I know, I know.. I'm late but I will catch up! hehe this post will cover my adventure in Sihanoukville during new year's eve.
In Cambodia there's no Christian new year, but, as it happened around the world the Western influence came here... but within a little bit different context. Probably watching by the TV what happened in Europe and the US, or even what the foreigners used to do here in Cambodia, the Cambodians linked new year to the countdown moment. That's so true that when we travelled there nobody referred to the new year itself but to the "Countdown", to the beer, to the party and the fireworks. Thus, exclude all that psycologic stuff that we see in Brazil when you get to the end of the year, exclude all people crying of emotion and take only the party side of the stuff. This perception is so strong that I hadn't the sensation of changing the year. That's one of the effects of being in a totally different culture, the changing rituals are totally different either.
To the Countown my company hired a bus, charged each person $10 and offered breakfast, lunch and beer, chicken, squid and prawns for the whole day on the beach. As it's usual here the capacity it's not hired for what it's needed but for what it can be hired. Thus, everybody got squeezed on the bus. It may not seem we were squeezed at the picture, but we were.
The largest shareholder of my company is also owner of half Cambodia, so we stopped at one of his business - in that case a quarry - for our breakfast. Below, picture of a typicall Cambodian breakfast, beef, egg and rice. Other sorts include chicken or pork.
Picture of our staff at the quarry. My ex-boss who hired me, Soknim, it's the 2nd one starting from me with the red t-shirt.
As soon as we got to Sihanoukville we went for lunch in one of the beaches. This is the Ream Beach which looks much more to a lake since it doesn't have waves. It's an empty beach and with no infra-structure at all, just some littering around. However, there are news that a huge development project is under way with many hotels, etc. Wait for it.
Finally we got to our final destionation Ocheteaul Beach, which differnt from the previous beach was not empty, AT ALL. The whole Cambodia decided to go to the beach for Countdown. It remembered me about the old 'Broa de Itirapina' (location in Brazil) with people doing 'farofada' (Brazilian expression that means when people go to a beach, or lake, and take their own food and drinks and not properly dispose their trash). It was like that. People stopped there in the sand, put their kind of 'carpet', the ice contained with the drinks and started to cook some food. We did the same.
Some things must be noticed. The Cambodians don't wear bikinis or any other kind of swimming clothes. They go to the water with the whole clothes, pants, t-shirts, everything. According to some natives that I spoke to that happened due to the "cultural reform" during the Khmer Rouge in the 70s. Before that period Cambodian people used to follow worldwide fashion trends but after that the foreign influences started to be seen as a crime and not following the rules would result in death. More about that period in this post. The result was that people got used about going dressed to the water.
Ocheteaul Beach it's around 2 km long. We were at the left extreme side. This area is "popullated" by the poorer natives and has almost no infra-structure. At the right side, the composition changes and there are many rich natives and foreigners with many bars, restaurants, small hotels, but still with some backpacker feeling.
There's an exception to the dressed swimming rule: the kids. The majority of the kids go naked to the beaches and that means shitng and piss in the sand, in the water.. but, these are the kids!! haha
Other local habit it's to make sculptures in the sand. In this case was sponsored by Nokia, but I've seen other good ones with no brand attached to it.
And then I had a nice surprise. The Cambodians like partying and know all the modern Western-style songs. Our staff, mostly, are on their 20-30s and most of the time they have no access to go to a club or something like that so the people loved this space with electronic music in the sand. In the picture you cannot see that there were people dancing in the middle and around a kind of a "wall" of natives starring. There was happening a cultural shock within the same country.
This picture it's some minutes before the Countdown. And then the new year comes... and... ??? Nothing. Nobody hugs each other, nobody thinks about the year that had just finished, nothing changes... leaving December and getting to January has almost no difference for them and it's almost the same as going from January to February.. that was a big shock. And if you account to the fact that there's no Carnival too and when Brazil has almost stopped here everything goes normal it's even more bizarre. Like I said, 2012 still have some 2011 air for me and it will be fun when I get back to Brazil and I will be half-way to 2013.
In the other day the people left but I stayed! I would have a meeting 2 days after in the city port which is our client. Since it would be 2 holiday days and there was no transportation to come, my company decided that it would be better me to stay until the meeting day. That's what I've done! :) Even though the gift was good it was even better to have a chance to make a good judgment about the Cambodian beaches which, YES, are very beautiful and should get as famous as Thailand's in the near future.
Another coincidence, due to the high season the cheap hotels were fully booked so I "had" to stay in the more expensive ones. I stayed in the right side of the Ocheateaul Beach which after the pier has other name, Serendipity Beach. I don't know if has to do with serenity but the place is really relaxing. In fact there's no sand, only stones and a path above it but the hotels face the sea directly. That was the view from my hotel. I stayed at the Aquarium Hotel and the rate was $35/day.
I ended up getting there earlier than I had booked so I decided to walk around to explore the area. I've found some big stones and then, to show you how the view looked like here's the picture:
Once I got my room I went to walk around the beach, including Ocheteaul. The pictures below are from the same beach of the previous day. It's nearly impossible to believe but that's the difference that a blue sky day and much less people can cause.
Walking here and there look what I've found. It's good to know we're becoming international fashion, hehe.
In the next day, since it was a holiday I've decided to hire some tour ($20, full day including lunch) to visit some island in the Sihanoukville's region. I hired a tour to Bamboo Island. Our boat was really simple but did well. On the boat there were some employees of an exportation company. They were 'celebrating' the Countdow together and (some) brought their family too. It didn't take long until one of them got sea sick and started to vomit everything in the water. Then they told me he had a lot of drinks in the night before. Soon I realized that one of them spoke better English and he was coordinating the people. I found out that he was the manager and he wasn't Cambodian but from Fiji Island. It's been 7 years since he came to Phnom Penh and we had a lot of conversation about Cambodia's situation, the infra-structure problems, corruption and what had changed in Phnom Penh in the past years. Like the French lady I've met in Halong Bay, in Vietnam, he told me that in the past recent years there was the cars and buildings revolution. The traffic once empty it's now jammed at anytime and the skies getting full of buildings. Progress with challenges.
Below, the view from Bamboo Island.
As usually happens when I meet Cambodians I had my 5 minutes of celebrity and his whole family came to take pictures with me.
Well, coming back to the subject. There's a trekking trail to the Southern side of the island. That side is turned to the ocean so the waves are bigger, the water is not that clear and the sand not that thin. The good part it's that since is more distant almost no one goes there and thus it's almost desert with no trash.
So here is my 'report' about Sihanoukville. I'm sure that this will be a location more and more common in the itinerary of Southeast Asia travellers. For exemple, during the meeting at the port I've discovered that only in 2012 are schedule at least 12 cruise ships stops after an empty year in 2011. Enjoy while it's cheap! :) See you next time!! :)
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