Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Cambodia - Day 15: Phnom Penh

New Year’s Eve morning arrived, the last day of the year, and Angela said she didn’t feel any better. She stayed in bed while Vito and I went down to the lobby, which doubled as a diner, for breakfast. I wasn’t feeling 100%, but I ordered a waffle and a cup of coffee and manage to keep it all down. When we were finished eating, Vito and I hailed a tuk-tuk and drove to the Russian Market for a little souvenir shopping.

In front of the Royal Palace.
The market was chaotic: vendors of shoes, jewelry and beads, dishes, cell phone cases, rice paper rubbings, paintings and wood carvings, bicycle tires, tools, housewares, garments and leather-goods, all of the kinds of tourist tchotchkes that you might expect. Outside the market, there were trays of snails covered in salt and peppers, inside, soup stalls were billowing smoke throughout the heart of the market, tiny plastic chairs and stools and aluminum tables and counters, mannequins without heads, leaking mopeds lined up along the outer wall, modified tuk-tuks with extra plastic fuel tanks, fire-pots and BBQs, birds of all proportion on spits, young and old on mopeds, mopeds in varying states of repair, dust-covered red oblong lanterns with red tassels, misshapen sidewalks and cars and bicycles parked willy-nilly, people wearing masks on their faces. Many buildings were covered with corrugated blue roofs, Buddhist flags flew everywhere and everywhere elephant statues, rusted iron fences in front of dilapidated buildings, an old ferris wheel, a plant nursery, a man selling inflated mini-Power Ranger toys, etc. Vito bought a keychain to add to his collection, I bought a rice paper rubbing for a friend, and then we returned to the hotel. It really wasn’t as enjoyable to go sightseeing without Angela. Before returning, the tuk-tuk driver gave Vito and me a tour around of the city, driving us through a wealthy neighborhood and showing us where all of the New Year’s Eve action would be going down.

When we arrived at the hotel, I grabbed a Sprite in the lobby (it had soothed my own stomach the day before) thinking Angela might want something to help settle her stomach, and went back upstairs. Angela was feeling good enough to go out, and, after some preparation, we left for a bowl of noodles. It was Angela’s turn to eat rice, and everyone ate without further ado.

The Silver Pagoda.
We left the noodle restaurant and walked around the block to The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. Angela wasn’t feeling very lively, but we walked around the site, which was quite beautiful and well maintained. In particular, there was a long continuous mural of scenes from the Reamker (the Khmer version of the Indian Ramayana, a classical Hindu literary tale) along the inner wall of the courtyard of The Silver Pagoda. After taking in as much as we could, we returned to our hotel to look for a place to eat our New Year’s Eve meal. We didn't really have the celebratory spirit, but we felt obliged to mark the occasion.

I found a restaurant nearby called Dine in the Dark, wherein we did exactly that. We ate our meal in complete darkness. After waiting a bit in the lobby, we held onto each other (I had my hand on our blind server’s shoulder), and we were guided up the stairs into darkness and then to our seats. The food was not outstanding, but the experience was unusual and memorable. I thought Vito would be too scared, and we all were a little uncomfortable or claustrophobic at first, but, after the second of four courses, we were all fine.

Unusual flower. Do you know its name?
After dinner, we took a tuk-tuk to the river and, as we had a few hours to kill before midnight, we walked to Diamond City, the epicenter of Phnom Penh’s New Year’s Eve mayhem. The streets were crowded with vehicles of all variety, and the sidewalks were full of Cambodians eating and drinking and making merry on every sidewalk or patch of grass in the vicinity. We arrived at the main stage, which featured some Cambodian boy-band, and then turned around to go back. We bought a bag of popcorn for Vito and, after making our way to the main street, hailed a tuk-tuk to take us nearer our hotel.

