Everyone kept telling me on the drive down to Sihanoukville (Sihanouk) that accommodations would be a problem. “It is entirely sold out,” I was told over and over.
Tens of thousands of people will descend upon the beaches of Sihanouk for fireworks on the shore. Half Westerners. Half Cambodians.
This year marks the first year for a computer controlled firework show. These fireworks are part of the Sea Festival, and will be fired from a barge, anchored in the water away from the beach. No other fireworks are allowed until Midnight, when the Sea Festival’s fireworks begin. And that rule will be enforced by ample police. (After that, all is pure mayhem, and probably at least some tourists will watch their belongings go up in flames when their beach side bungalow’s thatch room catches on fire, as happens sometimes here.)
I try to live by the rule of, “There is always one last room left somewhere”. If you plan to visit Sihanouk for New Year’s, I strongly advise you do not live by that rule.
Today, I needed to find a room, for December 31st, New Year’s Eve.
My hotel only has room for me through the 30th. No amount of smiles, jokes, or laughing would convince my front desk clerk to make one appear like magic. I have to leave on the 31st. Big bummer. My place is great.
When trying to find a room in Cambodia, one trick that almost always works is to go to “Khmer” tourist hotels and guesthouses. These are usually avoided by Western tourists. The common, “I want to visit Cambodia, but by golly please do not make me talk to any of them or sleep where they sleep”, mentality. But that mentality means rooms for you! I have used this over and over, without fail.
And yes, today, I did find a room in a Khmer hotel. Just not as close as I wanted to be. Especially for such an inflated price! When I refused the room, the owner looked at me stunned. “Who would turn down the only room left in town??”
I quickly regretted giving up that room.
The rest of the day was spent looking for another room. I cycled from property to property asking for a room. The answer was always the same, “No room. This is New Years. Everyone is full!” It was was almost embarrassing to ask. Sometimes, they only looked at me and laughed as if I must be nuts for even asking!
“There is always a last room,” I kept telling myself.
I kept looking. Then, I saw it: A hotel under construction!!!
If you check for rooms at hotels under construction, chances are that the first rooms are already complete and ready for you. That is how it works in Cambodia. The owners do not bother waiting for all the rooms to be finished before opening. Why do that if half the rooms are ready now??!
The hotel I found today is mammoth. A HUGE swimming pool. And my room … or suite rather … has a living room, bedroom, huge bath with shower. Much more space than one guy with a bicycle is ever going to use. This is obviously another Khmer hotel, building rooms specifically for vacationing Cambodian families. The large living room is perfect for hosting gatherings of friends and family.
About one third of the rooms are complete. The rest of the hotel is under construction. The hotel reception building IS complete, open, and ready for business. It has large glass doors and windows.
Yes, they were still installing the light fixtures and bathroom fan today in my room for Saturday night, but I was assured that my room would be complete and ready for me to stay there New Year’s Eve.
“And all the bathroom fixtures will be working,” I asked.
“Yes, sir,” I was promised. “All the work on your room will be completed by Saturday.”
I gave them money to prepay for the room, and looked over my shoulder and saw workers going in and out of my room, with boxes, tools, and paint.
Yes, I thought to myself today, that probably was the “last room” left.