As the ferry drew us further and further from Sihanoukville, I found myself feeling lighter. The sun was shining, the water was as clear as glass, and a hump of land in the distance was slowly growing larger. We were approaching Koh Rong, the second largest island in Cambodia, which in size compares to Hong Kong, but in development compares to the fictional setting for the book The Beach.
Previously, the most remote island I had visited was Perhentian Kecil, off the coast of Malaysia. Koh Rong would blow that right out of the water. The island has four small settlements, a handful of guesthouses, not a single internet connection, and electricity for only a few hours each night. The “tourism industry” consists of said guesthouses, a few freestanding restaurant shacks, and a lone poster for a guide willing to lead treks through the deep jungle of the island’s interior.
I had been to one of Cambodia’s islands before- Koh Tonsay– and the beach wasn’t very impressive. So I was totally unprepared for this:
Can you believe that this is Cambodia?
Sidenote: Don’t let that tiny backpack deceive you. I should have my passport revoked for how bad of a packer I am. Mark was carrying the big bag… the green one is for camera gear and books!
We had prebooked our accommodation on the mainland, not knowing we had any other options. We paid $15 per night (which is overpriced for what you get) but then arrived and found $5 rooms on the pier. Lesson learned!
The bungalows were extremely rustic and to my dismay did not have any sort of locking device on the doors. No worries, I’ll just hide my thousands of dollars worth of electronics in the cold water shower area!
I’ve never done the whole “camping” thing, so this was kind of a big deal to this former city girl. I had a minor tantrum when I woke up in the morning and there was a spider in my hair, lizard poop on the toothpaste, and teeth marks all over my razor head, which caused Mark to label me as “such a girl.” Guilty as charged.
The “resort” did have some treehouses, which looked fantastic. Unfortunately, we are still the kind of annoying travelers who scoff at paying $30 a night for a room. I’m sorry, but that’s like, 30 banana shakes around here.
The beach we were settled on featured three guesthouses on the eastern stretch of sand and the village and the pier towards the west, and two shacks that serve food set up between. When the usual trappings of tourism are stripped away (activities, tours, attractions, etc.) and the creature comforts are absent (air conditioning, electricity, internet, hot water, pools, luxurious rooms) you slip quickly into Island Life.
Island Life to me means taking things slowly, savoring the little moments, and doing a whole lot of nothing. I think I may have spent an hour observing these bathing water buffalos that became the subject for my Photo of the Week.
The children of Koh Rong live an idyllic life. They go to school in the extremely early mornings and then spend the day playing and taking English lessons from a teacher who works at the dive shop on the pier. (Diving operations are based out of Sihanoukville but the sites are around Koh Rong, hence the shop here).
As soon as they saw me walking around taking photos, these boys came over and practically tugged the camera out of my hand wanting to try it for themselves. They also wanted their pictures taken but would hardly stand still for a moment before grabbing the camera body back to see the image of themselves reflected on the screen.
The kids had some competition for Biggest Cutie on the Island award, though. The place was absolutely chock full of puppies running in every direction. I could hardly make it a few steps without being obligated to stop, squeal, and squeeze a tiny little munchkin puppy until I could actually feel its fleas starting to attack me. It brought up mixed emotions. As indulgent as it was to get to kiss a puppy every five seconds, I could see that the animal population is getting out of control here and will only get more dire. Once that happens it’s hard to reel things back in, as I found when working at an animal shelter in Thailand in 2009. But seriously…
Is this cutest thing you’ve ever seen?
No? How about now?
Um… you didn’t think the puppy pictures were over, did you? Because as I was eating dinner with a table full of people that were focused with rapt attention on a gecko about to eat a moth, I felt a little something scurry over my feet.
Okay, you can stop wasting time over at Cute Roulette now, because you’ve seen the cutest thing that’s ever happened in the history of the universe. I think I just passed out.
As you can see, I was kind of trying to smuggle that pup out of there, but unfortunately his owner was having none of it and even insisted on being in what will be the photo on my Christmas cards.
Mark was similarly enamored.
On the moonlit walk back to our bungalow, we were greeted by some kids who quickly invented a super fun game called, Hit Mark’s Hand and Watch His Funny Face Reactions. Based on their reactions, this may have been the highlight of their year.
And I don’t think they were alone in that.
Have you ever been anywhere as remote as this? Was I a total sissy for crying over the toothpaste thing? And what exactly is people’s objection to tongue kissing dogs, anyway?
Stay tuned for our foray into the jungle and on to a beach that blew away any other I’d ever laid eyes on…