“Get off the bus at Jasmine Guest House and then walk past it toward Ochheuteal Beach until you see the huts. You’ll know!” The directions to a paradise that was not supposed to exist by a fellow backpacker who’d already discovered it. It was January 2004 and Francisco and I had just come from Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and were excited to spend the week leading up to his birthday on a gorgeous, quiet beach…for free.
We followed her directions and our backpacker informant was right, we knew. Clustered on a beautiful stretch of white-sand beach, were a few rickety huts handmade by young, enterprising locals who had decided that this land, owned by developers who planned a fancy-shmancy golf resort, would make a great temporary business spot for them. They were squatting, and now, so would we.
We arrived at Chaimoy Love Shack (YES!) and instantly fell in love with Chaimoy, the young, extremely smiley “owner”. The deal as she explained it, confirmed what we’d heard- we could stay for as long as we liked for free in the loft above the bar as long as we agreed to buy most of our meals from her. Looking around, we wondered where else we would have anyway. We checked out the menu and saw that no meal was over 2 USD and lots were under that. The fact that we didn’t drink much? Not a problem. The place had everything we wanted- a basic mattress on the floor with a mosquito net, toilet & shower huts, food, ocean, sand, sunsets, hammocks, and even some extras like a pool table and other squatter spots nearby that showed free movies at night. How many others were currently staying here? None. Sold! Or well, not really sold, as it was after-all, free.
Our days were amazingly simple. We would wake up, walk down a ladder to our front row seats on the sand, order breakfast and eat there, alternate reading and swimming, order lunch and eat there, alternate reading and swimming, shower, and get back in our seats to watch the sunset. Kids sold fresh fruit on the sand; “MADAAAAME! YOU BUY MY FRUIT!!!” Sweet, relentless little 8-11 year old salespeople we bought from and talked to. We had the dorm-style loft to ourselves for the first half of the week and were so close to the water it sounded like the tide came in under our bed. For Francisco’s birthday on January 7, Chaimoy surprised him by going into town and buying him a birthday cake. This place was nirvana. It was the most relaxed I ever remember being.
It would be great to go back there, but I know we can’t- it’s no longer the same. Google searches ultimately lead to a dead end after a mention of a Chaimoy’s Frog Shack. And why not? No culture, place, or people are static. We’re all dynamic, in a constant state of remodeling, just perhaps at different speeds. Like many travelers we were lucky enough to grab a moment in time in a place we loved, and can only hope to do the same, in new places, in the future. Oh, and we can be grateful, very grateful.
Happy Birthday Francisco
Have you ever been to Ochheuteal Beach? Chaimoy Shack? Ever squatted? Been to a place you can’t really go back to? Tell us about it!