We found a seat on a stone wall along the Mekong, and sat down to wait the final hour until midnight. Vito was quite tired and fell asleep. I bought a can of beer for myself and a bottle of water for Angela from one of the vendors wheeling around their orange ice-chests, and the sidewalk, lawn and streets around us got progressively more and more choked with people. Party boats cruised by on the river. Periodically, someone would light one of those long bottle-rocket fireworks we had seen in Sihanoukville, and, at about three minutes before midnight, individuals all along the waterfront began firing their pyrotechnic joy-buzzers. Smoke and sparks were spewing into the sky all around us. Midnight arrived with the thunder of the featured fireworks show in the sky above that everyone had been waiting for, and Vito woke up and hugged us. We watched until the show ended, and then headed up the street toward our hotel. It was closed up and locked when we arrived, but I noticed a small dimly-lit button on the wall, pressed it, and, within moments, a door opened and we were admitted into the hotel and then went promptly to bed. Happy 2015!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cambodia - Day 14: Phnom Penh

When we woke up in the morning, it turns out that we had really heard something the night before even though we couldn't find it. An animal had nibbled away the places where Vito had spilled sauce on his new shirt, which was essentially ruined now. Unhappy about our inability to put everything away before going to sleep the night before, and not really looking forward to the ferry ride back to Sihanoukville, we packed. We were ready to go by 8AM.

We hauled our luggage down from the bungalow and ordered breakfast. As usual, it took a long time to receive our order, and Angela had to wait almost one hour for her eggs and bacon to arrive, but we weren't in a hurry; our boat was scheduled to depart at 10AM. By 9:30AM we were ready to go, and, instead of carrying all of the luggage ourselves as we had done when we arrived on the island, we paid one of the hotel staff to carry our heaviest suitcase down the beach to the pier. I was starting to feel bad.

The morning was windy, and the water looked choppy. I didn't have any seasickness on the way over, but I held a barf-bag at the ready the entire trip. We were anticipating an equally lengthy return trip to the mainland, but we reached Sihanoukville in 45 minutes without incident, although every now and then I thought I would expel my breakfast.

When we arrived, a taxi driver was waiting for us, and we were on the road to Phnom Penh by 11:15AM. I was feeling progressively worseso much so that I didn't want to eat when we stopped for lunch at a little roadside foodstall—but we arrived by 3:30PM at The Artist Guesthouse, which was located across the street from the The Royal University of Fine Arts.

We rested in our hotel room for a few hours. My stomach had been talking to me with sharp pains and I insisted on sleeping a little even though Angela and Vito were chomping at the bit to go sightseeing in Phnom Penh. Vito watched Animal Planet and Angela read, but my condition did not improve with rest and my fever worsened. Angela went down to the lobby and asked for some bread; I ate the two pieces of white bread that she had procured and then popped a Panadol to handle my fever. It worked and, after about 30 minutes, I started to feel cooler and more energetic.

We left the room and went down the street to the Foreign Correspondent's Club, which was quite crowded, to eat dinner. The streets were lined with tuk-tuks, mopeds and trash. The smells of urine and sewage and exhaust and food cooking were swirling all around us in the air. We lucked into a table on the balcony overlooking the Mekong River and ordered. I had a bland bowl of rice, but the atmosphere we lively, and I enjoyed as much as I could. Two Russian cigar oafs sat next to us drinking and puffing away, which was a bit unpleasant, but the view was nice and our mood was hopeful. After dinner, Angela had started feeling bad. We returned to our hotel and Angela vomited. It seems like whatever bug had ravaged Vito and harangued me would run its course through all three of us.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Cambodia - Day 12/13: Koh Rong Island

In the morning, when the Paradise restaurant opened, Vito rested in the hammock while Angela and I took turns eating. We spent the rest of the morning reading and relaxing in our bungalow. By lunch, Vito appeared to have recovered enough to go the the restaurant himself, and he managed to eat a bowl of plain rice. It seemed that we were out of harm's way. During lunch, we met a woman from California and her Swedish husband, a painter, and their two kids, and ended up spending the rest of the day with them. After eating, the boys wanted to go snorkeling, and Vito summoned enough energy to spend the rest of the afternoon doing that. Me and the Swedish painter climbed onto some rocks and watched the kids snorkel while Angela talked with the mother on the beach. The family lived in Hanoi, Viet Nam, where she taught science. I tried to get the husband to tell me more about his painting, but he didn't seem forthcoming with information so I didn't pry any deeper.

