Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Shihanoukville at the weekend

This weekend involved a trip to Cambodia's "beach resort" Shihanoukville - Don't think of the Spanish Costas - think more Dawlish Warren on a massive scale... The trip was with Fred's work mates - all Khmer. The plan originally was that we would go in the car belonging to one of the lawyers - that would have been 9 of us in the car - by Cambodian standards that is luxury. By my standards it is utter hell for 4 hours so we opted to hire a taxi and one of the Cambodians came with us to enjoy the luxury of a car with breathing space.

I have discovered that in Cambodia there is a fondness for stopping - not just for a quick loo stop and a bag of Opal fruits but a proper stop. We got .... ummmm not quite out of Phnom Penh and the Cambodian travelling with us announced we would meet the others for breakfast - just on the outskirts of PP - and sure enough we stopped and ate rice and noodles with chicken (the chickens here are very thin and chopped in a way unknown in the west). Finally we managed to get out of the city and along the road towards our destination. Our next stop was at half way at a place by the roadside crowded with temples (large and small) to pray to budda for a safe journey. Given that we had been hurtling along the road with massive container lorries headed for the port in Shihanoukville and overtaking at the speed of a snail with all sorts of vehicles coming in the other direction I would have thought that praying would have been more prudent up at the breakfast cafe but we had made it to the half way point in one piece so I guess making an offering was sensible for the onward bit!

Either our drivers experience or budda meant we arrived in one piece. My comment above that is place is like Devon mainly comes from the fact that there are shops here that you would see in a UK seaside place - inflatables hanging up etc, the fact that it was very quiet, the shops slightly shabby and the fact that it was RAINING!!!!!!! Rain!!! ahhhhhhhh!! - sadly not cold.

Anyway, after checking out a few hotel options we stayed at the Golden Sand Hotel - it had a pool and was spotlessly clean. The only thing it did not have was atmosphere - well you can't have it all. So after checking in we headed down to one of the better beaches in town. Bearing in mind the hosts were Cambodian this meant no sun (the rain also stopped the sun but only for about an hour) we were to sit in the open sided shacks by the beach and eat. And eat and eat and eat. The Khmers got about 40 crabs and 100 prawns from the market as well as lobster and fruit. The challenge was to finish it. I was introduced to a bizarre fruit which is round and looks like a grapefruit but when it is opened it has the texture of mango but tastes.... vile. A sour taste. The Cambodians dip it in a salt/sugar mix to make it taste nice but the whole combination just made your mouth want to shrivel up and die. Ugh!

(Pictures: the beach, beach hawkers, kid doing the washing up in the sea(!)... monk off duty(?!))

Time to hit the water. I decided I could be rather daring and change out of my trousers for the swimming. However, a swimming costume and a sarong together meant I could hit the water semi Khmer style. Some of the other women did not change - just up and in. Others changed - but into a full set of other clothes! I made "friends" with some Khmer beach kids who were so exceptionally dark skinned from clearly playing on the beach (or rather working and having a few hours off a day playing) - they enjoyed being picked up and flung into the sea. Also they enjoyed putting their feet in my cupped hands and being flung backwards into the sea (or another swimmer!). They also enjoyed clinging on to the sides of the banana boat which we all went on - Some of the Cambodian women were exceptionally scared (of the boat not the kids!).

(Picture: practically naked by Cambodian standards)

After the beach - dinner. More sea food. Shark soup. This was made on the table yourself and the contents of the soup include herbs, noodles, egg and shark. Boiled until all the nutrients are removed. Then back to the beach - well we had some crab/prawn to finish off. There was a spectacular storm brewing so there was amazing lightening over the sea in the dark. At the beach we drank beer - or more accurately the men and me (as the western woman) drank beer. The Cambodian women did not - its not the done thing. The beer was with ice. This is Cambodian style drinking .... more water than beer.

The Karaoke "bar" (I am not sure if anything other than beer on ice was available)

Still utterly sober Karaoke was next. 9 of us piled onto a tuk tuk and headed off down the road - The karaoke place we almost certainly also a brothel - Combining 2 favourite Khmer hobbies. However, as in many places in SE Asia the two do not have to be combined (indeed that may be a challenge) and just karaoke is acceptable. So, the karaoke took place in our own room - green carpeted with long plastic covered sofa/benches with our own TV/karaoke machine. Completely sober I still managed karaoke. English songs were exceptionally limited - However I know that the Cambodians do like the Carpenters (that and Celine Dion... so to say they have no taste in music would be unfair!!!!!!!) and so it was only right to indulge them with a little of "On Top of the World". The translation into English was very funny as was the sweeping view over the Alps in the video!

Enough! I needed a potato based meal!! - thank god there were hash browns at breakfast before the return trip.

A very enjoyable Khmer experience...The lawyers were all lovely despite their fondness for seafood and bad music!

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