Otres Village - What's all the Kerfuffle?
Otres Village - Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
After an 8 hour journey including the dreaded Cambodian border crossing. Myself and a handful of fellow travellers arrived in the City of Sihanoukville - capital of the province. Darkness had fallen and each of us unknown to one another, stepped off the the overbooked bus with aching joints, due to a lack of seats. Thankfully they do stock a few plastic stools in the cargo bay, bound for the bus aisle. A health and safety standard of, “do I have a choice in the matter?” Tired and keen to arrive at our final destination the inevitable who’s sharing a tuk tuk began. Followed by a long set of stern rate negotiations for what was clearly a short ride at a premium price. We managed to convince the driver that his tuk tuk was big enough for all of us. So saddled and secured we revved away leaving behind a concrete jungle of construction sites and motors ways.
Arriving in Otres Village and first impressions from our tuk tuk didn’t stir too much excitement. A seemingly forgotten village with a small main street of arid terrain and hardly a soul or attraction to be seen. Scrambling off the tuk tuk, after a 10 minute debate regarding agreed price and the current exchange rate of mixed currency - where dollar meets riel. I strolled into my new home, BOHO hostel. Following the luxury Island stay expectations were low but I was pleasantly surprised. In front of me stood an open plain of green grass, a central pool with bedding on either side stretching up to a covered paradise. A ‘flash packers’ destination at a travellers rate. I felt at home immediately, along with Jo the resident cat and a great community of both workers and guests. My home away from home. A mixture of French styled decor along with a delicious local and western cuisine, proper pizza oven included.
It would be easy to get caught up in the, chill right here vibe with all the comforts but, a bit of exploring was in order. As the sun came up the village came to life with a variety of attractions. Including a mix of Italian, Portuguese, Mexican and of course local restaurants/cafes. Along with local flip flop stores and travel planners. A short 5-10 minute stroll and you’ll soon leave all that behind, finding yourself on Otres Beach with silky sands between your toes. Turn left and you’ll see a collection of relaxed, resort style beach cafes and sun beds. Along with a picturesque wooden pier and tourist boat trips ready for your dollar. Turn right, keep walking and sooner or later find yourself among a list of more trendy hippie/trippy style beach clubs. Including a welcoming, “hey dude”, along with an open tree house and swing, the perfect platform for that classic sunset by the sea.
Strolling along the beach with my camera pack and desire to shoot every angle that came by, I must admit I felt a little defeated. Hoping for a cool sea breeze was my imagination untold. It’s hard to describe coming from a cold climate. That kind of heat were you sit still under an airy shade, with nothing but a pair of shorts. Finding yourself swimming in sweat at even the slightest movement. You soon realise that the term ‘climatise’ doesn’t really apply when temperatures soar above 40 degrees, higher than that of your bodies standard 37. Carrying only the bare minimum of camera equipment was a struggle in it self. That said I was undeterred and on I went.
Following a little local insight you’ll soon hear, as they say, that Otres Village isn’t the real Sihanoukville. So with a desire to discover the authentic ‘Sihni’ I teamed up with my new amigo from Andorra and we decided to rent a few mopeds to venture into the city. Having had previous warning from the BOHO staff of a common scam, as in a lot of Asia. Including police check points and a list of penalties, used as scare tactics to pull cash from uninformed tourists. First and foremost the ‘International Driving License Scam’. Were those that do not hold, suffer the penalty. Of course we only drove around 3 bends and the checkpoint was ahead of us. Waved in like some sort of border control and told to switch the engine off. We were quietly, without explanation, directed well off the road. Beneath the cool shade of a tree while the officer brought and setup what I could only describe as a ‘holywood’ interrogation scene. With serious faces all around, followed by intense body gestures. Our backpacks were laid on table for a thorough search and investigation.
