I've worked out that I've stayed in around 55 different places over the last 4.5 months, and of those 55 one of them has to be the worst. That honour goes to where I am now - Sihanoukville, Cambodia's premier seaside resort. Constructed in the late 1950s after the French withdrew from Indochina, Sihanoukville is Cambodia's largest port and one of its key tourism centres. Being relatively modern it lacks the French architecture you see in other parts of Cambodia, but the development that has taken place is ugly and sordid. The whole town remains one big building site. There are half finished hotels everywhere, and ours is one of them. Building work commenced at 8 yesterday morning and anyone hoping for a lie in would have been disappointed. Restaurants and bars have been constructed metres from the sea on the beach front, and many of them deposit their sewage directly into the Gulf of Thailand. Bizarrely, some people are still keen to swim in the sea despite the sewage outlets and the huge amount of litter that covers the beach. Many others are content just to sunbathe, but anyone hoping to relax on the town's main beach would have no chance. The hawkers here are the most aggressive I've seen anywhere in the world, and will even sit on and shake sunbathers to wake them up and try and sell to them. Many of them are kids. The town also has an infamous reputation for petty and violent crime. Pickpocketing is rife, and on a walk along the beach we saw a sign saying "walk no further - attacks happen". Our tour guide informed us that it was near this spot that a female Intrepid guide was held at knifepoint in an attempted rape just a few months ago.
With all its faults you may be wondering why anyone would want to visit this town. The answer is cheap booze and readily available drugs. Cambodia has very strict laws on drug abuse, but Sihanoukville has a very liberal attitude and the police seem to turn a blind eye to it here. That is unless they wish to supplement their income by arresting and bribing the tourists. Police in Cambodia are paid just $20 per month, and many of them attempt to scam tourists to earn money. One of the Sydney girl's brothers was in Sihanoukville earlier this year and hired a jet ski at the beach. When he returned the rental person claimed he had damaged it and demanded $2000 repair money. When he refused a policeman was conveniently on hand to arrest him, and he spent the night in Cambodian jail before being released when he paid the police $2000. This story totally put me off hiring jet skis and motorbikes here, even though they are very cheap to rent.
I have been offered all kinds of class A drugs just walking through the town, and it mainly seems to be westerners dealing it. There are a lot of backpackers staying here for extended periods taking advantage of the drug culture. On our first night here we visited a couple of the beachfront bars and they were largely full of middle aged men chatting up the few prostitutes there. It seems to be a social taboo in Europe for old men to visit notorious resorts in Greece and places, but here they account for a large percentage of the clientele. We didn't stay out long and went home just after watching a fire throwing demonstration.
The next day our guide had arranged for us to do an excursion to escape the busy and filthy beaches of Sihanoukville, and we took a traditional Asian motor boat out to explore the wider area. After sailing for an hour we stopped at a coral reef just off a deserted island, and the intention was that we all went snorkelling. However, the equipment was so dirty and the sea so murky that everyone soon lost interest in snorkelling and was content just to swim instead. It wasn't the best spot for swimming though as the shallow rocks were covered in poisonous sea urchins, most of which we only realised were there having got back on the boat. We then did a spot of fishing using primitive equipment. Only a few people managed to catch a fish - the rest of us put our bait in and pulled our lines up to see that something had eaten the bait without getting caught on the hook. The fish people did catch were tiny but the guides still put them on the BBQ and some people had them for lunch. Our lunchtime BBQ took place on a beautiful and relatively isolated beach on the mainland. The sea was very warm and calm, and it was perfect for swimming in and playing volleyball. We stayed there for about 3 hours relaxing before taking the boat back to Sihanoukville. All in all it was a very enjoyable day and a nice escape from the town.
Last night we all went out to take advantage of the fact you could buy vodka mixers and beers here for about 50p. Cambodia is a very cheap country - meals cost no more than 2 pound 50, and you can take tuk-tuks lengthy distances for small change. Everyone had a good night out but it was annoying that we had to return to our hotel before 2am as it had a lock out rule.
This morning I lazed in bed watching a re-run of Coventry versus Portsmouth on the TV. Having had breakfast around lunchtime I walked into town and found a super-fast internet cafe where it was possible to upload all my Asia photo's so far in double quick time. Most satisfying as I was thinking I may not get them online for months with the generally slow internet here! I then treated myself to my first ever massage at an upmarket massage parlour owned by an English woman from Bournemouth. A middle aged Cambodian woman gave me a half hour mid-strength back, shoulders, head and neck oil massage for the equivalent of just 3 pounds. I felt very relaxed afterwards but during the massage I wasn't especially comfortable. I'm embarrassingly ticklish and as she ran here fingers up and down pressure points on my back I had to work hard not to flinch or laugh! It was a good experience though and I think I will get a few more massages in my remaining time in Asia.
Tomorrow morning we depart for our final stop in Cambodia - a return to the capital city Phnom Penh, a 4 hour public bus ride north east of here. I will hopefully update from there.
Finally, I must boast that my Bangkok travel blog was made travel blog of the day on the STA travel website. This was in spite of the fact half of it was a rant about Jetstar and my delayed flight. Maybe whoever selected it had also had a bad experience with Jetstar. I still have no idea why that flight was delayed. Jetstar disgracefully have no email contact address and insist you must phone or write to them with complaints! Something I have no time to do, so I guess I'll never know.