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.

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.

Nice day at the beach. Genocide in Gaza.

otres beach, sihanoukville, cambodia

One of Sihanoukville’s claims to fame is that it was the scene of the last battle of the Vietnam War. Not long after I came here in 2007, I saw evidence of it when road workers dug up an unexploded bomb. Or maybe it was just one of the 2.4 million tons of bombs the U.S. dropped on Cambodia during the Vietnam War. At any rate, that may be one of the reasons why I can’t get Gaza out of my mind. I live in a country that has experienced indiscriminate bombing. Cambodia had it easy compared to Gaza, though. The 1.7 million inhabitants of Gaza have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

Speaking of having it easy, I had a nice day at the beach today. I went to Papa Pippo’s — my favourite place on Otres Beach. Here’s a photo of the cover of their new menu:

pappa pippo, otres beach, sihanoukville cambodiaI sat down, opened the menu and chose something from their delicious assortment of Italian dishes. While I waited, I stared out to sea and listened to Xavier Rudd playing softly in the background. It took me back to when I saw him play at the Blues Festival in Byron Bay. With pleasant memories to look back on and a pleasant day to look forward to, what could go wrong?

I am an absurdly lucky person. Money has always eluded me, but I’ve always lived in beautiful places and had enough leisure time to enjoy them. I thought about this while enjoying my lunch and for awhile, I was able to forget about the carnage in Gaza. Then I walked down to the beach. This is what I saw,

otres beach, sihanoukville, cambodiabut then the image of the boys playing on the beach in Gaza who were blown up by an Israeli missile came into my mind.

“No! I’m going to have a nice day at the beach,” I told myself. “Too bad about Gaza, but there’s nothing I can do about it.” Well, there is one thing I can do. I can write about it. I did so three times last week in my other blog. The most popular post was the first: Jews Against Zionism. I wrote that one because I did not want to sound anti-Jewish and worry that all Jews will be tarred with the same brush when the truth about the genocide in Gaza becomes obvious to everyone. Judaism is not the problem. Zionism is.

Over the course of my research, I ran into an article in a Jewish publication, the Jewish Daily Forward. Not only did the author write that the authorities deliberately misled the public about the 3 kidnapped youths that started the slaughter, they suggested that Hamas was not responsible:

It was clear from the beginning that the kidnappers weren’t acting on orders from Hamas leadership in Gaza or Damascus. Hamas’ Hebron branch — more a crime family than a clandestine organization — had a history of acting without the leaders’ knowledge, sometimes against their interests.

It was the first time I had read about that possibility and it has since been proved true. So the slaughter began under false pretences and the lies have just gotten worse. Israel says Hamas uses children as human shields. Then I see a photo of Israeli troops using a child as a human shield. Israel says they have to defend themselves against rocket attacks from Hamas. By bombing it into oblivion with infinitely more powerful rockets?
gaza destructionSo I’m back home now, writing this before going on a pleasant afternoon motorbike ride with Sophie. I’ll be able to forget about Gaza for a little while, but by the time I get home, more innocent children will have died. The least I can do is write a little something on their behalf on my blog and join the global chorus of voices crying out to Israel to stop the genocide in Gaza.  

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.

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.

Brainwave Entrainment And Hypnosis Software
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.

 

 

Sihanoukville’s Papa Pippo at Otres Beach

Sihanoukville’s Papa Pippo’s is my favourite place to hang out at Otres Beach. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to write anything new, so I’m just embedding an article I wrote for Travelfish last January. I just want to add that the weekly Otres Market starts up again on 30 November, so if you’re in town, head over there and check it out. It’s held at the Barn in Otres village.

An almost perfect day at Otres Beach spoiled by thoughts of Syria

The weather has been superb here in Sihanoukville recently. Yesterday, I was able to take advantage of it and spent the day at Otres beach. Originally thinking I’d go to Papa Pippo’s, I changed my mind at the last minute and decided to give Mushroom Point a try.

at-mushroom-point-otres-pano

I started with an omelette and a cup of coffee. The omelette was great, the coffee only average, but more than drinkable. After breakfast, I went for a swim. As you can see from the photo above, the water was clean and glassy. While I was swimming, a couple of boats headed out towards Koh Russei, I assumed.

at-mushroom-point-otres-2-smAfter my swim I took one of the beach lounges and wished I’d brought a book with me. Instead, I used my phone. Mobile devices are poor substitutes for real books in the best of circumstances, but I made the mistake of looking at social media first. I ran across some good news first. It looks like both parties in Cambodia are urging their followers to show restraint and deal with their differences peacefully. It turned south, though, when I started reading about President Obama’s continued push for an invasion of Syria.

