The last two weeks (two weeks’ish), I’ve spent down in the south of Cambodia in Sihanoukville, the official beach area for tourists (apart from Kampot. In fact, Kampot is reputed to be much nicer, but I don’t know because I never made it there).
Of course, it’s wet season in Cambodia and so far this has meant that it will rain very hard for approximately half an hour to an hour in the afternoon and then stop. Which is very pleasant because the rain brings the temperature down to a cool 27 degrees Celsius. Sometimes it will rain all night. Another time, it rained so hard that it made a river out of the street, which made my bike ride home turn from 10 minutes into about 30 minutes. Oh and the water was up to my knees on my bike (I collected a lot of rubbish and various bits and pieces on my pedals and spokes. Also, my shoes almost floated away, so I rode barefoot). The point is, generally, rainy season had barely been any sort of hinderance in my experience so far.
Enter Sihanoukville! It turns out, the rainy season label makes more sense at the beach.
I arrived in Sihanoukville on a sunny afternoon after a 5 hour bus ride from Phnom Penh. I was at a beautiful hotel (Deluxe Boutique Hotel) I had gleefully booked earlier in the week, ignoring my backpacker budget, complete with a pool, hot water in the shower, a king sized bed, air-con and a couch! (I hadn’t sat on a proper couch for a while). One of the first things I did was wash my hair in warm water. The next was to slothfully spread myself across the couch to binge watch Netflix shows. It was exactly what I needed.
The next day I spent mostly eating and playing in the pool with my new fake go-pro and making unflattering underwater videos of myself swimming. I had to leave the next day. I was very sad. I delayed as much as possible, sitting in the hotel restaurant reading, it had rained all morning after all, no time to be travelling by tuk tuk.
My next stop was for 2 nights at a hostel called Wish You Were Here located just out of Sihanoukville at Otres Beach. The hostel had made it into my Lonely Planet book and also was well recommended by HostelWorld. I was expecting a cheap and cheerful beach shack and had booked a single private room for $10NZD per night. There were a lot of swing seats featured in the photos and I had to admit, this majorly swayed me to stay.
It was certainly cheap and cheerful! I arrived, the road was red mud and the beach just across the road, lined with chairs and restaurants, but still beautifully deserted. Wish You Were Here definitely had a great atmosphere about it, as promised, and the food was great too! But it had an overwhelming smell. That unwashed beach smell, kind of melded with toilet smell (the toilets weren’t the most clean and were combined with the showers) and there was a little bit of wet dog and something else thrown in. Despite that, I had a pretty good time and after a few drinks, the smell hardly mattered at all! The morning rain continued. I swam but once and the water was warmer than the air. Sort of brownish water. It was still raining in the mornings.
My next 2 nights were at a fitness resort in Sihanoukville. I loved it. As soon as I arrived, I was put into a bright and airy room and it was SO clean. So, so clean! And I had free water! A massive water cooler bottle all to myself! And a fridge! And they did my washing for free! And I had my very own bathroom with hot water! Oh!
Unfortunately, I did show up somewhat worse for the wear at the resort, having gotten carried away a little at Wish You Were Here the night before. This made the 1 1/2 hour afternoon workout very intense. It was labelled the “fat burner” workout (which annoyed me no end, I came here to feel fitter not burn fat).
I’ve never sweated so much in my life. Or seen my face go quite the same shade of red. Luckily there were mirrors everywhere to document this. I was getting quite carried away, seeing spots and feeling dizzy. I would like to point out that the temperature was also in the high 20’s/early 30’s. At one point, Pierre, the french owner/personal trainer, looked over at me and said “Emma, today is a good day to die” and then started laughing like the maniac he is before yelling “Allay! Allay! Allay!” Turns out this means ‘hurry up’ of some type in French. Clearly he was not as concerned over my abrupt descent into physical strife as I was.
It continued on, two workouts a day between an hour and half long and 2 hours, Swiss ball, cross fit, cross-fit cardio, resistance training, body conditioning, abs, butt and thighs, boxing, aerobics, krav maga and so on and so forth (NB: I did not participate in all of these activities). There was a lot of discussion with the others in the classes about the types of food we were planning to consume. Food became very much a focus. Nobody was late for organised dinner meet ups. Some of the people at the resort were there for between 4-6 weeks, it was very admirable. I hadn’t noticed the rain so much.
My next stop was for 3 nights at a hostel called Monkey Maya. It was a hostel famous for their isolation. They were a 25km tuk tuk ride out of Sihanoukville in Ream National Park, with the jungle in their backyard and a private beach their front yard, with absolutely nothing else, not even local shops, around. They were also famed for their glowing plankton, visible at night.
I was very excited about this. I had been told to meet their ‘supply tuk tuk’ at their sister hostel in Sihanoukville town at 10.00 a.m. The tuk tuk arrived at 11.58 a.m. It was just me in the tuk tuk and we set off, stopping just out of town at the ferry terminal. I had a very strange, but delightful, conversation with a local woman who fed me some fried food (I couldn’t tell you what she said, or what the food was. She also pinched my arm a lot and compared it to hers. I gave her my small kit-kat in exchange.) until the driver came back and we set off again. And turned right back around and picked up some more people back in Sihanoukville. We arrived at close to 3.00 p.m. after a very bumpy and hilly ride (questions arose among the passengers at some points in the trip about the likelihood of the vehicle making it to the end point of its journey).
It was a beautiful spot. The dorm itself was quite basic and clean’ish, if a bit dusty. But, the restaurant/bar/common area was gorgeous. It was a hut with a grass roof and the only walls were around the kitchen, leaving a completely un-obstructed view of the ocean and the greenery around.
And then the rain really began. It started that afternoon, the staff pulling down tarpaulins and lashing them to the deck to keep the rain and wind out of the hut. It just didn’t stop. The whole 3 nights, it rained. There were brief interludes. But only ever of 20 minutes. Everything began to feel damp. The cushions on the chairs. My PJs in the room that hadn’t even been outside. My shoes. The plankton were a no show, scared off by the rain. I started counting down hours between meals and nothing seemed to fill me up. Even the day I got 2 lunches. My book seemed to never end (Robert Jordan’s first 10 books in the Wheel of Time series). Then charging my e-reader became an issue as the power was only on from 5pm until 12am. I greedily conserved power, opting to stare listlessly out at the rain over the ocean or watching the wind making shapes in the tarpaulins when I wasn’t reading.
When I checked out after the 3rd night, I was relieved to go. I huddled in the tuk tuk to keep out of the rain, feeling cold for the first time in 2 months. I arrived back in Sihanoukville, drenched, shivering and with a very damp bag. The rain had turned the streets into a river again, and it coursed around the calves of the tuk tuk driver when he pulled over to check directions.
I was so sick of the rain and the never ending damp, I canceled my remaining accommodation and went back to the fitness resort. It was beautiful, there were 4 walls and the room was dry! And my stuff was dry! And they fed me breakfast when I arrived, sodden and miserable. Oh, the fitness resort. I didn’t even care about the rain after all the yelling and delicious food. It was a fab time.