While I was in Siem Reap finalizing details of the scarf venture with Kimleng (see blog posts entitled “Kimleng and the Cambodian Silk Scarves, Parts One and Two), I got an email from my friend Frank, a fellow Maritimer who teaches biology in a Shanghai high school. He had some time off around Chinese New Year, and he was interested in joining me for a few days in Cambodia. I had been thinking to go north to Laos, but I am nothing if not flexible when it comes to strange travel suggestions–and so it was that I found myself (in the company of my new brother-of-the-road, Doug) meeting Frank’s flight at Phnom Penh International Airport. Frank had evidently taken full advantage of the free libations aboard the plane, and thus was in full-on holiday spirits (or vice versa, haha) when we met in the exit hall.
The dusty, bumpy, and altogether too-long bus ride to Sihanoukville, on Cambodia’s southern coast, put paid to his high spirits (and Doug’s and mine), the cute and loquacious Cambodian girl seated alongside us notwithstanding. By the time we got there, Frank wanted nothing more than a shower, a beer, and the beach, in no particular order.
Sihanoukville is well known among old Asia hands for its party atmosphere, some of the finest Western food in Cambodia, 50-cent beer, and its ladies of, um, less than Presbyterian levels of virtue. It seemed that all of these could be found in abundance at every turn. And, as Frank might say, given that he can rarely resist an awful pun, the girls were in a-bun-dance.
The party atmosphere had bubbled to a high rolling boil by the time we got there, thanks to the synchronicity of spring break and the Chinese lunar new year. Virtually any excuse will suffice to throw a party in Southeast Asia, and this the Cambodians excelled at: fireworks galore; barbecued baby squid en brochette; fruit trays in a riot of colors; and kids running around everywhere.
The food was a cornucopia of excess, with restaurants representing the four corners of the world (that is really a weird expression, when you think about it…): Greece; Italy (several entrants); Poland; Russia; India; France; Thailand; China; I know I am missing some. Those so inclined could secure a real American breakfast (a rarity in SE Asia outside the pricey hotels that cater to Yankees): bacon; pancakes with real maple syrup; eggs over easy; sausages that would hold their own against anything in a Brooklyn deli.
The 50-cent beer had every attribute you might expect: it was 50 cents, and it was beer. Cambodia runs on the US dollar (even the ATMs dispense funds in US currency). with 4000 Cambodian riel to one dollar. There are no coins used, either US or Cambodian, so if you buy a 50-cent beer and pay with one US dollar, you will get 2000 Cambodian riel in change. Because riel notes go all the way down to 20-riel denominations, you can easily see that it would be little problem to amass a prodigious quantity of Cambodian notes, with which you could not buy so much as a can of Coke (which typically costs more than a can of beer, by the way).
Last but not least, there were the sun-bronzed Cambodian beach bunnies–easy on the eyes, friendly and flirtatious to a fault, and present in numbers to boggle the minds of libidinous Western males. And that’s really all I am going to say about that, because, as I promised to Frank and Doug (particularly when it comes to chronicling events in a blog), what happens in Sihanoukville, stays in Sihanoukville…