As I set foot on Serendipity Beach my mind cast back to my first backpacking trip in 2008 when I first marvelled at the beaches located in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. This popular beach town was once described by the Lonely Planet as follows: “Surrounded by white-sand beaches and as-yet undeveloped tropical islands, Sihanoukville (Kompong Som) is Cambodia‘s premier seaside resort.” However, as the warmth of the white sand penetrated my toes I was on guard trying not to step on what seemed like an infinite trail of garbage. In just over several years time this once ‘nice alternative’ to the crowded Thai beach scene has turned from a small slice of paradise into a complete and utter dump.
I’ve come to realize over the years that it can be dangerous to romanticize a place in your mind to the point you expect things to be the same when you return again in the future. I’ve seen destinations take a turn for the worse. On the other hand, I’ve seen positive development as well. Unfortunately, I’ve never quite seen anything as bad as this. This wasn’t just a few pieces of garbage that littered the once pristine sands – this was a complete dump. Audrey and I spotted discarded flip flops, used condoms, pregnancy tests, broken beer and spirit bottles, fish netting and even construction materials. My heart sank a little after every footstep.
How did it get this bad?
I feel as though all parties are to blame in this type of situation. Shame on the young backpackers who come here and irresponsibly discard their waste on the beach like immature teenagers. Equally, shame on the locals and business owners who haven’t taken the measures to preserve this area for future generations.
Audrey and I are celebrating our one year anniversary. Instead of enjoying activities on the beach we’re now considering alternative measures. We had planned staying for roughly a week to enjoy some down time and to get caught up on work. Now, our plan to ‘sort of’ salvage this situation is to check into a nice hotel with a fancy room and pool. Instead of enjoying the splendours of a natural beauty we’re now resigned to creating our own artificial temporary oasis.
I’m left feeling a sense of shame as a backpacker. For all those who travel for the right reasons (to experience new cultures, sample new foods and interact with locals in a positive manner) there are far too many who come to places in far off corners of the world without any sense of moral responsibility or respect to that given area. Sihanoukville is exhibit A: …
from paradise to paradise ruined!