We parted company for a few hours to rest and clean up. We hadn't made plans for dinner, but they all showed up at the Paradise restaurant and we ate together again. They were departing the next day, but we still had one more full day on the island. While we were both friendly enough, neither of us asked to exchange contact information. I thought it was strange, but, perhaps, that is how some vacation acquaintances work out. You enjoy the place together with people you meet there, and that is where the memory stays.

Vito rides a water buffalo.
Our last day was uneventfulrestful, ratheras we just spent it on the beach. We might have explored more of the island if we had all been healthier, but I didn't really want to push any of us too hard. Sometimes, we try to do too much when we're on vacation. In any case, Vito got a chance to ride a water buffalo and spent the afternoon building a sand castle.

At dinner, Vito spilled sauce on his shirt, which is not particularly remarkable. We didn't think anything of it, however, and went back to our bungalow to get to bed early. While we were laying in bed, we thought we heard a sound in the room coming from the direction of our clothes, but when I shined the flashlight in that direction, we didn't see anything. Eventually, we fell asleep.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Cambodia - Day 11: Koh Rong Island

It rained again that night, multiple times, in fact, but we were unscathed in the bungalow. In the morning, we dressed and went down to the restaurant for breakfast. After eating, we walked up the beach and found a place to rent a big three-person kayak for $12. We paddled down the Koh Tui Beach, around the rocks at the end of it, and pulled ashore at Treehouse Bungalows to get some water before continuing. A sign in front of Treehouse Bungalows boasted of a wood-fired pizza oven, and we discussed returning for dinner while we munched through a tube of Pringles and rested. When our snack was finished, we returned to the kayak and continued on to the same beach that we had walked to on the previous day, Long Set Beach. This time, as the tide was high, the beach was completely deserted. People could not cross on foot. With the whole beach to ourselves, we pulled our kayak up onto the beach, took off our life preservers, and went swimming. It was the kind of seclusion that we had imagined when planning our trip.

Snorkeling posse!
When we had had enough, we returned the kayak, exhausted from paddling for nearly 90 minutes (45 minutes each way), and stopped at Smile Guesthouse, a restaurant in front of which there was a giant Christmas tree made out of plastic bottles. Lunch was good but, as we were learning, it took a long time to get our meal like it seemed to everywhere in Cambodia. We spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach near our bungalow. Vito befriended a Cambodian boy who was snorkeling, too, and they spent the rest of the afternoon in the water together. I finished the novel that I was reading, The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam, the autobiography (Angela learned later that some of the accounts in the novel were, perhaps, inaccurate or *gasp* false) of a Cambodian woman who had been sold into the slave trade as a young girl and eventually escaped that life to start organizations in Cambodia and internationally where child-prostitution still rages today.

Anyway, we returned to our bungalow, cleaned up, and went down to the restaurant for a drink. We also wanted to pay our tab—there was no way to get more money on the island—and assess our finances. We only had the cash that we had brought with us, and we needed to make sure that, when we left on the 30th, we would have enough to pay our taxi-driver who would be taking us to Phnom Penh for the final couple days of our vacation. As it had rained quite a bit more the night before, the mosquitoes were out in force. Angela could count the new bites every few minutes and, despite being covered in natural insect repellant, we were all quite uncomfortable. As it was, mosquitoes had hit us pretty hard since we had arrived on the island, and we were all sporting tiny red spots on our legs and ankles. Additionally, we had been warned about sand flies and instructed to use coconut oil to protect against them, but they hadn’t really bothered us.

