If you want to throw a little culture into your visit to Sihanoukville, take a day trip out to Ream and the set of the 2009 film, Un barrage contre le Pacifique (The Sea Wall). Based on the 1950 novel of the same name by Marguerite Duras, the film starred Isabel Huppert and was directed by Cambodian Rithy Panh. If you don’t want to throw a little culture into your visit, do it anyway and treat yourself to a day out on a magical part of the Cambodian coast.
When they went looking for a place to film the movie, they needed to find a pristine area to recreate the Cambodia of the 1920s, when the French occupation was in full swing. They found it on a slender thread of beach on the south side of Ream National Park. It’s a little off the beaten track, but that’s part of its beauty — it’s just far enough off the beaten track to feel like an adventure, but not so far as to be an exhausting ordeal.
Most of the road to the set and its surrounding beaches is paved. Just take Route 4 about 20 kilometres out of town to the turnoff to Sihanoukville International Airport and Ream National Park. After that, it’s just another 10 relatively straight kilometres of lovely road sandwiched between Ream National Park and the sea to the turnoff to Wat Ream. A side trip to the wat is definitely worth it, but we’ll save that for another post. For now, just continue driving. Pretty soon, the paved road ends and a sometimes bumpy dirt road begins. I’m told it can be impassable in the rainy season, but we went in the dry and it was fine.
You’ll know you’re at the set when you see “Chez Bart” on your right. There’s a caretaker’s house next to the building that was constructed for the film to replicate a French Indo-Chinese restaurant/gathering place. Much of the movie was filmed here, where Ma, the colonial schoolteacher played by Huppert, and her two teenage children, went to escape the travails of trying to build a sea wall around their property.
You may be tempted, as I was, to think Chez Bart is all there is to the set of The Sea Wall, but as lovely as it is, you haven’t reached the best part yet. Our guide Jan Cornall, a friend from Australia, encouraged us back into our rented Corolla, and we continued up the road. It didn’t take long to reach the timber bridge that took us to the building the fictional family called home.
A caretaker lives in the home, but other than that, it was just us. There wasn’t so much as another footprint on the beach and it seemed to be so infrequently visited, patches of flowers instead of plastic were all the “litter” we found.
After an hour or so wandering around taking it all in, hunger took its toll and we left; had we known it was going to be that wonderful, we would have brought a picnic lunch with us.
The set of The Sea Wall is not on the regular list of day trips you’ll find at Sihanoukville travel agents. To get here, you’ll have to either hire a car and driver or rent motorbikes. The driver is not likely to know where it is, but if you tell them to go to Wat Ream first, they will be able to ask around and find it from there. If you rent motorbikes, better to take two than one; if one breaks down, you’ll have a spare. It’s about 40 kilometres or so from Sihanoukville — a short ride, but a long walk.
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