When exhausted, sore, and frustrated there’s only one place in the world that can completely rejuvenate the soul: the beach. And luckily for Siobhan and myself, we arrived in Sihanoukville with the sun high in the sky and were eager to get a piece of it.
Located in the very south of the country, this backpacker’s paradise has grown exponentially over the years, most likely to its own detriment. Throngs of tourists pass through and faces around town change about as rapidly as new business open up and old ones disappear. Yet there is a constant abundance of guesthouses, restaurants, and bars; so much it becomes bit overwhelming. Basically, it’s a smaller, calmer version of Siem Reap…with a beach. Despite my obvious annoyance with the previous tourist packaged town, this place unexpectedly charmed me. Maybe it was the sea air or the quick and cheap moto escape to a secluded beach, but Sihanoukville (pronounced Sha-nook-ville) had a lot more to offer if you bothered getting off the main strip.
With a plethora of beaches to explore, I made it a personal mission to try them all. The obvious first one we ventured to was Serenity Beach, the main drag completely overcome with beach chairs, restaurants, and locals touting everything under the sun. Massages, books, jewelry, sunglasses, fruit, and hair removal were all up on offer and I wish I could say I never indulged. But newbies smell like fresh meat and the children surrounded us making us “free” bracelets, the gimmick being that out of guilt we’d buy something else. (It worked.) But probably the weirdest thing we purchased, really the weirdest thing I’ve ever done on a beach, ever, was threading.
For those uninformed on the pain that is beauty, threading is a hair removal process where dental floss is used in a way that rips hair from skin. It essentially is waxing without all the pain, or that’s how it was sold to me. Despite the gentle demo, threading turned out to be a painful and torturous activity, at least for me. Everyone else kept calm and quiet about the uncomfortable process, but I could not. Every now and again I couldn’t help but flinch and let out a yelp. Not only did the beautician ladies laugh it up, but so did Siobhan, the seller children, and the other patrons near us. The particularly painful bit was getting my armpits threaded. An odd mix of pain and tickling, I couldn’t stop laughing and screaming, thus confusing and entertaining the masses. “It’s all for the blog,” I whimpered as I vowed never, ever to submit myself to such torture again.
After we washed up and got ready, we headed out for a big night on the town. As it turned out, it was Saturday night and a New Moon, which meant day glow party, and Siobhan and I had yet to go out properly since reuniting. So we wore our worst clothes and prepared as best we could because with these nights, you never know what’s going to happen.
What’s day glow you ask? Any Southeast Asia backpacker knows this substance well and stays away from it, unless of course they’re drunk and it’s a moon party. Then you smoother yourself in the neon colored paint and proceed to scream, “woo hoo!!!”. It’s quite popular because you’ll then glow under a black light and it gives you great excuse to meet new people and draw on them. The downfall? The paint is painfully permanent, meaning anything it touches becomes fated as “moon party wear”, never to see the light of day nor the soil of your homeland.
So our first night we loaded up on paint, whiskey buckets, and had an absolute blast meandering back and forth between beach bars. It was only my first night but already found three different bars wanting to hire me in exchange for drinks and accommodation. While most that night has been erased from my memory, I had it together enough to realize I was going to stick around Sihanoukville for a little while.
One of the greatest and worst things about S.ville is the party always goes until sunrise, no matter what night of the week it is. It took me a few days to adjust, but I always thought it was a great idea to come home, change to my bathing suit, and then head out for some early morning rays. That is unless I passed out during the process.
After only a couple of days it was clear I needed a break and luckily for me one was already scheduled in. Siobhan is an avid diver and was eager to go out to one of the many islands for an overnight diving trip. I was excited to join her and be lazy on the beach while she was out being active. So we signed up with a dive company and set out for Koh Rung, a nearly deserted island 2 ½ hours out from shore.
Since my bad decision making skills are legendary, no one should be surprised to hear I stayed out all night partying only to come home with less than 10 minutes to pack and get ready to go for 3-4 days to the island. Of course Siobhan was livid as she was certain she wasn’t going to see me and was unsure what to do. I threw everything in together, still drunk and not answering questions, and off we ran to catch our ride. I was feeling fine, certain I would sneak some sleep on the boat, until that is I saw the pile of wood.
