Asia | South East Asia | Cambodia | South West Cambodia | Sihanoukville – Day 19 – Independence Hotel, Cambodia
Having just adjourned for the evening from the dining patio, I have returned to my room leaving Andrew to roll ’em and smoke ’em with a posse of Americans and a Zimbabwean who now lives in Israel. Andrew of New York and I met ’round dinner last night and downed plenty of suds before engaging motos into town, to the Angkor Arms pub where several ex-pats were doing another night of their miserable-looking personal lost and found tours to nowhere: A Scottish grandfather, who said he’s never going back to Scotland and who offered the following about Sihanoukville: ‘It grows on you’; or the Aussie elder whose facial skin was so red and blubbery as a result of sun and booze that I was tempted to peel it off so a fresh layer might grow. Obviously, all of us meeting in that off-handed way, drawn together by beer and the english language (or some slur-blurred version of it) provided a barometer of Sihanoukville’s night life, ca. 11:00pm.
Today didn’t find me munching on breakfast until about 10:15am. Andrew was there suggesting the renting of motor bikes for a run out to some waterfalls. I ante-ed up, turned the ignition of my redoubtable machine, stepped it into first, violently rocked myself by giving it too much throttle, and we were off. It’s been many years since I rode a motorbike through a distant corner of Asia but it was fun to be that free for a day. Go with the wind.
Immediately upon arrival at the falls, after negotiating a strangely wide and totally empty red-clay road, we were invited by a picnic-ing family to join them on their reed matt for lunch. So we did. I ate the steamed rice. Very lovely people, the protagonist was a woman now living in Boston who was back here for her first visit with her family since 1979.
Once the family started to pack up we said our good-byes and hiked along the river, up and down a couple of less-than-obvious paths to try to make it to a close-up view of the falls. What we didn’t realize until some time later was that the 10 metre wide river suddenly fans out as it tumbles over several different routes, probably some 70 metres wide. Still, we picked our way across slippery rocks and past entire smiling clans of frolicking, picture- snapping Cambodians. A rare but hopefully growing snippet of upper-middle- class here with resources for frivolities such as waterfall-side picnics.
Eventually we managed to tour the entire width of the quite lovely and deliciously cool falls, bathing in the massaging drum-beat water. In places the forceful current tested our toddler-like balance. We followed a local man down a ‘path’, crouching and punting our way through wet roots and assorted other hanging things, over fallen leaves and branches, twisting and contorting to bull our way through, where he had nimbly hopped away ahead of us. With some sweat and effort we arrived at a spot just down-stream of the falls and from there we had a view of their full expanse. The drop was between 10 and 20 metres in total, with straight arch-roaring sections and others stepped.
After an hour or two we retraced our route along the red-clay road and back into town, scooting from beach to beach. While zipping along the town’s perimeter road we met up with another traveler from our guest house, Heidi of Switzerland. She jumped on the back of my bike and directed us back to where the Independence Hotel was supposed to be. Adjacent to a lovely stretch of beach, but revealing itself out of the tangle of jungle growth only after a local child showed us the path, a strange and very out-of-context apparition: an eight-storey tower of a hotel, a vision ahead of its time — of a time, still to come, but nearer now as our very presence attested, when tourists would flock to Cambodian beach playgrounds. Now occupied only by the wind and a squatter famly who have set up a bizarre household around the one-time reception area of the lobby — and who charged us 1000 riel (25 cents) to explore further, the hotel admitted us to its forlorn inner sanctum. Everywhere we checked, walls were cracked and crumbling, ceilings were breaking up, and jigsaw arrays of shards of glass lay crunchy under our feet beneath yawning windows. The wind rollicked through the sea-ward rooms and noises creaked here and there. Even in full daylight it was a bit of a ghostly place. We made it all the way up onto the roof for a reassuring view of the ribbon of beach and the bay of blue on one side, the lagoon and green hills on the other.
We beached the late afternoon away and floated in the bath-like sea keeping a very wary eye on our day-packs on the beach as several people milled about unnecessarily close to them. We decided to hang for sunset, parking a can of Angkor beer and my camera on the low table for shots from both. Sunset did not disappoint, igniting the high whispy cirrus. We motored back in the pitch black, the milky way flowing around mars above us.