When you find yourself pulling electrical wires from sockets of blasting speakers in a furious attempt to remove the Formula Milk promotion company that are set up just inside the front gates of the school in which you work-at least for now anyway-and you start screaming at your boss ‘are we a school or a trade fair!!!’ I think it is wise to get yourself to an island.
Pressure building in the skies and behind the eyes, time to feel the waves beneath my feet and remind myself that it doesn’t matter and if they really want the school to be a trade fair then that is just hunky dory because I won’t be there soon anyway.
I have heard many a good thing lately about Koh Rong and also read about the soothing atmosphere of Koh Rong Samloeum (Lazy Beach) in a recent article here on Khmer 440.
My sister and I were not sure which one to go for. We decided on Koh Rong because she had been there recently and had a brilliant time and also because I was interested in seeing what changes had taken place since my last visit about two years ago when, if I remember correctly, there was only Monkey Bungalows, Paradise and Treetop Bungalows. During that short stay there was torrential rain and hoards of sand flies and I was ready to leave after one night. It was definitely time to give it another go.
I swapped my sensible teacher heels for flip flops and fled the school gates early in time to get the 5.45pm bus to Sihanoukville. It felt like a very long journey – the driver was driving at quite an exasperatingly sensible speed so we didn’t get there until 12.30. We needed a couple of beers to shake the day and the journey off.
The tuk-tuk sped us past burnt out Mick and Craig’s and Monkey Republic which was strange and sad to see although Mick and Craig’s didn’t look too bad and I assume they should be back up and running fairly soon.
We settled on Ocheuteal and drained three beers whilst watching the dark waves and the wandering loons before we hit the sack in time to get a little kip before the 8am boat to Koh Rong the next day.
The Italian coffee was pretty good at the Dive Centre where we gathered for the ferry. Whilst drinking coffee we watched a fellow island tripper down a good half bottle of cough syrup, three ibuprofen and a few other pharmaceuticals before his breakfast baguette. We pondered a little on the sight. As a self confessed people-watcher, Cambodia is brilliant so I just gorge my eyes only stopping every now and then to remind myself to wind my neck in.
We had a little snooze on the two hour boat ride over smooth waters to Koh Rong. On arrival, a bloke from Coco bungalows where we would be staying for a few nights came to greet us from the boat and said we should grab welcome dinks because there would be a small ‘safety speech’.
“Didn’t get that before” my sister told me, referring to her visit a couple of weeks back.
Being the older and wiser sister I predicted what may be happening….
“It’ll be a storm brewing or something”.
Of course I was wrong. The safety speech was hilarious.
With the monotonous drone of an understandably bored person having to tell boat loads of new arrivals daily what they should already know if they have even the tiniest grain of common sense he got us all sitting comfortably and told us…
“So, we have lockers here. There have been some thefts so if you are going out a night to get drunk please don’t take your I-pad and your passport and hundreds of dollars down to the beach. Also we have sand flies so wear insect repellant or coconut cream and try not to lie on the bare sand. Also there are water buffalo on the island so sometimes the farmers let them free. Don’t try to pet them or take photos. They are wild animals. Please don’t try to mount a water buffalo”.
We snickered and he caught our eyes and gave us a drained look. Unfortunately there do exist some people on earth that need to be reminded not to get pissed with all their treasured belongings on them and others that need to be reminded not to mount a water buffalo.
Fair enough about the sand flies though because they got me pretty bad before but back then I don’t remember there being any chairs or loungers on the beach previously, whereas now there are plenty.
It wasn’t too busy, the island atmosphere was more ‘snooze and sunset beers’ than booze-buckets till dawn, the locals were friendly and the accommodation absolutely fine. Our double bungalow at Cocos was very spacious and the en-suite clean.
So, after restorative naps and swims in the bath-water like ocean, my sister and I took advantage of Saturday night happy hour at Monkey Bungalows. It was good to see Monkey Bungalows going strong with good drinks, good food, good music and a friendly owner whose spirits were high despite the fire on the mainland.
Saturday night was lovely: you can’t knock a few drinks on an island followed by a herbally- infused swim with your sister, marveling at the phosphorescence in the sea and the stars above. Formula milk promotion company frustrations were a distant memory and my calm had been restored.
We had planned to get up a little earlier for a trek to the other side of the island to long beach. Many people reading this in-the-know about trekking and who have made the short trek to the other side of the island are very welcome to call me a loser to even be classing it as a trek. It is definitely up-hill for half an hour and steeply downhill for a twenty minute walk though.
So we were a little hung-over and left around 11am which, whilst perhaps not on a par with mounting a water buffalo, was still a tad silly, but hey.
The climb down to the other side involved quite a few rocky drops and we commented on how we would definitely be getting the boat back.
I was a little unimpressed by the supposedly pristine long beach because it has so much potential as a paradise but is completely and utterly strewn with litter. My sister said she didn’t remember it being so bad before…maybe the tide had come in and bought a fresh wave of polystyrene and plastic with it but as we set up towels in the shade of the pine and the noodle packets we wondered how the (Western) run guesthouse on the other side could be so unbothered by all the crap strewn across the beach they make their living from.
We came off the beach after only an hour or so, mainly because of the sand-flies and the litter but also because the current was quite strong and my sister got sucked out a little bit, not really a major situation but I did get to play the big sister hero bit as I swam out to the part where the sand below dropped and the tide pulled enough for you to need to use some strength not to get sucked back with each wave.
We were sitting up at the guesthouse above Long Beach when the owners casually told us that people the day before had waited for the sunset boat back and then found out just as the sun was setting that no boat was coming and had therefore had to trek back in the dark.
My sister has spent four months living in the Belizean jungle and had a botfly in her head surgically removed so I felt in safe company for her to take the lead on the steep climb back up the mountain and down to the other side. It was all right, even enjoyable as we got nearer the top. But if it had been dark it would have been really scary and very dangerous without a torch.
What does it take to clean the beach up in the morning, put some bins and a couple of loungers/hammocks out so people can escape the sand-flies and have some communication going to let people down on the beach know by 4pm if the boat isn’t coming so that they can get up and over the hill before dark?
So my sister and I had our little rant about that during the journey back to the other side. She also told me that if she had drowned and my fiancé had his visa application for the UK declined the most sensible thing would be to stick him in her body bag, leave her to the ocean and find a silver lining to a bad situation. She’s a good egg, my sister.
We had some pretty decent wood-fired pizza at Treetop bungalows that evening and spent a lovely lazy day snoozing and snorkeling on Monday after our adventurous Sunday.
Maybe, for as long as any of Cambodia’s Islands survive and I have the choice of where to dip my feet in the waves and swoosh my hammock against a sea breeze my vote will always lie with Koh Tonsai.
However, I think Koh Rong is a perfectly lovely place to chill-out, snorkel, meet people, eat good food, have a good sleep, swim amongst the phosphorescence and trek through un-spoilt jungle.
Just bring a torch, some good insect repellent, avoid the hash browns at Cocos (nothing else bad to say about the place but the hash browns were raw onion patties, that’s all)). Also, try to refrain from the desire to mount a water buffalo.