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Andy’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 31 Jan 2007

Location: Sihanoukville, Cambodia


A beach retreat is not the first thing that springs to mind with the mention of Cambodia; a country famous for its temples and infamous for its terror. Most tourists beat a well worn path between Phnom Penh and Siam Reap. But that is changing.

Sihanoukville, established a mere half century ago, is a toddler of a town in such an ancient country. Born in 1950 when a French-Cambodian construction company tore out a large chunk of jungle and began building the first deep-sea port in the country, Sihanoukville expanded quickly. Growth and good-times abruptly halted with the onset of civil war in 1970. Even with the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge the beaches stayed empty. The bumpy road to Phnom Penh remained notorious for banditry and in 1994 three backpackers were abducted from a train and murdered by remnant communist forces.

With a tentative peace in 1997 the town picked up where it left off, rapidly developing to cater for the first intrepid explorers. More recently larger crowds have been arriving as the resort becomes established on the backpacker trail. In response a number of shops, guesthouses and bars have been opened. Even the Independence Hotel is scheduled to reopen, having lain empty for 30 years since the Khmer Rouge redecorated it with bullet holes.

So, we were dropped off in the middle of an untended and rocky coach park and taken by taxi to the main backpacker beach area. Our first choice of accommodation was pricey and unfriendly so we placed our faith in the driver. Surprisingly he showed us a very suitable place, a cosy, family-run and friendly hotel called Apsara.

By the time we dropped our backpacks on the bed it was already late, so we found a nearby ramshackle restaurant whose idea of mood-setting involved blinding blue strip lights. After a sumptuous amok curry, (a local Cambodian curry) we called it a night. It had been a long day. The beach would have to wait until the morning.