she said (Cambodia): "DOG! DOG! DOG YES. DOG. LOOK! HERE. DOG. HERE."
April 19, 2015
After much research about what Cambodian island to go to next, we settled on Koh Rong Samloem. There is another slightly more"on the map" and cheaper island which was supposed to be absolutely stunning called simply Koh Rong. But the more we looked into it and talked to people about it, the more it sounded like a dirty cesspool rat filled party island which we definitely aren't into. Most places on the island are really simple bungalows but I literally couldn't find anything in our price range that had good reviews on TripAdvisor (my friend and my nemesis). Not only a ton of reports of noisy and dirty places, literally haunting stories about rats crawling into bugnets and crawling around people's heads all night...cry. Even though Koh Rong Samloem is known to be a bit more expensive and upmarket, we found something decently within our price range and booked ahead which actually included a FREE (too good to be true but was actually true!) tuk tuk pick up from our hotel to the pier to get on their boat. Haha when the tuk tuk came to pick us up some guy came into the hotel, grabbed us, put us on a tuk tuk and then left. So we're just sitting in the back of the tuk tuk with all our stuff but no driver. After a few minutes, this local guy who had been sitting across the street talking to another guy bolted across the street and jumped in our tuk tuk while laughing with his friend. Oh my goodness...our tuk tuk has just been hijacked by a random who is gonna drive us to an isolated area and rob us!!! (is what my head thought but actually he just took us to the pier as planned though you can bet I had my GPS map open and was tracking every second of where we were headed haha). The boat we got on (the same company who owned the accommodation we booked) was absolutely amazing!!! Every boat costs $25/rd trip which was standard but this boat had 3 levels, was painted a beautiful blue with hardwood floors and included free (on a budget, we love ANYTHING that's free!) lunch and a snorkeling stop (most ppl on the boat were actually only on a day tour).
Most of the people on the boat were Chinese tourists so obviously limited snorkeling/swimming experience. I remember a long time ago somebody on my travels somewhere asked me if I saw the "Asian sea turtles" and I was so disappointed because I didn't see any! Haha turns out the asian sea turtles were Chinese tourists snorkeling because they all go snorkeling with lifejackets on so they float. Anyways, we didn't snorkel but watching these guys snorkel was hilarious as obviously being in water is not a favorite (or possible?!) pastime because they flail with straight arms that slap the water, kick literally out of the top of the water so they get no propulsion and don't move, their lifejackets are always riding up right over top of their head and so many got hung up in the towropes--for some reason they all tried to swim over instead of just lifting the rope up and going under! Really cute and quite hilarious! I didn't realize that those most despised swimming lessons (aka near drowning experiences) I was forced to take as a kid really would come in handy in my adult world.
When we got to the island, we had to take a dingy in from the big boat to the shore...this is literally like 20 metres in. But of course, halfway there, our boat predictably just quit! The little kiddo driving it kept trying to pull the string to get the engine started again but no success. So this beefy, douchy tourist guy basically got up without a word or any invitation to do so, pretty well shoved the young local guy out of the way and did it himself with his big douchy muscles. It wasn't so much that he took over but the way he did it was so blatantly eye rolling and condescending that Bridger and I secretly hoped he'd fail (unfortunately he didn't). This was also the same guy who as soon as the little boat was loaded at the big boat he pretty well barked "GO!" to the young guy...again totally rude and condescending.
We had booked a "fancy" tent accommodation for our trip and we were so excited because it was a 4 person tent built on a cement platform with an overhang tent piece outside the tent for all your stuff, it had a private bathroom right beside it, it had a fan inside, 24 hour electricity from solar panels and patio furniture so pretty lavish for basic tent accommodation. And bonus, it wasn't a bungalow so probably NO BUGS!!! And another bonus, it was right on the beach so we could look out at the ocean from our patio and be in the ocean in seconds!
