Tuesday June 27, 2017
31
Jan

Exploring Cambodia’s South Coast


Written by Robert Groothuis
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Exploring Cambodia's South Coast Ochheuteal Beach

Exploring Cambodia's South Coast Ochheuteal Beach

  Adventures In Sihanoukville And Kampot

Our late afternoon bus from Phnom Penh rolls into Sihanoukville’s bus station and a sudden swarm of young guys quickly surrounds us, excitedly yelling “moto moto, good price”. Once the bargaining is over, we each jump on the back of a scooter, backpacks placed routinely in front of our drivers and we speed off in the direction of Ochheuteal beach to one of the many guest houses there. We immediately head for the beach and a well deserved swim in the warm bath like waters, that evening in our guest house’s restaurant, we settle down to watch the daily screening of “The Killing Fields”.
The lure of the beach is too much and with the morning’s humidity settling in, we make our way toward many of the deck chairs nestled in the sand underneath shady umbrellas. Throughout the day constant processions of local women and children spend their time wandering up and down the beach out to sell what they can. Carrying small clay pots of hot coals, they serve barbequed squid, prawns and fresh pineapples, right through to hand made bracelets, even offering Cambodian style leg waxing, involving a couple of tightly wound pieces of cotton.

The following day I manage to pull myself away from the beach, rent a scooter for five US dollars, and set out to explore the surrounding area. With few other tourists out on the roads, but no shortage of chaotic traffic, I first head up to Wat Leu, a peaceful temple perched high on a hill top above town, before making my way down through the local fishing port, which really only consists of a shanty town of huts and small shops, and as always an abundance of excited children yelling and waving out as I ride past.

  

Local boy selling snacks, Ochheuteal Beach

Local boy selling snacks, Ochheuteal Beach

Compared to Vietnam many beaches are deserted, though they are always accompanied by a few basic restaurants and bars, open and waiting for customers. In the evening a group of us head out to sample a recommended local speciality, Fish Amok - satayed barracuda with chilli. Needless to say we are converted and vow to return.

Unfortunately the next day, it is time to move on, and taking a shared taxi proves to be my best option for the three hour trip eastward to Kampot, not before I spend a totally confusing hour or two, waiting at a local depot. A few more passengers appear and finally our driver is satisfied that all eight of us are now able to squeeze into his beaten up old Toyota, and we are on our way.


Arriving in Kampot, I un-wedge myself from the back seat of the car and check into the Ta Eng guesthouse. Mr Eng the owner proudly informs me that his was the first guest house to open in town, back in1992.


I make my way down to the river front, and sit down to a tasty meal at the Bamboo Light Indian restaurant. Next door is one of Cambodia’s many “Seeing Hands” massage centres, here for a small fee, trained blind masseurs treat willing patients and adventurous tourists, though already having experienced this a few weeks earlier in Vietnam, I decide that further treatment is not required.

Despite there being the option to hire a taxi or a motorbike, the following day I join a four wheel drive day trip up to the Bokor Hill station.

Built by the French in the early 1920’s as a mountain top retreat, it was abandoned in 1954 after Cambodia received independence, though many ruins still exist intact, including remains of the hotel, casino and church.

Local fishermen, Sihanoukville

Local fishermen, Sihanoukville

Passing through the national park gates, the condition of the dirt road leading up to the summit rapidly deteriorates and for the following hour we’re thrown about in the back, whilst dodging rocks, potholes and mud slides, finally arriving at our first stop, the ruins of The Black Palace. From the cliff edge here, we are able to get our first view through the haze of the jungle below, out toward the coast.


Our guide leads us through the site of an old overgrown tea plantation, and recalls sightings of the occasional tiger during the May to October wet season. In between singing along to himself, he explains the complex Cambodian dating etiquette and confirms that Westlife are the country’s most popular band.

 

A cooling breeze greets us, and we emerge onto the plateau, the remains of several large buildings appear eerily through the swirling mist. With blackened concrete and covered in an orange moss, “Hotel” is the only word readable on one building that gives any clue of its former life. Nearby the old church stands deadly silent, riddled with bullet holes, evidence of the fighting that occurred here between Vietnamese troops and the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.

During lunch we explore the labyrinth of rooms inside the old casino, littered with broken glass, concrete, tiles and graffiti. Until recently the casino was a popular place to camp overnight on the floor of the once opulent ballroom. Though this is now discouraged, staying the night on the summit at the ranger station is still a popular option.

By late afternoon we start our journey back down toward Kampot, making a final stop at the summit’s temple. Monks quietly go about their daily business and we take a last look at the impressive views of the countryside below, giving us time to reflect on the days adventures.

Looking out the window of my early morning bus, a final view of the sea comes into view as we pass through the old crumbling French villas of the seaside town of Kep. Finally the relaxed pace of the coast is behind us, and we turn back toward the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh.

The Hotel, Bokor Hill Station, Cambodia

The Hotel, Bokor Hill Station, Cambodia

The Church, Bokor, Hill Station, Cambodia

The Church, Bokor, Hill Station, Cambodia

Ochheuteal Beach

Ochheuteal Beach

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