Monday, October 4, 2004

Sihanoukville Cambodia Friends and Adventures

After arriving in Sihanoukville, I made a beeline to the Spitfire Guest House owned by an old time friend of mine, Randy an American from Humboldt, California and his Khmer wife, Sor.

Randy is someone who I have known a long time having first met many years ago in Phuket, Thailand while we both lived there in our respective relationships (...both since long ended) and later in Pattaya on the eastern seaboard of the Gulf of Thailand.

As is normal here in Asia, there is no way you can spend any length of time here and not have a "story". Randy has more than most to put it mildly but has now settled down to an almost nirvana existence with a beautiful guest house, a beautiful wife and two, very brand new twin sons.

Twins are considered very lucky in this part of the world and having had twin boys, exceptionally lucky, so I have a feeling I need to hang around this guy a bit so his luck rubs off on me and my adventures!

It seems others might feel the same way as shortly after I had dropped my bags, people from everywhere started turning up. Locals from around town as well as a couple from Thailand and his mother Gladys from Huntsville, Texas! Seeing the pulls in many directions that this very popular guy is having to deal with, I politely excused myself after depositing my bags in my beautiful room and headed over to the Freedom Hotel to see if I could meet up with Reinhard (Reini) , another friend of mine from Zurich, Switzerland who I was a week late in hooking up with.

Fortunately for me he hadn't left yet and as I was sipping a cold beer, he turned up with Jonnie (the manager of the Freedom). It was good seeing him and we were soon talking about his past 12 or so days of adventuring around Sihanoukville and where his next adventure would be taking him before heading back to his air traffic control job in Europe.

We decided we needed to hook up for dinner and he extended an invitation to a French run restaurant at 8PM. Seemed like a damn good idea to me so after finishing our drinks we parted for a couple of hours and I headed back to Randy's Spitfire.

It is interesting to note how Randy chose the name for his establishment as he had told me that his wife Sor was so "spirited" that she reminded him of the American phrase, "...a little Spitfire" to describe someone who is very spirited and maybe a bit difficult to control, like the horse with the same namesake from the American wild west.

I guess if you know Randy like I did from earlier years in Thailand, seeing him now as the proprietor of a beautiful port town guest house and the husband and father to a lovely lady with two beautiful twin boys, makes you wonder about how we change with time. For me however, it was a bit too much to take in all at one time...

Day 2

The day started off early at 5AM with me working on some articles and photos from my room. Over the quiet hum of the air-conditioning, I could hear the constant crowing of roosters in the neighborhood reminding me that sunrise was only a short time away.

Gladys, Sor and the twins, Ronald and Robert

Gladys, Sor and the twin boys, Ronald and Robert.

At a little before 7AM, I got ready for the day and headed downstairs with my papers and computer and found everyone up and about. Galdys, Randy's mother, was once again there, friendly and engaging. (I guess I now know where and why Randy picked up all his people skills and was such a great host.)

Anyway, she started chatting me up about various things including the running of the guest house and what was needed to make it better, as well as the many changes that had taken place in Cambodia from her earlier visit two years ago.

Yes, changes were everywhere and I indicated to her, change was going to become even faster due to many political and economic factors both here and in the region. Those changes however will most probably be good for Cambodia and the area around Sihanoukville and that Randy was most probably in the "right place at the right time". But having been here 6 years already and having been through the trauma of those times, he deserved it!

We talked about simpler things as well, including the guest house getting new DVD players for each room, 2 more air-conditioners, large king size beds or 2 twin beds in the new rooms and Randy's idea to add new serviced apartments to the roof area. I also suggested they set up an area for free tea and coffee for the guests. She quickly got the hint and asked me if I would like some coffee....for which I smiled a big grin and said, "Yes, that would be wonderful!"

I went on to start working at my desk in the guest houses' huge "living room" (...for lack of a better phrase) and it wasn't long before freshly brewed coffee arrived. As they were out of milk, Randy was there a few moments later telling me he was headed to the store and did I prefer cream or milk. Does it get in better than this?

A few hours went by and around noon we decided to all head out to Independence Beach for an afternoon swim. As I had no transportation and since I was going to be on the coast for a week or so, I decided to go to the corner where the G.S.T. bus station was and where they also rented motorcycles.

As I had gone there earlier on my own and priced the bikes at $5, I asked Sor to come with me as I knew we could get one cheaper. Sure enough, we agreed on a price of $3 a day but unfortunately there wasn't any bikes immediately available, so I had to wait.

A short time later we headed to the beach together, winding our way around the coast out of town to the far end of Independence Beach, right where the old and imposing Independence Hotel stands.

Randy and Rob liked the little area and knew the Khmer woman who ran the beach hut. Gladys was with us as well and it wasn't long before the 3 of them were in the water while I chose to write a bit and take some photos.

