Nov 30 2012
If you come to Sihanoukville and spend a few days at Ochheuteal Beach, you haven’t been to Sihanoukville. If you’ve traversed Ekareach Street from the Golden Lions to Victory Hill, you’ve barely scratched the surface and still missed out on the real Sihanoukville. The real Sihanoukville is a collection of villages often separated by wide expanses of undeveloped land. The only way you’ll see this Sihanoukville is by exploring the back roads and tracks that crisscross the town.
You can rent a motorbike and explore Sihanoukville, but a mountain bike is much better. The slower pace of a bike gives you the opportunity to soak it all in and sometimes you’ll come across deep sand and other obstacles that make passage on motorbike difficult or impossible just when things start to get interesting. On a mountain bike, too, you’re more likely to notice a little single track going to who-knows-where and take a sidetrip to discover where that may be. That’s how I discovered my favourite part of the coast.
One day when I was out riding, I noticed a little fishing village tucked into the corner of the peninsula at the end of Sokha beach. Curious, I carried my bike across the sand and walked it around the rocky shoreline. To my surprise, there was a little restaurant there, so I stopped in for a coffee. That was only the beginning of my adventure, though. After getting my caffeine boost, I bought a bottled water and proceeded up the bumpy dirt road behind the village, emerging at the T-junction of another, somewhat smoother dirt road. I knew a right turn would take me out to the coast road, but how far could I go if I turned left before the road petered out?
It wasn’t long before the dirt and sand road came to an abrupt end and a narrow motorbike track began. At times, the tall grasses at the edge of the track brushed my shoulders as I passed and once, more out of cowardice than necessity, I walked my bike across a couple of boulders. Not long after that, I found myself at the tip of the peninsula surrounded by nature and spectacular views of Sihanoukville and the neighbouring islands.
I often ride my bike from Ochheuteal beach to downtown Sihanoukville, but rarely do it on Ekareach Street. After having taken every conceivable paved back road, one day I decided to take a side route and see what happened. After taking the road that ends at the M’lop Tapang Centre for Street Children, I crossed a little bridge and headed out into a wide expanse of pastures and fields. Doing my best to avoid the better maintained dirt roads, I eventually emerged at Omui Street. From there I knew where I was. A right turn would have taken me out towards Otres Beach. Since my goal was to get downtown, I turned left instead and after making another left at Makara Street, was soon back in the Ekareach Street traffic. Okay, it wasn’t a shortcut to downtown, but it was a lot more interesting than Ekareach Street and probably safer as well.
If all goes according to plan, one day Sihanoukville will be a teeming metropolis. With a population that by some estimates is growing at a rate of better than 13 percent per year, that day may be coming soon. For now, though, it is far less densely populated or developed than a cursory look at Ekareach Street or Ochheuteal Beach would suggest. I could describe a dozen more of my back road adventures, but what would be the fun in that? Try a couple yourself and see where they take you.
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