Phnom Penh had taken quite a bit out of me. It was emotional, morally confusing, and uncomfortably hot. There was so much to digest. I decided the best thing for myself was to make my way to the beach. Lucky for me the Cambodian islands are little known gems. Koh Rong and its smaller neighbor Koh Rong Samloem are less traveled than the Thai islands but still contain similar beauty. I opted for Koh Rong Samloem as it was the more secluded of the two. It had no cell service, no wifi, no problems. It sounded perfect.
The only issue I had was getting there. Per usual, Cambodian transportation was not ideal. I played it safe; knew the last boat to the island from Sihanoukville was at 3pm, knew it was a 3-4hr ride from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, took the 8am bus. I should have gotten to Sihanoukville between noon and 1pm. I planned to roam around, maybe pick up a new pair of swim trunks. Unfortunately, this was not to be.
About half way through my mini-bus ride, we pulled over. I was sitting in the very back (which I hate) and the driver went around to check out the engine which also happened to be in the back. It seemed as though nothing was wrong. When he started the bus again, a large plume of white smoke erupted from the engine. It seemed as though something was DEFINITELY wrong. He stopped the engine for a moment, started it again, and began to drive. Things were not good. Considering that if the engine burst into flames I would be roasting above them, I was alarmed. As he continued to literally steam along, the smoke got worse. It turned darker and seemed to get heavier. After about 2min of this, I led a mutiny from the rear. My band of back seat riders would not resign ourselves to this fiery fate. Basically we just yelled at the guy along with the rest of the bus until he pulled over again. Through a translation we found out he was upset we wouldn’t let him make it the final 5km to the rest stop. We apologized for not wanting to burn to death. He said ‘just smoke, no fire’. Apparently the old adage ‘where there’s smoke there is fire’ has yet to reach Cambodia.
A former UN employee from the UK owned the rest area and came with his pickup to ferry us to the stop. Once there, we waited another 3hour for our replacement bus. We had all lost hope of getting on the 3pm boat. When we finally arrived in Sihanoukville it was about 3:45. Most of the bus crew was heading to the big island, while I was headed to Samloem (a little more difficult to get to). Through an odd sequence of events we all managed to arrange a weird speedboat to take us to the islands. He said he would stop at both. The ride was terrible. The boat was absolutely flying and I wish that was a figure of speech. The swells were so big and we were moving so quickly, the boat actually launched out of the water. Plus it was quickly becoming darker. I was the first one to be dropped off. There are very few docks and I knew I had a dilemma ahead of me. The driver actually had me point out on the map where I wanted to be dropped off. Considering I am not from Cambodia, and I am not part of the crew, this was difficult. When I got out on my pre-selected dock, I was completely alone. Bad choice Eric. Bad choice. There I was on a deserted pier, connected to a deserted beach, on an island that is legitimately just beach and jungle. Oh it was also dark by this point. And the worst part was that I KNEW this was going to happen…
The hostel I was staying at, Mad Monkey, owns its own beach and small bay on the island. However, the speedboat ferries can’t drop passengers there. Therefore when the last official speedboat arrived around 4pm, the hostel had a longtail boat waiting for guests. Obviously I was not on that boat, and there was no one waiting there for me. I could always call or shoot and email, but like I mentioned earlier, this island was totally disconnected. For about 30min I was Tom Hanks in Castaway but I didn’t even have a volleyball to bounce ideas off of. My options were to walk a half a mile down the beach to spend the night in one of the ultra-fancy resorts for about 150$ a night, or trek 45min in the dark through the jungle (that was never going to happen). However, I tend to be unusually lucky in situations where I’m just winging it, and there was a blessing on the horizon.
It was supply night baby! Once or twice a week the supply boats come to Samloem from the mainland, and when those big boys come steaming in the bay comes alive. Every resort sends their own little boats to pick up the supplies they ordered. And wouldn’t you know it, hear came the Mad Monkey longtail boat chugging around the rocks in the distance! Its beautiful monkey flag was flying like a beacon of hope. Rescue was on its way. I was saved by the supply ship!
The boat moored just off the beach and you wade in the rest of the way in knee deep water. I could have practically kissed the ground when I arrived, but I did not because its sand and that is gross. Instead I went straight to the bar, ordered a beer and checked into my bungalow. It had been an adventure and it was worth it.
The island was perfect. It was a legitimate paradise. I had booked a room for 2 nights but I stayed for 5. The accommodations were bamboo huts with beds covered in mosquito nets. The common area was a giant bar and lounge overlooking the turquoise blue water. There was no need for electronics. People just mingled, made friends, played cards, read books, relaxed. On a typical day I would wake up, go for a swim, eat breakfast, read my book on a hammock, move to the beach, read my book on the hammock in the water, take a walk to the waterfall in the jungle, take a nap, get dinner with friends I’d made and then drink and laugh late into the evening. Then you’d dive into the water when the moon hid behind the clouds. In the darkness, the bio-luminescent plankton would sparkle where your splashed and swam. There was no stress. You didn’t hear about the outside world, and you didn’t care. There were no politics, no fights, no cultural disagreements. There was just genuine conversation and universal acceptance. On that island we were all just people. Koh Rong Samloem was as close to perfection as a person can come. If I hadn’t booked a flight to Vietnam I might have still been there now.
PS. I should have taken more pics but I barely even touched technology while I was out there. Sorry. No cameras in heaven.