Hands up those who knew that Cambodia has some great beaches? Yeah, me neither. Turns out it does, in the southwest corner from Koh Kong on the Gulf of Thailand, around to Kep near the Vietnamese border. I spent a few days in Sihanoukville which is about halfway between the two.
Apart from being thankfully much cooler than the rest of Cambodia, there are some really nice beaches around the area, and the further out of town you go the better they get. The southernmost beach, Otres, can only be reached by a dirt road and so is practically empty. There are small bars set up all along the sand where you can chill out with a drink but there's still hardly anyone there.
I met a few Swedish and Canadian guys who were staying at my guest house, the Green Gecko (best room you'll get for 4 bucks). They had fully adjusted to the hectic lifestyle of hanging out at the local bars, watching lightning storms while playing guitar on the beach, and drinking plenty of cheap booze. Speaking of which, the first night I was amazed to see on the menu a bucket of alcohol - a full bottle of whiskey, with red bull and coke - for US$6. Turns out even that's too much, because as the guys had discovered (several times), a 700ml local whiskey is only $1.50 and the mixers are about 50c each. Crazy.
So, given the circumstances, it's not surprising I came home three nights in a row after sunrise. Unfortunately, in the middle there I had a full day of scuba diving, so had to sit on a rolling boat for two hours after only two hours of sleep. Actually once I got in the water I felt pretty good. I thought I'd crash as soon as I got home, but the bucket came out again and it was all over for that idea.
On Tuesday, Canadian Matt and I hired a motorbike to go into town and get our Vietnamese visas. A few hundred metres up the road I realised the guy hadn't given me a helmet, and it was about that time that a cop jumped out and pulled us over. They'd set up a little checkpoint and were pulling over everyone without helmets, which is only just recently required by law. I had my Australian license on me but my international one was back in the hotel. The cop checked the number plate and shook his head, saying that the plates didn't match the bike and that this was a big problem. We asked if there was any "fine" we needed to pay but surprisingly he insisted that I walk back to the guest house for the registration papers while Matt waited there with the bike.
Well after walking the five minutes back to the guest house, the guy wouldn't give me the papers (or didn't have any), but handed me his card so the cop could call him. I also remembered to grab the helmet this time. As I walked back to the checkpoint, I saw several other tourists on bikes getting pulled over, and plenty of locals doing quick U-turns and speeding off as soon as they spotted it.
All this time Matt had been asking the cop if there was any way we could take care of this now, but was repeatedly refused. When I handed the policeman the business card and said I didn't have the papers, he didn't even call the number but told us again that this was a "big problem" and we could pay him now to take care of it. Considering the missing helmet, supposed wrong registration and incorrect license, we were both apprehensive about what figure he'd ask for.
Not believing our luck, we paid him and got the hell out of there as quick as we could, this time wearing the helmet.