Farewell to Siem Reap; the temples were remarkable, now to the capital city Phnom Penh. We booked a bus that went directly to the city, although the bus had many issues such as the air con broke and water started to leak out of the vents. Suddenly we were sweating in this oven, while getting covered in extra water from above. Luckily the bus wasn’t very full so we moved to the back where it was dry and also had the option of opening windows. The drive was as predicted quite hair raising at times, we even passed a big crash where a bus was knocked into a ditch, and a lorry was completely destroyed. It is not surprising due to the way people drive in this country especially as the roads aren’t always in the best condition.
We finally arrived in Phnom Penh after a few stops for toilet breaks and lunch, we were glad to get out of the bus, and ordered an uber straight to our hotel. We stayed near the centre in a place called The Little Garden Boutique, it was a lovely little hotel nestled in between some large buildings. Seems like Phnom Penh is going through a lot of building work, with high rises and cranes all over the city.
We took an uber to the night market to grab some food, the journey there was quite interesting, we had a very opinionated driver who did not like the government. He told us his thoughts about how they were against the Cambodian people and ruining the country. It turns out the next day the Cambodian government dissolved the opposition to become a one party state. So I guess this uber drivers anger towards the government was fairly reasonable.
The night market was great for some cheap street style food but it wasn’t overly big so we ended up walking along the river for a while looking for a place to sit down and eat. The choice was fairly diverse, as it is a capital city, so lots of things to choose from we opted for Mexican because why not? we haven’t had Mexican food in such a long time.
The next morning we explored some of the city, taking a tuk tuk to the Grand Palace, it was closed but we just had a wander around the outside walking along the empty road which made a change from all the tough busy roads that are a pain to cross. There were many drivers around asking to take us for tours, they all seem to be the same city tours. We walked around a little longer, seeing some temples and walking along the river in the day.
One reason we came out today was to go to a charity that works with women caught up in the sex industry. Similar to Rahab Ministries in Bangkok, they help these girls leave prostitution and provide ways of earning a living. This charity is called Daughters of Cambodia, they have a little shop, cafe and spa where the girls learn different trades. We watched the video about what they do and how they have helped people, after this we decided to have a drink in the cafe which then turned into lunch as they had a lovely little menu serving western style cafe food. It is a great cause and helps people in vulnerable situations, and gives them the ability to leave that life behind and focus on earning money in a different way. If you are in Phnom Penh, you should go and visit.
After lunch we went for another walk around the area, and explored a temple, when we left a driver came to us and wanted to take us for the same city tour that everyone tries to sell. We decided that we only really wanted to see one more temple and then go home. So he agreed to take us to Wat Phnom which was set on a little hill so required tackling some stairs. It was interesting to see but wasn’t as impressive as Siem Reap, in some ways seeing the Angkor temples has meant that all over temples after that won’t compare.
The driver was a nice guy he told us that he learnt English from a church, and they do it for a free. He spoke really well and it shows that he enjoys speaking with tourists. He even asked us questions about God and Christianity, this gave us the opportunity to answer his questions and even pray for him outside of the hotel.
The driver asked if we had bought our tickets for Sihanoukville as we told him we were heading there next, he said he can help us out and took us to a bus/ tour office. The driver was very nice so we seemed to trust him and went along with it. The price was $15 and they told us they will pick us up and the journey will be just over 4 hours.
The next day we waited for our pick up but nothing happened, no one showed up, so the hotel called them up and suddenly they were coming to get us. They picked us up in a tuk tuk with all our luggage, and then picked up another guy with his luggage, Cambodian tuk tuks are slightly bigger than most but even so 3 people and 2 suitcases, 3 backpacks was quite a squeeze. We arrived at the bus station late, we were shown our seats, which happened to be the worst given that the wheel arch took all the leg room.
The bus was run down and old, we straight away felt that we were ripped off considering how much we paid. The bus left even later, and then stopped every 5 minutes to pick up more passengers, just when we thought the bus was full they started to bring out foot stalls for people to sit on in the aisle. There were about 4 other obvious western travellers on the bus, so we were very much certain that we were ripped off with our $15 bus ride. The ride was horrible, it took nearly 2 hours to leave the city… the overall journey was 7 hours… 3 hours over the estimate. The journey back to Phnom Penh was actually 4 hours long in a mini van which only cost $12 each, so we were clearly ripped off on the bus. So if you are in Cambodia don’t book any transport with Rith Mony Transport company, you will get ripped off and have a horrible journey.
3 HOURS over! that is just terrible, we had two breaks, during the journey, but once we arrived in Sihanoukille we were tired and fed up. Then starts the next journey a tuk tuk to the hotel, the location of the next hotel was a few miles away as were decided to stay in Otres village, they told us it shouldn’t be no more than $7 for a ride. Straight away we were quoted $20… a clear slap in the face as we knew the actual cost, this went down to $15 quite quickly but no shift from there. We had little patience so walked off to find a tuk tuk driver on the road as it always seems to be the case that people around the bus always try to get more money. We walked away from the drivers and one followed us and we ended up agreeing on $10.
We arrived in the village, which seemed to be a construction site, builders everywhere, lorries all over the place and the roads were not ready for any traffic. The first road to the hotel was completely destroyed, covered in holes and mud, the driver turned around and found another route. The hotel was called Heart of Venice it was a little place made up of bungalow rooms, it was lovely and the owners were Italians, so it had great Italian food which we had on the first night. The location was quite far from the village, because the road was terrible, so walking was slowed down due to the mud and it being very slippery.
