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Tuesday 16 Jul 2013
Sihanoukville, Cambodia

The Final Countdown

We pulled into a parking lot in Sihanoukville at 8am.  The tuktuk drivers were all in league so the flat fee to Otres Beach was $8 per tuktuk.  With no other choice we had to pay up.  Otres Beach was little more than a dirt road along a strip of sandy beach, lined with an assortment of beach huts, bars and hostels.  At 8.30am on a windy, wet morning, it was anything but welcoming.  Half of us were staying at a place called Mushroom Point, which had a reputation for being sociable and laid-back, but when we tried to check in we were told by a blunt Slovenian woman that we couldn't check in til midday.  We asked to leave our bags there and were told in no uncertain terms that she couldn't be held responsible for them.  All in all, not the warm welcome we were expecting.

We wandered down the beach until we finally found a bar open and serving breakfast so made our camp there for the morning.  Food helped, but we still ended up dozing in the big wicker beach chairs until lunchtime as nobody really fancied a swim in the rain.

Maybe we caught the Slovenian lady at Mushroom Point before she'd had her morning coffee, because she was a lot more relaxed when we returned to check in at noon.   Our accomodation was individual mushroom-shaped bungalows.  Each one was round with a palm thatched roof like the mushroom cap.  The doors were Hobbit-hole-style round doors with a big round double bed inside.  There was a slatted shelf all the way around at hip height, connecting the bottom of the thatch roof with the wall, which let a nice breeze through.  There was a round mosquito net hanging from the ceiling which made it feel like sleeping in a fancy tent.  Jill and I shared one mushroom while Simon and Josh shared another.  I don't think they were quite so impressed with the sleeping arrangements.

After getting settled, we met Natalie and the Swedes back at the Mushroom Point beach bar across the road and finally got our swim.  The waves were quite big and strong, so we got battered about a little but had fun leaping over and under the waves for a while.  It certainly helped blow the cobwebs away and woke us up properly at last.  I learned a lesson from similar waves in Zanzibar a few years ago.  It was overcast, but still too bright to be without my sunglasses, so I kept a very firm hold on them with each wave.  We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out here, playing cards, eating delicious fish Amok (a coconut milk based fish curry which was one of the best things I had in SE Asia) and catching up on some long-overdue blog updates.  I was nearly a month behind on my travel diary, so I typed it up on my laptop sitting at the beach bar then uploaded it in batches back at the hostel later.

Earlier on in the trip, Carl had told us about a bet he had lost with his friends at home.  He claimed he couldn't remember why he had lost, but the result was that he'd agreed to shave his head while he was away.  He had curly dark blond hair about an inch long on top when we met him.  Mike had tried to persuade him to have it shaved in Laos, but Carl had resisted until now.  He decided tonight was the night and set to with his beard trimmer.  Unfortunately, his hair was so thick the beard trimmer strugged to cope and it took him several hours so finally get through it all.  When he finally reappeared, the difference was quite striking.  Gone was the friendly giant, replaced by a tall skin head that Jon thought looked like a thug!  It took some getting used to for all of us, but even more for Carl himself, who sat there running his hand over his new stubble with a quiet grin on his face.

The restaurant across the road advertised a quiz night so we decided to put our combined knowledge to the test.  Several teams were stoned on the very potent hash cookies for sale at the bar, so we thought our chances might be quite good.  There was a beer prize for the winners of each round and a bottle of wine for the overall winners.  We came close on the first few rounds, finally winning the beers on the final round and coming a very close second out of 19 teams overall.  By that point we didn't really want the beer as we were all suffering nightbus jetlag, but we enjoyed the quiz.  It sparked the usual debates between those who have a hunch, those who are adamant and those who have no idea.  The funiest debate was trying to guess where the 1980's rock band 'Europe' came from.  I think we settled on Denmark, but the answer was Sweden and  the two Swedes in our team had no idea.  In their defence, I'm not sure either of them had been born when 'The Final Countdown' was released, but a song like that should be classed as a national treasure!


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