What could Koh Rong?

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We’re heading to Koh Rong – an island three hours by putt-putt ferry from the southern mainland of Cambodia. It’s billed as a place that was reminiscent of what Thailand was like 15-20 years ago.

I’ve never been to Thailand, so wouldn’t know about that – but from the effusive comments of various people on comment boards, I take it to mean any or all of the following: undeveloped, secluded, rustic (i.e. bare bones), a new frontier, undisturbed, an idyllic environment that’s seen on North American screensavers continent-wide and posters on North American walls with one of the following words below it: MOTIVATION, SUCCESS, DREAMS.

In other words, what I’m getting is that it’s going to be a bit like The Beach described in Alex Mitchell’s book, later the film with Leonardo Dicaprio – a sun bleached, sandy wonderland where inhabitants drift away with their thoughts, in sync to the sound of waves lapping the shore, forgetting entirely about jobs, money, the Internet (no choice. there isn’t one), national citizenship and thick clothing.

On arrival, it seemed promising – as we passed the scene in the top photo, I thought – “Sweet. We got an amazing deal for the price we paid!”

Everyone else was also holding their breath as we approached, wondering what kind of goldmine we’d walked into, only to exhale after 7 seconds, after the little ferry passed the palace by, and chugged towards a group of palm trees ahead.

We got off on a long ferry dock, passed the main bamboo hut, and were given keys to our bungalows – all set back from the beach, sitting on sand, on the edge of the jungle.

“Ok. Easy recovery”, I thought. So far so good.

After the resident manager gave us a brief rundown of the place, we chatted over drinks with other people who just arrived, somewhat out of solidarity, as the other guests who were already there seemed to have their own well-established clique.

It felt a bit like high school, and Rose and I were back in Grade 9.

One of the guys in the clique, came over to pour himself a drink from behind the bar, and was taking drinks over to his group – and so I assumed he worked there.

Later that night, I chatted with his girlfriend and found out that the two of them had been staying here for two weeks. They were guests like us, but seemed to have crossed over into self-appointed duties as food and drink marshalls and island cultural attaches, who gave the air that they’d seen it all on the island, and were a little past it all, but would still be happy to pass on their knowledge: “You’ve gotta try the Pina Colada. It’s the best.” “How long are you staying? I hope you stay longer. We’re decided to say here for a few more days.”

The more we talked with them, the more it felt like they were a bit depressed, and were here to nurse the hurt. It was a bit odd, but then they had said they were at the end of a long tour of Asia, and decided to finish it here. Maybe this is what Rose and I will become when our return date nears?

After chatting with more people, we found similar story-lines: this was the end of a long trip or just the last stop on a short trip before heading home. Here we were, Rose and I, still at the beginning of our trip, and we’d accidentally steered into a terminal ward – a group of melancholics, taking one last breath before passing on into the next world – one which, based on the tenor of conversation, was filled with compromise, dread and dissatisfaction.

Welcome to island paradise!

Another component that I think, makes for a successful island visit is the weather. Sun. Fit that into things, and most things can be easily forgiven.

In tandem with sun, another component that goes well for a good time on an island with a lot of heat – air conditioning.

I’ll start with sun. We had some – one day it meant we were even in kayaks. While on another, it was all the more glorious because down the beach, out of the bush, walked my favourite beast in all of Southeast Asia:

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A water buffalo. I love them. I don’t know what it is – they just are these lumbering, massively strong things, that I think are great. Anyway, I tracked this guy as he wandered through our bungalows, eventually plopping down in a pool of water, only to slowly get up and keep moving.

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I had no idea where he went, until later that afternoon when his owner, had once again trussed him up by the nose and led him back down the beach from where he busted out.

Ok, now on to another beast. If you’ve read, any of my previous posts, you know heat often plays a central character. So, I won’t disappoint.

It did it’s thing, but this time around, we had no recourse. The island ran on a generator (remember: rustic, undeveloped, new frontier) between 6-11pm at night. All the bungalows were equipped with a portable fan, which is great until 11pm. Then, once everything plunges into darkness, the heat – ever the rebel- climbs.

And with it? Our aggravation. We didn’t get any sleep the first night, alternating our time between tossing and turning, sweating from the heat, and then staring up at the mosquito net around the bed, in disbelief, wondering how did that crafty f*&ckn bug find his way in?