When booking online there was very specific availability so we thought they were probably pretty full, especially being high season. So we were pretty shattered when we got there because the zipper in our assigned tent 8 was broken so the front of the tent would not zip up at all! So we're in the jungle back to visions of spiders, cockroaches and lizards walking through the always open front door and crawling on our faces at night!!! Not gonna lie, paradise was shattered for a moment until Bridger went to talk to the worker and wrangled us another tent no problem...one that zipped. That was to be the first of very many interactions with the most interesting if not totally bizarre Simon from Germany. So we took the broom off the front porch of tent 8 (our new tent didn't have a broom) and made ourselves at home at the new, perfect tent and felt really good. Until the new people got to tent 8. Bridger started talking to the couple in there and they happened to mention how their tent is good but doesn't zip which is kind of a bummer (what?!!!), and Bridger happened to NOT mention how we know because we started there but ditched it for the better tent just because we got there earlier but he did happen to casually mention that we DID have a bugnet they could borrow for their time. This absolved our guilt a little bit and made us feel like like we had a bit better karma. Only to feel shitty again when we saw them walk by to the office and come back with a broom! Haha not only had we rejected their tent and moved, we pilfered everything useful and valuable from it!! We also didn't tell them about that. Haha and maybe Karma didn't work in our favor after all because I don't know if it was bedbugs or sandflies but I got eaten apart all night in our new tent (nothing like having a million bites as incentive not to bite your nails so you have something besides finger nubs to scratch them with...though I suppose the infinite germs and dirty hands in Asia should also have been incentive long before that!). And I guess because of that I couldn't sleep one night so I read for hours in the middle of the night and then happened to be awake for sunrise so went out to the beach to watch it which was SO lovely! Even curses can become blessings!
Koh Rong Samloem is actually the most incredible, amazing, gorgeous beach I've ever been to in my life hands down! We had initially booked for 2 nights but immediately extended our stay two days and then added one more day after those days were over. We never wanted to leave and Bridger was so perfectly content, a rarity for a human who always. has.to.move! The ocean was crystal clear, turquoise, shallow, no waves and had a perfect sandy bottom with no rocks, weeds, coral, nothing! The sand all along the beach was purely white and actually squeaked when you walked over it...ah, heaven!!! Haha I kid you not, the sand was so fine that I had to actually rip all my toenails off because it kept getting jammed under my toenails pushing into my skin cutting me and really hurt! Haha first world problems, I know.
What was also SO nice about Koh Rong Samloem was that it was one of those quiet chilled out places without a hippie pot smoking vibe. Again, no 3G or WIFI here either so we were again totally disconnected in a pleasant kind of way. And for reasons I'll never understand, the whole area was SO quiet and almost empty. It didn't seem like there were any people around- at any given time there was maybe 5 people swimming on the whole 5ish km beach, most of the restaurants along the beach were empty and there was no music or noise otherwise outside of nature. Ah, heaven!!! When we sat in our accommodation restaurant, there was not even music playing-just total silence and we LOVED it. Haha both of us never realized until this moment how much we've come to just appreciate pure quiet. We spent many nights in music-less restaurants or tents reading, writing, B playing solitaire and playing crib (mini crib board-the BEST thing we brought!)...all the things we felt like we were traveling so fast that we never got a chance to do. AND we were actually staying in the SAME accommodation so no more check in.check out! Between Phnom Penh with 4 straight days of check in.check out then Otres beach with 3 days of straight check in.check out (followed by 1 day at the same place) then Koh Ta Kiev where we had to switch bungalows in the two nights we were there, we were going on about a 9 day stretch of moving accommodation every day so we were SO happy to stay put, especially in paradise found!! Bridger also managed to buy a whole bottle of vodka from Simon instead of paying drink for drink and then we just bought bottles of club soda and Simon kept filling our cups with ice while we sat and mixed our own drinks while doing the above things. Though we were quite certain is was not up to snuff on liquor percentage because the first night we finished off the bottle and were drunk but definitely were not a whole-bottle-of-vodka-consumed-drunk by any means. Haha it felt so funny and peaceful to drink while writing, playing crib and talking really quietly...usually a night out drinking involves everything opposite of that! Another thing we've realized we hate is assholes who come in and can't read a situation that everyone else is quiet and you should be too...these ppl come in loud, drunk, laughing or wooing (I really really hate "woo" people!) etc. Anyways, after said bottle of vodka we went for a midnight swim (ok skinny dip so I couldn't have been THAT sober) to see the bioluminescent organisms that glow when you swish the water when it's very dark out-so cool!
All day long we pretty well just ate, swam, took pictures and played beach volleyball. Ah...heaven!!!
