Now that I’ve calmed down a bit (phew!), here’s a post about some of the more fun bits of my time in Cambodia.
I spent the first night in Koh Kong, and then I stayed with a friend in Sihanoukville for a few days. Although I hadn’t seen any other obvious tourists at the border, Koh Kong (only a few kms away from it) was heavily populated with backpackers. Any foolish notions I might have had that Cambodia was still a bit off the beaten track quickly evaporated. There were dreadlocks, there were banana pancakes, there were French 20somethings in elephant print trousers.
I was offered a *special* smoke before l’d even finished my first beer.
At my hostel I chatted to a couple of British guys, from up north (by my geographical standards). They informed me that Sihanoukville was something of a hub for, shall we say, R & R… They muttered ominously about the extreme partying that they would be doing when they got to *Snookyville*. There would be Swedish girls. Apparently it would all really kick off once ‘Tom’ arrived. Blame Tom. It’s always Tom. (or Dave). I was starting to feel old again and wondered if I should go and do some partying in a style more befitting to one of my comparatively advanced years i.e. put radio 4 on and have a nice cup of tea. But that’s not quite what happened. Instead I let one of the locals convince me to go to a beer garden nearby where there was live music, karaoke and hostesses, but mostly just Cambodians having a good time: I was the only obvious tourist. Well, I was until two dulcet northern voices piped up behind me..(They had gone out for some *fresh air* earlier on). One of them did an actually very good version of Wonderwall.
It turned out to be pretty representative of Cambodian nightlife – karaoke is incredibly popular (you can spot it by the ‘KTV’ signs) and hostesses are also a ubiqitous feature in a country where the economy doesn’t offer many options for most of the population.
.In Sihanoukville my friend kindly let me stay at his place. I think we last saw each other a couple of years ago in Hanoi, after we and a bunch of others had ridden up from Hoh Chi Minh on mopeds, and it was really good to see a familiar face again. He’s grown rather attached to south east Asia and is current living in Sihanoukville with his Cambodian girlfriend. When I arrived he instructed me to head for a bar near the two golden lions roundabout but I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to identify that particular roundabout.
Space was a bit tight so I slept in a hammock on the terrace 🙂
The surroundings were quite plush though!
One of the neighbours had sadly died in the early hours of the morning that I arrived – apparently a venerable elder of the family who ran the residential complex, the full Cambodian funery apparatus had swung into action. An awning had been erected with the black and white trim of mourning (which I’d already seen in Bangkok due to the death of the Thai King). A steady stream of visitors were kept fed while, most noticably, a profoundly sorrowful soundtrack played from first thing until late at night. Mainly very evocative female singing. but at some points it was more gentle instrumental music, and it was all interrupted by chanting when a monk arrived. This continued until the next day, when in early afternoon a procession of family (in white) and mourners followed the deceased as he was taken to the local Wat. Apparently the singing would start up again in 7 days time! (It wasn’t quiet for long though as the next day some wedding celebrations started up nearby, which were rather similar but featuring much more lively music..).
The three of us went out for some traditional err…Irish food – the restaurant was in the middle of the hostess bar area of town and after dinner we went to one of the bars as it had a live band on (playing pretty decent classic rock covers).
In an interlude someone put on some kind of Cambodian pop music and the bar girls beckoned me to join them in a jokey version of something resembling traditional folk dancing. As may now be clear, I haven’t been passing up opportunities to publicly embarrass myself and this was no exception. The key feature involved a twirly hand movement thing while prancing round in a circle (you can probably tell that I had really grasped the subtle nuances of it..).
One other evening, we joined a group of locals for dinner. They were connected to my friend’s girlfriend though it’s a little too complicated to explain how! Good food and beer make it quite easy to ignore the fact that you don’t share a common language:
After dinner, guess what, we went to do some karaoke….
I discovered a few things: Cambodian women all seem to sing really well; Cambodians are very keen on music that harks back to the 50s/60s (along with the old style fashions and accompanying dancing); I don’t know the words to Living on a Prayer; I can’t really sing in tune. Nonetheless, it was of course fantastically good fun and ended with more random dancing in our karaoke room.
Other bits and pieces..the beach:
I’ve seen a lot of markets/bazaars in this trip and Sihanoukville’s was different again:
The food culture might not quite be Thailand but eating (and drinking!) was always a pleasure: We took a boat out to the island of Koh Rong (just off the coast) for my last morning. It’s overrun with backpackers but still very beautiful:
My last ride around Sihanoukville was in one of the great Cambodian novelties: the car tuk-tuk:
Next: Angkor Wat!