I don’t know if it makes sense to correlate the size of a lizard with the number of bugs it has to eat. But, since I’m not a scientist, I’m going to assume it’s fine. This is how big the lizards were:

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About the length between your wrist and elbow. When I saw how big it was from two feet away, I was shocked, but then, after seeing one take down a sentinel of bugs, I learned that these guys are our allies, and could share our room as long as they liked.

After our sleepless night, the good news was that it was overcast enough the next day to be able to sleep outside during the day and catch up from the night before.

The downside was that once we woke from the nap, we were just in time to see a massive storm move in across the gulf, heading our way.

We returned to the bungalow, and sat with our books, wondering if bombs were being dropped on the island. Looking out at the water, Rose saw a huge fork of lightning hit the water, and leave a massive spray in its wake. I looked left and saw another fork, jaggedly move down the sky, and before I could say: “WHOA”, a massive boom from thunder clattered overhead, so instead I said: “SHIIIIT”.

The storm finally tapered off in the early evening. After we finished our meal, it started again. In most circumstances, this would suck – but in circumstances without air conditioning, and electricity to power a fan – this was brilliant. I’d never been happy to have rain on a beach, but then, I’d never been on a Cambodian island on the edge of the rainy season, where the heat takes turns getting you wet, first with sweat from humidity, then the traditional way with rain.

At this moment, the rain was a natural air conditioner, and we had an amazing sleep. The only trouble was that it decided to keep going the following morning. Then the afternoon. And kept up its tantrum into the evening.

At least we could sleep, we thought. But, a funny thing happened after we’d gone to bed that night. The rain stopped. And so, with rain out of the picture, its close companion humidity took up the cause with fervor, heating up our place enough to cook a casserole. Pulling my head off my dank, sweat drenched pillow in the morning, I only felt one, single humming thing I couldn’t shake until I fell asleep out of exhaustion later that day: betrayal.

Despite all the signs against it, we thought we’d gamble for one last day and stay, hoping to tilt the seesaw in our favour, after we’d taken advantage of a break between raindrops to have a kayak and thought, “This sun could last couldn’t it? Maybe one more day?”.

Nope. It couldn’t. It really had had enough. The next morning it poured again – giving the sun only a sliver of room in the afternoon, at which Rose and I rushed into the water, delusionally hoping to enjoy a swim, forgetting that there wasn’t a sandy bottom to be had, but hard rocks, as well as the occassional sea urchin hiding out in water that was just cloudy enough from the past storms that you couldn’t see where you were stepping.

Thankfully, we didn’t step in the wrong direction, and made it back in time to find shelter before the rain continued its overture for the night.

Now, partially sleep deprived and bouncing off the walls from all the rain, Rose and I decided to leave the next day. Once we had our hands on Wifi on the mainland, we’d plot our next move.

Of course, not all was as gloomy as the weather. We met a New Zealand couple who still had some life in them, despite the fact they were heading home. Also, we met a couple who did the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, and gave us some good tips on it plus a German couple who were big on Southeast Asia and also shared their tips and ideas.

Around the side beach at night, there were also phosphorescent plankton, which you can stand in, and looks like you’re waving glow sticks all over the place when you move your hand threw it. So, yeah – that was neat.

However, the trip home had the same pall as the last couple of days: first the guy from the German couple was clutching his stomach before his ferry ride home, saying he’d eaten something awful the night before, and was laid out.

This was followed by our ride home with the island cultural attache couple who, I assumed had taken tenancy and were staying on forever – but they had finally given in to reality, which might also have had something to do with her food poisoning, that had her laid out for the past few days. Now she got on the ferry back to the mainland with us, looking much less chipper and flush than we saw her the first night.

Just to underline the point that we were leaving at the right time, it once again poured as the ferry pulled out, and bobbed through the swells on our way back to land. Once on wet land for once instead of sand, and with Wifi in the air, we began our fevered search for our next destination that we both decided would have to have one key ingredient – sun.

After a few back and forths, we finally decided, once and for all, ca suffit: we were going back to Bali.

And so we added our first new country to our travel list: Indonesia.

Talk more soon

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