We do not hate places. Hatred is just not in our nature when it comes to travel. As enthusiastic travelers with an endless supply of optimism, we thought we could make the best of any situation no matter how dismal or uninteresting. Sure, there are places we like less or cities to which we can only afford ambivalence, but have we ever hated a destination? No, never, ever. That is, until we found the miserable town known as Sihanoukville.
Sihanoukville is billed as Cambodia's "beach resort destination" and the Thai beach-alternative because it is supposedly less crowded, less polluted, and more natural than Ko Tao and Ko Samui. To get there, we took a four-hour bus ride from Kompong Chnnang to Phnom Penh, where a guy started smoking two rows behind us though the windows would not open, and then a seven hour bus ride from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville on a more comfortable bus.
Within about five minutes of our arrival in Sihanoukville, we discovered that the town is defined by three salient characteristics: rubbish, prostitutes, and occasional glimpses of a marginally attractive beach. To be fair, there are some nice bungalows, bars, and restaurants that sit directly on the beach. But, to get to them, you have to put your feet in the sand polluted by hundreds of empty cigarette containers, beer bottles, water bottles, and generally unidentifiable refuse.
Once you wade through the trash, you are certain to be approached by an attractive young Cambodian woman (if you are male) or be disgusted by the wrinkly men in Speedos coveting said young Cambodian woman (if you are female, or male for that matter). In the night, fire dancers come to the Sihanoukville beach except, unlike the buff young men who twirl sticks of flames in Koh Tao, these guys look dirty and underfed. By 8 p.m., we found drunk men passed out in the beach chairs facing the ocean at the nicer restaurants.
Let's say that you decide to escape the skeazy scene in Sihanoukville and head into the waters. The blue waters are inviting and warm but the moment you enter, beer bottles, plastic netting, and trash swim into your view. There are no fish. You are swimming in a junkyard fed by polluted streams and rivers. To give you proof of how ugly and disgusting this place was, we did not take a single picture. We have taken almost 5,500 pictures in the last seven months but could not find anything remotely interesting or attractive in Sihanoukville.
We stayed less than 24 hours. If this had happened seven months ago, we probably would have stuck it out for a few more days, thinking that maybe Sihanoukville would get better, or we would uncover its hidden charms. Now, we know better. If we dislike something, we leave and find something else that we enjoy. We trust our instincts now because we have developed a rhythm to our travels. The next morning, we took the first bus out of Sihanoukville to Koh Kong and found ourselves in the stunning Oasis Resort Bungalows, replete with an infinity pool overlooking the Cardamom Mountains. Thank goodness we left.
* We have heard that the beach at the Sokha Beach Resort is private, clean, and beautiful. But, rooms run about $200 per night which is out of our price range. And, it's Southeast Asia for heavens sake --- it shouldn't cost $200 to go to a nice clean beach.
I'm curious: where have you traveled that you absolutely and utterly hated?