Palm Beach is just as idyllic as it sounds, a palm tree lined resort on a remote island, on the coast of Cambodia. I’m not saying that it is the most perfect location that this planet has to offer, I haven’t been to the loo in privacy for a few months because a gecko lives in our bathroom, the showers are cold, and we lose electric a few times each day, but it all adds to the character of the place, not that “characters” are something that Palm Beach is lacking!
Aside from the obvious number of guests that we have staying here, coming and going with stories to tell and experiences to share from different countries, the palm beach family are a somewhat dysfunctional group of characters that make the resort a beautiful place to be.
Roy and Mireille, the Dutch couple that own and manage the resort, are the matriarchs, and I don’t say this because of the power they have, or because they are the “boss”, I say this affectionately because I have never met two people with more love, care and patience for those around them.
Roy, the business man, often being a more ‘behind the scenes’ piece of the puzzle, a man of few words, is sat in his office, booking a holiday for the entirety of his staff because he appreciates how busy they have been during high season and how hard they have all worked. He was the first person that inspired me here, because we very quickly realised that, although he is a business man, he has a heart bigger than most. One story he told us, was a heart wrenching story of a young boy that lives on the resort, whose mother was a drunk and died from an overly alcoholic lifestyle, Roy had employed the boys father, so that he could provide for the family, but he no longer works for the resort because he had stolen from them, Roy has now given this boy and his younger sister a place to live and a “job” at the weekend working on the resort’s boat, “he doesn’t do much on the boat” said Roy “but it gives him a job and it means that he can stay in school and get an education”. From the bottom of my heart, I haven’t met someone this genuinely compassionate in a long time.
Mireille definitely adopts the role of mother, available for cuddles, laughs and a shoulder to cry on whenever one is needed, nurturing and caring for everyone every day. The interaction that she has with all the Khmer staff here is something that feels so special, even with the language barrier, she sits with her staff and eats a communal lunch, talking and laughing, she plays with the children, and the same love and care is reciprocated back to her. For her birthday, the staff spent hours and hours blowing up balloons, printing pictures, hanging streamers, picking flowers, erecting a makeshift gazebo (as you can imagine, resources aren’t exactly plentiful on a remote island!), every member of staff got involved in some way, not because they had to, but because they wanted to, to make her birthday special. Between the two of them, I know the staff feel very lucky to have Roy and Mireille, and we feel really grateful to them for our time here.
Add to the mix, a crazy South African divemaster and his canine accomplice Numbi, Craig is always “FANTASTIC!”. He is the epitome of a stereotypical divemaster. I told him very early on, if someone gave me pen and paper and asked me to draw a divemaster, without hesitation, I’d draw Craig; a very chilled out, barefoot, long haired, board short wearing, lady charming, mildly *cough* sarcastic, happy-go-lucky guy! Frankly, why shouldn’t he be? He lives in a beautiful place, he’s got his dream job here, he’s definitely a character that Palm Beach couldn’t be without.
Raymon, also Dutch, is the face of Palm Beach Bar and the creator of the world-famous MoMo’s Mojitos! When he isn’t armed with his cocktail shaker, or muddling mint, he’s happily forcing tequilas on people that have missed the dartboard entirely and landed their dart in the sand. TEQUILA! Something that I really admire about Raymond is the effort he’s put in to learning the local language, Khmer, not an easy feat when all of the letters in the Khmer alphabet are entirely different to the Roman alphabet. He has gained a lot of respect from the local staff because he can communicate with them in their mother-tongue.
Of course, the driving power of the resort is the local Khmer resort staff; waitresses, cooks, cleaners, carpenters, boat staff, a whole myriad of happy faces. Having come from a hospitality background in the UK, where “overworked and underpaid” is a well-used cliché, the staff at Palm Beach are undeniably happier, they work long hours, they don’t have much, but they are so rich in many ways, they are all so content and grateful for the life that they have here and every day is filled with sok sabay and smiles.
Last but not least, is David. David and myself are chalk and cheese. To be honest, when I first arrived here, I couldn’t stand him, I jokingly named him “Mr Happy”. He is an older gentleman that has found retirement at Palm Beach, and he sits at the bar every evening, talking the ear off anyone willing to listen, being pessimistic and cynical about almost anything you could think of. We have different ideals, different opinions and different morals, having said all of this, David is a character at Palm Beach that has definitely grown on me. Although old and cynical now, David has lived a fascinating life, he’s been to almost every corner of the globe and had many adventures, from rafting through the Amazon rainforest to spending time in a Japanese prison. I like to think that I have “adventures”, I travel a lot, I see different countries and meet people from different backgrounds, but I don’t think its even possible to have adventures David-style anymore. As he rightly pointed out a few nights ago (one of the first things he has said that I have ever agreed with, it was a momentous moment for the two of us!), it is impossible nowadays to “get lost”, really lost, travel now is often pre-booked, pre-planned and non-spontaneous, smart phones and google maps have made it very easy to travel this way. Although this is a very comfortable way to travel, with a lot of security, in some ways I envy David, who didn’t ever know if a train or bus was going to show up, who would arrive in a place and find hostage with total strangers because there were no rooms available at the nearest guesthouse, who would get lost in a country and discover new and fascinating places, by accident! Myself and David have agreed to disagree about many things, but nonetheless he is a character at Palm Beach like no other.
These people are something very special and our time here wouldn’t have been the same without them. As a traveller, you are often very grateful for the people that become family and the places that become home.