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"I'll find my way home while exploring the galaxy"

Day 217: PART I Southbound to Otres Beach x Village

It’s mindboggling to think that only nine days ago I was debating whether or not I’d be happy leaving Siem Reap, a comfortable and lovely home away from home for many foreigners (expats and travelers alike), to make the 16 hour bus to bus trek down to Southern Cambodia, landing in the hub that connects all things beach: Sihanoukville, the land of mediocre bars and not much else. Only nine days ago, I was warned -- get to Sihanoukville and move on out as quickly as humanly possible down to Otres Beach or one of the nearby islands. As fate had it, a friend from back home had introduced me to a friend, Seth, living and building in Otres. Details were blurry, but we had started a conversation over Facebook that made me ever curious about this little spot in Cambodia.

Calm before the storm in Sihanoukville - maybe an omen to get out as soon as possible? 

Calm before the storm in Sihanoukville - maybe an omen to get out as soon as possible? 

Though one vegan restaurant called Dao of Life did pretty much make everything worth it

Though one vegan restaurant called Dao of Life did pretty much make everything worth it

Vibes of Dao 

Vibes of Dao 

Storm in full force - I was pretty much stuck in this cafe for two meals 

Storm in full force - I was pretty much stuck in this cafe for two meals 

Before getting into all the amazing moments of notable curiosity, mysticism and wonderment that is Otres Beach (part II of this post), I think it’s important to color the palette with a word or two about Sihanoukville. First of all, the name of the town. No one seems to know how to pronounce it – SEE-HA-NUKE-VILLE. And secondly, no one seems to know how to describe it because they’re either too drunk to remember the one night they are there or didn’t think twice before jumping straight into a tuk tuk for the REAL beaches. So, why stay? For one, the comforts of being in a hostel chain I loved: Onederz, my home away from home in Cambodia. Secondly, ONEDERZ – AC all night every night with supposedly chill people and clean everything. Not always the norm for the price.

Well, I come to find out real quick, this was not the match made in heaven hostel, at least not in SEEHANUKEVILLE. Upon arriving, I find one of my roommates is lying in bed looking miserable from food poisoning she had gotten from eating the hostel’s very own food. That night, I almost froze to death from blasting automatic AC all night, waking up to the scratchiest sore throat I’ve had this entire trip. Second night later, I am awoken at 4:45am to a woman screaming mad gibberish followed by the sound of heavy water spraying everywhere. Did a middle aged woman, the same one who just screamed gibberish, just PEE in the room? All over someone’s bag and clothes?! Thankfully not mine, but YES. That happened.

You can imagine why I was a bit excited to peace out and head down to Otres. But lemme back up just a bit to call out the first notable moment of mysticism that set the whole week in motion. The day before peaching out was the day I rented a bike to go to Otres to scope out the perfect hostel, as all the reviews online were mixed. Most normal humans would have rented a motorbike to save some time and paid the inevitable “barang tax” that cops charge foreigners for no real violation, otherwise Cambodian corruption. I had every desire to dodge that bullet, and opted for the bike instead. About 30 minutes of pedaling behind truck smoke and consuming large quantities of dusty roadside oxygen, I finally made it to the beach. The road was unpaved, uneven and bright orange, contrasting with the blue green shimmer of calm Cambodian ocean waters. So this was Otres, more specifically Otres Beach 1 – the more touristy, alcoholic part of the beach. Think glass shards from broken beer bottles camouflaging into sandy ground mixed in with lots of bare feet. Vegetarian options on the menu come down to noodles and veggies, as basic as basic gets. It became apparent that I’d need to explore farther and wider into the Otres Village to scope out a decent place to feel comfortable.  

Oh hey there pretty thang

Oh hey there pretty thang

So this is where things get interesting. I bike about 8 minutes down this dirt road and veer into a whole other section of the community that feels raw and underdeveloped – first, a dirt path off the main road that is mostly barren except for a giant sign that reads “BOHO” in the distance. Curiosity draws me in as the whole thing feels out of place in this giant oasis of nothing. First impression moment was memorable – imagine walking onto a grassy lawn with two buildings shaping the perimeter, an air of turquoise, yellow and white pattern the walls. On the left are the hostel rooms with potted plants running alongside, and right in front of you, and open air rectangular enclosure with steps leading up to a Goddess den in the style of Free People meets Parisian charm. The acoustics of chill low tempo electronic cuts through salt soaked humidity.

