Stepping onto our 12 hour bus, we were shocked to find that the Indians do it better than here in Cambodia! There were no curtains on the buses meaning you just slept in a separate bunk but very near to the people next to you which was a very bizarre concept! However, they did do a lot more toilet stops – if to some pretty hideous places! We arrived in Sihanoukville at 6am, when the sun was coming up. I must say that the town really doesn’t have a lot going for it, or anything to see or do, so we followed friends’s recommendations and got a tuk tuk to Otres Beach. I can’t recommend this more – Otres and the surrounding islands are the beauty the South is known for, and Sihanoukville is just a miserable town YOU have to drive through in order to reach the paradise you’re expecting. Boy, is Otres a beauty! One big sweeping white sand beach with crystal clear sea, ombreing into darker shades of blue as it gets deeper. I could go on.
We were staying at a hostel called Footprints for two nights, for our first experience of bunks as everywhere was packed and expensive for New Year as Otres, we discovered, was luckily the place to be! It is right on the beach so we spent aaaallll day swimming. Ollie’s shark phobia meant I had to do a lot of persuasion to get past his ankles, but after not too long we were piggy back central, having loads of fun. A little Khmer girl who was about 3 got into the sea whilst Ollie was having a lie down, and started copying everything I was doing. We were soon best friends as we pretended to be fish, splashed and chased each other around the water before she plucked up the courage to clamber on my back and get carried everywhere or spun around. She also kept collecting shells and presenting them on the shore for me whilst beaming with pride at her art work. I was in love.
Unfortunately it took my face, back and shoulders stinging dramatically for me to realise that the sun had turned me into a tomato. I spent the next few days shiny and channelling a bottle of ketchup, before it got worse: the peely nose stage. The hostel played films all day, so in amongst meeting some lovely groups of people and hanging out on the beach with them, I curled up on the big sofas having movie nights and feeling very at home. We booked an amazing boat trip which is just offered to you by people strolling up the beach. They try to take your money then and there but I’ll give you two tips: 1) haggle it down, it’s easy! They start at $15/20 but only take $10 2) don’t give them your money before the trip as that’s obviously stupid. The boat went at 9AM and we were miraculously up and ready to go, so we hopped on and met some lovely people – particularly a couple from the Netherlands. Meeting people here makes us feel ridiculously stupid and inferior and I really want to make it a goal to at least learn a bit of another language, because no matter where people are from, they always know incredible English!
Over the day we boated to an island to go snorkelling which was fabulous, although they still fish with explosives here which is awful because lots of the coral has been destroyed! Please stop, Cambodia! We would boat along, jump off and refresh ourselves with a swim when we pleased. The tour took us to another little island where we swam some more, and Ollie and I practiced some tricks which we were sure made us look like Torvil and Dean (only underwater), but mainly involved Ollie throwing me around and dunking me under very ungraciously. I was more likely to gain whiplash than an Olympic medal.
The boat stopped next at a load of cliffs hanging over the sea, which we were offered to jump off. I leapt in (in my head, in reality I probably belly flopped with my bikini top falling down) to test the depth of the water and we ummed and aahed before the four of us took the plunge, with an audience of about 3 or 4 more cautious boat loads who had pulled up to assess the situation. It was amazing despite the jagged cliffs we had to climb up (Ollie asked a lot about whether his blood would attract sharks). I did in fact accidentally back flop into the sea from great height which I personally wouldn’t recommend, but, landing aside, it was one off the bucket list.
After cocktails (“Bailey’s Milkshakes”, need I say more) with the whole boat team, and brilliant chats learning about where to go, and how to get into teaching abroad for 10 years, we headed off to change hostels. As everything was booked for NYE we had to change to one about a 25 minute walk away – and disaster struck when we arrived. The cheeky sods broke the news on arrival that they had sold our beds for the night, but everywhere else was booked so we were stuck. Round two, the owner looked beyond stressed as he told us he had accidentally sold one bed for tomorrow, too, and he was met by my wrath. A solid stare from me, as well as some stern words to seal the deal, was enough to bag ourselves a double room cheap as well as a night on the house where we had to share a single dorm bed. Unfortunately they also turned the water off all day, every day, so I’ll let you imagine for yourselves what state the toilets were in. Hint; think Glastonbury portaloos on the Monday morning as the festival is in its general hangover phase.
We met our friends Lena and Hedzet from the boat trip for breakfast before we piled into a tuk tuk and went for a day out to an amazing waterfall about half an hour away from Otres. We spent the day getting soaked, climbing up the waterfall and seeing who could hold their head under the water for the longest. The surroundings were beautiful, with a load of monks standing near by us on the rocks whilst we dried ourselves off. I’ll admit that they were taking selfies, but it was a stunning sight nether the less. I’m praying that I made it into the background of a monk’s profile picture. I probably won’t blend in, so let me know if you ever spot me.
The next day was the big NYE, with a huge rave going on in the forests which EVERYONE was going to. We started casual and headed for the beach, which turned out to be New Year’s Heaven. From 6pm the sky was lit up constantly with fireworks and tiny red dots – lanterns that everyone was setting off along the shoreline. It turned out that you could buy handheld fireworks (you read right, and yes mum, I’m okay) for a dollar. We leapt in and had so much fun holding a big stick which projected full size fireworks out over the sea. We had to carefully avoid the toddlers who were allowed to have them, which was quite a maze of children pointing fire at each other. Every bar had a party on so in the end we avoided the rave altogether. We met a lovely group, some from the UK, Vietnam and some from Wales, and spent the night partying on the beach.
At midnight, Ollie and I headed to the water and bought a huge red lantern, which we lit for the countdown. The countdown clearly isn’t a big thing in Cambodia as the man we bought it from was trying to force us to throw it into the sky but I was on “8” and clinging on for dear life. As we watched our very own flame float off into the stream of lanterns, I felt unbelievably lucky to be in a beautiful country, having the time of my life with someone who I adore. I cannot believe the changes that have happened between this time last year and now, but I am filled with hope and excitement for the year ahead of me.