After navigating a confusing bus station and silently praying I was on the right minivan (there were no signs, just shouts by drivers in Cambodian when they were ready to leave), I kicked back for the six-hour journey down to the southern coast.
First impressions: Sihanoukville is a ghost town. Second, third and tenth impressions: Sihanoukville is a ghost town. Maybe I stayed at the wrong beach (there are many, all several kilometres apart). Maybe it was because it was low season, or midweek. Maybe the town was still recovering post-Covid. Whatever it was, it was eerie. I think there were as many abandoned or unfinished buildings as there were occupied ones (casinos seemed to have survived though). There was no one at the beach, nor at the multitude of restaurants along the shore. Plenty of locals were going about their day to day lives, but tourists were nowhere to be seen. My plan was to find a beach bar to kick back in, but it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. I was glad I was only staying one night.
For dinner I chose the closest place offering local vegan food, which happened to be a restaurant that provides hospitality training to at-risk youths. This was the only other place I saw other tourists during my stay. I was expecting a basic, run-down eatery like every other restaurant I had passed on the way, but instead I walked into a stunning garden courtyard with laid-back music playing. The service by the young waiters was second to none, and the food (and cocktails) were exceptional. If I ever come back to Sihanoukville, it will be to eat here again.
My morning run was the highlight of Sihanoukville. After escaping the seemingly never-ending line of empty beachside restaurants, I found a coastal path with magnificent views of the sea through the palm trees. It was calm, quiet and picturesque - I could have run along here for hours. The beaches down south were definitely more appealing than the one I was staying at.
With a couple of hours spare before my ferry, I decided a quick tour to the local Kbal Chhay Waterfall was in order. After organising a scooter with my guesthouse, I was given the keys and sent on my way. It didn't take me long to work out that what I was sitting on was a manual motorcycle, which I had never ridden before. With no tutorial or any clue what I was doing, I played with all the pedals and buttons until I started moving forward -- directly into traffic. In my panic to figure out how the bike worked, I had forgotten that they drive on the right-hand side here. The oncoming cars quickly reminded me of that fact.
Eventually I worked out the gears and even managed to get all the way up to third gear. The back brake eluded me though, and I had to rely solely on the almost useless front brake. I considered giving up and turning around countless times, but my stubbornness spurred me on.
The last 8 km to the waterfall was entirely on a gravel road, which would have been okay if it wasn't also full of potholes that sprung up at the last second. It was a slow journey on an unfamiliar vehicle, but I eventually made it to the waterfall entrance.
I guess I arrived early, as it was virtually deserted except for a handful of stallholders. Dozens, possibly hundreds, of wooden huts lined the banks of the fast-flowing river, with each hut containing hammocks or mats that overlooked the water. They were all empty at 9 am.
Wet season meant that the falls were gushing, but for the life of me I could not work out where the main viewing area was. Several times I climbed down hidden steps between huts to the water’s edge, but I never gained a front-on view. Maybe it was only possible in dry season, I reasoned. Disappointed, I returned to the bike and headed off.
The return journey was made successfully, and I even managed to find the back brake (thanks to a quick text message to my husband). I detoured via the alluring southern beaches, admiring how peaceful and breathtaking the area was. Before I knew it, it was time to drop off the motorcycle, pick up my bag and jump on the ferry to Koh Rong.