When we finished our drinks, we walked up the beach to the Treehouse Bungalows restaurant to try the pizza. As usual, it took a long time to get served, but the pizza had a very light crust and was quite tasty: Angela ordered a Napoli pizza (anchovies, capers, garlic), I ordered a Capricciosa (mushroom, ham), and Vito ordered a Hawaiian. Vito had also been enjoying chocolate milkshakes on a daily basis and ordered his usual, while Angela and I quaffed cans of Klang beer. We enjoyed the pizza and returned to our bungalow. We had read about how, at night, it was possible to see the glowing or sparkling plankton in the water, and we wanted to see it, but nothing materialized. The circumstances for observing them, whatever they were, had to be perfect.

We went to bed without much fuss but, at around midnight, Vito woke up, said he had to vomit, and proceeded to do just that in the middle of the bungalow floor. Clean-up was not difficult. Fortunately, there were gaps between the floorboards, and we washed everything down underneath the bungalow. When we had cleaned sufficiently by rinsing the floor with buckets of water, we returned to bed. Vito and I did not sleep the rest of the night as Vito continued to make trips to the bathroom. I lost count, but Vito bragged the next day that is was more than ten times. I was worried about going outside, but we weren’t attacked by geckos or giant jungle insects or monkeys. Vito was in bad shape, though, and I was really worried that his condition would not improve, and so thought about how we could get off the island in a hurry. So far from a hospital, had this trip been a mistake?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Cambodia - Day 10: Koh Rong Island

The weather the following morning was as glorious as it had been when we had arrived and, after breakfast in the Paradise restaurant, we spent the morning on the beach. At lunch, wanting to explore our dining options more, we walked back into the village and lunched at a bar/hostel/restaurant that was blaring loud hip hop music. The fried noodles and noodle soup that we ordered were terrible, but we ate our meal begrudgingly and then returned to our bungalow to rest a bit. Angela read about a more secluded beach, Long Set Beach, and we thought to go looking for it.

Obligatory palm tree picture.
At the end of the Koh Tui Beach, we cut through a grove of wind-bent trees and scattered boulders and emerged on another beach lined with golden sand in front of Treehouse Bungalows. The sand had changed colors completely! There were also more shells and rocks to discover. We trekked another 20 minutes through the jungle along the sea and reached a point where water flowed into a lagoon separating the beach we were standing on from the one on the other side. There was a sand bar built up between the two beaches, and, as the tide was receding, we saw that we could ford the little inlet. We crossed without incident and found ourselves on a long, virtually unoccupied white sand beach. There were a handful of sun-bathers and a small wooden shack where a young man was selling drink and snacks. A few chickens scratched around in the shade of an old beached green and white fishing boat, but, otherwise, the beach was deserted. We dropped our beach gear and waded into the clear water; many white and black spotted fish about the size of closed fists darted about in the sand that our feet stirred when we waded around.

The sun was getting lower and we decided to return before it got any darker. I had read that there were many poisonous snakes and spiders on the island, but we thought it would be best to avoid running into any in the dark, if possible. With the tide still going out, the lagoon was almost completely separated from the sea now, and Angela and Vito stopped to see if they could attract any of the hundreds of tiny fish that we could see schooling near the lagoon’s edge. There were also numerous hermit crabs dragging their shells and leaving crisscrossing trails all along the lagoon bottom.

Critter on the wall!
We got back to our room around dusk, and, after turning on the light, I reached for my hat that was hanging from a hook on the wall, and something scampered out from underneath it! We could see that it was some kind of lizard or gecko, but the light was not strong enough to look at it clearly. At lunch, I had purchased a flashlight and, taking it out of the package, it seemed like it was coming in handy sooner than we’d thought. I shined the light directly on the creature, and the dark grey beast about as long as my foot and ringed with thin white stripes around its body began to slink away to a darker recess of the bungalow. I kept the light focused on it, and, eventually, it went up and over the wall. As I mentioned before, the bungalow was open-air, so the roof did not rest on the top of the walls, but was suspended on rafters, so even with the doors and windows locked, any animal or insect could enter at its leisure. As the surprising guest had disappeared from our view, I thought I would examine the rest of the ceiling, and, to our surprise, there were three more on the sides of the rafters directly over our heads! They were twice the size of the small one that we had chased away. They were beautifully scary and silent, watching us gawk at them. I looked around in some other crevices and took a picture before Angela said, “don’t look anymore. We know who the bungalow belongs to.” We supposed they were geckos, larger than any we had ever seen, and harmless—helpful, in fact, as they consumed insects and mosquitoes that were everywhere here. We had to go to bed, however, and they hadn’t bothered us the night before, so we did just that—changed into our pajamas and went to sleep. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Cambodia - Day 9: Koh Rong Island

