The South East Asian Circuit (SEAC) is a well-known travel path for newly liberated teenagers and 20 somethings who are looking to drink industrial amounts of booze, ingest various available drugs, and dance the night away to the top techno hits of yesterday. The not so well-kept secret Sihanoukville has worked its way into the SEAC rotation and has even began to rival its Thailand competitors just across the gulf (Koh Samui and Koh Phangan). Not quite the buckets of booze at the FullMoon Party, but give it a couple of years. . .
The beach access and center for the debauchery is located several kilometers from the main portion of town. A strategic move by the locals, that I would equate to putting the shitter at the far end of the camp site (That is, for hygienic purposes). Referenced by its large traffic circle statues (Golden Lions), the area is dedicated to appeasing the hordes of tourists that have made their way to the southern portion of Cambodia. The three roads that line Ochheuteal Beach are packed with restaurants, bars, clubs, backpackers, and a few hotels that have tried their best to distance themselves (geographically) from the rumbling bass that lets the roosters know when it’s time to get up.
The area has several long stretching white sand beaches that are met by crystal clear waters that are warm to the touch. A short boat ride can take you to several different islands of various levels of inhabitants and a handful of companies compete to offer you snorkeling, diving, and fishing. But it seems to be the booze cruise that attracts the most attention.
As soon as you step onto Ochheuteal Beach you are greeted by the overzealous merchandisers that are offering a variety of goods. Everything from a massage to fresh seafood is there for the taking. Not interested at this very moment? Then expect to find yourself at the receiving end of an attempt to form a bond, with a pinkie swear promise, ensuring that when you do change your mind, you will dedicate your cash to (put name here). After several days of batting away solicitors we realized the best way to avoid this five-minute discussion and oath, is to actually keep your word and dedicate all of your business to a single individual. Learn her name, become her friend, and that way you can tell everyone that you already promised your business to Nai.
Choosing your beach chairs for the day is as equally challenging as ridding yourself of the ten-year old bracelet girls. A tactic we thankfully mastered in Phnom Penh. The row of shack bars that line the beach are all offering virtually the exact same menu. Differentiating themselves by subtracting or adding a quarter to the price of a draft beer and occasionally dishing up some special seasoned pizza. Each bar has a person whose sole purpose in life is to ensure you end your exploration of the beach and kick your feet up in their section. This decision to settle in for the day could be out of attraction, but is most likely due to frustration and the inability to combat any further harassment. We found the White Dragon our first day (due to the latter) and stuck with it for most of our time in Sihanoukville. The three young Cambodian brothers were content with our small purchases and let us chill without any pressure to ‘buy more’. Not to mention they were one of the few beach-side bars that served up fruit shakes with the promise of making you happy.
It wasn’t until our third day on the beach that we decided to test out the actual “happiness” of these shakes and ordered one to split between the two of us. The young Cambodian kid plopped down a fruit shake that had what looked like scraps of weed mixed throughout. Now I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject matter. . . but I know a guy, who knows this guy. . . and he says that in order to make quality eatables you need to extract the THC in a fat soluble substance such as oil or butter. Ingesting weed in its natural form won’t get you the desired effect because the body can’t process/extract the THC. . . at least, so I’ve heard.
With that in mind, I turned to Sally and told her “What a waste of money, this-won’t-do-shit”. Two hours later it felt like my neck was a string and my head as a bowling ball. My entire body was melting into the sticky vinyl chair and my thought process was similar to Frank in Old School when he takes a tranquilizer dart to the jugular. Sally slowly turned toward me and lazily stated “I am glad we split. . . “. The next four hours were spent feeling like we took the short bus to Sihanoukville and all I really wanted out of life was my favorite juice box.
The White Dragon is just two shacks down from JJ’s, the Booze Cruise headquarters. We found it mildly amusing to watch the temporary (traveler) employees try to pump up the crowd before making their way to the boat. Drinking games and free shots are kindling for the 30 odd newcomers who are looking to rage the day away. Four to ten years earlier in life and we would have had a slight attraction to this sort of gathering. But now we just sat there baffled, as the large crowd shoved their way onto the undersized boat that was blasting techno loud enough that it could be heard in Phenom Penh. The torturous vessel was packed to the brim, crowds hanging over the railings of the roof top deck, the boat swaying with the changing sea, shitty music piercing their ears, while paying for overpriced beers. As it pulled away from the dock we wondered how many people would consider making another voyage once they get back on dry land. I personally believe that alcohol can help enhance anything to the point of being bearable, if not down right enjoyable. But I would rather split a warm forty with a hobo in a dumpster before I paid money to be subjected to an entire afternoon ‘Booze Cruising’.
The nightlife in Sihanoukville is there for the taking. After a day on the beach we had an encyclopedias worth of advertisements and free drink coupons. The night echos with the competing clubs, shaking the windows of your guesthouse until the wee hours of the morning. But Sally and I didn’t find ourselves fist pumping at three in the morning even once during our ten-day stay. It seems we have reached the age were we would rather enjoy a beer watching the sunset, rather than dumping that fifth can of Redbull into some vodka as the sun raises.
During our travels we have diligently been keeping up with our early morning exercises. Our time in Asia has us up earlier than we prefer in a pathetic attempt to beat the heat and sometimes our schedule crosses paths with those who think Cambodia only gets four hours of daylight. Most just stare at us groggy eyed and opened mouthed. But a few do their best to entertain both themselves and their sober audience.
