1. Arrive in Sihanoukville during a tropical rainstorm. Ride it out in your guesthouse’s cafe. When the storm passes, take a walk to the beach and immediately see that your guidebook wasn’t fully honest when describing the scene in Sihanoukville. Beaches that were described as “sandy” and “happening” for lack of better euphemistic words should actually have been described as “seedy” and “brimming with tourists with questionable motives.”
2. Convene with your travel group in the evening. Discuss spending the following day at an island. There are two options to get to the islands, you can take a boat tour cruise or hire a simple boat to take you to an island and back. Unanimously agree to hire a boat for the day.
3. Return to your room and discover that a flying cockroach is occupying it. Join forces with your roommate to get it out. Dodge the cockroach as it flies toward your head, jump on beds and chairs, swing pillows at it. Watch the cockroach surrender and fly out the door whereupon you quickly slam it shut. Sigh and then collapse with laughter about how silly you both looked while terrified of a tiny animal.
4. The next morning, get picked up from your guesthouse by a few teenagers with a truck who will drive you to the beach. It will take just one minute to get there. For reasons unbeknownst to you, they have driven you to a beach just steps away from your guesthouse.
5. Realize that the dinky no frills boat several feet away from the shore is your ride for the day. Assume the crew will pull it closer to the shore to load it, but they don’t. Watch the young men struggle to get coolers of food onto the boat while the waves crash against them. Hope that there are life jackets on board.
6. When it’s time for you to get on the boat, the tide suddenly rolls in. Throw your bag on board to avoid submerging your camera in saltwater. Get knocked over by waves a few times before you are finally able to climb on the boat, soaking wet.
7. After a choppy ride, successfully arrive at Bamboo Island despite your initial doubts. Rent a beach chair for $1. Soak in the sun and tranquility. Read a book. Relax.
8. When it’s time to eat, the boat crew will lay out a woven mat under the casuarina trees and hand you a simple meal of seasoned and grilled fresh fish, a baguette, and shredded salad. You don’t speak Khmer and they don’t speak English, so you communicate in smiles.
9. Return to your bamboo chair and take a dip in the ocean when it gets too hot. Relax, dip, repeat. Reluctantly leave when the boat crew signals that it’s time to go.
10. On the way back, the boat crew will take on an extra passenger, a scruffy 50- or 60-something sun-drenched farang man who seems like he’s been in the region for a long time. He lays out on the edge of the boat and gets even redder as he falls asleep in the sun while the rest of you take cover underneath the shade of the boat’s tarp. In your mind, create various life scenarios for the new passenger. Maybe he was in the Vietnam War and never came home? Maybe he is running from the law? Whatever it is, he seems like a person who has quite a few stories to tell.
11. After a much smoother ride, arrive back on the mainland. Realize that even though Sihanoukville was not what you expected, the adventure of getting to Bamboo Island and the day of tranquility there turned out to be even better than your expectations.
12. Freshen up and return to the beach to watch the sunset. Chat with the cheeky kid vendors you met the day before who continue to playfully stick their tongues out at you. Have dinner at a charming restaurant in town with two of your favorite travel companions. Stay much longer than you planned on chatting and laughing and waiting for another huge storm to pass. Go to bed feeling that you’ve made the most of your short time on the Sihanoukville coast; you’re relaxed and ready to continue exploring Southeast Asia.
Note: I am not currently in Southeast Asia and I’m not planning on traveling in the region any time soon. I visited Southeast Asia in 2008 and recorded my stories from that trip on another site before I started blogging independently. I’m rewriting and sharing some of my stories here.