught my eye on a distant hilltop.

wat-samathi-from-road

I’ve been to Wat Samathi several times before. It’s one of my favourite wats. The beautiful natural setting helps and the fact that there’s a lovely walking track around the hill makes it perfect. I’ve only been there with the family during religious festivals before. It’s always enjoyable, but I’ve always wanted to come on a day when no one was there and soak in the peaceful atmosphere.

A light rain started to fall just as I began my walk, but it was just enough to keep me cool as I walked up the staircase to the top. Just as I neared this Buddha, the rain started falling more heavily, so I took shelter under a tree.

buddha-on-stairs

The heavy rain didn’t last long, so I continued on my way. The natural setting, the cool weather and the Buddhas tucked here and there along the path were weaving their magic and for the first time in a couple of weeks, I was able to put my concerns about the state of the world out of my mind and enjoy the moment. Continuing on my way, I discovered a new temple was being built at the top of the hill. No one was working outside, but a painter was busy working on a mural inside. Here’s one he had already finished:

mural

Continuing on, I discovered that work was being done on the wat’s main Buddha, too. The scaffolding around the statue didn’t inspire me to take a photograph, so I turned and started down the stairs to the parking area. As I walked, gazing across a sea of rice paddies, I was aware of the Buddha at my back. I like to think he is there to act as kind of a lighthouse of compassion, spreading light throughout Cambodia and beyond. We can turn our backs on a beacon of light like this, but when we do, our field of vision is dimmed by shadows. Not far away, in Phnom Penh, a power struggle is taking place — a struggle that can easily be resolved if both sides turn their eyes towards the Buddha on the hill at Wat Samathi. Beyond that, another power struggle is taking place — one that threatens the entire world. The players there don’t even know this Buddha on a hill in Cambodia exists, but there’s a word for peace in every language, a place for peace in every religion. The question is: Will they be able to listen before it’s too late or is the Buddha going to have to silently watch the world destroy itself?

Wat Samathi is a lovely place. It’s only 20 kilometres outside Sihanoukville. Next time you’re in the area, check it out. Here’s a map. Take the road highlighted in yellow near Sihanoukville International Airport.  Look for the entrance just outside the village.

map-to-wat-samathi

Rainy Days in Sihanoukville

rainy season in sihanoukville cambodia

What do you do on rainy days in Sihanoukville? I do the same as I do every day — work. The only real difference is that I take my breaks when a break in the rain occurs. No matter how hard it rains, there’s always a break. You just have to be patient.

rainy season in sihanoukville cambodia

Yesterday I went to Casablanca Books during the break in the rain. Now that I don’t have to work 24 hours a day, I’ve rediscovered reading. I can’t think of a better way to spend a rainy day than with a good book.

While I was there, I stepped outside and took a picture of Mick & Craig’s. As you can see, it looks even better than it did before the fire. Mick & Craig’s wasn’t completely destroyed, so they got back on their feet faster than Monkey Republic.

mick & craig's, sihanoukville cambodia

Mick & Craig’s

Rain or shine, work continues at a feverish pace at Monkey Republic. They’re shooting for a Halloween opening. Not an easy target, considering how much bigger the new Monkey Republic is than the old. I’m told downstairs is going to be internet-free, but the upstairs lounge will be reserved for internet users. Sounds like a great idea.

new monkey republic, sihanoukville cambodia

Monkey Republic

Take heart, backpackers. When you come back in the dry season, Monkey Republic will be waiting for you.

Being a Tourist in Sihanoukville for a Day

new souvenir shops in Sihanoukville Cambodia

It’s been a long time since I felt like a tourist in Sihanoukville. I got my chance yesterday and it felt really good.

The day started with the need to buy a gift. That was a big problem 6 or 7 years ago, because there were so few shops geared towards tourists. It became a problem yesterday because there are now so many. To narrow down the field, I decided to wander into a new shopping area at the top of Serendipity Road. It reminded me of the 80s in Bali, before there were far too many shops all selling the same things. The little shops here did sell similar items, but there was enough variety to entice me took poke my head into each of them.

new souvenir shops in Sihanoukville Cambodia

When I reached the end of the row, I was in for a surprise. I’d always assumed the big structure at the top was going to become a restaurant and that there was nothing more to the complex. I was wrong. Behind that is a new bungalow establishment, complete with pool. The landscaping hasn’t quite filled in, but it’s still very nice and seems to be tucked enough out of the way to offer respite from the high season crowds on Serendipity Road.

top-of-serendipity03

As if I was a tourist and to justify wandering on to the grounds and taking photos, I stopped off at the office and enquired about room rates. They ranged from $50-70. When I was a tourist in Sihanoukville 7 years ago, there wasn’t much of a market for rooms at rates like that (more like $5-7). Today, they get filled up almost before they are completed.

That evening I played tour guide to 2 genuine tourists in Sihanoukville. A few weeks ago, I got a dinner invitation out of the blue. The executive editor and publisher of International Living magazine were coming to Sihanoukville and wanted to take Sopheak and me out to dinner. They only had a couple of days to spare in their whirlwind tour of SE Asia and wanted to learn as much as possible as they could about Sihanoukville in the short amount of time they had. I guess all the blogging I’ve done here has finally paid off, because that’s how they found me. International Living has been around for over 30 years. The magazine mostly covers expat and retirement destinations in Central and South America, but they’re thinking of expanding their coverage to include more about destinations in SE Asia.

