Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Saturday, April 04, 2015

26. Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Coming Into Port
Instead of hiring a taxi or booking an excursion through the ship, we latched onto what Jean or Ross Copas found on the Internet which was a tour given by the Don Bosco Hotel School. We docked late at the pier so our tour only started at 11.30 AM. What a tour it turned out to be. In many ways it was very different. We were greeted by 2 graduates and one student of the School. One graduate and the student turned out to be our English speaking guides for the day; the other graduate became our driver. We had only eight people on our tour so the van was an ideal vehicle. After the formal greetings and introductions we were off exploring Sihanoukville and the surrounding area.
Little Charmer

Not every town has world famous tourist attractions and Sihanoukville was built as a supply harbor town, the harbor expanded to allow larger ships to dock and Sihanoukville was named for the president of the country at that time, Sihanouk. So in many ways it is a very ordinary port town without any special attractions, the town shows just ordinary life in Cambodia. Well that is exactly what I like to see, not some fabricated tourist spot. I want to see how others live, not something painted in special colors with blinking lights. This excursion showed us how real life is lived in Cambodia.
Fishing Village With Dirt Roads

Our first stop was a small fishing village. Sure enough, as soon as we got out of the van the smell alone told me we were near fish. Phew! And the trash all around was horrific. The road through the village was packed down dirt with puddles here and there. Dilapidated shops stood open for business. Rotten, missing or in need of repair, planks were on the pier. Nails missing or sticking out made it perilous to walk. This is life, lived by the locals here. Men in the middle of the day were
The Busy Pier
Very Busy Pier

Planks Missing But Motorcycles
 Were Riding on the Pier


Busy Pier

Women Clean the Fish

Trash Everywhere in the Fishing Village

swinging in hammocks instead of cleaning up the mountains of trash everywhere. Without picking on Cambodia, it was the trashiest place I visited so far on this trip. People were nice, though, smiles all around. They did not seem to see the filth.

Wat Leu Pagoda

Monkeys at the Wat Leu Pagoda

Inside Another Building at the Wat Leu Pagoda

Next stop, a bit out of town and on top of a hill, was the Wat Leu Pagoda. The view from here over the town of Sihanoukville was pleasant. Monkeys came to us at the temple to be fed. There was nobody around to show us the place so we did our own exploring. The main door to the Sanctuary was locked for, as we learned later, a funeral to be conducted. Our guides gave us the basic Buddhist doctrines again just in case we did not remember them. It was a peaceful setting, the temple grounds fairly clean, the buildings gilded and typically a bit gaudy.
Housing for Ashes

More Crypts for Ashes
Surrounding the temple proper were funeral buildings, housing for ashes, built by the rich who could afford to buy the land, erect the buildings and have them maintained by the residing monks. On the way out, driving down the hill, we came upon the latest funeral procession. A caravan of mopeds, my estimate was a few hundred bikes, were following the casket of the deceased now being brought to the temple we just left. We did not witness the ceremony; just saw the procession approaching the holy place.

Funeral Procession



Leaving the top of the mountain we entered town again and since it was now near 2 PM we had a small snack (ice cream, fruit and cakes) in a small shop our guides recommended. I noticed that the clientele at his shop was mostly Western looking but it was not a tourist trap. It was rather a very clean place with good food that the Western residents of Sihanoukville preferred over the not so hygienic looking other places around. Delicious ice cream and as we later leaned, made and sold to the shop by the Don Bosco Hotel School.

Next we were driven to a nearby National Park that serves also as the watershed or water reservoir for the town of Sihanoukville. The entrance to the park proper was 11 km off the tarred road, along a bouncy gravel road. When we stopped at the end of this path we could have been in paradise were it not for the people who were already there. The spot was laced with grand waterfalls, a whole series of them. A river feeding the many grand falls flowed happily over granite rocks, leaving ripples, flat spots, bathing holes and

Sellers of Snacks
shade all over the place. The whole area was shaded by tropical vegetation left and right of the river. Simply beautiful! A place where dreams are made and a spot totally ideal if……

Taking a Break From the Heat
If it were not for people! Souvenir hawkers had their booths set up all around the end of the gravel road only to block the most stunning sections and deprive one of the view. Food places cooked “food” with strong odors. Hammocks were strung inside open, wooden sheds, supposedly for people to enjoy the gurgles of the river while taking respite from the heat. It was insane to spoil a grand spot like this with tourist trash but that is exactly what had happened.

Bridge Used by People and
Motorcycles to Get to the Falls


Talking of trash! Styrofoam containers, used dinner plates and utensils, empty bottles and cans, paper and plastic wrappings were thrown about and further damaged the pristine setting this spot had or could have had. It was a wonderful spot but the emphasis is on “was”. I can not emphasize enough how grand this spot was, however. 
Not Very Appetizing, Very Greasy
Pig Snouts - Yuck!
A visit to the local market was next. We had just eaten so we were not hungry. Good thing, too. I need to be almost desperate to eat the food offered at this market. Maybe I am a bit spoiled but seeing the food display reminded me of the European Middle Ages when food was offered in unhygienic ways with flies buzzing about and without the use of refrigerators. Not that the market did not have refrigerators, they just did not seem to see the need for them. The market was not a pure food market but a

conglomeration of assorted articles. It had electronics, clothing, toys and money exchangers. The later, doing business with tourists that came to visit from nearby beach resorts, as I learned later.

