It is five hours from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville. It needn’t be, but the bus has to make a dozen stops in order to maximize its load, and not all of them are on the main road. But the bus was air conditioned and we had the front seat on the second deck with a clear view of the road ahead, so the time was spent taking in the pleasant countryside and chatting about the resort ahead of us. There is only one other staff member at Taylor’s College where I work who has ever been here, and he wouldn’t go anywhere else. Every vacation time he would head back to Sihanoukville. He described the place as paradise on earth. It makes you curious when you hear comments like that.
We have been talking about going to Sihanoukville ourseleves for some time, hoping to wait long enough for them to finish building the airport there. But we can’t wait forever, and the airport is taking its own sweet time, so we decided to come by bus. We weren’t sure what to expect. We had been to Kep, further along the coast, some time ago, and found it to be largely deserted and somewhat sad; another victim of fifty years of war this country has had to endure at the hands of others.
There is a town here, unlike Kep which is just an abandoned shell, but there is not much going on. This hotel, the Independence, built in 1963 and recently refurbished, is almost entirely empty. This is a four star hotel – the kind of place we can never afford, built on an absolutely gorgeous stretch of beach, charging us 50 dollars American, including an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast/brunch that goes on forever – and the place is deserted. There are six guests in this 150 room hotel. The other four don’t speak English.
The effect is surreal. We walk down to the pristine beach, dotted with thatched cabanas, and we are alone. We sit beside the Olympic-sized pool, surrounded by the pool bar and the massage huts, and we are alone. We sip tea on the balcony in the Sunset Restaurant listening to the waves break gently on the shore and we are alone. Except for the staff, of course, they are everywhere. They hold the doors for us whenever we approach. They stand ever ready as we sit beside the pool, in case we want something. They greet us in the hallways, as if their very survival depended upon our existence, which I suppose in some kind of way, it does.
All the attention makes us a little nervous. We are both used to being ignored, and actually prefer it that way. We are hoping that the airport is finished soon, so that all this investment is rewarded by clientele. Obviously a five hour bus ride from Phnom Penh is not going to bring the Europeans and Americans flocking here in droves. An airport will be good for the local economy and good for Cambodia in general. But I have to admit that having such a gorgeous place all to ourselves has been a quirky little treat.