Sunday, 13 January 2013

Christmas in Cambodia: Otres Beach, Sihanoukville.

Sea Garden, Otres Beach, Sihanoukville. 
We'd collectively decided to head to Sihanoukville for Christmas, we wanted to be on the beach and this was the main coastal town in Cambodia. Otres Beach had been recommended to us by someone we'd met along the way, it's a 15 minute tuk-tuk ride from the main town, but as such it's secluded enough to avoid the majority of the hawkers on the beach selling tat or begging for money. Lars was already ahead of us and had managed to book us some bungalows on the beach in a small resort called Sea Garden, which was a relaxed and comfortable place to stay. Alex, James and I arrived on this bus from Phnom Penh and tuk-tuk'd our way to the beach, where I found Lars relaxing on a deck chair on the beach, sat with Cristina from Spain who was now a member of our Christmas group too. I was so happy to be somewhere beautiful for Christmas. The sun was setting as I arrived as I was grinning with little to say as I absorbed my new surroundings and looked forward to a very unfamiliar Christmas.

That evening Liv and Abby would be arriving later on, but we didn't see them until the following morning as we'd wandered down the beach to have an explore of the few quiet bars for a few drinks, and many of them sold cannabis as well, as lax as Cambodia's laws seem to be. 

The following days in the build up to Christmas followed a very similar, lazy and hazy format. We'd sit on the beach for a few hours, chatting, reading or just staring at the ocean, before deciding it was time for a 30 minute swim to cool off in the warm, calm and clear sea. This was pattern that repeated itself over and over for my time on Otres, and it didn't get boring. The company was great, the location was close to idyllic and I was very content in doing very little, having had 6 months hauling my bag around different countries, transit systems and Asian metropolises. 

Lars and Abby relaxing on the beach.
Liv and Abby in the sea.
Views from the shade.
It was a hard life.
Looking down Otres Beach.
We had a couple of nights out on the town. We had to take a tuk-tuk in, but it was better to stay away from the general shit hole of Sihanoukville, and Serendipity Beach in particular which is the typical hell of young backpackers not accustomed to drinking, older sex tourists and a handful of louts. There were only a few bars, blaring out the modern dance remixes that have little appeal, except mass appeal, but I'm not sure who decided this should be the status quo of bar music. One of the bars was half filled with Cambodian prostitutes and older men, which wasn't really our scene, but we danced with some of the prostitutes anyway, for our own amusement. There was a young English guy in there, seemingly on his own, looking about 16 but I guess was 18. He looked like a fetal Mr Bean with milk bottle glasses, and was grinding around the stripping pole and going up behind girls with no fear, and I was encouraging him to hit on the girls I was with, just to watch their faces for my own sick amusement. He was drunk as hell and provided quite a bit of entertainment. The saga of the kid was enhanced the following day when we heard a story, of clearly the same person, from a bartender where we were staying. Apparently he had been riding his motorbike along the beach for some unknown reason when a dog ran out at him, causing him to veer off and ride his bike into the sea to escape. The bartender had helped him retrieve his bike. I heard no more of the kid but I guess he had a pretty interesting experience.
Liv with a bad Santa.
Abby with a coconut.
The days continued on the beach until Christmas Eve arrived, and we spent that evening listening to excellent live music in a beach bar, with the best harmonica playing I have ever heard in my life. He blew that thing like Hendrix on the guitar, and had me mesmerised. We walked down to our bungalows as the almost full moon set over the ocean and the stars burned like candles in the sky. High on life, we stripped to our skin and entered the sea. The luminescent plankton in the water lit up like fireflies as our arms and legs disturbed their suspension, and it was as magical as life can be. I went under water and opened my eyes. Lights streamed around in front of me and swirled like bouncing cigarettes on a night road. The plankton mirrored the shining stars above us, these were our Christmas lights, a real gift and a moment I'll never forget.