They asked me to choose the restaurant. 7 years ago, I would have been hard pressed to find an ideal restaurant and definitely wouldn’t have been able to enthusiastically recommend Sihanoukville as a retirement destination. Last night it was easy. I chose New Sea View Villa because it’s in the heart of the tourist area and caters more to couples and mid-range travellers than backpackers. I’m not normally a scintillating conversationalist, but found myself dominating the conversation as I told them about how dramatically Sihanoukville has changed for the better over the years.

Compare hotel prices and find the best deal - HotelsCombined.comThis was their first visit to SE Asia, but both of them had spent a lot of time in Central and South American retirement havens. Somewhat to my surprise, they told me that grumpy expats who complain about everything can be found everywhere. I thought that phenomenon was unique to Sihanoukville. They were pleased and surprised to learn that Sihanoukville’s development was based on a plan. Apparently, some South and Central American countries have developed in a random fashion with no real plan and it showed.

We had a great time and by the end of the evening I felt like I was seeing Sihanoukville for the first time and I liked what I saw. As our tuk tuk drove up Serendipity Road, I watched the other tourists wandering into shops and restaurants. When we reached the top of the road, I could hear the sound of live music coming out of Led Zephyr and thought it looked like a nice place to kill some time later on. Tomorrow, maybe we’d take a boat trip to an island or try our hand at sailing or sailboarding. Then again, maybe we’d just go to Otres beach and take it easy. I liked it so much, I thought it would be a nice town to live in. Then I remembered that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Sailing a Hobie Cat in Sihanoukville

sailing towards islands off otres beach, sihanoukville cambodia

Update 02 March 2013 – I went sailing again today. There was a nice strong breeze and I got a little carried away sailing with the wind and had to learn to tack better just to make it back. Still loving it, but while I was out on the water sailing down Otres Beach, I saw kite surfers and wind surfers and thought they looked just as fun, but obviously harder to learn. After I finished sailing, I discovered a guy has set up his kite surfing lessons just next door to Pappa Pippo. Pretty pricey, but tempting. Hurricane Wind Surfing has moved to the other side of what used to be the empty beach that was the old motorbike trail back to Ochheuteal beach. There are now a bunch of restaurants there. He’s right at the end. $24 for a one hour lesson and then $10 an hour to rent a sailboard.

sailing off otres beach, sihanoukville cambodia

I even got a hull out of the water a little today.

In my last post, 5 Fun Things to Do in Sihanoukville, I mentioned renting a Hobie catamaran. Well, I did it again this past weekend and it’s moving quickly towards the top of the list. Last time,I was only one of 2 to rent one. This time, I was 3rd in a queue and could see 3 other catamarans out at sea. I’d like to take credit for the boost in popularity, but I think the better weather was responsible.

 

sailing a hobie cat in sihanoukville cambodia

1st day not as picture perfect as my second try

The actual sailing wasn’t quite as fun as last time because there was only a light breeze blowing. That turned out to make navigating the Hobie cat more difficult. I had to try to keep the sail more or less perpendicular to the breeze in order to make headway and actually got a little bored until I learned to relax and literally “go with the flow.” After that, it was good fun and I felt relaxed enough to stop and take a couple of photographs.

sailing towards islands off otres beach, sihanoukville cambodia

Better weather and lighter breezes made sailing a completely different experience

The next hurdle I had to overcome was the minor challenge of getting around Koh Kteah. I cut it a bit fine the first time and found myself heading directly into the wind, which brought me to a dead stop, so I changed direction and headed out to sea. Don’t take my 1 hour + sailing “expertise” as gospel, but it seems like the fastest way to get from one place to the other when sailing is not always to travel in a straight line. I theoretically knew about tacking before, but never realised just how wide those zigs and zags seem to have to be in a light breeze.

The more I relaxed, the more I started kicking myself for not bringing anyone with me. The guy in front of me in the queue was taking his 3 kids with him and the couple in front of him didn’t look like seasoned sailors, either. I really don’t know what I was so worried about. Unlike where I lived in Australia, where “southerly busters” kick in out of nowhere in the summer months, the dry season breezes on the Cambodian coast are pretty predictable.

sihanoukville cambodia from the sea

Rounding the island was trickier than I thought it would be

There was nothing I could do about the breeze or the lack of company, so I picked a goal up the coast and practised sailing into the wind. After awhile, I got the hang of tacking and made surprisingly good headway, discovering a couple of lovely empty beaches somewhere between Otres Beach and Ream as I sailed. From my perspective about 3 or 4 kilometres out to sea, though, those arbitrary boundaries vanished and I saw the coast as a series of potential landing sites and rocky places to avoid instead of a series of names.

The breeze picked up as I started my return journey and I was tempted to go further, but had lost track of time and didn’t have enough money to pay the half day rate of $30. As it turned out, though, the whole journey had taken only an hour and a half and instead of charging me for 2 hours, they only charged me $15. That’s a deal, especially if you share it with a couple of friends. Try sailing a Hobie cat in Sihanoukville. You’ll love it.