After establishing we were both clean of arms and narcotics the inevitable question came. “License please?” Mr Andorra, of course, came equipped with an international license. Myself packing only a standard bit of UK plastic. “You pay 20,000 Riel, no international license”. To which I replied in overly correct english, “with all do respect officer, you and I both know that due to the fact I am not a long term residence of your country, I do not require an international license”. Andorra’s eyes suddenly lite up, ready for battle and the cage beginning to rattle. After what seemed like a 5 minute death stare the officer reluctantly eyed our vehicles and waved his hand for our immediate departure, no fine included. Only during our ‘search and investigation’ his colleague had slid slyly by, dropping an already open pack of cigarettes by my un-packed bag on the interrogation table. A mistake, I have no doubt your average officer on the beat, wouldn’t make at his daily interrogation table. “Your cigarettes sir”. To which of course I replied, "no they belong to the gentleman over there”. It goes without saying, you can never be too careful whilst on the road.
Cruising on after the ‘highway patrol’ we found ourselves in a city from a land before time. Not pretty to the eye but it had a certain charm of authenticity that would lure any wandering traveller. Getting lost among it’s never ending alley ways, markets, cafes and hill top temples, we weren’t disappointed. The only thing that shocked us was the notorious Chinese investment craze. Clearly present among a seemingly impoverished city stood not 3 blocks apart, one after another, a endless supply of Vegas style casinos. Like pyramids amongst a sea of slaves. I guess the Cambodians, like the Chinese, also have taste for gambling.
After a day of local sightseeing we headed back to Otres and stopped off at the local 'Otres Corner Bar’ for some refreshments. A kind of hippie paradise with a welcoming array of psychedelic shapes and colours. Not long after the term ‘dude’ was getting repetitive we headed back to our homely BOHO hostel. Having previously learnt of this evenings festivities, held at the notorious ‘Kerfuffle’. We weren’t surprised to find the hostel alive with ready set party goers. Equipped for a kind of ‘Jungle Party’ held in the local forest. As it was my last day in Otres I figured it would be a opportunity not to miss. A convoy of tuk tuks arrived and the crowd jumped to their feet anxious for a jive into the jungle. Our spirits grew higher as the entourage crept down a dark dusty road, the foliage of tress and flashing lights upon the horizon, an acoustic ascension of thump thump growing nearer.
Hopping off our packed tuk tuks we hastily made our way down a dimly lite forrest track, myself talking to my camera, as you do these days. Managing to step in every pot hole puddle available but damp feet couldn’t dampen our spirits. Climbing a fallen tree trunk, acting as a sort of barricade, we arrived at the bamboo ticket both. 2 minutes past the early hour ticket rate and the vendor was adamant of his digital clocking accuracy. We decided to make a lot of noise and flocked on though with our early bird rate.
A series of wooden ramps, a questionable bridge later and the Jungle clearing was in view. Along with a monumental structure, erected up through the canopy of the trees, peering between the branches - A neon coloured ferris wheel! Like that of an oasis in the desert, it couldn’t have been more out of place but somehow, felt like it was right at home. The forest clearing was surrounded by a tall bamboo bar to the left and wall of speakers with DJ booth to the right. The far corner was enclosed by a raised boat shaped platform like something from the 'Family Robinsons'. The perfect spot to climb atop for a bit of quiet reflection amongst the trees of madness. As well as for a nice overhead view, perfect for a few shots with my compact camera. Full frame camera, safely left behind.
The night went gracefully on including a display of fire dancers and despite the rain storming down. The ravers, happy for a cool shower, were only encouraged by what would normally send you running for cover. The dance area transforming into, what I would describe as, a tribal rain dance. Until of course the inevitable sun came up, shinning an atmosphere of reality upon them. The situation suddenly came timbering down and the tuk tuk race began, once again.
Otres Village, a spot highly regarded by all travellers who venture there. It’s easy to see why and while I hope to venture back there some day my time on the coast had come to an end. Destination inland and with only a week to go until the Khmer New Year, I couldn’t have timed it better. My only dread, the intense heat with no chance of a sea breeze…