My Cambodia experience included two nights on what is quite possibly my paradise: Koh Rong Sanloem. Immediately after picking my jet-lagged butt up from the airport, my friend S whisked me into a waiting Land Rover taxi with her friends A and Y to head south toward the coast. Her plan was to meet up with two more friends, spend the night in the seaside town of Sihanoukville, then all six of us would take the ferry in the morning (booked through one of the dive shops) to the island of Koh Rong Sanloem.
The islands are owned by the government of Cambodia with the land being leased to residents and resorts. Our place, EcoSea, was expat run and dive oriented with a focus on environmentalism (special: pick up a bag of trash and get a free beer). The cabins are raised, wooden, thatched roof structures with hammocks strung on the front porch. Each unit is ensuite with a flush toilet and shower wand attached to the sink. There is no wifi and the generator is only run from 6p-12a each night, but I didn’t miss either. Situated between the jungle and beach, the sounds are a relaxing mix of of birds, frogs, and water lapping on the sand. A pack of dogs calls resort home, and seem to regard the tourists as convenient sources of ear scratches. The puppies will even crawl into your lap when you’re in the main building. After 15 minutes I had my feet up in a hammock and felt instantly relaxed. It was like all of my worries floated away on the wave that brought me there.
At low tide you can walk completely around the side to the town. Small, dirty, and fully tourism oriented, this is where we went to hire a taxi boat for the following day. With the help of a Turkish expat, who called his friend on the phone, we were able to strike a deal with our Khmer driver: $70 for 6 people, 10a-6p. He picked us up in the morning and we circled the island, stopping at various points to swim and snorkel off the boat. The waters were clear and blue and the lands we saw were lush, green tree filled jungles. We could see monkeys along the banks and birds circling the shallows. The boat had snorkels available for us to use and we were able to see some tropical fish among the rocky areas. Our driver did have some issue with one of the two engines. At one point had Y steer the boat while he stuck a pair of pliers in the 2nd engine. It never did work.
One of the special things about Koh Rong Sanloem is the infamous bioluminescent plankton. These small plants light up when agitated, like glitter in the water. One night I walked along the edge of the water to a dark spot, kicking at the surf and watching small sparks appear in the surf. They’re best seen when completely dark, and the group I was with swam with them on both nights after the electricity was turned off at midnight. My jet lag combined with my natural tendency to fall asleep whenever i’m tired had the better of me I was never able to enjoy the phenomenon completely. Y did try and wake me up, but apparently a shot that down.
We took the ferry back in the morning, the water rough after a night of thunderstorms. The remainder of the day was spent in Sihanoukville, rehydrating on the beach before taking the night bus to Phnom Penh. S is a big fan of the night bus and her enthusiasm combined with my Harry Potter fantasies was enough get me far too excited. The coach style bus was adapted to have to 2 levels of flat beds, singles on the left and doubles on the right, including a blanket for each passenger. S and I shared a berth for the 5hr drive. Fully stretched out, my 5’10” self didn’t fit lengthwise, so I propped my legs up on top of my bags. I’d like to say that the trip was smoother than Harry’s, but the fictional version is strangely accurate, only without the ornamental shrunken heads.