Sihanoukville in December 09. Same Same but Different.

If you are up with larks you may want to stay on the riverfront in Phnom Penh. However, if you are a late night owl, like us, falling in the door at 3 and wanting to sleep til noon, you may want to try somewhere else. The River Star hotel was fine in itself, but the jackhammering that commenced after 5hours sleep was not pleasant.

At 8am I was roused from my much needed slumber by the raucous sounds of machinery hitting concrete. Urgh…

I suffered and tried to doze, eventually getting up for breakfast. I ate my first banana pancake of the trip, while chatting to children who came up and deftly avoiding being sold anything (no mean feat!)  I struggled with the way-too-strong-Khmer coffee too, having forgotten how lethal it was.

Whilst munching brekkie we thought we’d better settle up our bill and check with reception about the bus we’d booked the night before. “Oh no,” they said, “there’s no booking here”. Oh dear. At the last minute they got us onto a bus leaving for Sihanoukville within the hour, and got us a driver to take us to the bus station. Phew.

Last time we were in PP, the buses were pretty woeful, with broken aircon, busted seats, overheated engines and crazed bus drivers. This time however, we got the Angkor Express bus and it was a world apart from our last experience. Double decker, nice seats with plenty of leg room, air-con that worked, an on-board toilet (!!) – AND we nabbed the 2 front seats on the top deck for a superb view as we travelled.

Around 3 and a half hours later we alighted in Snooky town, but could get a tuktuk for no less than $3US to take us to our hotel. Ripped. We knew $1 was probably right and were trying for $2, but they formed a consortium and refused to take us for less. Oh well.

As we neared the famed lion monument at the big roundabout, we marvelled at how many more buildings there were, banks everywhere, even a lit up Coke sign. A bumpy road took us to the top of Serendipity beach – it didn’t exist last time we were here. Now it was lined with hostels and bars. Ah progress…but it didn’t bode well for a relaxing time.

Coasters was the hotel we’d booked, and it had quite a good location, being on the beach. Well, the restaurant was on the beach. The bungalows were further back. The owner was Irish and very friendly, especially when he heard my surname which is a common Irish one.

We were delighted as we walked to our half-bungalow, to see our first big gecko on a wall nearby.

We were somewhat less delighted when we got to our room. It had a musty smell. What is that odour? I wondered…it was sooo familiar. Oh yes!! It smelled of cabbage! I think it was the bacteria in the bathroom, but best not to think about it too much.

Tummies were rumbling so we nabbed a table at the seaside (and I mean the waves were mere feet away from us), and ordered Amok and Luc Lac. It was lovely being by the ocean again as we ate, toes in the sand.

But as we looked further down Serendipity and Ochheuteal beaches, we saw that where once was the occasional bar/restaurant on the beach with space in between, now it was absolutely jam-packed with these places. See?

As we walked along them after dinner, we couldn’t help but notice there was hardly any beach left – partly due to bad storms back in July.  And each bar would have its own music blaring, so you’d be assaulted with a cacophony as you stumbled along, trying not to fall onto the rocks or into the sea.

I had to confess that the naysayers had been right – Sihanoukville is very much in the grip of overdevelopment. Would there be anywhere we could go that still had that relaxing chilled out vibe from 5 years ago?

Well, I’m pleased to say the answer is yes. But for that you’ll just have to stay tuned for future posts. Next up, the boat ride to the paradisical island known as Ko Rong Saloem, and Lazy Beach Bungalows.