Christmas morning without the attendant gifts. We had exchanged gifts among the three of us before leaving for Cambodia ten days ago, and told Vito that, assuming he had met all of the appropriate prerequisites, Santa might have left something under our tree back in Doha. Wink wink. So without the usual holiday ceremony, and without really missing it, we packed our suitcases, ate an uninspiring breakfast at our hotel's adjoining restaurant, and then grabbed a tuk-tuk to the pier. After about 30 minutes, the high speed ferry arrived and, after the 60+ passengers who had been milling about on the dock boarded, the crew loaded and stowed all of our luggage. The ride was hair-raising. Before the cabin attendants zipped up the plastic windows, all of us were covered in spume and soaking wet. We bumped and jostled for two hours while passengers right and left were vomiting into plastic bags. The three of us, aside from exchanging horrified glances and fearing for our lives, did not experience any ill side effects.

There were two stops along the way—the first occurred after about 90 minutes at an island where a couple passengers disembarked for an eco-dive (whatever that is). The sun was shining, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the water was translucent blue and the island was a wall of green jungle. While docked, I scanned the landscape for any signs of life, but didn't notice any. The second stop was another island on which there appeared to be a small village. Many additional passengers boarded our already full ferry for the final leg of the trip. Standing room only!

We got off with most of the rest of the passengers at the third stop at the end of a long wooden pier where many other boats and ferries were tethered, and where there was another dive shop and a restaurant under construction. Vito’s eyeballs were turning yellow and we pushed to the front of the disembarking passengers, jumped off the ferry first, ran the entire length of the pier while Vito muttered “bathroom” every two or three seconds and held himself while we looked for a bathroom. Angela waited to retrieve our luggage. Vito made it in time to preserve his dignity and, when we had returned to the ferry, Angela was making her way down the pier burdened with all of our belongings.

The beach.
The pier ended in the center of a small seaside village lined with shops, bars and guesthouses. There was a narrow strip of white sand up against the light blue water, and we had to carry our luggage—one large suitcase weighing around 20kg and another smaller one weighing half as much—to our hotel. We didn’t know where to go but, after inquiring, we learned that we had to walk to the far end of the beach. No one was waiting to help us. There was nothing else to do except begin, and so we hoisted our luggage and proceeded.

After about a 15-minute walk on the sand in the nearly midday sun, we arrived at Paradise Bungalows. The were no rocks or shells in the fine white sand, and the beach looked marvelously clean, the water inviting. We put our suitcases down, removed our shoes and entered the large open-air restaurant to check in at the front desk. Our bungalow wasn’t ready so we took a seat where, perhaps, a dozen other guests were sprawled about reading and plunking away on laptops or swiping their mobile phones. We weren't thrilled about having to wait, especially as we had notified them of our arrival time, but we couldn't do anything about it. We were just happy that we had arrived and that we wouldn't have to move again for the next five days.

The restaurant had a very high palm-covered ceiling held aloft with large trunks of wood and braced with crossbeams of the same. There were eight large tables around the exterior of the room, and approximately eight tables-for-two with cushions in the center of the room. The tables on the exterior had large cushioned benches with pillows on one side and wooden benches on the other. There was a straggly but large Charlie Brown Christmas tree in the center of the room and many Buddha-head busts and statues on the counter of the bar and throughout the room. A small card on each table advertised a Christmas meal, and, without having any better plans for the evening, I booked a table for the three of us. We had to wait a couple of hours for our bungalow to be readied. Vito and I found enough pieces among the wreckage of numerous board games to play backgammon and Chinese checkers. We also ordered lunch.

