Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sihanoukville, Monkey Island and back to Phnom - Cambodia

We arrived in Sihanoukville to some glorious weather, perfect for our reptilian sun soaking activities on the beach.  We managed to snag the last room in Monkey Republic, a well sought after hotspot for backpackers.  The guesthouse itself was very nice and was composed of chalets at the rear and a restaurant which spanned three floors that was always busy and friendly.  Once you make the short walk to the nearest beach that stretches as far as you can see, you have an endless choice of bars and restaurants all selling cheap food and drinks.  The absolute highlight is the evening BBQ's which are offered all along the stretch.  There are glass cabinets containing the days catch and various meats which send the salivation glands into overdrive.  Whilst it feels a little bit package holiday, the comfort factor is a plus and for just three dollars you get to choose up to three different types of fish or meat each for your main meal; we often went for tuna steak, squid and either prawns or another fish steak like barracuda.  Next to this you get salad and a baked potato whilst you relax in a comfortable bucket-seat on the beach and get to chow down whilst watching the sea lap against the shore by candlelight. AMAZING.

The beach at Sihanoukville
People having a dip

We potted around the beaches during the day and one night we decided to pay a visit to the home run cinema across the road.  It was a very cool operation.  Inside there was a main viewing room with comfortable beanbags, couches and a big screen but we opted for a private air conditioned room to watch The Green Hornet as it was just the two of us.  It was a great experience and nice to be able to watch a film for the first time on our travels, M&M's and all. 

We spent one of our days on a boat trip, not a complete booze cruise I may add.  The captain was a very jolly and funny German guy who had a soft spot for metal, notably Ramstein.  He took us out to a reef where we did some snorkelling and there were some small, colourful fish.  After this we stopped at an amazing beach on a protected island.  From here we did a short ´jungle walk´ but spent the rest of the time just lolling around in the crystal clear waters and getting sand between our toes.  The journey back was definitely more like a booze cruise, the music was turned up as free shots were handed out to anyone who wanted them to AC/DC´s "Have a drink on me".  The captain had even prepared a birthday cake for one of the customers which I though was an exceptionally nice touch.  We got off and found our tuk tuk to head back towards the town having had a great day and only slightly sunburned. 

About to board the boat

On the glorious beach they took us to

Kate with attitude

The jungle walk
The jolly German captain
Jolly me

We decided to check out one of the beautiful quiet islands just off the coast and the name Monkey Island settled our decision.  The island is about two hours away on a rocky boat after a short tuk tuk or moto ride to the port.  We arrived to a very beautiful stretch of beach coastline with rich forest being all that you can see inland.  We hadn't booked anywhere as we weren't sure if we could stay with a couple of friends who we had met at the guesthouse.  As it turns out, we couldn't save money by sharing as the accommodation isn't well suited for it.  There are only four or five actual guesthouses on this side of the island and only one guesthouse on the other.  It was looking a little shaky at first with Monkey Republic's own guesthouse being full, but we weren't alone.  We tried another guesthouse but their rooms were about thirty five dollars a night, a little over our budget.  Finally we went to the final guesthouse called the Treehouse which is so named after some of the more expensive rooms being up high on stilts and it was here that we found a room that was more reasonably priced but still comparatively expensive to the mainland at eighteen dollars per night per double room.  However, for this we got to wake up to the sea and sand and the location was on an amazing little stretch of beach, probably better than any of the other guest houses on this side of the island.  Other people opted to stay for free in the lobbies and restaurants of other guesthouses which they were happy to do to save money.

Our chalet
We did plenty of swimming as the sea was so inviting and our shower/ bathroom was outside and cold in comparison.  We passed the time on Monkey Island lazily and it was a great place to meet people.  I taught guitar to a new friend called Tea who worked in one of the bars and we made some good Aussie friends.  We met Dale and Jon and a few of the others when out walking along the island’s glorious beaches.  We were looking for a supposed whirlpool lake and weren't really sure what to look out for.  The others were on the same quest and we actually managed to find it without realising it (it wasn't that impressive but a nice walk all the same). 

Nice red sand

You can see the 'treehouses' on the right hand side

A view of the rockier part of the beach

One of our few neighbours

Kate snapping me unawares

A fisherman's boat

Some friends relaxing

She sells sea shells
Kate enjoying the beach
Two monkeys on monkey island

Hanging out in the bar, knocking back a few Klangs
Enjoying a sandwich on the boat backeven if not enjoying the fact I'm leaving

When back on the mainland we came to the decision that instead of Vietnam or Myanmar we would visit Malaysia.   Although apparently more expensive (hard not to be) we thought there would be a bigger difference in culture and as we didn't know much about the country we chose to travel there!  We booked our flights with Air Asia flying from Phnom Penh.  We had already decided that we would stay in the area locally known as Lakeside on our Phnom Penh return as it was cheaper and more laid back.  We had already seen everything that we wanted to see in the capital and weren't overly keen to be back in the middle of the action having had such a relaxing time here.   

The only real activity that we did on our return to Phnom Penh was joining an outdoor exercise class.  It is a bizarre sight for passers-by to see everybody from young children to old women dancing in unison to various types of music, choosing the class that takes their fancy.  We joined a hip-hop oriented class where most of the clientele were teenage boys dressed in bucket caps and biker gloves.  We tried our best to keep up with the steps but we got the impression that most people were repeat customers as they knew what they were doing and we didn´t!  The experience was a lot of fun and a great cheap way to keep fit.

Lakeside was an area long due for demolition and much of the work had already begun.  It used to be a popular area with many rooms overlooking the lake and I can imagine it during better times, but the government wanted to reclaim the land to build.  The hostel staff were extremely friendly and we had a great last night enjoying a beer or two courtesy of the Cambodians.  One of them had even heard of Jersey and produced a local one pound note that was given to him by a previous guest when we mentioned where we were from, a highly unexpected occurrence!  We got a lift to the airport from a tuk tuk driver who slept outside our room in a knee high mosquito tent and we were both genuinely sad to be leaving Cambodia albeit with some amazing memories.  We both agreed that Cambodia was probably the highlight of the trip so far, initially not having had much in the way of expectations and we would love to go back again one day.

Our room at Lakeside where we had drinks on the last night.

The state of affairs at the rear of the guesthouse

beers from the night before

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