It was shortly after they entered the water that some monks came onto the beach. As always, they were dressed in their golden robes which made quite for quite a foreground of beach shots as they sipped their soft drinks in the chairs next to me.

I had also gotten a bit hungry and tried to communicate with the woman that I would like some chicken and rice. She smiled and shortly scurried off to get me some.

I continued to take photos and write and the time started to slip by. My compatriots had now left the water and were sipping their drinks next to me under the hut's roof. 10 minutes became 20, 20 became 40....but where was my chicken and rice. About 50 minutes after I ordered I tracked here down and she kept saying "10 minutes". 10 more minutes went by and than 20.

It was than that we started to wonder if they were killing and plucking the chicken.....which was about the time that a procession of people appeared...and sure enough, a full chicken was on the plate! Of course plates and a huge bowel of rice was also presented.

Charlie and his chicken and rice!I just hung my head. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Of all my years in Asia, I couldn't recall such a miscommunication for a food order but as everyone was a bit hungry, I had lots to share! After a bit, I couldn't stop laughing as I tried to eat the obviously very fresh and very tough field chicken. This time however I opted not to eat the feet or the neck...and instead feed them to the half or so dozen dogs hanging out under the shack.

After the "chicken feast", I guess the only thing I could say was I guest I didn't order "pig" and rice!!!

Headed for CamBrew

After arriving back at the guesthouse, we decide to take a bit of a break and plan for a later afternoon excursion up to the Cambodian Brewery, where with the right connections, free "samples" of their finest flows for hours at a time.

Joel was to by our "guide" into the wilds of the brewery and after he arrived, we piled into the Cambodian Camry taxi and headed out of town north to where "CamBrew" is located. Having been there before, I had no problem being convinced in going there!

Although not open to the public in the evening, you can visit if you have the "right connections". Knowing the brewmaster, Mr. Limm however seems to be an excellent calling card and it wasn't more than a couple minutes later after we arrived, the gate security guard waived us through and we were setting at one of their three pubs, drinking down cold glasses of Angkor draft.

Randy and Charlie at CamBrew in Sihanoukville CambodiaAfter countless numbers of "cheers" and "prosts" front both the 4 foreigners and the half a dozen Khmers, we said our goodbyes and thanks at 18:30 (30 minutes later than we should have) and headed back to our car and home at the Spitfire Guest House.

Randy had been cooking up a beef and vegetable stew earlier in the afternoon and although we were quite hungry, it wasn't quite ready yet. Decisions.... what do we do next?

A consensus was quickly reached that we should stroll down the street to the Angkor Arms and have a beer while we waited for dinner to cook. Supposedly, Bert was still gone so we made a plan to head to the "Dusk to Dawn Bar" after a beer or so.

As we walked up however, two of the outside tables were filled with Bert, his son and others obviously having a good time from their day's motorcycle trip to Bokor Mountain. It wasn't long before rounds of beers were being bought and deep discussions about things happening in and around Sihanoukville were taking place.

It seemed that the highlight of the conversations were the numerous motorbike trips that had taken place in the past or were coming up, both in Cambodia and around other parts of southeast Asia, as most around the tables had their own stories to tell about such adventures.

A table of "Barangs" at the Angkor ArmsAfter that, conversations slipped to the discussion about yet another expat that had "slipped and fallen", or as some might express it, "gone off the deep end". As in Thailand, the stories about farangs (foreigners) succumbing to the wild freedoms of Asia are both notorious and endless. Cambodia, although not as large, populated or as accessible for many years, has developed its own legacy of expats "gone missing". Michael, an American "stockbroker" was yet another example of this.

After I jotted down a few notes and indicated I would see what I could do once I returned to Phnom Penh, the conversation shifted to the rapid growth and development of the area. Besides the now official announcements of ChevronTexaco about their oil concessions off the coast and the beginning of drilling, there was also the continuing rumors about US Military deployments to the area.

As I listened to the comments I couldn't help but glance over to Bert's newspaper rack and see the two headlines from the that day's and the the previous day's Bangkok Post. One screamed "Cambodia may be next 'terror haven' while the other informed us that 87 Muslims had been killed in one day by Thai troops in their southern provinces. I was thinking to myself it seemed a situation ripe for US intervention...

Anyway, the day had been long and poor Ron (Randy's guest from England) had started to slip a bit from way too many beers and an overload of the day's activities in the sun and gulf. We decided it was probably best to head on back to the Spitfire and call it a day.

We paid and strolled back across the street to the guest house. As it was around 11:30, things had quieted down and the gate was nearly closed. Sor was up with the babies but made sure I was taken care of and got me a bowl and spoon for what turned out to be some of the best stew I have had in many a day. I guess after three bowls, I was qualified to make that assessment!

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