Not only was there no place to rest my head, but the waves were high, the wind strong, and it was obviously a bad day to be out at sea. No matter, we began our journey with spirits high. After a period of time I became intensely seasick and did my best to hold back the vomit. Some fun was poked at me until everyone saw just how awful I felt and began to show their concern. Suddenly I couldn’t hold it anymore and decided to make my way to the back of the boat so less people would witness the experience, or at least they would be downwind of it.
This proved another bad decision as I had no balancing skills with the boat rocking up and down, back and forth, and I was quickly thrown to the ground with my dress torn and my back scrapped pretty badly. With the wind knocked out of me and my back throbbing, I no longer had to vomit, but still had to endure another hour of tortuous high seas. And there went my theory I was a pirate in another life.
I have never been so happy to see solid ground and promptly laid down attempting to sleep off the seasickness/hangover I was stuck in. By the afternoon I was well enough to walk to the part of the island with the bungalows we were to sleep in. I was still sick, but completely able to appreciate the absolutely stunning scenery around me.
Nestled into the hillside and directly next to the beach, each individual bungalow had its own rustic bathroom and balcony equipped with a hammock and spectacular view. There was only one restaurant on the island and that was the one associated with both our dive shop and guesthouse, only a stone’s throw from our little abode. On our full day there together, after a solid and much needed sleep, Siobhan and I ventured to discover a secluded white sand beach. We walked along the water and through a mini jungle, ducking trees and jumping mud pits. We went until we reached the end of dry ground and even then we had to walk through chest high water to find our perfect beach. Eventually we made it.
Before us lay a long stretch of white super soft sand without a soul in site, the beach curved in a ‘U’ shape, meaning if anyone did walk past us we would see them from far away. It also gave me the absolutely secluded beach I had been seeking my entire time in Asia, or at least since I had read ‘The Beach’. So off came my top and out came my spliff, because I wasn’t going to miss a golden opportunity like this to utterly relax and tan beyond restrictive bikini lines.
Unfortunately, nature has to find balance and there was really only one catch, although it was a pretty awful one: sandflies. Now they sound harmless but truly these are the demonic cousins of mosquitoes. While mosquito bites instantly swell, if you don’t itch them, they go away. But sandfly bites are of another world. They leave only a tiny red dot and aren’t terribly irritating at first. It’s only after you’ve left the scene of the crime and showered that you realize how totally and utterly itchy you are.
While this might be annoying to some, it’s awful for me. You know those people with sweet blood who always get bit more than anyone else in the group? There’s always one and that unfortunate soul is me. While Siobhan suffered a few annoying bites, I was absolutely entirely covered in bright red bumps. The little fuckers preferred my legs to the rest of me, but still managed to get just about everything they could. Not only are these bites obvious and foul looking, but they seemingly never go away. They never stop itching and they itch so fiercely you end up creating scabs, which you will later scratch off as well, and eventually leave you covered in little white scars. Don’t worry, those will itch, too. It has officially been six weeks since the tragedy and I’m still itching. Really. (And yes, that’s how behind on my blog I am.)
So why are sandfly bites worth such a long tangent? Because for the following few weeks if I ever wore shorts I had to deal with people gasping and saying, “My God, what has happened to you?!?”. Their pitiful stares and apologies didn’t make up for the fact that I was now the leper on the beach. Nice timing for me to live in a beach town, eh?
And that was the plan. I decided to settle in S.ville for a week or so bartending while Siobhan headed towards Vietnam. We headed back the next day on a perfectly smooth and gentle boat ride that I could nap through (oh the irony), and spent our last full day together indulging it up with more beach and western food. We even splurged and went to see a movie, the second one I’ve gone to in eight months. This “theater” was simply a large room with papasan chairs that showed pirated new movies. Completely comfortable and relaxed, they offered services such as ordering pizza, free of charge, as was the added “happiness”. And with mini tables equipped with ashtrays, I knew I’d come back to this $3 a flick sweet spot.
Of course there was another night out with memories lost to the buckets we consumed, but it was all well enjoyed nonetheless. The next morning we parted ways, permanently this time, and I was ready to begin the next chapter of my journey. Bartending for bed is not unknown to me and has been something I’d been searching for my entire time in Asia. I resisted the tempting offer in Vang Vieng, but a bar on the beach is not something I could deny. And so I settled in for a week (or so) of complete and utter alcoholism.