We actually stayed in two different hotels as we extended our stay here so we moved closer to the village centre with Ta Kloy Tip Bungalows, although this was a mix of rooms and bungalows, the room was the tiniest room we have had so far, so made for a tight squeeze with all of our stuff.
The village is full of western owned bars, hotels, hostels, it has real Boho style to it, everyone seems to have a free feeling as they walk around with bare feet in the mud. The food seemed to be a little cheaper than other places in Cambodia. There didn’t seem to be very much regard for safety here, with electric cables hanging low with each lorry tugging the cables, cables sprawled across the road. It looks like in a few years time this place will look completely different, a lot of Chinese building large hotels and casinos in the nearby area. Most hotels seemed to follow the bungalow style approach with a particular styled bar or restaurant connected to it.
What can you do in Otres?
The beach at Otres is split into Otres 1 which is the backpacker area, cheaper places to stay.
Otres 2 which is more like a hotel resort area, so little more up market than in between it is just beach, with the village being more or less centred between them but set back from the beach, so a 10 minute walk.
The bit of beach we had was quiet and not crowded, it meant there wasn’t anywhere to eat, except for vendors walking around and one or sometimes two vendors on a tuk tuk parked at the end of the road to the beach. The beach was mostly clean compared to others we have seen in Thailand, and the water was warm which was nice to swim in.
Before coming to this area we found out that glow in the dark plankton was a common thing to be found at night in the waters around Otres. So we bought a boat trip from the hotel, they picked us up and took us to Otres 1 to board a long tail style boat, which took us on a boat trip which included fishing. We have never fished before so though ha why not. Annoyingly a storm was following us we could actually see the clouds and rain chase us until it finally caught us. Luckily it did not last long and we were free from the horrid weather. The boat trip sounded like it would include a stop on the island but it just went around the island and stopped so that we could do some fishing. Sassi and I caught nothing even though we tried pretty hard… well actually Sassi caught some salad (seaweed), some other guests caught fish. We could just about see the sunset as we were anchored in the middle of the sea which was peaceful and beautiful to watch although the clouds did block parts of the sunset. Soon it was dark and suddenly the glow in the dark plankton appeared. You had to move your hands through the water to see them glow, it is was awesome to see, it was like little LED lights in the water. The boat trip was very cheap so was definitely worth to do.
After this we made our way back to Otres 1 in the pitch black, impressive navigation because there was hardly any light on the beach. When we left the boat the captain (guide) needed help with pulling the boat out of the sand as it got stuck, this ended with a guest falling overboard luckily he landed in the water and it wasn’t very deep, although he had a brand new iPhone in his pocket…
Rent a bike
Like most of the Asia renting a bike/scooter helps with exploring the area for a cheap price, of course there are many things you need to be aware before renting a bike. We opted to rent from our hotel, at only $4 for a bike we decided to get one each. Fuel was available from basically any shop, they sell fuel outside the shop in plastic or glass bottles. We had a little ride around the front of the hotel to get used to the scooters and then we set off for the national park.
The road around Otres village are terrible, most are not property tarmac, so riding around the muddy puddles and splashing through pot holes wasn’t the best first experience to our trip but soon we arrived on some proper roads. We had to tackle the highway, but it was actually easy, there was hardly any traffic on the roads and we stuck to the motorbike lane the whole way with no major issues. After an hour we stopped at a beach, which was empty, except for the occasional car or bike driving on the beach, seemed to be popular route but no one seemed to want to sit on the beach, maybe the fear of being run over prevents relaxing on the sandy shores.
We had a little lunch snack and then off we went… well that was the plan turns out my bike had a dodgy key ignition and as I locked the bike the key would not turn thus meaning we were stuck. We tried so many times to get the key to turn, and even asked random people if they had any idea oh how to fix it or maybe they knew a magic trick. There were many friendly Cambodians who helped out, Sassi even drove around looking for a mechanic, no one spoke English though. Luckily we had our wifi device and there was 4G so we managed to contact the hotel owner over facebook and he came to the rescue. They had to take the bike apart and fix the keyhole, but they fixed it and we were on our way although 2 hours wasted… in the end we just drove to another beach through some of the national park. The journey was fun and took us into some little villages, huge construction sites, like I said earlier the area is being turned into a big tourist area. Most of the roads were quiet and we were able to see a wide variety of things, so overall it was worth renting a bike.
Back to Phnom Penh
We then departed Otres Village to go back to Phnom Penh for a few more nights before we caught the bus to Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City). As I said earlier we took a mini van hired from the hotel for less than the bus cost to get here and took a lot less time to get to the city. Back in Phnom Penh we stayed in V Hotel, which had a lovely roof top pool, shame it was cold up on the top. We didn’t do much back in the city we visited the Russian market which had a power cut at the time so was very dark. We visited a church which was quite traditional, and met some people there it seemed to be mainly an expats church full of people from all over the world. Well it was called the international church, we heard stories from charities and churches working in Cambodia that receive funding from this church.
After this we made our way to our first Christmas market which was in the International Canadian school of Phnom Penh. What I did not realise was I had very little money and there was no ATM nearby, so our options were limited and as it was in a private school and selling western style Christmas food prices were slightly inflated. So we had enough for a German sausage, some chicken sandwich and a MINCE PIE. I could not believe my eyes I found a mince pie in Asia, I was pretty happy.
We booked the Ho Chi Minh City bus transfer with Giant Ibis, they picked us up and put us on a big bus which was fairly comfortable, and the journey was more or less the same as they estimated 6 hours. The bus attendant was very helpful and helped with exiting Cambodia and to get all the passengers stamped in to Vietnam.