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Human Sardines in a Tin Can Van

Flickr/Damien@Flickr CCby2.0

Returning to the Cambodian mainland, we spent our final days in Sihanoukville with Steve and Angela before they jetted off to India. We decided to stay on Occidental Beach rather than Serendipity. Unbeknownst to us at the time, is that they are the same beach.

We opted to stay on the far (east) end to avoid the general seediness of the area. I would not describe this as a financial benefit. We had to commission tuk-tuks to get to the hubbub and the rooms were $15/night. Maybe we should have just stayed on the hill but we were repenting our spartan amenities on Koh Rong. A hot shower, A/C, running water and Wi-Fi were luxuries.

Some really memorable things happened during this time.

I Fought the Law, And the Law Won

We had a quintessential police-flags-down-tourist-on-motorcycle incident. To get you up to speed, it is ‘illegal’ for tourists to rent motorbikes in Cambodia but anyone will let you one. I’ve read that police will try to flag Farangs down but typically the rented bikes are newer (read: faster) than their older models. So you can either a) try to outrun them or; b) pay them off. Following our experience in Battambang (refer to blog post) we were a bit reluctant to drive among Cambodians, though credit is due to Steve & Ang who zipped around Phnom Penh during rush hour, on a legit dirt bike. Anyway, we decided that Sihanoukville was a great place to get back on the bike, it being coastal and all. We anticipated that we might have a run-in with the law but failed to make a strategy before heading out as an inconspicuous group of five white people on bikes. We made it about five minutes before we noticed a policeman lazily walking out into traffic with his hand raised. Cue panic. Group solidarity! Keep going? No? He looks authoritative! Are we risking jail time? Angela & Steve lead our biker gang queue. They pulled over. Greg looked over at GTO, in second position. He veered to the left to circumvent the cop. Bringing up the rear we hesitated a moment, then revved up and pursued GTO. Ahhhh! We high-tailed it one kilometre and then pulled off the road into what would appear to be a ‘convenience’ store by Cambodian standards. Surprised by the three Westerners who had excitedly pulled into their place of business, the proprietors were curious, confused and intrigued.  We craned our heads around the structure looking out for our apprehended friends. Taking note of the locals whose attention we have garnered, we bought a few bottles of water and gave them some granola bars we received at the gas station (fuel promotion?) Finally we spied Steve & Ang making their way down the highway. They recounted their experience. It went something like this. Cop tells them driving bikes is illegal and they can go to jail, asks where their friends are (re: us). Ang/Steve say they have a Canadian license to drive motorbikes. Cop reassures them it is illegal but is not really a problem if they can give his boss a tip. Ang/Steve consider how much to give the cop. What would be offensive? They resolved on giving the cop $10 and were released…because it’s apparently only illegal to drive without paying off the local authority. Conditional legality. $10 is actually quite a significant bribe. Greg and I had prepared about four $1 American bills and stored them separately from our wallet. I’ve read that anywhere from $2-$5 should suffice. Drive at your own risk.

 It’s a Cambodian Discotheque…Meet Angela

We were gearing up for our final yahoo because our group would be splitting up shortly. The evening started at a concrete picnic table under a tree, in which a single spotlight shone, at the curb in front of our hotel on the east end of Serendipity. I know. We were playing Sociables and F*ck the Dealer with some $8 USD litres of Bacardi. As per usual we had garnered the attention of the hotel staff who looked on from afar. No doubt they had never seen two tall, blonde, Caucasian women climb a tree before. Anyway, we decided to move along to a more established setting and commissioned a tuk-tuk to take us to a club. We were deposited at Skyline Club. Yes! We were about to have another strictly-Cambodian club experience. The set up of the disco was such that there was a large (empty) dance floor, elevated DJ booth and scads of booths. We bought some drinks and then nested in one such booth. At some point, Angela lost a sandal under the sofa. After minutes of searching, no flip-flop was found. In her inebriated reasoning she stripped two pillows of their cases and placed them on her feet like boots. Naturally this drew the attention of a bouncer (to which there seemed to be a high bouncer-to-guest ratio), who lost his mind. He pulled the first one off and then started on the second. Angela countered this by curling her toes so tightly that he struggled to pull it from her. So funny. So, so funny. A little while later Angela was motivated by a good song to dance on the cushioned benches of the booth. Our personal bouncer quickly shut this down. She had become the Official [Expletive] Disturber. We subsequently made our way onto the dance floor and tried to blend in. Not so easy. When we returned we found that our drinks had been cleared and a round of shots had been placed on the table, along with some jackets and a brief case. Having none of this, Ang proceeded to move the clothing and beverages to the neighbouring booth. She picked up the briefcase and the bouncer tried to grab it from her. A small tug-of-war ensued in which she emerged the definitive winner. She placed it in the booth…which I’m sure the bouncer would have done anyway. For some reason security seemed more than obliged to tolerate us. We thought we would give them some of their own treatment. Having been reprimanded for dancing on the benches, Angela kneeled down on all four and I stood on her back and danced wildly. The bouncer was on us like rice…but wait. He had been tricked! I wasn’t dancing on the bench…I was dancing on a human! What could he do? Okay, probably time to go. On our way out we made a point to dance close enough to security to make them uncomfortable. Seems they didn’t mind it. But they did mind pillow cases for shoes.

Vietnamese Visas

For some reason the Vietnamese consulate in Sihanoukville is the quickest place to process visas. We had ours done overnight. Apparently it used to cost $15 back in the day. We bought them through the guest house for $40 or so. ‘They say’ prices have risen since but if you have a bike it might be a decent idea to drop by yourself and save some dollars.

