Jan 08 2013
“Where is Ochheuteal beach?” Sounds like a stupid question, doesn’t it? After all, Ochheuteal gets written about more than any other beach in Sihanoukville. However, the Ochheuteal beach covered in most writing online comprises less than half a kilometre of a nearly three and a half kilometre long beach, and usually gets a pretty bad rap. What happened to the rest of Ochheuteal?
Cambodia took justifiable pride in gaining entry into the Club of the Most Beautiful Bays in the World and celebrated the event with the inaugural Sea Festival at Ochheuteal beach. The country went so far as to erect a sign in front of Ochheuteal beach, but it wasn’t at the backpacker end of the beach near Serendipity Road; it was more appropriately placed in the centre of the developed part of the beach. Flanked on each side by huge cement parking areas and opposite Prime Minister Hun Sen’s beach house, the atmosphere here is distinctly different from what you’ll find on the beach the backpackers call Ochheuteal.
Here, the beach is predominantly populated by Cambodian families enjoying their weekend. While their parents feast under the shelter of the beachfront restaurants, the children splash in the water. There are beach vendors and souvenir sellers, but no beggars or small children hawking trinkets. Along this stretch of Ochheuteal beach, the atmosphere can best be described as festive.
Continue further south and it’s more of the same until you reach the last restaurant on the beach. After that, there’s the long stretch of undeveloped beach that comes to an abrupt end at the headland that separates Ochheuteal from Otres beach. Personally, I love this stretch of beach and look forward to those days when I can ride my bike on the hard packed sand from one end to the other and back again at low tide. Others see it differently, though, having read an oft-repeated horror story of a robbing or mugging on this “no man’s land” stretch of beach.
All I can say is that I’ve spent a lot of time on this end of Ochheuteal beach and have never had a bad experience. In fact, this is where we go on New Year’s Eve because it feels a lot safer and more family-friendly than the backpacker end of the beach.
Speaking of the backpacker end of Ochheuteal Beach, where is that and what goes on there? A few minutes after I took the photos above, I wandered down the dirt road that leads to what most backpackers consider Ochheuteal Beach and had a look around.
Not much was happening on this end of Ochheuteal beach. One of the few people in the water was a local drug addict/prostitute standing naked in knee deep water while she washed her clothes in the sea. A beggar was making his way across the beach, apparently looking for better opportunities near Serendipity beach pier. Up on the beach walk, in stark contrast to the busy restaurants further down the beach, not a soul was to be seen inside the bars, which really only come to life late at night. All in all, it was a rather sorry sight and finally I understood why Ochheuteal gets such a bad rap. Looked at from this perspective, it really doesn’t have much going for it.
I left the beach feeling saddened. This is not the Sihanoukville I know and it’s not the Sihanoukville Cambodians are so proud of. It’s a seedy little beach that’s been created by we Westerners; but then we turn around and blame Cambodia for its existence. Worse, too many visitors to Sihanoukville come here first and draw their conclusions about all of Sihanoukville from what they see here.
For the record, this thin sliver of Ochheuteal beach is not all of it, and not all of Sihanoukville by a long shot. The Cambodians you run across here are not representative of all Cambodians, either. Whether they’re drug dealers, prostitutes, beggars or seven year old hawkers, those you meet on “our” end of Ochheuteal are there for the same reason: because this is where their market is.
On a brighter note, there was a smattering of backpackers on Ochheuteal beach this morning, just getting some sun and having fun. I see more of them every year, but most of them are gravitating towards Otres beach, where things are quite a bit more cheerful. Hopefully, as Sihanoukville’s reputation continues to improve, visitors like these will tip the scales and the barang end of Ochheuteal will clean up its act. In the meantime, it’s not as if we’re not welcome on the rest of Ochheuteal beach. Check it out and feel the difference.
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