Anything Was For Sale

After the market, our guides drove us to the beaches a bit out of town. I would have never guessed that there were beaches with tourists nearby. The town of Sihanoukville did not give me a hint that there were tourists. It is a purely, ordinary Cambodian town without glitz.
Not an Appetizing Beach
We drove for a bit in our van but then entered what, I am sure, is advertised as Cambodian heaven in brochures at travel agencies. My immediate reaction upon seeing those beaches was “not for me”. We all have our preferences when it comes to being at a beach, admiring the ocean. Let me just say this is not what is in my mind when I think of a nice spot. We just walked along the boardwalk for a few minutes and then left that beach. Eight people in the van totally agreed, not for them. I wonder how the advertisers show this spot at the travel agencies, because there were quite a few Europeans splashing in the water.

Don Bosco Hotel School
All of us climbed back into the van. The three Don Bosco Hotel School representatives and the eight cruise ship clients, all of us, drove a bit to visit the Don Bosco Hotel School. They were proud of their School and wondering what we would think of it.

Outside Pool for Students and Hotel Guests
The transition from what we had seen all day and what we were seeing was like night and day. The School is entered through a gate and is a rather large complex. Divided within the grounds are the vocational sections; each vocation having their own complex. From what I saw, we passed the welding section, the car mechanics section, the accounting or secretarial section and maybe others but that is all that I saw when we drove in.

But what we came to see was the hotel section. We had as guides all day, a student and a graduate of the tourism part of the hotel section. As soon as we approached the hotel inside the compound, yes there is a real hotel inside the complex
Kitchen in the Hotel School
(most expensive suite $US 60/night because it is staffed by students who are learning new skills), we were greeted at the reception by Peter and Michelle. This couple voluntarily manages the program until local people have been trained to take over. We learned immediately that the whole of the school is mostly run by volunteers. It is a non-profit organization that helps the poorest of the poor to get a start in life.

Homemade Ice Cream, Yum!
Let me explain. The school only considers applications from orphans or from the poorest of the poor. People who live below the poverty line and who, let's say, have 6 or more children to feed with no money to speak of. The school has more than 1000 applicants for the 100 openings each year. The school guarantees a job when students graduate after two years of intensive training. The theoretical part of the program is 40% and 60% is practical. The curriculum is rigorous. Learning proper English is emphasized. The schedule is intense, there is no sloughing off.
Dining Room Set Up For Us

Cleanliness and proper hygiene are taught too. Dormitory living is separated by gender and housed in separate buildings. But the student body is evenly divided between the sexes. The whole of it absolutely spotless! We inspected some of the rooms, from kitchen to offices, from bathrooms to storage rooms, spotless. Rarely have I seen any place this clean. Some of the facilities seem a bit Spartan; there is no plush sofa in the reception area for example and no carpet to collect dust.
Before Dinner, the Waitresses Did a Thai Dance
of Welcome
Clean, scrubbed tiles and wooden, yet comfortable furniture is used instead. In a way, it reminded me of an Army approach to learning one’s trade but what results this approach has. All the young people we met, aged between 18 and 25 I would guess, were efficient, secure in what they had learned and confident. A bit shy to use their English but that is to be expected.

We had dinner at the hotel to give the students subjects to train on. We were critical subjects coming off a cruise ship
Appetizer, Break off Piece of Soft Taco, Add Salad
and Noodles, Then Enjoy!
and having been spoiled over the last few weeks with the food and service. Let me say it now already, the service we received was outstanding. The food even better! Compared to the food we ate on the ship this small hotel school won out. The food was easily divine. The wine selection, while it is not extensive, is delightful.

Presentation was Outstanding -
and the Taste Delicious
Whatever the chefs created in the hotel kitchen was Asian inspired food. The food showed care for detail and uniqueness. The students are shown and taught the correct way, covering many small details from uncorking the wine to displaying the wonderful food with flair. It is a great school for the underprivileged; whose only qualification is that they are the poorest of the poor. What a place.
Naturally the students grow very proud of their schooling as they should. They work hard for the chance to learn. Not everybody, after just 2 years, will be able to speak English fluently. Not everybody has the knack to be a Sous-Chef or a Chef
Dessert, Passion Fruit and Homemade Ice Cream -
but everyone from the school, upon graduation finds a job in the hotel business, guaranteed. In fact there is another waiting list at the school of hotels and resorts and cruise lines that compete to hire from each graduating class. What a set up, just great. To imagine that all is done mostly with volunteers is mind boggling. We had an absolutely fine time at the school and yes, I am going to support this endeavor. and you might want to join me in supporting this school.

He REALLY Enjoyed the Day
All of us, after returning to the ship after our hotel school experience, agreed totally. We had a great day with the tour; despite the mountains of trash on the side of the roads.
The end of the day showed us that, given a chance and good education, the poor can learn, can clean up, and can be part of the greater, modern society. Just give them a chance, let them learn, teach them patiently. Thanks Don Bosco and who ever is behind it all.

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