Cambodian Casinos

Well if you fancy some gambling, Sihanoukville has a plethora of casinos. We commissioned a tuk-tuk to Holiday Palace Casino. We had a fantastic meal at the resort restaurant. White table cloths, a formal dining staff, great food at $6-9 per plate. The casino was a typical layout. Tables, slots and automated Roulette. Free draft beer as long as you play, which isn’t really so glamorous when you’ve lost $100 and drank $1.50 worth of beer. Anyway, the staff was pretty enthusiastic to see us there.

GTO’s Girlfriend

So the boys went out one night and GTO accidentally collected a girlfriend. All I know is that she stayed one night…and then five. This guy…he seems to make a local girlfriend everywhere he goes. Anyway, she was nice/interesting but it seemed that at any given moment her breasts might fall out the sides of her dress. She was actually a Cambodian on ‘holiday.’ She lived in Siem Reap where she was in food service near Angkor Wat, which indicates that being on holiday was a small luxury for her. She had just broken up with her American boyfriend and needed to get away. Seems us women around the world are more alike than different! She had been staying with a friend but seemed to prefer to stay at our hotel. Anyway, she was kind of mopey but she certainly helped us with negotiating tuk-tuk fares, making special meal requests and provided lots of local knowledge to us.

So on the evening we were socializing beneath the tree in the street, Greg was explaining the rules of Sociables to her. Repeatedly, he referred to her as ‘Gail.’ Gail happened to the name of GTO’s girlfriend in Laos. Every time he said it I looked across at Angela and our eyes bulged.  Finally I exclaimed, “HER-NAME-IS-NOT-GAIL.”  Everyone just looked at me.  Deadpan face. Silence. Greg looked horrified by my outburst. GTO may have local girlfriends but let’s recognize them as different people. 

Flickr/Miran Rijavec CCbySA2.0

The Relentless Beautician

As I mentioned before, Serendipity is rife with women who want to sell you a manicure or pedicure. And when every digit has been trimmed, buffed and painted they want to remove all of your body hair. I was wrangled into a $5 mani-pedi by a relentless

but could not be sold on being threaded. Bottom line, if I have my arms threaded here in the developing world, it will turn into a not-so-economical habit I will have to maintain in my home country. After all of the girls had been painted, the boys were targeted next. GTO had his feet restored but Greg refused. He objected to her services but conceded that if she could help him ‘manscape’ he would transact with her. Mortified (Cambodians are extremely modest) she agreed for $15. What ensued was a series of screaming and bleeding on a beach lounger. She was vicious with the threads. She broke threads. I could hear hair being plucked en mass.  This all lasted about 7 minutes before Greg could no longer endure the cruel and unusual aesthetic punishment. But those were 7 minutes of heaven for those that were privy. I doubt that this beautician will ever take such a job again.

Currency Exchange

There is a really good cash changing shop if you are seeking to change dollars to Vietnamese dong. It is located just to the right of the P’sa Leu Central Market. Standing directly in front of the main entrance (facing the building), turn your body right and then walk about 50-60 metres. It is separate from the market, in a different building but is quite reputable. It will be on your left hand side and appeared to be located next to a beverage wholesaler. We had very preferential exchange rates.

Monkey Business

While we were exploring the area on motorbikes we found a hoard of monkeys. As in, twenty or so monkeys. We were on the road approaching the historic Independence Hotel when we pulled over to fraternize with some mammals. Well, I didn’t. I did not invest in rabies shots so I sure as hell was not about to touch feral monkeys. But they were pretty cute, especially the young ones (as is the case with all young animals). Anyway, if wild animal encounters are your thing then head up this way. 

Another Skeezy Man in SEA

I must have been sitting outside my hotel room when I met the man from a few rooms over. He was your typical middle-aged dude who swore off the American life and changed his chips for Cambodia. I placated him with some casual travel banter and it didn’t take too long to feel him out. People who revere the lack of law and value of a dollar read like open books. My eyes are rolling. That evening I noticed a slim Asian woman with wedge heels making her way down the corridor.

Human Sardines in a Tin Can Van

We had booked our entire ticket from Sihanoukville to Saigon at our guest house and were scheduled to depart the following morning. When the minivan arrived in the early AM there was room for exactly three bodies and their respective luggage. We were a party of five (Ang & Steve would stay a night in PP before flying to India). Us girls had begun to load our effects when it became apparent that this was a logistical issue. The faces of the travellers in the van read: ‘No way this is happening.’ The driver told us to wait for another minivan. My thoughts echoed my fellow passengers’: ‘No way this is happening.’ At this point I had been on the road for nearly three months, had survived China and Laos, and this minivan was already running late. The dictator in me surfaced. ‘Angela, sit on Steve’s lap. Now GTO, you can sit where she was. Greg, sit in the front seat. I will sit on your lap. Bag on my lap and a bag on Ang’s lap.’ I think everyone in the van was pretty impressed. I was not at all impressed as I sat mashed against the wind shield but I was content that we would be making our bus. Unfortunately the minivan was supposed to pick up another traveller from Monkey Republic. Sorry chicka. 

Getting To Vietnam

If you’re heading to ‘Nam from Sihanoukville you will have to transit via Phnom Penh. We departed around 8:00 am, arrived in PP just after noon and departed for Saigon around 1:00. We actually arrived pretty well on time. We were deposited right into the tourist district, steps from  Pham Ngu Lao street. Please be aware of your location before you get in a cab and ask to go to the tourist district. Many disoriented travellers have exited the bus, got in a cab simply to be driven around the city and deposited in the exact same spot. Take a moment to use your i-Pod Touch or smart phone to locate yourself. I’m sure you will be able to catch wi-fi if you are already in the tourist district. Tip: look for a lot of young Western travellers and ask them where you are. Duh!

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