Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Sixth Day in Sihanoukville 17th January 2012

Business Before Pleasure....

Today it's business before pleasure! If my itinerary is to remain intact then I must obtain a Vietnamese tourist visa to enter Vietnam, get a bus ticket to Siem Reap, and find an air ticket into Saigon. All of this has to be done downtown and if I leave early enough should be able to get a look at Ochheutaal and Serendipity beach's. Not as hot today, slightly overcast which comes as a slight relief. The Victory monument takes prominence on the hill top - victory to what, I don't know yet. Not much traffic about at 1030am as I head down towards the Vietnamese Consulate. Most tourists (backpackers mainly) between Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon to locals) stage through here as a half way break, so to find a Vietnamese consulate here is not surprising and quite handy - saves a 5 hour bus ride up to Phnom Penh! In sharp contrast to the Indian visa, this form is simple, who am I, where do I live and what will I be doing Vietnam? Hand over the passport, 1 photo and $45. Takes about five minutes to process and I'm on my way. Top marks to the Vietnamese, they obviously want and encourage tourism.

Travel agencies and ticket counters are numerous around the downtown area. I pick on what looks like an all services agency - bus, air, bikes and boats, everything that requires a ticket. There are several buses going to Siem Reap daily and a couple of overnight services. I'm told the overnight seats recline enough for sleeping, was shown a picture and subsequently sold a ticket for $18. A future blog will reveal if I was told the truth! SCAM ALERT! I enquired about bus tickets to Siem Reap from a ticket desk, part of a guest house service. They said the ticket price will be higher because of Chinese New Year. This is untrue. The price I obtained from downtown was the published price for the bus type. Another tourist scam to watch from guest houses and obscure ticket counters - purchasing a ticket from them doesn't necessarily mean a guaranteed seat as they often pocket all or part of the ticket money. The bus driver wont let you on if he hasn't received all his fare! The mini bus services are more prone to this than full size buses. An air ticket is the same price as the published air fare, no special promotions or deals available. It's 112 pounds one way over to Saigon from Siem Reap with Vietnam Airlines, half of that paid for by Grandad, with money left over from Christmas - Thanks GPR.

Business done! It's beach time. also feeding time. Serendipity marks the beginning of Sihanoukville's touristed beaches -  long beaches with miles of shacks, cafes and hawkers disappearing beyond view, well, that's according to web research, so I'll let you know if that's really the case.Continuing past downtown the area becomes significantly touristy and all that go's with it. Surprisingly less garbage strewn about, more accommodation options and rising prices closer towards the beach - significantly busier with people and traffic, but still not hectic or anywhere near the chaotic scenes experienced in Goa! Up ahead, two golden lions statues mounted forming a traffic circle (roundabout to the British), a significant local landmark indicating beaches not too far away. It's been a long walk, about the same again as it was from Victory Hill, about 35 minutes. I can see some street food just along a side road off the roundabout, the first food for quite some time, or so it felt anyway. It's not carts, but fixed and covered, a more organised setup and not too many flies, yep, it';s time to eat. Snakes, Frogs and Beetles are displayed before anything else. I'm more than pleased to find a traditional menu of noodles, rice etc..snakes, beetles and frogs - I don't think so!

Serendipity and Ochheutaal are really the same beach, one long strip of white sand with a paved terrace set slightly back, providing a sound base for hundreds of deck chairs, tables, cafes, drink stands and then more deck chairs on the sand with beech sellers in between - as far as the eye can see. But despite the capacity, still not that many people here given this is the high season. An equal mix of Northern Europeans and Asians of all ages with saggy overweight to quite slim and fit,fit and athletic looking builds. The sky is rather ominous looking, has been for the last hour or so, looks like rain! It does rain, rains hard too, and quite suddenly. A sudden exodus from the beach for some whilst others seem to enjoy the cooling effect of this monsoon downpour.

Finally the rain subsides a little, eventually stops and allows business to resume after about an hour. Time I was heading back since it's a long trek. Serendipity Beach is where the tourist boats are anchored or tied to the jetty, a picturesque scene as the sun begins to sink. To the very end of the jetty and a good photo of the beach with the low sunlight giving everything that bright golden hue. It's a long walk back to base alright, over an hour. Just going to call into the supermarket for some milk. Quite a recent building, looks clean and new. Definitely not for locals, but here to supply tourists, with prices to match. Half litre of milk is about 70p, that's more than Tesco's! Biscuits, snacks, commodities etc are all priced similar to those we see in the UK. So, for Scandinavians still a bargain to be had here!

Just about dark, and it's starting to rain again as I reach Victory Hill. Gets dark at 6pm, light again around 6.45am. Get some water, get out of these clothes and crash for a couple of hours before dinner.

Photos are here...

Next....Independence Day and Monkey Business.

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