View from the cafe looking onto the hostel building - owners Emilie and Josef walking down from their bedroom upstairs 

View from the cafe looking onto the hostel building - owners Emilie and Josef walking down from their bedroom upstairs 

Cafe vibes inside BOHO

Cafe vibes inside BOHO

The idea of staying at place called BOHO wasn’t high on my list when I had considered my options earlier online, but it definitely had me curious in real life. I decided to shop around some more before deciding on a place and pedaled onward onto another dirt path off the main road. While Otres is far from having a developed and defined architectural vibe, bungalows seem to be the people’s choice here. But for every bungalow that’s open for business, there’s a bunch more in development. And because it’s low season as Cambodia enters into the hot summer months of monsoon season, the place feels empty and quiet but equally homey and welcoming. After poking my head into a few bungalows tempting me with next to nothing prices for a single bungalow with fans, I decided it was too hot and sweaty to continue for much longer. I needed a break, and couldn’t have pinned down a better time to look for Seth.

Beautiful lake inside Otres Village 

Beautiful lake inside Otres Village 

At that moment, I looked off into the distance and spotted a sign “Otres Market.” Ah ha! Not coincidentally, Seth had told me his building was to the left of this market, which was neither open or seemingly a market. And sure enough, to the left was a three story concrete building with bare beams standing off the rooftop and an unexpected Mediterranean balcony wrapped around one story. I parked my bike and shouted for Seth or Luba, his wife. I heard mumblings coming from inside and as I look up, I realize I KNOW this woman…

LUBA? You’re Luba?!

I had met Luba at Goddess Gathering circa last June during summer solstice weekend. And here she was in Otres Village of ALL places, also married to Seth whom I had been facebook messaging with this whole time. This world is way too small.   

They leased the property for 20 years and began construction 4-5 years ago (like most of the businesses opened up by exoats), and are nearly about to launch. Within minutes of the grand tour, I started to put the puzzle pieces together of what this place is slowly but surely. Imagine you’re in Southern Cambodia and you’ve been chilling at the beach for hours on end, and for just one night, you’d like to be in a cozy intimate movie theater surrounded with soft pillows, cool mood lighting and a steady flow of AC. Each room comes with a huge flat screen TV and is named after one of the nine planets. There’s likely homemade food and drinks waiting right outside your door, because Seth and Luba want to shower you in feel good vibes. Luba even had me walk up a ladder onto the third story open roof to imagine the yoga studio that will soon take expression up there. My head was spinning for so many reasons – I’m in Otres Village with Goddess Luba who is touring me around this three story housing/lounging concept and no one apparently has seen the place except for me. Keeping the mystery is part and parcel of the experience until launch time.

Mid tour, I found myself gravitating towards Mars (the room) and its soft pillows drenched in red mood lighting. While Seth showed me the ropes of how to navigate their version of Netflix, Luba fixed me up a Royal D, aka a rehydration drink as I was clearly overheated and tired. Within minutes, I was straight chillin in Mars watching the dolphin documentary, “The Cove.” Can we take a moment and remember, this is Cambodia? 

As much as I wanted to stick around and chill all afternoon, I had a sudden urge to head back to BOHO. I had remembered their menu, very clearly stating that pizza making started promptly at 5pm. And I was hunnnnnnngry. Get outta my way, I need a whole pizza pie to myself, hungry J

Now you see me,

Now you see me,

Now you don't. Wylie, I left you my crusts!

Now you don't.
Wylie, I left you my crusts!

And a whole pizza I ate. That thing was gone within seconds, as it was absolutely delicious. It’s strange to think that I will choose a hostel now based on proximity to good vegetarian food, but that’s where my head’s at these days. After a full solid day of exploration and mystic run-ins, I was happy to have landed on my new home in Otres Beach, BOHO. I officially had an exit plan from SEEHANUKEVILLE. 

Time could only tell how long I’d linger in Otres Beach, as there was clearly much more than just some pretty sand, ocean, and bungalow-scapes to explore. Guess you’ll have to scroll on over to Part II for the good stuff.

Tiffany Wen