“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!

76 Responses to “Squatting in Sihanoukville, Cambodia”

Comments (74) Pingbacks (2)
  1. What a wonderful birthday celebration in a special place at the right time. I feel that way about Anguilla. When we went there it was a quiet, beautiful, not yet popular paradise. I’d still like to go back, but have too many unseen places on the list, too. Happy Birthday, Francisco!

    • thanks cathy! it was! wow- you were in anguilla before the rush? it looks SO gorgeous! francisco sends a big thanks!

  2. What a wonderful experience. I was lucky to have enjoyed the same. Many, many years ago on the beach of Abidjan, Ivory coast, a nightclub owner whom we had met in the capital directed us to a few beach huts, very much the same as you described. They are no more, Ivory Coast is today a very dangerous place to travel to, but the memory remains and the hope to find another ‘hidden’place sometime, somewhere.

    • thanks inka! would love to go to Côte d’Ivoire, but not right now! so great that you got there at a calmer, more peaceful time. :)

  3. We went to Ochheuteal Beach in 2009. I was three months pregnant and stupidly agreed to take a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Sihanoukville (via Pnomh Penh) for a long weekend. The weekend wasn’t so long but the bus journey certainly was.
    There were beach shacks but not for squatters. The beach shacks were for lounging around in during the day, sipping on fresh coconuts and snacking on fried seafood sold by passing vendors. At night, tables and chairs were set out and seafood was barbecued right there on the sand.
    Our first night there we were entertained by a mechanical digger trying to rescue a fishing boat that had run aground. First the digger had to build a road so it could get out to the boat, then dig a channel for the boat, then try to push the boat off the sand. The tide turned before the operation was complete, so we wandered down the next morning to watch the eventual rescue.
    The funniest thing was chatting in Vietnamese to some of the children selling trinkets along the beach. They told me they used to live near the border but moved to the beach to make money from the tourists. They spoke Khmer and Vietnamese and English, even though they didn’t go to school.

    • thanks anon! would love to see pix from 2009! and omg the bus- yikes! you make ochheuteal sound charming still- glad to hear it! yeah, the kids are
      awesome! we heard the same thing. tourism is great for creating multi-linguists! the kayan friends we did our research with spoke as many as 7 languages- and that was a girl in her late teens- without school too! :)

  4. Sounds idyllic. I have returned to a couple of places like this on my trip that had a special place in my heart and it wasn’t the same. You can’t recreate the memories that were first had somewhere Better to let them go and make new ones instead. It reminds me of the time Craig and I camped on the beach behind a bar on Zanzibar. It was a quarter of the price of a bungalow, which meant we could stay longer. We just didn’t get much sleep, but it was well worth it. You gotta do what you gotta do.

    • thanks caz! exactly! i’ll trade more time on the road & more experiences for comfort 99.9% of the time. REALLY want to go to zanzibar after reading part 1 of your post
      on globotreks! we were lucky in sihanoukville that NO-ONE was at the bar downstairs to keep us awake- we slept like babies! :)

  5. Totally feel you on this… Bob and I have several places- even thoughout touristy London- that are our place. Not that many people knew about them and it always felt like we were special just to be there. Sounds like you had a awesome time, though!

  6. Sounds like a cool place, thanks for sharing!

  7. Wow, that looks and sounds amazing! What a great experience. While we were in Colombia, we went to Tayrona National Park, which has a series of secluded beaches connected by hiking trails. We walked and walked and walked until we ended up at a beach with no one on it, and we stayed all day long, not seeing a soul. It was paradise!

    What a great way to spend a birthday. Fantastic pictures, too!

  8. I didn’t have time to go there while in Cambodia! But looks heavenly.

  9. It looks amazing! Also loved that it was free, and the entrepenurial spirit showed by the owner – brilliant!

  10. Lucky you and enterprising her! I love how these places appear when you are open to experiences, but I totally agree with previous posters that you should never go back. Just revisit in your journal.

    • thanks marie! indeed! with so many places (um, like the whole world!) on my wish list, i have to stick to the new place route or i’ll never come close to seeing it all! :)

  11. Lucky you – an opportunity to discover a place before the masses! What a shame it’s no longer there.

  12. Feliz cumpleanos!!! Wow that place sounds unreal! Glad you had this unforgettable experience.

    • thanks andi! francisco says gracias! it was great. can’t wait to get back on the road to search for more! :)

  13. Awww, that sounds lovely! A perfect birthday :-)

    • thanks ashley! it was! this one wasn’t so bad for him either (great friends, fun, laughs locally) but perhaps not quite as exotic! :)

  14. Wow, that is the most unusual accommodations I have ever seen! What a great story and a wonderful place to stay! As a budget traveler, you can’t beat that deal – or the view!

    • thanks jeremy! i think you’re right, we may have a hard time topping that deal! but we can have fun trying, right? :)

  15. Cambodia looks amazing! What a great story though, its always nice when both parties benifit, yourselves and Chaimoy. Great little enterprise they had going there!

    • thanks jozef! i LOVE cambodia. MUCH tougher at the time we went than its SE asia neighbors for getting around, but WONDERFUL! and yeah- as
      a green-minded traveler i always try to keep most of my tourism dollars heading into local pockets and i thought it was the bees knees that these peeps were
      so crafty and yet so great about passing on the good fortune :)

  16. Sounds like paradise! I can’t believe it was actually free to stay there, you would think they would have at least charged a little!

