From Phnom Penh I head to Sihanoukville to catch a ferry to a small island called Koh Rong Samloem. There is a bigger island simply called Koh Rong, but I’ve heard it is very built up, very touristic and recently a lot of people have been getting sick there. For these reasons I opt for the smaller island.
The ferry drops me off right at the Eco Sea Dive resort. They have bungalows that are a bit pricy but they also offer beds in a dorm for $5. It’s pretty isolated - a twenty minute walk to a fishing village and a forty minute walk over to the other side of the island where all the resorts are. Also this place runs on generator power and only has electricity between 6pm and midnight. And of course no Wifi. I do have a SIM card from Smart, which is the only mobile company that works on the island, but for some reason my balance ran out the day before so I have no data left. I’m completely disconnected but actually happy about that. It’ll be good not to be able to jump on Facebook or Instagram anytime I get the urge.
Once I check in I meet the only other person in the dorm; Elena. She’s been here one day and gives me a little info about the island. The next day I walk into the nearby fishing village to explore and find a place to eat for lunch. Later I meet Sam and Annie who just checked into the dorm.
The following day Elena, Sam, Annie, and I hike twenty minutes through the jungle to the other side of the island. At that point there is a small inlet you have to cross to get to the far end of the island - the island is kind of a horse-shoe shape. We pay a fisherman a dollar a piece to take us across (That’s US Dollars. Cambodia uses US currency, though they sometimes give change in their native currency - the Riel. I find it so strange after visiting country after country where I had to constantly do conversion rates in my head to figure out how much I’m really spending, now I’m half way around the world and spending my own currency again). On the other side of the inlet is the Mad Monkey hostel. We head to their restaurant and bar area. Someone there tells us there is yet another path through the jungle to a place called Saracen Beach. It’s supposed to be very beautiful. While Elena and I eat lunch, Sam and Annie decide to try to find the path. After lunch we run into them and they tell us they couldn’t find the path and they are just going to hang out on the beach at Mad Monkey. Elena and I decide to go searching and find a path that we assume is it. It’s a beautiful trek through the jungle but it eventually dead-ends. Not what we were looking for but not a bad detour, I have to say.
Back at Mad Monkey, we go for a swim and hang out in the hammocks they have hanging in the water. Very chill place. We can’t locate Sam or Annie, but talk to a staff member and he shows us the path to Saracen. We set out again.
After about 20 minutes or so we are through the jungle to the other side. We walk right into a resort. And the beach is not that beautiful. What was everyone talking about? We’re disappointed but decide to just wander down a bit. After about 10 or 15 minutes we actually find Saracen Beach and it is beautiful despite being surrounded by resorts.
Eventually we head back to Mad Monkey. At this point there are no fishermen around to catch a ride with. Luckily it’s low tide and we had heard that you can wade across the inlet. So we set out. At its deepest it’s chest high, but for the most part it is waist deep. Eventually we reach the other side and hike back through the jungle to our side of the island.
That night, Sam, Annie, and I are sitting around a bonfire on the beach. Bill and Mary, a couple from Canada who are working there at the Eco Sea Dive resort, tell us that after the power goes out they are going fishing with a few of the Cambodians that work there. They invite us along.
Under the light of a near full moon, we all wade out to waist deep water . The Cambodians, led by a guy called “Captain” though he isn’t one, drag a large net into a semicircle. They have the rest of us run back and forth along the open end to scare the fish into the net. It’s actually a pretty interesting and hilarious experience. Captain has one of the greatest laughs I have ever heard and he laughs at everything. It’s infectious. Every one of us are nearly rolling in the water laughing so much.
The last night I’m there I’m determined to swim with the bio-luminescent plankton. The problem is you have to wait for the lights to go out. It has to be really dark to be able to see the glowing little creatures. Most nights the generator doesn’t get turned off till midnight and everyone is usually asleep by then. Tonight, there is a problem with the generator so we have no power. Sam, Annie, and I take the opportunity to go swimming. We can’t really see anything as it is a clear night and the moon is almost full. That giant luminous orb is drowning any chance we have to see the plankton. Upon Annie’s suggestion, we swim under the pier to try to get a better look. It helps a bit. If you wave your hands back and forth you can see something - barely.
Later that evening, some clouds roll in and it gets a little darker. I go for another swim. This time is better. As my hands move through the water, the plankton lights up, green tracers from my fingertips. Pretty trippy. I would love to see it when it’s pitch black but I’m satisfied for now. Maybe some other time.
The island is amazingly beautiful and incredibly relaxing. It’s been nice to be disconnected for a few days. I think it’s been healthy. Now it’s time to move on. Back on the ferry to Sihanoukville to catch a bus to Kampot.