Christmas day was as relaxed as any other. We bought some bottles of liquor and drank them as the sun went down, ate a Christmas dinner of fried green vegetables and rice, and prepared for a night on the town. Alex and I had bought everyone a gift when we'd been at the market in Phnom Penh, just a Cambodian pen as a souvenir, but it was nice to have something to give. We wore our Santa hats, and Lars made himself a 'free hugs' sign to wear for the night, which proved very popular and he got everyone he hugged to sign the back of, which was a great memento. We danced away with a host of different tourists, some young Australians throwing up, that sort of thing, before deciding enough was enough and headed back to our beach for another 4am swim under the stars.

Christmas day chilling.

Quiet christmas beaches.
Otres Beach is pretty quiet, just what we wanted.
Lars dances to Chris Malinchak's 'So Good To Me', which had been our anthem of travelling together.
Liv watches the Christmas sun go down.
The girls take their Christmas photos.
Lars Hoffmann, one of the happiest men on the planet.
Sunset leaping.
Liv and Alex.
One of the kids that occasionally came along to try and sell us stuff.

The sun sets on Otres Beach on Christmas Day 2012.
It was a nice sunset, so why not some cliched jumping silhouettes. Liv, Lars and Abby.
Everyone gets involved.
The Christmas Crew - me, Alex, Cristina, Liv, Abby, Lars and James.
Alex getting ready to go out.
Abby and Liv.
Some kind of 70s paedo.
Lars with his sign.
Before leaving the beach for town.
Merry Christmas everyone.
Christmas passed and two days later Abby and Liv left to head to Thailand where they would be spending New Year. Lars, Cristina and I decided to have a break from our beach and went on a boat trip for a day, where we visited three islands, with some spots of snorkelling, which were ok. The visibility was alright, and the variety of coral and fish was alright, but it was nothing spectacular. It was still nice to do, as snorkelling is one of my favourite holiday things to do. We visited a beautiful beach where the sea was tap water clear and we had fun with Lars' waterproof camera taking some underwater shots and enjoying the sea.

Lars on the boat.
Lars and Cristina in the sea.
Me, Cristina and Lars.
It was like a swimming pool. 
There was some sea life.

The 28th was the full moon, and as obligatory over Asia parties pop up and here was no different. We decided to head into town for another night of drinking, though I was a little bored of the bars and music by now, it was fun, but not really my scene, and as expected at these beach parties someone stole my flip-flops, so I had to steal some girls two sizes two small to go home in.

The last full moon of 2012 sets over the sea. 
By the time New Years came, it was only Lars and I remaining, Alex, James and Cristina had gone to other parts of Cambodia, fancying a change of scenery. We opted to stay on our own beach, which still had a few bars but were a bit more mature and our scene, and no prostitutes around, just more like-minded people. The main bar, Richies, we didn't arrive at until 11.50, having been drinking our own booze on the porch of our bungalow until taking a late dinner on the beach. The music was a great mix of soul, funk, hip hop and eventually my preferred kind of techno, and we danced on the beach all night until the sun came up, and then when it did we danced ankle deep in the sea until 9am, a perfect way to welcome in the New Year, before finally retiring to bed for some much needed sleep. I didn't get up until almost dusk on January 1st.

Lars leaps in the sea on December 31st.
The final sunset of 2012 - it'd been a great year.
Walking along the beach towards the bar, and fireworks were popping off all around us.
One of the bars on the beach.
A 15 year old Cambodian girl selling joints. No different to London.
Cambodians signing Lars' hug board.
Ritchies Bar New Years Eve party.
Some other weird stuff going on, travellers making balloon animals for the local kids at 1am, I didn't understand why.

My Christmas and New Year in Cambodia had been everything I had hoped for. It had been a fantastic ten days of both relaxation and debauchery, I just wished I could have had some sausages wrapped in bacon, but other than that, I couldn't have asked for more and will be a time I will never forget.


  1. Your all pictures good looking, but in my opinion 6th one is best of all and the place is very romantic and beautiful. Thanks for sharing these photo.

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  2. What type of camera do you use? Your shots are fantastic. I absolutely loved reading your blog!

  3. Thanks! They were mostly shot on a nikon D800, apart from the underwater ones, which were shot on a friend's waterproof compact.

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