Haha at one point there was this young asian kiddo like 10 years old who just started swimming directly towards Bridger and then stopped in front of him, looked at him but didn't say anything and we had NO idea what was up! Then he put his hands up like he wanted to play so we tagged him into our game of "ups" as Bridger calls it. Turns out he was a 12 year old Vietnamese boy who barely spoke any English who was on the island with his mom and her white boyfriend (always a toss up between true love between a foreign man and an asian woman or dirty sex tourist looking for asian wife...) who spent most of the time we were playing volleyball making out in the water and on the sand! We played for a long time and it was hilarious because the kiddo had clearly never played volleyball so it was more like "straight down missile ball with floppy arm" but it was hilarious and awesome and if there was an award for MVP of "ups" he would have won because the skill difference btwn the start of the game and the end was really good actually! We played until he saw a puppy on a boat and immediately ran away to go look at the pup closer, all the while pointing excitedly and exclaiming in what little English he had "dog! dog! yes. dog. look! here. dog. here!" Haha when he came back there was another white young man tourist in the water and he just went up and stood next to him saying nothing. Haha I honestly think he just got confused and thought he was Bridger! Eventually he figured it out and came back to us but we were about ready to call it quits on vball for the day. I joked to kiddo "play with that guy" pointing to the other tourist in the water after which he immediately engaged that guy in an nonconsensual game of vball haha, though they looked like they were having a good time! Guy got his girlfriend out and they threw the ball around (not volleying or bumping it) in a game that resembled more "pig in the middle" style. After awhile we saw the little Vietnamese kiddo, obviously dissatisfied by these tourists clear lack of knowledge around what they were supposed to do, clearly use limited English and gestures to try to coach the tourists on how to play "ups", apparently the only real way to play w a vball haha! Anyways, great time with little kiddo but after that we never saw him again.
Most days we spent in and out of the water which was so warm as was the temp outside. I don't think there was anything big and/or predatory in these waters but still, occasionally we'd just be bobbing in the water and all of a sudden a giant school of tiny fish would start uniformly jumping in one direction. My god, when that happens, you KNOW something is chasing them so for the first few times it happened, you can bet I ran like hell in the same direction as the little fish! Until Bridger talked some sense into me that the fish are so tiny that whatever is eating them can't be that big (though giant whales eat tiny fish so not sure how solid of an argument that is...). Haha another time I was just sitting in the shallow water and these cute little fish started to swim in figure 8's around me. It was really cool until they kept getting closer and closer until I started to wonder if they wanted to chew on me! So I got up and walked a few feet away...and they followed me. So I did it a few more times and they were at my feet every time...so then I wondered whether they were not just curious but aggressive and were trying to chase me out so I ran away haha. These fish were inches long.
So somehow when we were eating dinner the 2nd night, Simon, the worker came to sit and chat with us which turned into drinking with us (another bottle purchased!). Haha for some reason this happens to Bridger and I all the time both together and separately where we're just doing our own thing out and about and someone ends up starting up a whole conversation with us or hanging out with us...some of them normal, some of them quirky and some of them straight up friendly homeless people! Anyways Simon is definitely a quirky character and while what we found was flat affect at first was actually an incredibly dry, cynical sense of humor and he didn't hesitate to make fun of us (ok me-in day one picked up on my excessive question asking so day 2 his opening line was "what's your question today?"!) and tell his stories. So Simon was from Germany and was traveling through SE Asia, decided he loved Cambodia and stayed. He hates all governments, he loves to get "fucking drunk" and plans to stay in Cambodia forever, open a restaurant in the village and marry a Cambodian girl (he already has one in mind that he talks about marrying but hasn't actually asked her parents yet). Simon was also the only person who worked at the restaurant/bungalows at the time and made clear that he was tired, sick of being the manager and couldn't wait for the new manager to come and needed it to be soon because he had a sore tooth and needed to get to the mainland to go to the dentist! Simon also hated customers and cursed every time someone new came in and he had to go serve them. An empty restaurant was a good restaurant as far as Simon was concerned haha! It was funny because he'd be sitting with us and people would come in to sit down and he would look up and say "hi" and these people would say hi tentatively but be totally confused why this random guy in the restaurant was going out of his way to say hi to them! Or they'd have no idea how to get his attention if they wanted more food, drinks or the bill so we could always see people trying to make eye contact with him, stick out their hand towards him etc. so it became Bridger and I's unofficial job to point to them and tell Simon "they want you". Haha under different circumstances I would have been so annoyed if I was the customer but I was enjoying our chats! Eventually Simon became our newest 100% of the time dining partner and then one night we didn't go to the restaurant we just stayed at our tent reading and hanging out and sure enough, boom, 11:30 pm Simon is just outside our tent with a giant headlamp on his head wanting to have a drink haha! Simon also confirmed my theory that everybody puts chocolate cake on their menu to draw tourists in but they never actually ever have chocolate cake bc they're always out...well his restaurant has cheesecake (yuuuuum!) on the menu so I ordered it and of course they don't have any and then he said that it's been on the menu for months and he's NEVER ever seen cheesecake at the restaurant.
