Saturday, May 27th, 2017

Learning to love Christmas in Sihanoukville


I’m not a huge fan of Christmas — I feel like a holiday that was originally fun and well-intentioned has evolved into an expensive, stressful and guilt-inducing ordeal.  I honestly wouldn’t mind if it was skipped altogether.

Being away from home for Christmas was a no-brainer — and, believe it or not, this was my first Christmas outside of Massachusetts!

I wasn’t sure where I’d be for the holiday.  Cambodia, definitely.  But Battambang?  Siem Reap?  Sihanoukville?  What about in transit?

But come on…I couldn’t really spend Christmas Day on a 12-hour bus ride out of spite!

I would create my own Christmas, a stress-free Christmas, and I would do it in a place that I adored: the amazing town of Sihanoukville!

What did I love most about Sihanoukville?  Lying on the beach with a book while getting a foot massage.  Dancing all night at JJ’s.  Most of all, meeting new friends.  In Sihanoukville, you meet friends more or less constantly, all day long.

So after some Swedes and Australians invited me on an island cruise they were taking the next day, I knew I had to join in!

The cruise left from Serendipity Beach at noon, and we were immediately met by a bawdy bunch of Swedes who arrived wearing the most hilarious Christmas costumes I’ve ever seen.

I don’t know if it was a condition to their trip or not, but they didn’t take their costumes off once all day.  Not even when they jumped off the boat into the water!

We spent the day on the beach of a tiny island off Cambodia’s coast — playing volleyball in the water, throwing frisbees on the beach, having a great barbecue, dancing, burying each other in the sand.

At the end of the day, as the sun was setting, the captain stopped the boat in the middle of the ocean so that we could do flips and cannonballs off the side.  Talk about exhilarating..

It was a fun day, a chill day, and a party day. And I gladly toasted to Christmas with my new friends.  Backpacker style.

That night, as always, the party moved to JJ’s.  This time, with extra Santa hats and tinsel!

And I got the best present of all: three awesome new friends with whom I traveled on to Siem Reap, Bangkok, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang.  Much more on those friends later!

This was the best Christmas for which I could have hoped.

If you feel like Christmas has become more stressful than joyful, it might be time to celebrate unconventionally.  Here’s how to start:

Find a place that makes you happy. Is it a tropical beach?  Is it a mountain cabin where you can go skiing?  Is it the city where several of your friends now live?

Get there. Save up, book way in advance, and get yourself to that dream destination.  It won’t happen if you don’t take action.

Find people that make you happy. Who makes you happiest?  Your sibling?  Your best friends?  Your significant other?  Go together — and bring nobody else.

Reduce the stress this time around. Tell your family that you’re taking Christmas off.  You can probably get away with that once.  If not, make it a gift-card-a-rific holiday this year.

If Christmas brings you down each year, don’t let that keep happening.  You can be capable of having an amazing unconventional Christmas!


36 Responses to “Learning to love Christmas in Sihanoukville”
  1. Stav says:

    As I learned in Thailand and Cambodia: No one loves Christmas more than the Buddhists.
    The decorations, especially in Bangkok are so spectacularly over the top and just wonderful.

  2. Love the cruise costumes! We’ll be in Cambodia next December- Can’t wait to check this out!

  3. Alouise says:

    You’re very right, Christmas has become at lot more stressful over the years. I know some people who start panicking at the start of November. Not worth it in my opinion. Taking Christmas off, and heading somewhere unconventional sounds like a great idea.

  4. Colleen says:

    I totally feel the opposite! The one year I spent Christmas away from Cindy and my parents, I totally bawled all day. Christmas for me is always the highlight of the year. I love Christmas Eve Service with the candlelight, I love sleeping over at my Mom’s, opening presents Christmas morning, then driving to my Dads……I think Christmas is so different to everyone, that it’s good you found a new way to enjoy the holiday.

    • Awww. I agree — Christmas is very different for everyone. It’s nice that you have so many nice traditions! And we do, too — we add a charm to our star every year for something big that happened (lately, it’s one for each family member. I believe mine this year was a suitcase or something travel-related). I do enjoy that. 🙂 And I do admit, it’s fun to hang out after Christmas Eve Mass and see everyone from high school.

  5. Elle says:

    That’s such an awesome story! I have yet to spend Christmas away from my family, I may have to plan a trip for next Christmas 🙂

  6. Rease says:

    I love the Merry Xmas with leaves!

  7. ayngelina says:

    Great attitude toward not being at home. My first Christmas away was tough but since then I’ve learned to try not to make it like home but to embrace my new surroundings.

  8. Andi says:

    I love unconventional Christmases!!! But, I also like being with my family, so I usually go for the unconventional every couple of years. 🙂

  9. Ivy says:

    This year was also my first Christmas away from home – I took a shortcut from Alaska to Hawaii to meet a guy I’d been talking to online and wound up traveling with him for 4 months. We spent Christmas with his family and it was great – I thought I’d get melancholy (I did, but rather because I felt guilty), but the warmth of strangers was actually absolutely beautiful. I love connecting with people you don’t know 🙂

  10. Valerie says:

    I’ve never spent Christmas away from family/home, but I’d love to try it someday. My husband and I want to spend Christmas in London one year, do the Dickens thing. Glad to know I’m not weird for wanting to!

