Entry #41 of our travel diary. A few more days in the beach and moving away to the forest of east Cambodia for some primates and birds.
13-15 December 2016 – Otres Beach, Sihanoukville
This was the third beach in the area and the best. We left Koh Rong island and returned by ferry to Sihanoukville. Jacques was not feeling well, it seemed he got food-poisoned. So, for him the trip to Otres beach was a nightmare.
When we arrived we took a room in the first guesthouse we stopped. It turned out to be unexpectedly basic. It reminded me of a barn made from wooden planks with dry palm leave roof. The bar and bathrooms were located on the first floor and the rooms on the second. Our room was very basic, a bed with mosquito net hanging above. The guesthouse had strict rules: no smoking, no food or drinks on second floor, no devices left charging in the room without attention. They try to avoid two biggest dangers: the rats and bugs in the rooms and the fire caused by electricity. The room didn’t have ceilings, only the common roof of the building, and through the gaps in the floor I could see the first floor.
Despite the rustic appearance, the guesthouse turned out to be quite cosy. It had numerous hammocks and hanging chairs and pleasant and friendly vibe. It helped as I wasn’t feeling well for two days we spent there. I also suffered from food poisoning.
We noticed that the average age of the people on the beach and in guesthouse was closer to ours. Nevertheless, I still have my inner child. There was an inflated water-attraction park located in the sea some 30m from the coast. I managed to convince Luis to get there. He wasn’t happy but I believe that after all he enjoyed. It was all of the classic stuff: from sliding in the water to swinging by the rope and falling in the water and many other stuff. We worked out so hard that the next day we (me especially) had muscle pain.
We finally managed to get to a beach that suit us better. Quiet, not so many young party-goer backpackers, not much tourist harassment. Otres beach is only 5km away for Sihanoukville but feels completely different. After we said goodbye to our friend Jacques we spent a couple of days here, relaxing in the guesthouse or swimming in the beach.
As before, most tourist guesthouses and restaurants are managed by foreigners. This is a controversial topic but here are my 5 cents on it. I think it is good that foreigners invest in here, create jobs and develop the country. However, we found that most places also use foreigners to work, relegating locals to jobs in the kitchen or housekeeping. Most of the foreigners are volunteers working for free accommodation and booze. Particularly in the party areas they spent most of the time drinking and chatting while the locals work hard. It does not look right to me. There should be some investment in improving the skills of the locals, instead of just using them as cheap labour. Other drawback of the foreign investment is that prices are inflated. Accommodation prices are average to the region, but food and transportation are expensive. I cannot understand that Cambodia is one of the most expensive countries in SE Asia (for tourists), despite being one of the poorest.
16-19 December 2016 – Forests of Mondulkiri
Although the country is relatively small, we’ve spent quite a time on buses or minivans travelling from place to place. This time it was a full day trip: 4h with a minivan, an hour break in the capital, and 6h more with another minivan cramped in the last row of seats which is rather suitable for small people of Asia but not for Westerners.
The day did not start in the best mood. They told us the pick-up time would be from 6.30am to 7.30am. We waited in the common area of the guesthouse without having breakfast being afraid the bus could arrive any moment. They picked us up at 7.35am. We were the only passengers. As we took off after some 700m I suddenly remembered my phone stayed in the guesthouse plugged to charge. I asked the driver and his ‘assistant’ if we could go back. After brief discussion they requested 2 dollars to turn around, ‘otherwise we would be late’. Like 2 dollars would help ‘to be on time’. In despair I said ok (anyway, it was my own stupidity). Soon I got my phone back. However, Luis got quite upset. But after a lengthy quarrel we still paid 1.50 dollars.
After the whole day spent on buses we arrived to a town and it was dark and raining. We found our guesthouse and soon met our nature guide ‘Diamond’ (this is what his name meant but he was called Pech). He informed us that two more persons will join and they are starting the following morning at 6am. Our initial plan was to start at 15.00. Luis immediately agreed to join in the morning, I stick to the initial plan. Next morning I woke up relaxed and happily went for breakfast. And… no breakfast could be found at 9.30. This is not a touristy place and the only option for breakfast would be a noddle soup, but no more at 9.30.
Anyway, at 13.30 Pech picked me up and I joined the others. The following two and a half days were really nice. We walked in the forest and spent the nights in a tent. The sky at night was full of stars. The two other people were a nice couple about our age and we spent quite some time talking.
The only drawback was that we never found the gibbons. We tried two mornings, starting our walk at 5.30am. We heard them quite close, followed the direction of sound but never found them. On the second morning when we gave up the search and left, the local guides stayed behind and later reported that they managed to see the gibbons. We’re not sure about that, though.
Whole day travelling by minivan to get to Mondulkiri region, located in the NE of Cambodia. It is less touristy than previous places we’ve been, mostly focusing on trekking, tribe homestays and wildlife watching.
We arrived to Sen Monorom, a typical town. On one hand it is the gateway to the region but the tourist infrastructure is poor. Places to eat are scarce as I found out when I had to get a breakfast at 6am and noodle soup was the only option.
But our purpose of coming here was to go to nature and do some primate and bird watching. We spent 3 days in the Jahoo Gibbon Camp, in set-up tents with very basic facilities. It is a camp set up by the Sam Veasna Centre, in collaboration with the local communities. The aim is to provide a place to stay while searching for two species of primates, the common Black-shanked Douc and the scarce Yellow-cheeked Crested Gibbon. We spent two days walking in deep evergreen forest, looking for these two species and for birds. We found the Douc but only heard the Gibbon. There were a few birds but locating them in the evergreen forest is difficult, so I left the place with a bit of frustration. But overall it was a great experience and I’m very impressed by the conservation work done here.