So our journey to Koh Rong began with me being forced to tears in Western Union, because I was unable to access my transferred money (as my purse was stolen a few weeks earlier in Vietnam), and with there being no ATMS on Koh Rong I was faced with the option that I may not be making it to the island. Fortunately after several tears and pleas from myself, Roxanne and Andrew, the lady allowed me to cash my wrongly named cheque and access my own money, with minutes to spare we jumped aboard the boat heading for Koh Rong. This was just the beginning of a week where everything seemed to go wrong on Koh Rong.
When sailing closer to the island the simplicity and untouched beauty was obvious, the entire island was covered in trees and long sandy beaches, with only one street of human life. This one street was just on the beach, made of sand and separated by the pier, to the left was the local side, where cheap food was available, local children ran and played and a few homes were situated. To the right was the ‘western side’, where a small number of hostels had been built (simple, and bamboo, in-keeping with the rest of the island), a few cafe bars and a simple outdoor convenience item shack. Koh Rong is currently undeveloped and only has a limited number of backpackers visiting, I just hope over the next few years as popularity will undoubtably soar and as backpackers word of mouth spreads like wildfire, that it remains undeveloped and does not succumb to expensive developments, hotels and resorts, like so many other south-East Asian islands have.
We headed straight to CoCos, the accommodation directly opposite the pier, where our friend Sammy from Thailand and Laos had been working for the past few weeks. Island life had treated him well and it was nice to reunite with him, he checked us into a lovely little bungalow, which featured a hammock outside, wooden interior and exterior, straw roof and large mosquito nets. CoCos set up was really nice, it was made up of several basic bungalows, a pebbled pathway to the communal showers and toilets, where showers were limited to 1 minute and only cold water, as the shower water we used was also the locals drinking water supply. Electricity on the island shuts off overnight, due to the limited supply and the island was overrun with stray dogs, a large problem here in Koh Rong. Cocos accommodation is named so after one of the local dogs, who now lives within the accommodation. I noticed that the stray dogs were really friendly towards Western people, playing and wanting attention, but would growl and bark aggressively whenever Cambodian people walked past or in their direction, I can only assume that this is because they are mistreated by the locals, and are seen as vermin due to the high number roaming the island. Being scared of dogs, especially stray dogs, it was here I was appreciative of my pale and unable to tan skin. The westerners who run Cocos are setting up a dog shelter, in order to provide the dogs with a home, regular meals and kept away from abuse. The same westerners who run Cocos also present a welcome meeting for the 3 boats which arrive at Koh Rong each day, James (one of the original workers) explains about the local side, about the stray dogs, the high number of sand flies, how they are working to keep the island as it is, untouched and undeveloped, and most importantly DO NOT RIDE THE WILD WATER BUFFALO; THEY ARE NOT DOMESTICATED!
The first day here was spent checking out the long beach, clear blue waters, lazing in the hammock and catching up with Sammy. Andrew had planned to stay here for a few weeks and work with Sammy, and set about finding the manager to ask about jobs. He ended up working as a waiter for one shift, before deciding he didn’t want to work, but spend his time continuing his travels and enjoying the island. The first night was a fun experience, it was a Paint party at CoCos wooden beach bar. Being the only bar open late it was quite busy, we painted each other up and danced away next to the ocean, not believing just how lucky we were to be there.
Roxanne and I the next day decided to do some exercise, we ran up and down the beach, completing sprints and lunge/squat circuits. The sunset and ocean was good motivation despite the heat. My plan to complete daily runs went to pot that second night, as when walking back to my bungalow bear footed I kicked a rock and caught my little toe. Not assessing the full damage due to the electricity being cut off, I plastered it up and waited until morning. Upon waking my toe was throbbing, aching and causing me pain, my entire little toe had split open, my nail and surrounding skin was in one piece but only marginally attached to the rest of my toe. Ouch. I popped to the onsite nurse as I had nothing to clean the wound with, brought a few pieces and set about pulling the nail completely off and dressing my open toe. It was a slight hindrance for my remaining time in Cambodia, with the only path being sand I had to wear a sock over my bandage to avoid getting it wet and sandy..which also meant one foot was flip-flop-less.
It was in Cocos bar where we met Stu, a funny guy from Shropshire and Calleum, an Aussie from Tasmania. They were fun to hang with, they completed daily drinking sessions, which took over any existing plans they had to kayak round the island or explore other beaches. They were our nemesis during the Cocos trivia quiz, when they were wrongly declared the winners by the quiz master, who mixed up the result sheets. It was our team, Quizteamaaguleria who were the real winners!
I spent a lot of my time on Koh Rong feeling really tired, I barely slept whilst I was there. The bungalows were lovely, but being made of wood and straw, with open gaps, they tended to allow the large abundance of wildlife in. I was awoken one night by a large lizard on my pillow, it was on the other side of my mosquito net but directly next to my head. I was unable to convince it to move, and spent the night sitting up, ultimately having a staring competition with the fully grown gecko lizard with whom I shared a bed. There were 2 other nights where I was also woken up, both by rats. They were scuttling around the roof beams above me, the wall beams which were next to my bed, and the final straw for me…crawling onto my bed. I woke and screamed several times throughout my time there, I would just sit on the middle of my bed, with Roxannes windup torch, shining it at the rats, following them with a spotlight around the room, in order to keep my eye on their location. I have no idea why they liked my bed so much, and did not annoy Roxanne and Andrew who were asleep on the bed next to me. It was one of my worst experiences, and has since given me a hate of bungalows with smelly rat-piss mosquito nets.
Continuing my stroke of bad luck on Koh Rong, I woke one morning to find my toiletry bag had been stolen, I was lucky that my retainer and specialist face-care range were not in the bag, but annoyed at having to replace my toothbrush and other essentials on the island. It always confuses me when backpackers steal from each other, we are all in the same boat and know how important the limited items we own are.
Other than spending our days lazing on the beach, eating gorgeous food and drinking fresh fruit shakes in our hammock, Roxanne and I arranged a boat trip. We headed to a few snorkel destinations, swam around with brightly coloured fish in clear turquoise water. We also headed to a beach island, everyone jumped in and swam towards the island, I stayed alone on the boat, worrying about my toe…after seeing everyone on the island I decided to give it a go, and swam slowly using just one leg to swim to shore. Once there a local man was getting coconuts down from a tree, and cracking them open for drinks, he showed us how he did this, and let some people drink. It was here we met Danielle and Gary, a cool young couple travelling together, we sat on the beach for a while chatting and waiting for nightfall to come. The highlight of our boat trip came once darkness had set, our boat took us out to sea, where there were no lights or other people, we all got in the water and waited for the boat light to switch off. Once in complete darkness we kicked our legs and splashed our arms to illuminate the glowing plankton, my arms and legs glittered in the deep dark ocean water, surrounded by the glowing plankton. I lost Roxanne out at sea, and was alone for this experience, which I actually enjoyed. I floated back amongst the glowing plankton and checked out the sky, there were literally millions of stars above me, and remains the best night sky I have ever seen, to make things even more perfect a flashing comet shot past several stars. It was a brilliant experience and The perfect end to the natural beauty that is Koh Rong.
The next day, we had one last trek through the trees, on the lookout for the many snakes which reside on the island. Said goodbye once again to Sammy, and goodbye to the island. My next visit to this island may see it as a completely different place, and I am glad I saw it in its natural state… although I was very much looking forward to a rat and lizard free hostel in Sinoukville…