Our bungalow is on the far right.
Eventually, our room was ready and we carried our luggage up a small hill to our bungalow overlooking the sea and about 100 meters from the beach. The bungalow was open air, which meant critters could enter, but the three beds—two single beds and one queen-sized—were enclosed in mosquito netting. The bathroom, which included a cold-water shower, was located outside and was completely uncovered. Tangled jungle rose up beyond the wall of our shower. As we had come to Koh Rong Island to swim and enjoy the beach, we changed and headed down to the water.

There weren’t many people around, but neither was it deserted. While we were on the beach, a monkey had entered a nearby bungalow, was chased out onto the roof by the inhabitants, and harassed by staff members who were throwing stones and sticks at it. The monkey jumped from roof to tree and back again, scrambling from one side of the roof to the other, and made for quite a bit of entertainment. Watching the comedy, I realized that we had left all of our suitcases open in our own bungalow, and returned there briefly to zip up our suitcases and make sure that nothing could be stolen by a monkey or any other creature. I went back down to the beach and we stayed there for the rest of the afternoon.

Reading on the porch.
When we returned to the bungalow, Vito parked himself in the pink rope hammock that was suspended from two posts on the porch of our bungalow and read one of his books. Angela and I sat on the large padded bench next to him and did the same until it got too dark to read. With still an hour to go before dinner, we decided to walk up the beach to grab a drink. The tide had gone out quite far, and many people were walking on the now wider beach streaky with long reflections of lights and glossy in the dimming evening. We stopped at the first bar we came to, a little white shack on the beach in front of a couple bungalows, and ordered beers. The bartender introduced us to some Cambodian hip hop while Vito counted geckos.

Like most of the other guesthouses along Koh Tui beach, Paradise Bungalows had bungalows right on the beach, but the restaurant was set further back up on the hillside. Walking back and looking up at it from the beach, it seemed quite beautiful. Christmas lights were strung up around some of the columns, and long thin lights covered by bamboo tubes were suspended from the ceiling. It looked impressive and more beautiful in the night, a glowing jewel in the jungle.
Paradise Bungalows.

In the restaurant, we ordered drinks and seated ourselves in a corner, a bit early. The restaurant quickly filled and there was not an empty table in the place. I was glad that we had reserved a table. Dinner took a long time to be served, but it was tasty: prawn cocktail salad with watermelon for a starter, Khmer red curry soup, a main course of pork loin with bacon and cabbage, and mango sticky rice for desert. It was about as nice a meal as we could have expected. I Skyped my parents and wished them Merry Christmas, although it wasn’t a particularly clear connection, and then we returned to our bungalow to sleep. I woke up momentarily when it started raining in the middle of the night, but it didn’t last long, and I quickly returned to sleep listening to the rain patter fade into the shush of the sea outside.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Cambodia - Day 8: Siem Reap / Sihanoukville

Angkor Wat at sunrise.
In the morning, our alarm went off at 4AM. We quickly dressed and caught a tuk-tuk to Angkor Wat, again, to see the obligatory sunrise there. As we sat near a pond on the lawn with the hundreds of other tourists in front of the temple getting torn apart by the clouds of mosquitoes, it turned out to be an overcast or hazy day, so the view wasn’t particularly amazing but, as often happens when traveling, we don’t always get what we want. It was still spectacular, wandering around the grounds of the temple taking pictures in the cool morning. There's something special about waking up at sunrise, even though we were surrounded by throngs of tourists. There was even something special in being part of that collective observation. We bartered with a vendor and purchased a large rice paper rubbing of a scene from Angkor Wat that we had seen on our first day here, but put off purchasing.