On one such morning, a young 18-year-old English kid saw us doing our warm up walk. It just so happened to be in the same direction as his hotel.
English Kid: “I’ve been up alllllllll night!!!”
English Kid: “Yep! . . . . . You doing some exercise?”
Sally: “Yeah, just heading for a run.”
English Kid: “I bet I could beat you in a race”
We both looked the scrawny kid over and noted that not only was he having trouble walking straight, but he didn’t have any shoes on either.
English Kid: “I’m reeeeeeally fast. I bet I could beat you in a foot race. . . . But I see your not dressed properly for the occasion. . . . Shame really, I’m super quick. But I have this cut on my foot (mumbled with a tone of deep thought) ‘might slow me down a bit’. . . . (He showed us the bottom of his foot and waited for acknowledgement.)
Sally: “Oh, ouch”
English kid: “Yeah. . . But I could still beat you!”
Not needing any prompting from us, the kid took off down the street in a very awkward running style that would make Forrest Gump (when he had the braces) look like an olympic athlete. He sprinted about fifty meters with his arms flailing to his side like a chicken trying to take flight. He then came to a sudden stop, turned around, and waved at us with a huge (I told you so) smile on his face. We gave him a congratulatory wave back and began our five-mile run.
Our time in Sihanoukville was supposed to be our final relaxing moment in SEA (South East Asia) before making the journey to Australia. A place to soak up some sun and enjoy the cheap prices that we know we will be yearning for when buying our first $18 six-pack of ‘cheap’ beer in Oz. Granted, we did get a few days of R&R on the beach. When it wasn’t raining. But the reality of Sihanoukville was two antsy westerners itching for the creature comforts of a first world society. Thinking about catching up with family and having some stability for the first time in 9 months (Not moving every 4 to 10 days). So rather than embracing everything the area had to offer, we found ourselves turning in circles with anticipation, like a dog waiting for someone to just throw-the-fucking-ball. Whining with agonized excitement and so transfixed on what we wanted, that we couldn’t concentrate on anything else. It’s like being at work on a Friday afternoon with a long weekend coming up. Rather than keeping busy to help pass the time we just sat there and stared at the clock. Watching each second as it slowly ticked by. We both agreed that we failed Sihanoukville. We should have gone to an island, made our way to Kep, done something other than just sit, and wait (broken up with a few afternoon drinking sessions). But the anticipation had us uninterested in anything but getting the fuck out of Asia.
We did manage to do a few things productive with our down time. We worked out, saved a little cash by not partying, ate at some good restaurants, and boosted our self-esteem by making fun of other people. Because everyone knows that all it takes to feel good about yourself is to tear down someone else. With that, may I present to you my very first DATA (Dumb Ass Traveler Award) of the trip.
And the first ever DATA goes to. . . . . (drum roll) . . . . those who choose, not to wear shoes.
I initially thought this DATA went solely to a very specific type of traveler.
The Wannabe-Hippie Traveler: This traveler wants to appear as if he has walked the earth for years and gained a lifetime of knowledge. His hair is twisted in dreadlocks and feels that bathing would wash away the spirit of the road (and deodorant would cover it up). He wears the local traditional clothing (that not even the locals wear) and his wrists are covered in various types of bracelets. In a last-ditch attempt to get someone, anyone, to give a shit and ask him to share his secrets of the world. He has decided to rid himself of shoes so that his toes can feel the spirit of mother earth.
Hey dumbshit, we see that Iphone 4 blasting indie rock into your dirty ears. Your backpack cost $400 and I know you have spent eight times that on patchouli. But you want us to believe you can’t afford a fucking $5 pair of shoes? It’s not “hippie” to walk across the oil stained, trash laced, nasty cement of a city. It’s unhygienic. Even the poorest of poor have some kind of foot protection. What are you trying to prove?
We had watched this disgusting act several times throughout our trip. Always the exact same look/type of person. That is until we got to Sihanoukville and we discovered the Douchebag Beach Bum
There is a way to extend your travel time by picking up a few hours of work here and there. In Sihanoukville it is the promoter gig that seems to get the most applicants. They run around and pass out flyers, hype the party, and try to keep things lively by drinking themselves stupid. I am not sure if it’s the fact that they have never been to the beach? Or they are from the beach and they think there is a particular “style” they need to keep up?But the Douchebag Beach Bum also refuses to wear shoes.
Douchebag Beach Bum: Their hair is long and unkept, their entire outfit pays homage to the 80’s (how in the fuck fashion decided to repeat that abomination, I will never understand). They carry themselves with an unjustified swagger, that derives from their conquest of overly intoxicated new comers. Like a fifth year senior praying on incoming freshmen. Their feet are also stained a deep, dark, black.
Hey tool box! You’re wearing $200 Ray-ban sunglasses and drink at least double that amount on a weekly bases. If the wild dogs eating trash in the middle of the street and then taking a shit on the sidewalk doesn’t give you clear indication that maybe you should splurge on some flip flops. Then the fact that just last night you were holding back some girl’s hair as she puked her ass off in the very spot where you’re standing, should make things clear. Use some of that suntan lotion to lube up your neck. That way it might be easier to pull your head out of your ass.
To the Wannabe-Hippie and the Douchebag Beach Bum. We say thank you (for making us feel better about ourselves) and please, buy some fucking shoes.