With the feeling of constant traffic and chaos in Phnom Penh, I was looking forward to a few days out of town along the southern coastline of Cambodia. Most people I had spoken to about the coast said that it was a beautiful area with stunning white sandy beaches with easy access to simple and untouched islands so I thought I’d check it out before catching up with some friends in Kep and Kampot.
The roads here are pretty shocking and road rules are non existent. After a five hour bus ride involving a near head on collision with a cow, we managed to arrive in one piece at Sihanoukville bus station. By now you’d think I would have an idea of where to stay but in true Jimmy Dau form, I hadn’t. I heard about a place called Monkey Republic off a friend so decided to walk there. The standard procedure no matter where you travel to is to exit the bus or whatever form of transport you’ve arrived in and you’ll instantly be hounded by hoards of tuk tuk or taxi drivers trying to coax you into staying at their friends accommodation where they will get a commission. It was no different here in Sihanoukville. Despite saying thanks but no thanks, we were being stalked by tuk tuk drivers as we made our way along the 400 metres to Monkey Republic.
As I would soon learn, Cambodian accommodation especially in touristy towns and for the higher rated hostels tend to be booked up quite quickly. With nothing available at the Monkey Republic I decided to head to Otres beach about 10km away which is where an English chap whom I had met on the bus was staying. Driving along the road to Otres Beach, there were countless blocks of land that had brick fences built around them but with no development. The Tuk Tuk driver said that they had all been bought by Vietnamese companies and would eventually be developed. I couldn’t imagine how, given the amount of shrub and plants around the place, it looked like that the blocks of land had been noticeably vacant for many years.
Otres beach is a super quiet area about a 15 minute tuk tuk ride from Sihanoukville. I’m glad I chose to stay instead of Sihanoukville as I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed the hoards of tourists that base themselves there to drink cheap cocktails, go bar hopping, hog the coastline for a chance at sunbathing and do organised day trips to the various islands off the coastline. Unbeknownst to me, there were actually two Otres Beaches and that I was actually staying at Otres Beach 2. I was ok with that though and enjoyed the quieter scene here. Whilst Otres 1 is slightly more developed, there’s not much to Otres 2 except for a 300 metre strip of accommodation that back on to the beach and a few beach bars.
A typical day here was to wake up at 8 or 9 in the morning, have breakfast, go to the beach, swim, work on the tan or laze around on the beach chairs under the umbrellas, be tempted by the local ladies who want to give you a massage, have lunch and head back to the beach for sunset drinks. In the evenings, the restaurants and bars put on a Khmer BBQ which is a delicious selection of either pork, beef, snapper, barracuda, squid or prawns/shrimp. Over the few nights, I go for the pork and snapper for only $4 and comes with a beer.
Being a solo traveller, I’d make myself at home by the bar next door called Sam’s Beach Bar and chat to the various staff who like a bit of a laugh and get to exchange a few greetings with other customers. Each night I was there, kept running into a fella from Switzerland who was a truck driver for nine months of the year and spends the remaining three months travelling. He was in Cambodia for a couple of months and had found an apartment in Sihanoukville for $50 month but spent most nights in away from the crowds in Otres. The stories that he had of all of the places he had been to over the past 40 plus years was quite inspiring and exactly the motivation I needed to keep travelling.
There’s a distinct lack of locals around in Otres. Not even any shops to buy any bits and pieces that you may need. For most things you’d need to catch a tuk tuk into town. I had to get money out from the ATM in town and could only bear to hang around for half an hour before feeling like I was back in the big smoke with hoards of tourists, mainly older western men with a younger Khmer woman hanging off their arm. Slightly creepy and disturbed.
You’re probably having a go at me for dissing Sihanoukville without giving it a go by staying there or going out there. To be honest, nothing about it appealed to me. I wasn’t keen on spending all of my time at the countless bars that line the sandy shorelines or buying any tacky souvenirs. I’ve backed off the backpacker drinking lifestyle like I did last year in Latin America and although I don’t mind a drink on most days, after a few, I tend to call it quits in favour for a few more hours shut eye.
If you’re interested in being spending time on a place that’s removed from the tourists traps then Otres Beach 1 or 2 is definitely for you. I would imagine that Otres beach 2 will cling onto that quiet and untouched vibe for another few years but given the growth of Otres 1 and with the potential development of all of the land that’s is now Vietnamese owned, who knows what will happen. My only concern is that whatever development projects happen, that the environmental impacts are placed at the top of the priority list. Being in South East Asia and seeing and hearing the stories of corruption, I would say that it’s more likely greed will triumph over common sense.
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