making bracelets, eating sashimi and a move up to Victory Hill

This morning we bought shack-o again for breakfast, from the lady who now calls us “my friends”. Buying from the same person has its benefits : we get bigger, juicier and more shack-o for our dollar every time we buy. If nothing else i’m certainly going to miss all the fresh seafood from Sihanoukville.

We headed over to Ochheuteal beach around lunchtime so that we could sample some of the delicious looking Khmer Tom Yum that we’d seen a couple of the locals tucking into at Khin’s Shack a few nights ago. Whilst we were waiting for our food to arrive we had a $1 pedicure from a very skinny, very sweet lady who took great pride in her work. She left with the widest grin on her face, excited that she’d now be able to go to the market in the evening to buy some food for her family. If parting with a dollar can bring such happiness to someone who is genuinely in need of the money, then it’s a dollar I don’t mind losing.

There are so many people begging on the beach – amputies and blind men – who become angry and aggressive when you refuse to give them money, as if their physical condition entitles them to a portion of everyone else’s wealth. The pedicurist clearly had a problem with her back and one of her legs (she walked hunched over and with a limp) and was seriously underfed, but she has still found a trade from which she can earn her living and doesn’t rely upon the sympathies of others.

Khmer Tom Yum is a lot tastier than the Thai version I’ve tried. It’s more like a sauce than a soup and brimming with numerous varieties of vegetables, as well as peanuts, shrimp and squid. It’s served in a large boiling silver donut-shaped utensil with rice and chilli.

We left Khin’s Shack just as a storm was approaching and made it back to the guesthouse just before it arrived. We sat in our room for a couple of hours listening to the rain pelting down on the pavement outside and watching several geckos scurry through the crack at the top of the door to take shelter. Finally our thirst got the better of us and we ran over to Happa, unsuccessfully dodging the huge droplets of rain falling in rising quantities from the sky. We shared a pot of Japanese green tea, perused the handicraft shop and when she wasn’t busy serving customers, we chatted with the Japanese lady who part owns the business with her German husband.

We told her about the robbery last night and she wasn’t surprised. She recalled an incident only ten days ago when two Cambodian guys had pulled a gun on three western tourists. It had taken place right outside our guesthouse, and the tourists – obviously rather shaken up after the event – had taken refuge inside Happa. I had wanted to move after three days at Serendipity beach – for a change of scenery more than anything else – but after learning about this incident and the fact that it had happened so close to home, Kotoe was also convinced that a move up to Victory Hill may not be such a bad idea.

The next morning we decided to spend the day over at Victory beach and find ourselves some new accommodation up at Victory Hill. We shared a bit of banter with one of the moto drivers, Pros, down at the beach. He wanted $2 for the ride over there but we knew it cost no more than a dollar, because we had put a whole tank of fuel into our bike for 3500RIEL. So we began to walk away, grinning to ourselves, waiting for Pros to follow us, catch us up and agree upon the $1 price, which he did – sheepishly. Once he’d recovered from the dent to his pride he chatted cheerfully to us, we warmed to him and subsequently offered him our business again for the ride home around 5pm.

We ate breakfast at Rose’s Place, a small upstairs dining establishment that i’d chosen because it looked a little more ‘local’ than its neighbouring counterparts. We drank strong Vietnamese iced coffee, and munched our way through a huge fruit salad of banana, pineapple, papaya and mango drizzled in honey – all for just 5000RIEL (a little over a dollar). We then secured ourselves a $4 room at The Green Gecko Guesthouse, which we’d be able to check into first thing tomorrow morning.

Victory Beach may not be as attractive as Serendipity beach and there’s not much of a cross breeze, but it’s cleaner, and if anything it’s a little quieter than Serendipity. We took a seat at Jungle Beach, a shaded area with funky lights hanging from the trees and a large blackboard advertising fresh Barracuda. We bought some fresh spring rolls which we shared with a hungry little girl selling bracelets, and we purchased a bag of fresh fruit from a very chatty, very smiley lady who sat down with us and taught us some Khmer. We already knew a few of the phrases but i will write them down phonetically for future reference :

  • Swai – Mango
  • La Hong – Papaya
  • Jai – Banana
  • Allah – Watermelon
  • S’ua S’dai – Hello
  • Lee Hai – Goodbye
  • Sok Sabaii – How are you?
  • Oh Kohn – Thank you
  • Ot de oh Kohn – No, thank you
  • June bow neh awee mean som nang la-awe – Good luck for you in Cambodia

We were subsequently joined by a girl who must have been about 15 or 16, also offering fruit and bracelets for sale, as well as manicures and pedicures. We made it clear we were not interested in any of the above but she still remained friendly towards us. After Kotoe had shown me how to make a twisted bracelet a few nights ago, I had been on the look out for some colourful pieces of thick cotton from which to try and make one. I noticed the girl (Ga-li) had a bag full of them, and I asked if I could buy some. However, despite already having denied her business, she allowed me to choose 10 of these pieces of cotton, and refused to take any money for them. The three of us proceeded to spend the next few hours making bracelets together under the comfortable shade of the trees above us.

In the evening we ate at Ku-Kai (Ku means ocean; Kai means sky), a Japanese restaurant immediately next door to Happa, owned by a Japanese couple who met whilst travelling Cambodia some years ago. We enjoyed rice balls (onigiri) and fresh sashimi (barracuda, vinegared mackeral and yellow-spotted kingfisher) with soy sauce and wasabi, and fried eggplant with white radish and ginger. The flavours brought back so many memories of the time I spent in Japan 18 months ago, memories which are unfortunately a little bit tainted now (due to the subsequent actions of a certain person who is no longer worthy of having his name mentioned) but which make me smile all the same.

Photo is of sunset at Victory beach, Sihanoukville.

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