And it was finished. My two nights, three days on Koh Rong Island had turned into a week of relaxing bliss but now it was over. Slowly but surely the island faded majestically into the distance as our small boat laden with people made its way back to mainland Cambodia. Sihanoukville waited with its arms open in welcome.
A lot had changed in the week since I had left. The population seemed to have doubled, even tripled in 7 short days. What used to be a deserted beach littered with restaurants and locals had turned into a cornucopia of peoples living a beach bum existence or taking advantage of a few short days of vacation. Europe, Asia, North America, South America, Oceania, they all mixed together like a fine cocktail.
Some expats wishing to stay a bit longer had taken advantage of the local clubs living off their generosity (room and board) in exchange for trying to get new customers in the door. These promoters wandered up and down the strip pressing the flesh and handing out fliers advertising every changing drink specials. These little fliers also promised free drinks upon entry, a sure way to get a visit from almost any tourist. After all, who could say ‘no’ to a free drink?
On the boat Herve, my new English friend from Koh Rong, and I decided it would be a good idea to bunk together for the night. As cheap as lodging was for one it was even cheaper for two. A nasty dorm for $2 or a shared double room for $3 each…you do the math.
Two nights is what we decided, and then off to our next respective destinations. Herve was off to Pnom Phen to check on some English teach work he had applied for and I was off back to Thailand and the next leg of my trip, Nepal.
Remember how I said there wasn’t much to do in Sihanoukville? You know, other then drinking, swimming, and sleeping? Well, the night Herve and I got back from the island paradise we decided to take check out the ‘drinking’ activities of the town. A week on the island avoiding high priced beer brought from the mainland by boat had parched our throats a bit and so as the sun set we looked for a place to fix that problem.
The collection of fliers filling our pockets bode for an evening of plentiful and cheap drinking. Twenty-five cent half pint draws, dollar mixers, dollar fifty drink buckets, we left our wallets at home and stuck just a few singles in our pants. Everything began at nine so we stashed ourselves at a local open air restaurant off the main tourist strip and enjoyed a tasty local meal until it was time.
The wind might have been calm but the surf was in an uproar. What usually was a quiet sandy beach at night was instead a mess of violent water rushing up the sand in a vain attempt to breach the shore-side bars/restaurants. Waves crashed with harsh bangs against concrete almost drowning out the music screaming from large speakers.
None of that, however, was going to stop Herve and I from having a drink.
Our first stop, a place called Jams. The special, a free whiskey bucket. What’s a whiskey bucket? Well, get some coke, pour it into the bottom of a cut off 2 liter bottle, get a bottle of cheap Khmer whiskey and add liberal amounts, then mix the concoction and hope for the best. Oh, you only get ice if you’re lucky.
We sat at the rail which faced onto the water ignoring the groups of working girls with bored looks standing around the place. The waves and the energy they moved with were much more interesting.
‘So where’s our next stop?’ I said to Herve between sips of my drink. Pulling a sheaf of multicolored paper from his pocket, ‘JJ’s, free draft there.’ ‘JJ’s,’ I said peering over the rail, ‘isn’t that the bar next to this one?’ Herve peered over the rail as well taking for a moment to contemplate the surf crashing up and over the stairs leading to JJ’s. There was no dry sand between us and there and with no Moses to part the sea we were gonna get wet. ‘Yeah, that’s it…’
‘Well, let’s do it,’ I said draining the last of my drink. I took of my shoes and vaulted the rail. ‘Coming?’ I asked Herve who had a slightly hesitant look on his face. I didn’t bother to wait for a reply. The waves weren’t waiting and neither could I if I wanted to stay semi-dry.
JJ’s was really full considering the condition of the pass. The surf crashed up, onto and over the protective ledge into the bar sending sprays of salted water misting into everyone’s drink. Herve pulled himself into the bar just as one wave crashed in soaking part of his pants. I handed him a cold beer care of the fliers. ‘Now ain’t this a blast.’
We sat sipping our beers for a while. The music was better than Jams and no working girls mingled in the crowd. Waves and music battled for dominance. Our free beers finished we made our way out.
Two bars down, two free drinks. ‘Not bad’ we chuckled.
Passing Jams again a promoter shoved another flier into our hand. ‘Free drinks man! Check it out!’ he told us jovially. Another free whiskey bucket? I looked over at Herve. ‘Why not,’ his eyes said and so with a shrug we went in for seconds. The mama-san gave us a semi-interested look as we sat down for a second time. The thought going through her mind was probably, ‘are these guys ever going to pay for a drink.’ The answer, ‘not if we could help it.’
About here, as you can imagine, things kind of became kind of blurry, as things will do when you add alcohol to them. It had been a while and I figured it was time to enjoy myself for a night. I thought back to the last time I had had a few good drinks…was it Taiwan, Malaysia, Bangkok? I couldn’t even remember.
The whiskey bucket went over better this time. The nasty Khmer whiskey seemed a bit more palatable, I don’t know why… ‘Herve, where next?’ ‘X’ he said with a smile. (X because I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the place even though it’s really big). ‘X it is then.’
X is where we actually began to pay for drinks, if you can call $0.25 a beer paying. At one point I gave 2000 real (Cambodia currency equal to $0.50) to the bartender for two beers and received $1 in change. It took a few minutes for what had happened to sink in but by that time I was back to Herve who was shooting against a couple of working girls on an old pool table. I shrugged; the bartender was sober so there must have been a reason…
We stumbled out of this place at I don’t know when after a few more beers. ‘Got any more fliers?’ Herve put his hand in his pocket, ‘I think so…’
As we made our way back towards the beach someone approached us and began to talk about this awesome bar, Jams. We looked at him and chuckled. ‘Free drinks, really?’ The promoter gave us a big smile, ‘yeah, right now it’s free beer.’ Herve and my eyes met. ‘Why not,’ I said taking the fliers he held out.
The next day I won’t go into details about. Needless to say both of us were hungover. Khmer whiskey is bad, bad, bad. We got the things we needed to do done, bus tickets, food, whatever and ended the night watching some movies for free at a local bar. No, we did not have any drinks. Our bodies would have killed us.
Morning came early for me, around 6:30am. The bus for Trat, Thailand, was scheduled to leave at 7:15am though I was betting it would show up around 7:30am. My body still ached from what I had put it through but there was no time to waste. My heart beat a little faster as I thought about what was to come. A few days in Trat, maybe visit an island or two, then Bangkok for a few more days and then, I held my breath, Nepal.