  17. Wonderful post! It’s those surprising experiences that can’t be duplicated that are often the most memorable.

  18. Looks like so much fun! We didn’t reach the coast during our time in Cambodia. Regretfully, we moved on to Vietnam. Hindsight says skip Vietnam and spend more time in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos… live and learn!

  19. Awesome, loved reading this article! It’s sad places like that develop and change, but at the same time there are more gems like this around the world that are waiting to be found! At least this kind of situation leads to memories that last forever!

    • thanks mark! it was fun just to write this, revisit the happy time and share it with others. :) definitely excited to discover others this year! woo hoo!

  20. i would stay there for ages, it sounds like heaven

  21. What an experience! I love the ending of your post “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.” I think all our travels are essentially that; grabbing moments in time of places we love. Everything changes, a different paces, so the world is always evolving. Travel and going back to places is a great way to perceive this dynamic process.

    • thanks norbert! totally agree! we travelers (or anthropologists) see evidence of those shifts and recognize that even the most remote of peoples change, grow, adapt, shift.
      on the one hand, it’s great because an old place (to us) can feel like a new place on re-visits. it’s bad on the other if we really loved the old version! :) ahh, but that just keeps us searching, right?

  22. wow, this place sounds awesome! Cambodia offers so much to a backpacker who has the passion to explore. Lakeside, Phnom Penn and Siem Riep (spelling!?) are not the be-all and end-all of this country, it’s great that guys are spreading the word :)

    • thanks johnny! totally agree with you- cambodia was awesome and i’d really like to get back there and see even more! :)

  23. Hard going back to a place. As you say , people are dynamic, move on,sell out, develop whatever…so better to preserve your memories and go find some other place.
    Grab some other time and place…

  24. What a beautiful stretch of sand. I’ll definitely try to get there the next time I’m in Cambodia.

  25. Wow – That is amazing! I love stories like this. That is so fantastic you got to experience this! Reading this brought me right there. I really can’t wait to go to Cambodia, it is one of my must see’s and this story is so great!!!

    • thanks beth! so glad i could paint a good picture for you- it’s etched into my mind so vividly that’s for sure! :) i know it’s been 7 years since we were there, but
      i loved cambodia so much and highly recommend it :)

  26. What a beautiful memory. That is an amazing story!

  27. I loved this story! Free place to stay in a gorgeous location with a sweet owner who treated you well. It does sound and look like nirvana. Good for you for having found the place that ‘didn’t exist’ and to get to be there for a week and in time for Francisco’s b’day. Triple wow!!

  28. You’re right, it was the perfect experience, you can never go back. What an amazing experience. We were in Sihanoukville in Nov. 2003. Too bad we didn’t hear about his place:)

    • thanks dave & deb! sure you still had a great time in sihanoukville- beautiful, right? we knew it was temporary even then, but i really wonder how long the huts lasted after
      we were there. makes me want to dig up chaimoy’s email address and find out what unique entrepreneurial situation she’s got going on now :)

  29. Wow, sounds absolutely amazing. You know, maybe it’s good you can’t go back. It is perfect in your memory, and you’ll never be able to return, which means those memories will never be altered. Thanks for sharing!

    • thanks kim! i agree! even if it was the same, it may not prove to be as great of an experience the 2nd time around, right? you’ve got it- perfect it will remain :)

  30. The best things in life truly are free!

    • thanks lucie, lachlan & bow wow. totally agree. and hey! just realized this is my first comment from a doggie- love it :)

  31. What a neat experience! After all that you described, I can imagine that it must have been tough to pack up and leave! :-)

  32. I’ve never been to Cambodia. These photos are amazing – thank you for sharing.

  33. That’s the coolest laid back adventure!

  34. I’m headed to Cambodia in a few weeks — I’ll send you a full report on the status of the Love Shack! :)

    • yay raymond! please do! i’d really love to know about chaimoy! if you manage to speak to her or someone who knows her, will you please give her/them my contact info here? would love to catch up with her! so great that you’re heading to cambodia! have a blast and can’t wait to read your posts! :)

  35. I actually have been to Cambodia! Not there though. Been to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and somewhere in a small village my sister’s friend was from, I don’t remember the name. My sister worked there for two years as a journalist at the Phnom Penh Post.

    • cool kira! i really loved cambodia and would love to go back. a couple of weeks wasn’t nearly long enough for me. i envy your sister! we’ll have to swap stories soon :)

  36. hi, im sorry, i was the one changed the name form Chaimoys Love Shack, to Chaimoys Frog Shack, to link up with my place, Frog and Parrot in Phnom Penh. it worked very well, but the original shack was demolished for the golf course. they made a few holes, then abandoned it.
    like a beautiful phoenix, Chaimoy moved her Frog Shack to where she had just started operating Moon Shack. as mentioned Chaimoy is now happily in Sweden, married to Peter who was one of the guys who volunteered to work the bar for food/drink/lodging.
    Chaimoys Family still run the Frog Shack, and its beautiful still, but ever so busy on that whole beach.
    Dani, who was one of Chaimoys staff, has Dani’s Beach Club on Otres beach, which is very like the old Chaimoys. Dani runs it with sister Kim and even more sisters it seems
    ps, two of the girls, Chaimoy’s cousins, from CoCo Shack, which used to be next to Love Shack, also ended up marrying Swedes.

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