Because we were aiming to go to Koh Rong Samloem for only two days, by the end we were running very short on clean laundry and malaria snacks (no convenience stores on the island--which evidently also meant no chocolate bars which was a real challenge for me!). So we used a handy trick we learned from our traveling friends Tamaira and Michel and stuffed a squash ball in the sink and cleaned our own underwear in the sink-works like a charm.
Until we had to hang all our underwear out on our clothesline, advertising it to the world. I was also down to my last oreo cookie and told Bridger he would have to take his malaria pill with no food and have a stomach ache (I was sharing up to this point by the way) and was being all high and mighty about me deserving it because I'm so prepared to have snacks. And then the universe smites me and my arrogance because I reached into the bag for my last cookie and it was just smothered in hundreds of tiny ants! Fucking ants! They can actually get into anything so I'm actually surprised it took that long but still, horrible and a real flick in the mouth!
Ah, it became March when we were in Koh Rong Samloem. So February only had 28 days which made us feel kind of robbed of time because it wasn't a whole month! It also actually literally robbed us of time because on entry your Cambodian visa is automatically a month long but they just go date number to date number...so we went in on Feb 9 and had to be out on March 9 which isn't 30 days! 3 whole days is basically one whole extra place to visit which is unfortunate because I had a whole place, Kampot/Kep that I was dying to visit but we had to cut because we were getting kicked out of the country :( Oh well, I guess one more reason to visit Cambodia for the 3rd time! And I suppose all the better because Cambodia in it's USD was killing our budget, especially on islands because everything is so much more expensive because it has to be imported. So after awhile in Cambodia/islands our spending was getting up to $50 a day which is outrageous! (My god, this mythical $25/day SE Asia budget is such a farce! Maybe you could do it if you travelled slow so you barely have transport costs and barely did anything and stayed in gross places but its definitely an effort and not a given, especially operating in USD. And really, maybe your food, accommodation and entertainment could equal that but then inevitably some days you're just going to have to buy that bug spray or sunscreen, get your laundry done or just straight up lose cash to the blackhole that sometimes is your travel pack!) Either way, a good chunk of time has passed and for The first time Bridger is starting to talk like maybe he realizes that we're not going to get to all 150 countries he told people we would be going to on this trip! Only time will tell how many will make the final cut... But on. our last day sitting outside our tent, we ran into a two families who are traveling for extended periods of time with their kids, amazing!!! At least made us feel like no matter what we don't get to this time, we can get to it if/when we ever have any kids and they get a bit bigger...a dream anyways!
Two things have become really clear to me as we've travelled through Cambodia. One, I sit around and listen to music/read my book/do nothing and wonder how I ever got so lucky to be here in this life. And even though there is parts that are hard to stomach about spending basically your life savings dry I know that ultimately even if I end up with $0 when I come back, it will be worth it. You never regret travel and I'm so privileged to be here!!! The other less profound is that it's so nice to have Bridger with me because he is quintessentially "cool". He can meet people and easily sit down and mix/have a drink with them and share a cigarette and shoot the shit about pretty well any topic in the world while I on the other hand am a bit of a square haha. I like what I like, I do and know about what I do and know about, I don't really do anything stereotypically cool and I'm pretty unapologetic about it. But I think on the road he makes me a little bit more of a legitimate traveler haha!