The last weekend in March, I went with my friend Jaimie to the island of Koh Rong Samloem for a weekend getaway at the beach. With only two weeks left to go in my volunteer term, visiting the island was my last big trip out of Phnom Penh before I return to the U.S and my last trip with Jaimie, who was my first roommate and my first friend here in Cambodia.
Visiting the beach was the last item on my “to-do” list before leaving Cambodia, so I jumped at the chance to travel with Jaimie the last weekend in March. She was going for a week, but I decided I would take a long weekend and go with her to soak up some sun. We left on Friday afternoon around 6pm, taking a large charter bus to Sihanoukville, where we would take a ferry boat the next morning to the islands.
Saturday morning, we checked out of our guesthouse and took a tuk tuk to one of the many piers in Sihanoukville. Unfortunately for us, neither we, the tuk tuk driver, or the expat desk attendant knew exactly which pier we were supposed to be going to. We ended up at a rather sketchy looking pier next to the International Port of Sihanoukville, and since the tickets we bought were the same price as was quoted in the email ($20, round trip), we didn’t think anything of it. But the boat we ended up on was just as sketchy as the pier, but since there were other travelers and it went to both Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, we decided to roll with it.
The boat ride lasted two hours, and I’m incredibly thankful that I managed to avoid getting seasick, even though it’s rare I can get on a boat and not start to feel dizzy. When I finally did get off the boat, though, my head was swimming and it felt like the land was rocking. That wasn’t particularly fun to deal with, but better on land than on the boat!
We were dropped off at a pier on the north part of the island, which left us having to figure out how to get to the south part of the island where our bungalow was. We were able to talk to an owner of a guest house on this part of the island and for $4 each, he was willing to give us a ride on his long boat to where we were staying. Had we traveled over land, it would have been a 5-6 mile trek through jungle paths, which neither one of us really wanted to do. We also met another traveler, Emily, on this longboat ride, who was going to the same place we were. She became our third traveling companion for the weekend, so that was another added bonus. After having lunch and a two hour nap in some hammocks (where I began my process of turning from pale to tomato), we walked through a small village to the beach, into the water, and hopped on board our boat.
Our second boat ride for the day was about 30 minutes, and was actually a really awesome experience. Being out on this really basic motorboat and watching the water and the shoreline showed you a part of the island that you otherwise wouldn’t get to see. It was nice to get checked into our lodging though, a private bungalow at The Beach Resort. After we got settled and took a nap, we set off down the beach to have dinner at one of the few restaurants available. The best chicken sandwich I have ever had in my life was at that restaurant, and I will greatly miss the experience of being able to eat such delicious food while watching the sunset over the bay.
Sunday was, basically, a beach day. Jaimie, Emily, and myself spent the morning and early afternoon laying on the beach, swimming, and reading. Despite what I thought was more than enough sunscreen (50 SPF too!), I got incredibly burned all over my body. But honestly, it was worth it just to be able to relax and enjoy the scenery. After lunch, we set off on a 1 mile trek across the island so we could watch the sunset on the west side of the island. It was across mostly flat land, so it wasn’t so bad, but we did have to watch out for snakes and spiders in the jungle.
Afternoon was more of the same, hanging out at the only resort/restaurant on Lazy Beach, reading, swimming, etc. Sunset was around 6 or so, and it was absolutely breathtaking. Coming from Indiana, I don’t get to see the sun setting into the ocean all that often, so this was definitely a moment that I will remember for a while. Just watching the colors in the sky and on the water was enough to make the trek worth it, even though we had to do the return trek in the dark, using nothing but flashlights. That too, was well worth it. I have never seen so many stars as I did that night – with virtually no light pollution, it was incredible to see just how many stars there were and how bright they were! Despite some run-ins with cobwebs, we made it back to our beach safe and sound.
I will mention that when we returned, we stayed up a bit more so we could walk around in the water. There are some bioluminescent phytoplankton that live in that water, and while they were not as brilliant as they were the last time I saw them in Puerto Rico, it was cool to see.
After having another relaxing morning on Monday, I parted ways with Jaimie and Emily. They were staying on the island for another night and I was headed back to Phnom Penh. Because of our mix up with the boat tickets, I ended up buying a separate ticket with the Party Boat (the boat we were originally supposed to be on) so I wouldn’t have to pay to go back to the other pier to get picked up. By 5:30, I was back in Sihanoukville, where I discovered that I wouldn’t be able to get a night bus home. Instead, I checked into the guesthouse where Jaimie and I had stayed previously and after a minor issue with them giving me a mattress that was all springs (not okay, considering the state of the sunburn on my back), I was able to get some sleep and headed back to Phnom Penh in the morning.
My weekend end up lasting a day longer than originally intended, but it was well worth it, sunburn and all. I’m not sure that I ever seen water so blue or sand so white and soft. I have done a fair bit of traveling around while I’ve been in Cambodia, but I’m really glad that I saved this trip to the beach for last. With only 9 days left before I leave for home, I’m hoping that the memories of rest and relaxation will help get me through the rest of the week.