We returned to the hotel, ate, packed, and took our luggage down to the lobby to checkout. The power went out briefly and we were told to have a seat, but things were soon back to normal and we cleared our tab without further delay. We left everything and, as we had a few hours to spare before our flight, checked out the Angkor National Museum, which housed numerous carvings from the various temples around Siem Reap and, among other things, featured a room containing “1,000 Buddhas”. After our visit to the museum, we ate an early lunch at Chamkar, returned to the hotel to gather our belongings, and drove to the airport, which was quite small. Despite the longish line, we had, perhaps, the fastest check-in ever and were soon boarding. Thusfar, we had traveled to the northern part of Cambodia, and we were taking a one-hour domestic hop from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville. Driving back south would have taken all day. We had to reach the sourthern coast so that we could catch our ferry to Koh Rong Island in the morning.

The flight was over before we knew it. We retrieved our luggage and were quickly on the road. On our way into town from the airport, we drove through a roundabout that featured two gigantic golden lions but, otherwise, Sihanoukville had an unimpressive appearance, especially our hotel—Nice Beach Hotel. It was neither nice nor on the beach but, for one night, we would survive. It was only a couple blocks from the beach, all told. After depositing our luggage in our room, and arguing with Vito about whether or not we would be renting bicycles, we walked up the road to pick up our tickets for the ferry that we would take to Koh Rong Island in the morning. Then, with the day’s business completed, we walked down to Serendipity Beach to relax.

Angela reads on the beach at dusk.
The sun was setting and people were starting to come out. Music blared from the bars along the beach, and there was a vibrant festive atmosphere. It was nice to be going to the beach, and, aside from seeing the temples in Siem Reap, we were really looking forward to almost one full week on the beach. The wide beach was lined with bars and there was ample seating in the sand all down the beach. Signs like ‘Christmas Eve Beer Bucket Challenge’ and ‘Sign Up Here Bitch’ made it clear what would be happening in a couple hours. It looked like a frat-boy’s dream, and there, in fact, were many young tattooed college-types with no shirts on muscling around in the dusk. Cambodian women and young girls were selling various items on the beach: long bamboo tubes that—when lit—launched little firecrackers into the sky, massages, paper lanterns that, after igniting the burner, could be released into the night sky like little illuminate hot air balloons, skewers of seafood, sunglasses. Angela and I ordered a couple cans of Agkor Beer, while Vito went swimming and tried out his new mask and snorkel tube. I hailed a woman who was carrying two pots of coals, and ordered five skewers of baby squid, which were grilled right in front of me.

Launching a lantern.
Aim for the water!

It was getting darker and darker and fireworks, big and small, were bursting over the sea and all along the beach. Bright pink, red and white lanterns with their glowing souls seemed to multiply furiously and floated up into the evening sky. We finished our beer and went to The Gypsies for dinner, a little restaurant and guesthouse operated by a Swiss and Vietnamese couple and his parents. Angela had read about it on TripAdvisor, and the restaurant had advertised a Christmas menu so it seemed perfect. We arrived around 7PM and, after learning that the restaurant wouldn’t be able to serve us until 7:30PM, we ordered drinks and sat on the balcony to watch the holiday revelers, dressed in red and white and wearing santa hats, passing by in the street below on their way to one of the beach bars. After a few drinks and Christmas carols, we still hadn’t been served. We befriended a little girl who was playing on the balcony and was clearly the daughter of the proprietors. By 8:30PM, we finally received our first course. We weren’t so happy about the long wait, and it’s difficult to keep a seven-year-old occupied for so long without purpose, but the food was worth the wait. We had really been hoping for a quicker meal, however, planning to catch our early ferry to Koh Rong Island in the morning. The rest of the meal progressed without more than Vito dropping a fork and, as a way to apologize for the long wait, the owner invited us to come back in the morning for a complimentary cup of coffee. We paid him for the meal, wished him a "Merry Christmas," thanked him for his generosity, and grabbed a tuk-tuk back to the hotel to get some sleep.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to sleep immediately. We could hear the fireworks and loud music from the beach, which kept us awake. Sometime in the early morning, I was awakened by the sound of our neighbors slamming doors and arguing. It also woke Angela and we exchanged worrisome glances in the dark, but our neighbors eventually left the room and all was quiet again. I don’t remember anything else after that.