“Sihanoukville? Yeah… it’s a bit of a… party town. Think frat party meets spring break“
This was the most diplomatic opinion we heard of Sihanoukville before arriving. Oh dear. Nonetheless, we needed visas for our Vietnam trip and this was as convenient a place as any to get them.
Oh, Sihanoukville. Our friend John, who visited a few years back, described it as a quiet town with a couple of hotels, fairy lights strung in the trees and cows wandering at the beach line. It sounded nice from his description.
The fairy lights are still there, but they vibrate gently to the bass thump of music from the stream of beach bars which starts whenever you please and keeps going until the last man standing. Drunk or hungover (depending on the time of day) western tourists (of all ages) stagger around town in skimpy outfits. Sweet little Khmer girls with angel faces and smart mouths ply the beach by day, pushing you to buy bracelets they shouldn’t be sacrificing an education to be selling. Cafes sell full English breakfasts until 3:30pm, without a Khmer dish on the menu. Central Sihanoukville feels like a town that either sold its soul to the drink-buckets-’til-you-puke crowd… or had it taken by stealth. I don’t know which of those is sadder.
Our Vietnam visas were delayed slightly, and we’d stretched our budget to a hotel to avoid the grim-sounding hostel rooms in town. We couldn’t stay in Sihanoukville for the duration; we had neither the budget nor the inclination.
Salvation came in the form of Otres Beach – a $5 tuk tuk out of town. We stopped at Pappa Pippos – a little Italian-run mini beach bungalow resort at the edge of Otres beach 1 (further up the beach is Otres 2, which is even less developed) with a little communal terrace and some basic beach bungalows. The music was soft; there were no child bracelet sellers and no singlet-wearing frat parties in sight. Just a few people lounging by the beach and reading. Much better.
We checked in to their cheapest bungalow for two nights.
We quickly fell into something of a routine at Pappa Pippo. In the morning Craig would go for a run along the beach. I would stay in bed, faithfully promising that tomorrow would be the day I went for a run.
After a healthy breakfast, we’d either go for a swim or do some writing and photo editing. In the afternoon, we’d go for a swim in the warm sea and maybe read on the sunloungers. We did a little yoga, and walked along the beach. We balanced a little work with rest and rejuvenation.
By evening, we’d watch the sun set.
Pappa Pippo is owned and run by a family from the Romagna region of Italy, along with their brilliant team of Khmer staff. The menu sticks to what they know best, and is unashamedly Italian: pasta and pizza feature heavily. After four months of moving around every few days, of absorbing different cultures, ways of life and different food, it felt like we’d gone to Italy for a mini holiday.
As well as relaxing on the beach, we also visited the Saturday night market – an atmospheric spot where local expats, travellers and the somewhere-in-between crowd all congregated to drift amongst the food stalls, drink a cold beer and sit to watch the live music acts that went on until gone midnight (the point we called it a night).
The two night stay turned into four. Then six. Then seven. In the end, we had to psych ourselves up to check out of Pappa Pippo – we’d lingered far longer than we initially planned to and were running out of time to get to our Christmas rendezvous!