For many, Cambodia = Temples.

And you wouldn’t be wrong, with the Angkor compound stretching for miles around the northern city of Siem Reap. But spend a little time in the south, and you come to the coastline of Cambodia.

This area is a hidden gem for budget and off-the-beaten-path travelers. Without the hype surrounding much of the Thai coastal areas and islands, Cambodia dishes up pristine beaches for fractional prices.

Unfortunately for me, the whole thing was a bit of a flop. 

At least storm clouds make pretty sunsets

At least storm clouds make pretty sunsets

I didn’t have a plan when I arrived in Sihanoukville after a 10-hour bus journey from Siem Reap. I had spent most of the night in a surprisingly comfortable sleeper bus. That is, it was comfortable until the ‘co-pilot’ decided that the aisle directly next to my bottom-bunk sleeper space was where we was going to rest of the duration, his hand casually brushing me every once in a while until I finally smacked at him.

I had heard glowing reviews of Otres Beach, so I hopped on a motorbike, jetted over there, and started my now-customary slog to each of the guesthouses to see who would give me the best deal.

I had heard that I should check out Koh Rong or the more relaxed Koh Rong Samloem, or at least find my way to one of the islands off the shore at some point while down here. But not long after my arrival, the clouds rolled in and a rain shower began!

Thus far into my travels, I’d had luck with the weather. I was chasing the end of high season as I made my way east, and this was intentionally done so I had negotiation power for accommodation. It had finally bitten me in ass: I was at the first beach I’d seen in weeks, and it looked like rain. Since my visa to Vietnam needed to be processed in Sihanoukville, I was stuck here for at least a couple of days while it was processed.

So, I decided to just relax. I caught up on a lot of writing. I made friends with Mern, the bartender at the guesthouse I was staying at, and defended myself against the playful advances of middle-aged Psykhe, the Greek manager of the place.

Rain-washed beach

Rain-washed beach

The day before my departure, it looked like the rain would finally stop. So I booked myself onto an island hopper tour that allowed me some social interaction and an exploration of Kaoh Russei, Kaoh Chanloh, Koh Ta Kiev. On Koh Ta Kiev we discovered a treehouse absinthe distillery run by an American guy who had a Keith Richards/Jack Sparrow thing going on, but the majority of the trip was forgettable.

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Trying to leave the beaches is what proved to be the struggle. I had booked a van transfer to Kampot for the afternoon, so I could go to Sihanoukville and collect my passport with my new Vietnamese visa. However, the travel agent who had booked the van service had (mistakenly?) put me on the morning van, and now he was gone for Khmer New Year with the $8 USD I had paid him for the booking. I started to fear that I would be stuck in Otres or Sihanoukville, and I was really starting to get cabin fever.

A quick consult of the Lonely Planet reminded me about share taxis in Cambodia – people who drive their private cars and sell half-seats to people who wish to travel from one place to the next. So my tuk tuk driver started toward the bus station, where these could be found. I was a stressed-out, harried wreck, having just had strong words with the woman who operated the van service in the hopes that I could convince her to give me a space on the bus.

But before we’d even reached the bus station, my tuk tuk driver abruptly pulled to the side, having heard something shouted in Khmer that I would never have understood. It was a man offering rides to Kampot and Kep! After an attempt at negotiation, I parted with $20 USD so I could leave immediately, thus purchasing the last two seats in the car (which ended up being just the whole back left seat of his four-door sedan).

After a squishy (but blessedly fast) ride, I was in the center of Kampot, ready for the next adventure.

What I Learned:

  1. Confirm travel arrangements, especially if they’ve changed. I was supposed to have my passport back earlier, but the Vietnam Embassy pushed back it’s availability, so I had to push back my van departure time. The change was clearly not confirmed!
  2. Pay attention to the weather reports. If it hadn’t been for the visa situation, I probably would have simply moved on to the next spot after a day or two of rain. But if I had paid a little more attention, I could have maybe skipped the beaches entirely and made my way to Rabbit Island, which I unfortunately had to skip!
  3. Educate yourself on all (legitimate) ways to travel. If I hadn’t known about share taxis, I’d have been stuck in Sihanoukville or have had to pay $60 USD for a taxi to the next town (which was so not going to happen). The best way to think in your feet is to arm yourself with knowledge!