  11. Theodora says:

    I loved Sihanoukville. I think one great thing about spending Christmas away from home, which we’ve done in Kenya and Australia, is not to try to replicate the home experience. Do something very different, very indulgent, enjoy the contrast in climate, eat things that you really want to eat, drink things you really want to drink, and, most important, have a lot of fun.

    I’m a big fan of warm climate Christmases, in fact. Though it rained like hell in Queensland this year.

    • I agree. Better to do a 180 than to replicate your experience at home! On Thanksgiving while I was studying in Florence, my mom and sister visited me and we had a Tuscan FEAST. Absolutely amazing dinner, and despite my Italian heritage, very different from home!

  12. Erica says:

    Nothing brings in Christmas like… shotgunning a beer? Looks like you had a blast girlie! I would have given anything to avoid my guilt filled xmas. 😛

  13. Amanda says:

    Haha! I love the costumes. Did they bring these with them, or create them just for this occasion? Either way, hilarious. I love the photo of the guy dressed up as a present being used as a floating table! Classy.

    • I have no idea in Snooky where you would buy these things, but I can’t imagine they brought them with them…oh, and that was a girl in the present. The guy with her is the Hawaiian guy sleeping below me who hooked up with half the backpacking girls in town. 😉

  14. Yeah, the Thais sure now how to decorate for Christmas.

  15. Alex says:

    Okay I admit that I semi sobbed at Christmas this year. I looove any holiday and knowing this would be my last christmas at home for a while was devastating. But then I saw the picture of the guys swimming in his christmas present costume and all my fears are gone. The end.

  16. This is hysterical! The only Christmas I spent outside of Tennessee was in 2005, the year I met my husband in Holland, and we decided to tour Eastern Europe during our month off from our post-grad program. We spent actual Christmas in Vienna with my cousin and a bunch of his expat friends, but I vowed then and there that I would never miss Christmas with my family. Here’s the one time I’m going to argue with you, as I usually agree with everything you write: Christmas rocks and it’s my favorite time of year!

    Though dressing up like a Christmas tree and taking an island tour in Cambodia doesn’t seem a bad way to spend it either =)

  17. After having 7 Christmases away from home, I really can’t stand Christmas at home anymore. I find it full of boring traditions and meaningless gift giving. I don’t experience the joy that I did having it in other countries, just doing fun and simple things like this.

  18. I love this post. I spent Christmas day in Sihanoukville last year so this brought back some happy memories 🙂

  19. Hahaha love the girl swimming dressed as a present! I read your blog all the time but have never commented before. I felt compelled to on this issue however.

    This is a internal dilema I’ve been thinking on recently! Having just started a trip around South America in Jan and STILL only in our first country, Colombia, I fear I wont be finished traveling by the time Christmas comes around, or worse, be finished and not be able to afford to travel home.

    I have never missed a Christmas yet and I love Christmas, its the only time of the year my whole family comes back together! After spending 3 months in the US, then 3 months in India in 2011, I was SO excited coming home for Christmas! I fear I’d be a crier if I didn’t make it home! haha I think the guilt would be the worst thing as my family are already asking me “will you be home for Christmas?” every time I talk to them!

    Its good to know there are other options though and it can be enjoyable in a completely different surrounding! Lets see what happens but I guess I would just have to embrace it!

    • Steph, I’m glad you finally commented!

      I (obviously) can’t relate to you on the Christmas front…but I think you would have a really nice time abroad.

      But you never know. Christmas is a LONG time from now and you don’t know if you’ll find a reason to stay in one place, or find a reason to go home. Embrace it as you go. 🙂

  20. That’s the part I’m most nervous about with our upcoming RTW, christmas! I’ve never spent it away (I have a very small family, only spend xmas with my parents and my brother) so it’ll definitely be a challenge! But you do have a point, to find a place that makes you happy is key for the holiday! We’ll probably be in Thailand for Christmas, so beach it is! Great post Kate!

  21. NaEun says:

    Aww, I miss everyone at JJ’s 🙁 Good times!

  22. Rob says:

    About a year too late to comment, but I was just googling Christmas in Sihanoukville and this blog popped up. I just want to say how pleased I am that you like Sihanoukville and surrounds so much. The town has changed quite a bit even since last year. Serendipity Road down to the pier has been paved and JJs has competition from some newer and flashier clubs, to name just a couple of the changes. Anyway – thanks for a great post.

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    wait to take a look when I get home. I’m amazed at how fast your blog loaded on my cell phone ..
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  1. […] I stumbled across this delightful blog that made me feel like we were missing out on something. Learning to love Christmas in Sihanoukville, by “Adventurous Kate”, is about her (I think) 2011 Christmas celebrations in […]

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