1. On our first day in Sihanoukville, we woke up early in order to have breakfast along the beach and take a dip in the water of the Gulf of Thailand. When we got to Occheuteal Beach at about 7 am the beach was already busy, with mostly locals. With the help of a towel, I changed into my swimming trunk (would have been easier if I had a sarong instead) and waded into the water, which I was expecting to be cold but it was not. Sunny followed soon after.
2. Sand along the beach was white, very fine; as good as some of the better beaches in Thailand. The beach was also pleasantly clean. There were girls selling different things but they were in general not a nuisance. Many of the beach-front restaurants sell BBQ seafood but little touting. Overall, with proper land use planning and integrating the hotels more intimately with the beaches and good marketing, Sihanoukville can easily rival any of the seaside resort in Thailand.
3. After breakfast at the nearby beach restaurant we were persuaded to have our nails done. All in US$10 for our breakfast, manicure and pedicure; not bad at all. That's my foot in the picture on the right, in case you need to guess.
3. At about 10, we checked out of the hotel and were on the road to Kampot and Kep (coastal resort towns to the East of Sihanoukville), before heading North to Phnom Penh. As we were leaving Sihanoukville, I took this picture of the port. It looked like a small port, with just 2 container quay cranes, and 4-5 stacking cranes. A vessel was in harbour. With the potential of Sihanoukville, the nearby National Parks, including Ream and Bokor National Parks, it is conceivable that the port could be developed into one of the ports of calls for cruise ships in the region.
4. Along the way, we decided to do a detour and made a short visit to Ream National Park, which is off Highway 4 and 18 km east of Sihanoukville. Beaches looked good, though the sand was not as white as those in Sihanoukville. Its 150 sq km in size and for those who love nature, many activities await you. The area is very thinly populated but we found this restaurant along the coast for lunch, which also doubled up as their home. We had a great meal of 1 kg of pepper crab (yes, much like our pepper crab) and a very fresh steamed fish, all for about US$15. You can see Sunny looking very contented, and leaving very little food behind. In the other picture, you can see the family playing card game, similar to a game that I used to play when I was young called "fishing fish".
5. At about 2 pm, we had to quickly rush off to continue our journey to Kampot and Kep. As we were running late, we passed through Kampot and proceeded to Kep. We were not too excited by what we saw in Kampot, but clearly Kampot was a good base to enjoy the many attractions in the nearby areas, eg Bokor National Park.
6. At Kep, we were intrigued by the many beautiful boundary walls that were still standing even though most of the plots were empty, with their buildings gone. Seeing the beauty of the boundary walls and the remaining buildings in Kep, we could imagine the charm of this resort town at its peak. There must be many beautiful seaside properties in its hey days. We were told the Khmer Rouge forces were responsible for the destruction, but it just seemed strange that many plots were completely emptied but the boundary walls were left intact. We decided to have a drink at the Sailing Club. Its a small pretty club with a long jetty out. Water was crystal clear there. At the club there were 2-3 Caucasian families (probably French) with their teenager kids, expatriates working in Phnom Penh spending a weekend in Kep. We seriously contemplated staying a night in Kep but since it had started to rain we decided to press ahead towards Phnom Penh. We left the place feeling a little sad that we did not spend the night there. I consoled myself that I can always go back there some day.
7. With the help of GPS, we decided to take Highway 3 to Phnom Penh. Travelling almost directly North towards Phnom Penh it looked like the shortest route to get there. But, as it turned out, most stretches of the 100 km route was under construction. By then, we were travelling in the dark, as there was no street light. With many of the bicycles and motorcycles were without lights or reflectors, and the many people still walking on the shoulders, it was a nightmare travelling km after km towards Phnom Penh. For some stretches, we were able to follow local cars, which made driving much less taxing. Sunny was driving and he did a great job getting us safely to Phnom Penh. I had to be fully alert too, pointing possible hazards as I saw them. We got into Phnom Penh at about 9 pm. After a quick dinner, we went to bed directly and slept like a log. This experience just confirmed our position that we should only drive in the day. We are now more committed to ensure that this is adhered to.
8. At Phnom Penh, we stayed at Paragon Hotel, a 50 room budget hotel facing the Mekong River, US$20 a night. We had only one full day there on 17 May, before heading for Ho Chin Minh city the next day. We decided to spend the day visiting the Choeung Ek killing field and S21 facility which the Khmer Rouge used to imprison and interrogate its victims. The guide told us that other than the one we were visiting, there were some 388 killing fields scattered throughout Cambodia and not all have been exhumed. At this killing field, some 20 000 people were brutally murdered and buried.
9. S21 was a former school, with 7-8 blocks of building, converted to become a prison and interrogation centre for "people who needed to be re-educated". Here, you can see the entrance to the facility. The signboard gave the dos and donts for prisoners and the high bar, which were erected for use by school children for exercises, was converted for use to hang prisoners upside down for torture.
10. It was a very eerie experience visiting the 2 sites, not quite sure what to make out of what we saw, what would turn the leaders of a country to commit such atrocities, killing some 2 m fellow country men, for what kind of goal and dream, and how in their scheme of things to feel that it was all worth it. Just so puzzling. Just reinforced the importance of having the right leaders to lead the country, a small group deciding on the destiny of millions and millions of people. One bad decision could be so disastrous.
11. On the way back to Phnom Penh city, we saw this motorcyle, carrying a family of five. So far this is the record - 5 people on a single bike.
12. The next day, 18 May, we are off to Ho Chi Minh City. VIETNAM, here we come.