We have been staying in the beach town of Sihanoukville, Cambodia for the last couple days. We had high expectations for Sihanoukville as it is named after of one of Cambodia’s most revered Kings and built on a white, sandy beach. However, it is anything but a white, sandy beach town. The Serendipity beach, one of the largest beaches, is loaded with trash, shops pedaling a variety of kitschy items, backpackers who like the $7 guest rooms and more creepy, western men. The Chinese are here in large numbers. They have built the highways, opened a national park, and developed many casinos and hotels. It is a bit run down, but there is certainly a lot of energy here.
(Note: the pictures above don’t accurately represent the chaotic vibe of this city)
Last night, we had dinner on the beach (we had french fries! – first western food in 20 days). Weather is beautiful in the evenings with a cool 80 degree ocean breeze. The beach scene was chaotic with diners, swimmers, hawkers selling everything and drinkers shouting “chul muy”. Older women weaved through the crowd balancing a bamboo pole on their shoulders with buckets of fresh crab on one end and red hot coals on the other end, ready for those in need of a BBQ. Chairs and tables were arranged on any free spot of sand and stretched out for at least a kilometer (they were all filled). Thumping music from the shops competed with the tunes of the neighboring restaurants. People were buying fireworks and paper hot air balloons by the dozens and immediately igniting them and illuminating the beach. Of course, this was all happening just a few meters where a fire ripped through restaurants, bars, and guesthouses just 2 years ago.
It has been quite a departure from the last two days of biking through two Cambodian National Parks. The parks are wonderful as they are mostly without traffic and people -truly an anomaly for our riding over the last few weeks where scores of scooter drivers seem to find even the most remote paths and byways. Although, unlike many parks around the world, people still live within their borders. The parks are cleaner than most other locations (except Angkor), but there is still a very significant different perspective on trash over here than in the West. Trash, unfortunately, is everywhere. We rode most dirt roads thru the National Parks with a 2000m climb over 16k – a bit punishing with the relentless heat. We were averaging 3 water bottles an hour yesterday. The first National Park we visited was Kirirom National Park.
The second park we visited, Ream National Park, was developed by the Chinese. A highway from the US, mine clearing by the Japanese, a park and road from the Chinese; Cambodia is aided by many and has been for some time. For example, the UN has here in the early 90’s and invested billions.
The park has a modern, paved and deserted approach road yielding to a well-graded dirt road once in the park. Very few cars or scooters are on the road. It was truly one of the first spots that we felt alone, but we still managed to run into a large party celebrating a new Buddha statue and a fishing village with about 300 families. Nevertheless, it was truly astounding scenery.
Ream National Park
A metric century is in the plans for tomorrow. We are both hoping for overcast skies.