Spending 3 weeks with Projects Abroad on the Island of Koh Sdach at their marine conservation site may not sound like an opportunity to explore much of what Cambodia has to offer. Little could be further from the truth; so long as you allow yourself to try things.

First up was getting to the coast from the capitol Phnom Penh in the ubiquitous minibuses that operate all over the country, ferrying people from town to town along the main roads, people and luggage hopping on and off where necessary. Fortunately we were delivered by Tuk Tuk and placed in the appropriate bus by the Projects Abroad staff based in Phnom Penh as English isn’t widely spoken. We then waited for the bus to fill up a little before the driver decided he had enough passengers to begin the journey.

Working our way out of the city took an hour or so with a couple of pick-ups en route. Kathryn and I figured the bus was full at this point so we were unlikely to stop until we dropped someone off. Never underestimate the capacity for minibus drivers to cram more people in to their vehicles! Once we got to Koh Sdach we found we were fortunate to have had only 14 or 15 passengers (with some luggage inside too); some have been known to carry over 20! We wouldn’t find that out for another 5 hours though as we trundled our way through the heat of the beginning of the dry season – possibly more aptly named as the ‘not-so-wet season’ as we have seen frequent storms and showers. Much of the main road is single carriageway and many lorries are found crossing the country which keeps average speeds quite low. It does however give you a chance to see some scenery and you can hop off briefly in a village to buy some bananas if you’re feeling peckish (a fair sized bunch will set you back a whopping US$0.5!). Being over 6 feet tall I also encountered the friendly humour of the locals as one chap stood behind me with a grin on his face, moving his horizontal hand from his head height and stretching up to mine.

We arrived at our beach in the early afternoon and were picked up in a little speed boat for the 5 minute ride to Koh Sdach and the Projects Abroad base – a building on stilts over the sea that is tucked in a village which houses the island’s approximately 3000 strong population.

The village is difficult to get lost in as it consists of one road with shops lining both sides. The shops are often the front rooms of people’s houses and you can find all sorts of fruit, vegetables and meats for sale along with mobile phones, hardware, flip-flops and colourful fabrics. Many of the locals travel the length of the village by moped/bike and it’s easy to trip over children, dogs and the occasional chicken. Having last had my hair cut in Rotorua in early August, I was due a haircut – especially given the heat – so I popped in to the local barber. He didn’t speak a word of English. No problem I thought, it can’t be that hard to communicate “Same but shorter please.” After all I’m a scuba diver and we communicate with hand signals all the time. I was momentarily concerned when he got out his phone and started showing me the heads of footballers with a mop of hair on top and intricate patterns trimmed in to clipped sides. Confidence returned though when he grinned and I realized he was just joking!

He started with perfectly normal, modern clippers. Unfortunately he (and the clippers) weren’t used to thick European hair and he had to abandon his latest technology. Instead he went at my head with the thinning scissors and while the clippers still couldn’t cope even after that, he had an old hand cranked set which would probably be capable of shearing a sheep (possibly that’s what they were originally for?). Kathryn was sat next to me during the whole process and I caught occasional glimpses of mild concern on her face though I was pretty happy with the progress I saw in the mirror.

With the main cut complete I was pleased with my choice of barber but he wasn’t done yet! Out with the cut-throat razor and he tidied up all of the edges before asking me to lie back (sort of – he fiddled with the chair until the back vanished and he pushed me flat). He then proceeded to shave my forehead, nose and even my left eye-lid. I’m still somewhat bemused by this addition to the repertoire I’m used to but he finished that pretty quickly and changed blades to (I thought) tidy up my beard. No such luck. Before I knew what was going on he’d taken out half of the hair on one side of my face so I had little choice but to let him continue and finish a complete shave.

I only trim rather than shave due to sensitive skin and without shaving oil or foam the thickest stubble around my chin really caused him some difficulty (he had to change blades again). I knew I’d break out in a bit of a rash for a couple of days. Fortunately he’d saved the best thing for last – a rapid head massage for which the word pummeling could fairly accurately be applied. This included having both of my ears pulled sharply. While this all sounds a little violent and uncomfortable, it was very stimulating and I left feeling invigorated and a whole lot cooler. All that for US$1.25! It’s amazing to consider just how far money can go in some countries.