Cambodia – Sihanoukville, Otres Beach
It took us thirteen hours to reach Sihanoukville from Battambang, first on a ‘hotel bus’ to Phnom Penh and then in a minibus to the sprawling city. The hotel bus picked us up late in the evening and we were shown to our bunks, which are stacked one on top of the other inside the body of the coach, on either side of a very narrow centre aisle. We eyed up the bunks, wondering how we were even going to physically fit in them, and then were told that the bunks are for two people! So we wedged ourselves in and lay quite comfortably side by side, trying not to think about who we might have had to share a bunk with if we were travelling by ourselves!
We got to Phnom Penh at 5am and waited in the bus shelter for two hours, sleepily eating and watching a terrible movie about a runaway gorilla before the minibus arrived for the final part of our journey.
Sihanoukville itself, although a relatively large city, isn’t really charming in any way, and even the guidebook doesn’t have much to say in its favour. Otres beach, on the other hand, which is right on the coastal edge of the city, is a beautiful little self contained community, made up of hostels and beach huts which stretches along the shore for just under a mile. We might almost feel that we’re in a different country, but the gentle Cambodian way of life is stronger than ever here. Our beds are mattresses And mosquito nets on the floor of a wooden room with a grass roof – the second storey of our overgrown beach hut of a hostel where everything is perpetually damp and vaguely salty, covered at all times in a thin layer of sand. On the first storey there are lots of wicker chairs with thick cushions, hammocks and a bar, where we played a lot of scrabble, cuddled the tiny resident kittens and read several books while our beach ventures were temporarily suspended during stormy weather.
Yesterday though, the sun broke through the clouds and the beach was absolute paradise, complete with palm trees, cocktails, clear blue seas and skies. Despite being covered in suncream, we burnt ourselves a dark brown in just a couple of hours and fell into bed as soon as it got dark, ready to eat a hasty breakfast and run to the beach as soon as the sun was up. It’s supposed to be the rainy season so we have been so lucky to have such perfect weather.
The locals are clearly enjoying it too – today we drove out to a nearby waterfall and it was full of families swimming and picnicking. The waterfalls themselves were incredible, with lots of shady pools and little rapids, a current of white foamy water hissing and rushing over the smooth rocks. We climbed down to one of the smaller falls to splash around and cool off and the group of guys that had been playing around in the water ran over to us, full of excitement, asking to take selfies and pictures with us. They were very friendly and polite but it was so weird! We felt like celebrities (I didn’t hate it 😉 )
We followed the path upwards, past all the wooden platforms where the families were cooking, eating and resting by the side of the river and found a deep clear pool which we couldn’t resist. There were no other tourists around and the locals tend to swim fully clothed, but this little spot was secluded enough for us to quickly strip down to our bikinis and slip into the cold water. It was absolute bliss floating in the dappled sunlight below the overhanging leaves – one of those moments that makes the stress and the heat and the thirteen hour bus journeys totally worth it.
I haven’t worn shoes in three days, my hair is perpetually damp and salty and I always seem to be covered in sand, but I love this beach, I feel more at home here than I have anywhere else in Cambodia, I want to stay.