beach in Sihanoukville Cambodia

Why I live in Cambodia

I’ve lived in Cambodia for over ten years now. Ironically, I was only going to make a quick trip to Angkor Wat when I came to Southeast Asia in 2006. I was looking for a place to live, but thought Thailand would suit me better. After I visited Cambodia, I liked it more than I thought I would. I recently made a Facebook page to promote my book. It’s mostly old photographs and quotes from Serendipity Road, but while finding photographs, I was reminded of why I decided to live in Cambodia.

While sitting at a riverside cafe in Phnom Penh, a sense of peace washed over me. Why was I in a hurry to leave Cambodia? At that moment, a book vendor approached me. I bought a copy of Lonely Planet and opened it to a random page. It was about Sihanoukville. The writer didn’t have much good to say about Sihanoukville. That made me think I might like it. It wasn’t as developed as beach towns in Thailand. After about 10 trips to Bali, I was sick of developed areas and wanted to try something different. I bought a bus ticket to Sihanoukville.

The first thing I noticed was the lack of traffic. I could rent a motorbike and get around by myself. A tuk tuk driver found a nice guesthouse for me near the beach. After lunch, I walked down to the beach. This is what I saw.

monks on beach in Sihanoukville Cambodia 2006

Other than this group of monks, the beach was virtually empty. I contemplated going for a swim, but decided I wanted to explore the town some more. As I returned to my guesthouse, I noticed a crude sign on a fence: “Moto for rent.” I called out to a woman who was hanging her wash. She called out to someone in the house and a policeman approached me. A 120cc Honda cost me $3.00 per day and I spent the next few days exploring Sihanoukville. Here’s an excerpt from Serendipity Road:

The road took a left turn at the beach at the bottom of the road. There wasn’t much there, but I came to an abrupt stop when a statue just off the road caught my eye. Not exactly a sculptural masterpiece, the chipped concrete statue was of a beautiful woman standing on top of a crocodile. Just one of many statues I’d seen in Cambodia, this one caught my eye because the woman standing on top of a crocodile brought a dream I’d had about six months before back into sharp focus. It was one of those Technicolor dreams you can’t forget. I was standing on a pier with my daughter Chloe. Everything was fine until a baby crocodile nipped Chloe in the heel. She cried out in pain. Angry, I reached down and pried open the crocodile’s mouth. Instead of killing it or throwing it in the water, I looked it in the eye and threatened to throw it back in the water if it didn’t behave. The crocodile told me it would behave, so I let it go. As Chloe and I walked off the pier, I turned around and saw about a dozen baby crocodiles following in our footsteps.

The dream stuck. I knew it carried a message, but what was it? Even though I wasn’t calling her Serendipity at the time, she stepped in and showed me a poster at a vegetarian restaurant I liked to go to on the Central Coast. Someone was starting up a Jungian dream workshop in the neighborhood.

Why I live in Cambodia

Every day I rode a little further than the day before. I discovered empty beaches and huge green areas. The town wasn’t very developed, but there were enough Western amenities to make me feel comfortable. It was the perfect place for me, but I wasn’t ready to stay until after I met Sopheak. She showed me more of the city and took me to areas outside Sihanoukville. Within two weeks, I felt I’d found the place I was looking for.

beach in Sihanoukville Cambodia
Sopheak on a pier at a quiet beach in Sihanoukville

Believe it or not, an amateur psychic predicted I would live in Sihanoukville almost three years before I even considered visiting Cambodia, much less living there. It meant nothing to us at the time, but after I built our house, I was amazed by his accuracy:

I was the subject in my final reading. My first partner’s fiancé took my watch, closed his eyes and told me what he saw. He saw much further into my future than I had seen into his. I’m glad I wrote everything down while it was fresh in my mind, because it took three years for me to see how accurate his reading was. His words, as I wrote them down that evening, went like this:

“I see you sitting at a desk overlooking a field. It might be a soccer field. At least, that’s what I think it is. It sounds more like ‘soaka’.” He was confused, but didn’t let his confusion stop him from staying focused and following the imagery.

“You’re sitting at a desk. You’re working very hard at something on your computer. It looks like you’re writing. Your house isn’t old, but it looks like something out of the fifties. There’s a glass-topped coffee table and some plastic flowers. I don’t know why, it just feels like the fifties. Does that make sense to you?”

I thought I was going to teach English as a second language, but ended up freelancing for a living: hence the “working very hard at something on your computer.” The “soaka” he referred to is the Sokha Resort, which is about half a kilometer from my house. He was prescient enough to know the pronunciation was important. That one word completed the picture and I’m sure he saw my future.

Things haven’t always been easy here, but I’ve always felt it’s the place I’m meant to be at this stage of my life. How long I stay is anybody’s guess. As I write in Serendipity Road:

I know fear has never helped me find my way. I don’t have any regrets. With all its ups and downs, I’ve had a rewarding life and wouldn’t change a thing. Why lose faith in fate now? I think I’ll continue walking up Serendipity Road and see where she takes me.

I may live in Cambodia until I die or I may move on. I’m not going to worry about it. I’m in fate’s hands and I’ll see where she takes me.

  • Alessandro Granito

    Thanks for sharing Rob, wish I had spent more time listening to your stories during my time at Dao. Miss Cambodia, hope to return soon.