If you’d asked me back in Seattle what I’d be doing at the beginning of 2013, I never would have guessed in a million years that the answer would be “working at a bar in Cambodia”.
But here I am!
On a long trip, it’s nice to stop in a single place every once in a while and be a temporary mini-expat. Packing a suitcase every few days can be tiresome, and it’s hard to get to know that many people if you move around too quickly. Hartley and I had heard about how easy it is to find a job in Sihanoukville, and as it turns out, the rumors are true. It’s dead easy to find work as a promoter for one of the beach bars – turnover is such that they all have permanent “Western Staff Wanted” signs hanging on the walls.
They trade work for food, drinks and accommodation – a break-even deal that means you don’t make any money, but also don’t have to spend anything. After doing a little bar-hopping on our first night here, Hartley and I asked for work at the one we liked the best and started the very next day.
Our bar is right on Serendipity Beach. It doesn’t play house or techno music, has a big mural on the wall of the Joker saying “Why So Serious?” and the owner and his girlfriend have a black and white French bulldog puppy named Domino that hangs out at the bar with them. I knew it was a fit.
The view from the front
Every afternoon, we grab a handful of flyers and head out to the beach to talk to the other young people who are sunbathing and sitting in lounge chairs and getting footrubs and pedicures and hair wraps from the Cambodian ladies who circulate around with their massage kits.
“Going out tonight?” we ask, and then we give them a flyer for a free drink and tell them to stop by for Bucket Night/Ladies’ Night/Sunday Funday/whatever the theme happens to be. Sometimes they ignore us, but if they’ve caught onto the Sihanoukville game, they know that if you collect as many flyers as you can and figure out which hours they’re valid, you can drink almost for free the whole time by cashing them in all night.
Half an hour later we’re done, and we get our free food at a restaurant called Tranquility. Then I have a nap (I am 26 after all, and almost too old for this sort of thing), put on my lipstick, and head out for the night. There are about six of us Westerners who work there: Hartley, me, and four Brits. We stand out on a corner near the bar and hand out some more flyers and talk to people passing by. It’s pretty dead until about 8, so we mostly just banter with each other and the other people whose job it is to stand on the same corner: the tuktuk drivers, the bracelet girls, and the flower boys (more on them in an upcoming post).
Later on, when more people have arrived, some of us go back into the bar and hand out free shots of the local whiskey – Mekong – mixed with orange juice. At the beginning of the night we play it civilized and pour shots into real glasses, but as the night goes on we walk around with a cocktail shaker pouring slugs of the mixture into peoples’ upturned mouths. More fun that way!
Every night a few of the local boys bring out their poi and their flaming batons and put on a fire show. I am always impressed.
Those are spinning fireballs.
We talk to people, start the dancing, and make sure everyone’s having fun. I stay until things die down, and then go home (if I’m feeling like an old woman) to one of the other beach bars (if I’m not). I’ve been going to bed around five. The schedule is a bit intense, but as a long-term traveler, one of the most wonderful feelings is thinking back through the day and realizing that you’ve managed to spend only three dollars.
Sihanoukville is a world of its own. An unashamed, slightly grungy, fun party place whose gritty side will bite you in the ass if you’re not careful. Where backpackers from all over the world come to laze on the beach by day and let loose by night. It’s not called Sinville for nothing!
There’s always a story here, and the people-watching is EPIC. So stay tuned!