Obama has been beating the war drums for awhile now, just looking for an excuse to invade Syria, chemical weapons in the hands of Assad’s forces being his favourite excuse. The trouble is, he hasn’t found the proof he wants and seems to overlook all evidence to the contrary — evidence that strongly suggests that the so-called rebels were the ones who used a nerve gas and not Assad’s forces.

The video from RT embedded below offers some of the evidence and Vladimir Putin has said it would be absurd for Assad to use chemical weapons, since his forces don’t need them anyway and he knows what the consequences would be if he did. If you’re an American and still don’t trust Russian news, consider the testimony of U.N. investigator Carla del Ponte, who said there were “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof” (source) that rebels and not Assad’s forces used them in an attack Obama and company blamed on Assad in April. Not mainstream enough for you? Even CBS news asked as recently as August 29th, Syria chemical weapons attack blamed on Assad, but where’s the evidence?

The news put a damper on my day for two reasons. First, all America has accomplished in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya is killing untold numbers of innocent civilians and destabilising the countries. Secondly, an attack on Syria could trigger WWIII.

Not wanting to let a little bad news spoil a perfect morning, I put all this in the back of my mind and went for another swim. When that didn’t work, I promised myself I’d do the only thing I am capable of doing about it: include my opinion about the situation in my blog along with some evidence. It may not change anything, but at least my decision allowed me to enjoy the rest of the morning.

I don’t expect this little blog to change anyone’s mind, much less change the world, but at least I’ve kept my promise to myself and will be able to enjoy another perfect day at Otres beach. If today was anything to go by, tomorrow promises to be another one, so I’ll pack up my laptop and work at the beach. Who in the world has a better office than I?

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Where is Otres Village?

The soft voices of the patrons sitting behind me provide the vocals. The bartender strums his guitar while the rustle of leaves provides the percussion. Every now and then, as if on cue, the birds across the water chirp or a passing motorbike adds a touch of tension to the music, but not for long; and not long enough to disturb the pervasive peace. Where am I?

barn-otres

It’s hard even for me to know. I tell the bartender it feels like Nimbin, on the north coast of New South Wales, but that’s not quite right. The tap-tap-tap of a hammer in the distance brings it in to focus. This village sprouting like a cluster of mushrooms near the Khmer village behind Otres 2 is taking me back in time to 1968. There, following the lead of poets Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, hippies bought cheap land on a scarred but recovering part of California’s lower Sierra Mountains called San Juan Ridge.

yoga-otresThere’s even a yoga retreat here, just like on the Ridge. It’s closed now; I assume for the rainy season.

The bartender tells me they’ve dubbed this area “Otres village.” The Barn was responsible for bringing this out-of-the-way corner of Sihanoukville to life. Someone had the ingenious idea to start a weekend market there last year. Otres Market was a big hit over the high season, but they’ve put it on hold through the rainy season, when tourist numbers aren’t enough to draw a crowd.

There are still enough backpackers in town to fill a few bungalows here at the Hacienda, though. The bartender describes it as feeling like living in the middle of the jungle at night. He agrees with me that last night’s sunset was particularly spectacular. I saw it through my bedroom window. I can only imagine how it looked from here.

hacienda-bungalow2-otres

After finishing a bottle of water, I become curious about the hammering I’m hearing in the distance, so I go for a walk in its general direction. As I walk, I’m amazed by the amount of construction that’s going on. I ask the builders at the site where I heard the tapping what they’re building. They tell me it’s going to be a restaurant. Except for one two storey brick building, most everything that’s being built seems to be made of timber and thatch. Some designs are traditional, either Western or Khmer. Others can best be described as “hippy chic” — low on budget, but high on imagination. If the trend continues, this could become one of the most interesting collection of bungalows and homes on the planet.

bungalows-otres

houseFinally, it’s time to go. As I wind my way through the 5 o’clock traffic, I’m struck by how fast Sihanoukville has grown since the first time I saw it in September, 2006. Back then, I wondered why they made Ekareach Street so wide, since there was so little traffic. Now I wonder why they didn’t make it even wider. It’s not tourist traffic at this time of the year. It’s all the Cambodians who have come here to work and raise their families. The traffic doesn’t stop even when I make my way down the rutted little road to my house. The kids have just gotten out of school — a school that wasn’t there just a year ago. Maybe it’s time to think about moving to Otres village.