Sihanoukville, Cambodia

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I came to Sihanoukville with the intention to work at JJ’s Playground for 2-3 weeks for the holidays. Sihanoukville consists of mainly 2 streets- the beach front which is lined with restaurant and bars with plenty of outdoor beach seating and lounges. During the day local women walk the beach selling massages, threading, mani/pedis, fruits, shrimp, and grilled baby squid. At night the beach restaurants all set-up BBQs, which are quite popular. And all day long there are children roaming selling bracelets and hair wraps.

Then there’s the street vertical to the beach which is full of guesthouses and restaurants. All the popular guesthouses are on this street, along with a few nice western restaurants.

JJ’s is the late night backpacker bar on the far end of the beach street. I heard about the job from a girl I met in Vang Vieng, and then later heard horror stories about the job from a girl in Phnom Penh. Regardless I decided to give it a go. The bar/hostel jobs are all unpaid but you get free room, board and alcohol.

I arrived in Sihanoukville around 7pm at night and went straight to the bar. Within 5 minutes I knew I wasn’t going to last. The dorm is behind the bar through a dark alley of trash. You then need to then walk on wooden planks through wet trash before reaching the door. The dorm itself consists of one large room with 7 bunkbeds, no windows or ceilings fans. There were 2 small fans on the ground and of course I got put in a top bunk in a corner. Walking into the room felt like hell. The trash smell lingered from people’s feet and the place was never cleaned. The bathroom was outside the room and we shared it with a local family. That first night I got ready while everyone else was out flyer-ing. I walked into the shower and there was a little girl standing inside (at the time I didn’t know about the local family.) The girl refused to get out but eventually I tricked her and locked her out. Within seconds she was hysterically crying and it took minutes before a family member came to get her.

The bar job had a daily schedule. At 1:30pm, 5:30pm and 9:30pm we would meet at the bar to flyer. In the morning/afternoon you can order a meal (ex. Fried rice) at the bar. At 7pm after flyer-ing we’d have dinner together at the bar, and after nighttime flyer-ing you go straight out at the bar. You have to stay out partying and dancing until 3am every night.

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The western staff (those who were in the dorm) were really nice people, but the locals who owned the bar were not. They were disrespectful and crude. I didn’t mind the working schedule and payment; I actually liked flyer-ing the streets and talking to new people. However, I should have worked at a different bar but at the time I didn’t know that. I needed to get out of that place.

It took me two nights to get out of the dorm. It seems easy but it’s very easy to get sucked into there. You’re constantly sleep deprived and over-heated, too much so to do anything. But I made it out and moved my stuff to Led Zephyr. I quit my third night but I did worked the next day as well for better lack of something to do.

On Saturday we did a daytime booze cruise. The cruise was fun although nothing spectacular. But the scenery was beautiful and swimming in the open ocean made the trip well worth it. That night JJ’s had a UV paint party.

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I ate breakfast every morning at Utopia Mum’s Kitchen which had shakhauka, and I got a massage at Bliss Spa which felt fancy although the prices were the same.

I left for Koh Rong for Christmas. When I returned I stayed at Utopia for one night, a dorm room that resembles army barracks. But for $3 I couldn’t complain (I forgot to book somewhere legit ahead of time.) That night I ate at a Mexican restaurant called Maybe Later. The first Mexican I’ve had since being away and it was actually really good. I spent 2 days relaxing and watching Christmas movies before I left for Vietnam.

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The bus to Vietnam was supposed to be 12 hours. I was picked up in Sihanoukville at 7pm and we got to Phnom Penh at 12am. The bus to Ho Chi Minh was supposed to come at 12:30am but it didn’t arrive. We waited in this horrific smelling bus station watching Asian porn on the big TV screen. I didn’t even know that existed over here- blue lighting and slow creepy sounding music. At around 3am a bread man came buy and I bought an onion baguette that ended up being filled with pork; surprising at first but delicious.

At 4am the bus arrived and we got to Ho Chi Minh around 11:30am. Total trip time 16.5 hours.

Both buses were sleeper. The first was normal but the second was the most uncomfortable bus I’ve been on. A sleeper lined with metal bars and the length went as far as my knees. I definitely need a massage ASAP.

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