It’s fitting that the day marking the halfway point of my trip brought with it the first total disaster, right?
Back in Mondulkiri, I had a small crisis over how to ride out the rest of my time in Cambodia. I have to be back in Bangkok on February 18 to fly to Yangon, and ideally I’d like a day to breathe, send a package, get a wax, take care of some business. But I also want to see and do more here — sort of crappy planning forced me to rush one of the countries I was most looking forward to — and so I had to figure out where I could go that would be an easy bus ride from Thailand.
I did cities, temples, mountains, and jungle in Cambodia, and I wanted to check out the beaches. I was leaning toward Koh Kong, the border town where I’ll cross back into Thailand, but I read that the cost of transport from any accommodation to the beach is cost prohibitive for a single person. So I headed to a place that I thought would be cheap, relatively nice, and right on the beach.
Unfortunately, Sihanoukville is the most disgusting place I’ve ever been, and I wanted to leave the moment I arrived.
Let’s start at the beginning. It’s pretty difficult to book budget accommodation in Sihanoukville ahead of time because many places are walk-in only. This is a bit of catch-22, because if you don’t have anything lined up, you could spend hours walking around with your bags and come away empty-handed. I managed to snag a bed at the popular Monkey Republic right in Serendipity Beach, and I could hardly believe my luck.
[I really wanted to stay in Otres Beach, which is quieter and cleaner, but the hostels and bungalows are more expensive, and the transportation cost to and from town much higher. So I scratched that idea.]
I quickly realized that Monkey Republic is a dump. It is by far the most awful place I’ve ever stayed. All the hostels here are just $3 per bed, but I have to say that even that seems like a lot to pay for what you get. I landed in a 4-bed dorm with an Estonian girl I met on the bus from Phnom Penh and two Aussie guys in their mid- to late 30s who were loud and obnoxious when we met them — one even had a black eye and bloody nose of unknown origin.
I also discovered that the beach is gross, especially when compared to the islands in Thailand. There’s trash everywhere and the water is significantly less clear, and it’s a much worse version of what I imagine the Jersey Shore to be. And if you try to sit quietly and read a book, you’ll be accosted every three minutes by someone trying to sell you fruit or jewelry or a massage or manicure over and over and over. It’s disruptive and annoying.
So the first hour here was rather a letdown, and I just decided to cut my losses and book the first bus ticket to Bangkok. I’d have one night, a day on the beach, and a sleeper bus back to Thailand. It all sounded reasonable.
I stayed awake until 2am and wandered between open cafes with the goal of avoiding going back to my room. There was a big blackout, and the dorm didn’t have power, which meant no fan, which meant stifling temperatures, and I was pretty worried that I’d encounter a rat or some other nasty creature if I went to sleep. But eventually I couldn’t keep my eyes open, so I huddled in my sleep sheet and tried to make the best of it.
At about 4:30am, the Aussies returned. Both were too drunk to speak coherently or even stand up, and once they figured out how to unlock the door, they commenced throwing things and shouting obscenities that I certainly can’t repeat — some of them at me — and just generally being obnoxious drunk pricks. I was on the top bunk — thankfully in Asia the bunks are extremely high — and laid completely still in hopes they’d forget I was there. It was the first time in my travels that I’ve actually been afraid for my safety. I suppose I should have sat up and given them a swift kick in the face, which I imagine would have ended with both of them falling over and passing out, and if that didn’t work, at least sober and athletic outdoes roaring drunk and fat.
After a few restless hours of sleep, I tried to sneak out without waking them, though they sort of stirred and started cursing all over again. I should note here that one was lying on his bunk completely naked, and that when I saw them midday they were both already (still?) drunk.
I spent much of my day on the beach trying to ignore the ladies coming up to me and offering massages and running their hands up my leg and commenting on how I needed to shave, got massively sunburned, and returned to Monkey Republic to rinse off quickly in the barely-dripping shower. Then I packed my things and returned to the travel agency to await my bus.
The bus arrived, and the lady behind the desk hurried a group of us out to board. But when it was my turn, the ticket collector turned me away and said there was no more space. I’ve heard that overbooking buses is common in Cambodia, but usually they let everyone on anyway and people sit in aisles in plastic chairs or on the floor. No dice this time. So the travel agent rushed out and said that there was another bus, we’d have to get in a tuk tuk and go to the bus station 5K away and board there.
As you have probably guessed, there was no other bus. I, along with a few other travelers going to Siem Reap, waited for an hour in the dark with no real expectation that we’d escape this shithole as scheduled.
After giving up hope, we paid a guy a few bucks to drive us back into town with a brief stop at the bus company office. The travel agent was extremely apologetic and rebooked me for a day bus the following morning, and then I set off to find a place to sleep.
At 10pm on a Friday in Sihanoukville, this is basically impossible.
“Ot mien” is my least favorite word in Khmer.
I paid a moto $1 to drive me all over town looking for a place to stay, but the only spot we found was a $16/night room at a hotel very far away from the bus pickup. At that point, it seemed silly to pay such a ridiculous sum for a room I’d be in for a few hours, plus a transfer back to the bus, so I declined and headed to a 24-hour mini mart/cafe to hang out and perhaps close my eyes. It was either that or try to find a sun lounge on the beach after the partiers passed out around 3am.
I was sitting there feeling very sorry for myself when a girl I’d met in Battambang approached me and asked me how I was, which eventually led to my story of how I was trapped in this dump with nowhere to sleep. She introduced me to a very nice lady who had been in Sihanoukville for a few months (THE HORROR) and who happened to have an extra double bed in her hotel room. It was still much more than I wanted to pay for a dorm bed, but I was too tired to care, and the prospect of some shut-eye was too good to pass up.
As I write this, I can only hope that I actually get a seat on my bus to Bangkok in the morning.
The moral of the story is that when traveling, you win some and you lose some. Some destinations are not what you want them to be, things don’t always go as planned, and being royally screwed can mean having to sleep on the street. But then the kindness of strangers (and really, everyone I encountered, from the taxi driver to the travel agent to the moto, tried so hard to help) might just come through and it all turns out fine and you wake up the next morning laughing about it. OK, maybe not the next morning, but you know what I mean.