I’d been warned that Sihanoukville was a dodgy town full of Prostitutes, Thieves and Scammers. I thought I’d check it out. I’d received similar warnings about Naples and subsequently avoided going there for many years. It belatedly became my favourite Italian city. I wasn’t going to be influenced by other people’s prejudices.
Day One- walking along the main road two young guys casually drove past on a motorbike and snatched a carry bag out of my hand. The contents amounted to a near-empty bottle of water, a tattered plastic anorak and a bunch of soiled tissues, my innate frugality sees me reusing them. Hardly prized booty.
And to round off the day a dog pissed into my upturned umbrella a couple of hours later.
Welcome to Sihanoukville!
The following day I half-heartedly went to the beach for a swim, knowing that I had to leave things unattended. The previous day’s experience saw me prudently taking along just enough money to buy lunch. I asked a couple of Scottish tourists on the beach to look out for my stuff.
Whilst swimming I noticed that my T-Shirt was half hanging out of the bag.
Yep, they’d gone through and taken the money. When I told some ex-pats about my first two days in town they laughed off my innocuous mishaps and told me about an Australian tourist’s recent woes.
He’d picked up a local bar girl who’d spiked his drink when they got back to his room.
She then took off with his iPad, 2 Smartphones and $3500 in cash.
And the local police demanded $300 to fill out a theft report.
I’d had enough of Sihanoukville. I told the one-legged burly South African bar owner I was going to Kampot, a quaint river town dotted with shabby remnants of French colonial architecture.
“But there’s nothing there.” He gave me a ‘why on earth would you want to go there’ look.
“Well, there weren’t any in your faces hookers, conniving thieves and hucksters the last time I was there .”
“They don’t even have traffic lights. ”
“I don’t think that’s a negative,” I assured him.
“Oh well, I guess it’s all about what you’re looking for.”
Well I certainly wasn’t looking for one of the many SmartPhone fiddlings, gaudily fingernail painted, high heeled wobbling freelance prostitutes who would call into his bar scouting potential punters every evening.
Yes, Kampot was more my speed.
What a relief to return to Kampot, a laid back quirky town with good energy.
I’d been bombarded since crossing the Thai border. When I entered Cambodia I was ‘set upon’ by a group of hustlers who hang around the Customs Office-border crossings.
They make their living trying to scam and hustle tourists crossing over from Thailand.
These guys are on par with Romanian Gypsies in the ‘dodgy’ stakes in my experiences. They make Moroccan bazaar peddlers look meek by comparison.
They say gypsies originally came from northern India and migrated through Persia and Turkey into Eastern Europe. I reckon some must have branched off and ventured into the opposite direction. And their descendants are to be found at these Cambodian border crossings living by their wits.
These guys are sharp, tenacious and absolute pains in the ass.
I wonder if they’ve done any genetics- anthropological studies on this?
There’s something different about a place where the tuk-tuk drivers moonlight as Estate Agents. I wasn‘t solicited with a sleazy, “You like girl sir ? ” but I was asked if,
“you like to buy property? ”
Kampot is experiencing a mini property boom fuelled by Westerners attracted by the prospect of buying cheap property. With prices starting from around US$30,000.
Sihanoukville is not a true representation of Cambodia in my experiences but it is a major tourism drawcard. I can’t but help come to the conclusion that the authorities- power brokers have looked at Pattaya and associated flesh ports in Thailand and thought ‘we can get a slice of the pie’. There’s a palpable sinister air hovering over this town.
A cocktail of Russian ‘entrepreneurs‘, Western Émigrés and their associated entourages attracts an element willing to live off their coattails. The disparity between official wages and the spoils to be earned moonlighting in amongst the underbelly tempts scores of young people to try their luck. As the burly South African bar owner said, “well, it depends on what you’re looking for.”
There was nothing in this town that I was looking for!
The last time I wrote a piece on Sihanoukville it was hacked. I suspect the equivalent of the Sihanoukville Chamber of Commerce had a hand in it.