Sunday, 10 July 2011

Sihanoukville, Beaches, Peaches and Abuse, 12-16 April 2011

Sihanoukville - (c) N Prince

For the first time on my trip, I felt as though I was truly on holiday. Sihanoukville is the seaside paradise resort of Cambodia, the beach fills with local and foreign visitors relaxing in the sunshine and swimming in the lukewarm waters of the Gulf of Thailand. Tom and Nicky arrived one day before me and thus already spent a day on the beach. Tom had certainly discovered the full brute force of the sun and was suffering from severe sunburn over his entire body. Despite applying sunscreen, Tom's antimalarials made him extremely photosensitive and his skin turned red roar.

On my first night, I went back up to Monkey Republic and joined Nicky, Tom, Alan and some other people that Alan had met travelling for drinks. It became routine, first Monkey Republic for their happy hour, then across the road to Utopia for 25c beer and finishing up at JJ's Beach Bar. Alex, whom I met in Nanning, China and travelled to Hanoi with was working at JJ's and had been for a month before I arrived so it was good to catch up with him, although he was busy pouring customers and himself beer all night!

Sitting on the beach the next day with Nicky, Alan and the other guys, I resigned myself to the shade as I didn't want to end up like Tom, who decided to spend the whole day inside, out of the sun and catch up on the script that he was writing. I have never been a person who wants a tan as it goes within a couple of weeks anyway and all it does is increase your risk of getting skin cancer. No, I'm quite content to sit in the shade on the beach and watch the world go by without being roasted alive. Alan, Nicky, Tom and I had previously joked that a fitting song for Sihanoukville would be The Strangler's 'Peaches'...

Cool Banana, where I may or may not have had 'special' cake
I got up especially early on my last day because I had arranged with Alan to move into his room at Monkey republic as it would be cheaper and I would be with them all. So I packed my bags, had breakfast and by this point in time, Nicky had realised that the breakfast at my place was far superior to that of Monkey Republic's overpriced poor excuse for a breaky and had begun to join me for breakfast. After breakfast, I grabbed my bags and walked up the hill towards my new lodgings. I got there and checked in with the manager who was a little confused as to why I was moving in but after I explained, he showed me Alan's room, but he wouldn't answer the door and was obviously recovering from the previous night's drinking. Instead of waking him, I dumped my bags and Nicky and I headed to the beach but on the way down we bumped into a couple of people and to my surprise told us that another bloke had moved into Alan's room early that morning. Despite out agreement, the cheeky bugger had given away my bed whilst drunk! Luckily Monkey Republic had one free bed in the dorm left, so I took it and resumed our journey down to the beach.

Campaign to stop sex tourists.
Cambodia has a big problem of child abuse and child labour and Sihanoukville in particular has a big problem. Children roam the streets and walk up and down the street all day long making any money they can by either collecting empty bottles and cans, making and selling bracelets, performing pedicures and even hair removal on foreigners. Unfortunately when tourists see poor children, we want to help them as much as we can but children's charities discourage you from giving them anything at all as the more successful they are the less they attend school and become increasingly susceptible to abuse from adults. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world and ripe with corruption and organised crime. It is unfortunately a haven for paedophiles and sex tourists that come to Cambodia primarily for the child prostitution. In 2005, an undercover investigator went into a brothel and was introduced to two girls, one was seven and the other one nine and both had been drugged to keep them cooperative. He recalls opening a door and being confronted by a European man raping an eight year old girl and the sad fact is that nothing is ever done because of the deep corruption in the police force. You can read his full report for the BBC here. At day the kids roam the streets and beaches and at night you can easily point out the young prostitutes hanging around the bars and clubs looking for their next dollar.

As Nicky and I sat on the beach, we were constantly being approached by children offering us bracelets or services and you get very tired with constantly telling them 'No!'. You continually think 'I'm helping them by being here and my money should eventually get to them through the benefit system.' but unfortunately this is never the case in a country that is as corrupt as Cambodia. Money disappears and the poor children remain at risk. It's frustration as there is no easy way to help them without hurting them.

Yeah, She LOVES Norwich!!
Beside us were two girls and a man, and when we exchanged the pleasantries of 'where do you come from?' etc I was confronted by a girl with an I love Norwich bag. It made my day seeing somebody that loved Norwich enough to have a bag! It turned out that she used to be a student at the University of East Anglia not long back. After many hours of turning the children away, Tom joined us in his sweat pants and hoody. He was still suffering with severe sun burn and was leaping from shade to shade to avoid the sun. He sat down with us and we enjoyed a late afternoon beer. As we got up to leave and head back to Monkey Republic, I was shocked to find out that somebody stole my flip flops. I had only had them for a few hours! It must have been one of the kids that kept crawling around beside me! So I had to hobble back up the rocky, unfinished road to the guesthouse.

I haven't got much more to add about Sihanoukville. It was fun and enjoyable to spend a few days by the beach with some new friends. I even bumped into the Canadian people that I had travelled with to HuĂ© in Vietnam again.  I may have had a magic cake that I may have thought it was MJ but turned out to be mushrooms which may have caused me to have an interesting evening with a yellow Barack Obama jumping out of the TV talking about the US deficit....  That story remains unknown to many....  Including me....

Finish the day with a beer... Can't beat it!
Tom, Nicky, Alan and I decided to move onto Phnom Penh together and had booked a bus through the guesthouse. We had all checked out at a respectable time and waited for the bus to collect us. After waiting for thirty minutes, a minibus pulled up and we were thrust inside by the driver who had absolutely no time to waste. It was incredibly hot on board as the air conditioning didn't work and the windows were only slightly ajar. The bus did a u-turn and headed back down the hill. After 200 yards and thirty seconds we got to the roundabout at the bottom and pulled up beside a bigger bus. The driver opened the door, threw our bags onto the ground and sped off into the distance. It was incredible and absolutely unbelievable that they actually bothered to pick us up, when we could have walked down there in a couple of minutes. Oh well, Asian ways never cease to amaze me! We all got on board and the bus moved off out of Sihanoukville as the rain clouds thickened above us.

Next Time, Phnom Penh, S-21 and the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields

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