Most of Cambodia's islands have been sold off to this country or that country by Cambodia's governments in a bid to cash in. Cambodia itself seems to own very little of its own stuff which is such a shame because there are a bunch of treasures right off the shores of Sihanoukville. Now that tourism is taking off, many seem to have these massive (over!)development plans on par with the likes of creating places like Koh Samui in Thailand, though, most have not been started yet. So it's an amazing time to go and explore Cambodia's islands because they are in probably the most pure state they'll unfortunately ever be. Our first stop was an incredibly undeveloped island about an hour off the coast of Sihanoukville called Koh Ta Kiev. This island is literally home to a handful of fishing villages and about 5 bare bones accommodation options. Now Bridger and I over the course of this trip have come to accept that we are not bare bones loving people anymore! Then we become familiar with the term "flashpacker" vs. "backpacker"...when I first heard that term I scoffed a bit bc I thought it was referring to people who travel really fast and are in and out of places and on to the next. It doesn't mean that. It means people who travel who like a little bit more comfort and a little bit less dirtiness and will pay a little bit more money for it. Oh my god we realized...WE are flashpackers!!! WE avoid bungalows whenever possible and instead go to higher priced concrete, fully enclosed bug reduced hotels. WE grumble about the quality, thickness and texture (or lack thereof) of pillows. WE go to the "slightly more upscale" places of a destination instead of the dime a dozen backpacker zones. WE try to find the quietest places with the least people talking and music playing as possible. WE prefer to talk to the middle aged couple beside us than the guitar playing 21 year old Canadian coming to the island for a bartending job. Oh my god!!! We got into this trip thinking that we'd be "backpacking" the world but actually that part of our life is over and we are now "flashpacking" the world, ah!
Anyways, enter Koh Ta Kiev to rattle our flashpacking ways up a bit. Based on the descriptions we read, we knew it was going to be basic of the basic but it sounded like the most amazing experience so we put on our big kid pants and headed over to a place called Ten103 treehouse where we quite literally stayed in a treehouse. Our bungalow and Koh Ta Kiev was absolutely incredible and such a fabulous, if not totally challenging experience!
The island has no cars or roads so you have to take a boat over for about an hour which drops you and leaves. Our treehouse was one of a handful nestled in the trees facing the water and was SO private. It had 3 half walls around the sides and back and the entire front was wide open to the ocean (We could actually lay in bed and see the ocean)so ultimately, more like a platform/shell than an enclosed bungalow...anything was welcome to come and go. It had lovely little chairs and a hammock at the front overlooking the insanely clear turquoise water. We climbed a ladder to get up and sometimes free roaming cows ran underneath.
There was no running water or electricity, just a generator that was on from about 5-10:30 pm. After that was just pitch darkness. There was no 3G or WIFI. Bathrooms were shared, located near the restaurant a 5 minute hike through the jungle path from our bungalow with squatty potty's only and bucket dump showers.
The place we stayed at was relatively new so even though the treehouses were very basic, they were still very clean and well kept...no resident spiders had made them their home yet, the sheets were washed and clean, the bugnets were fresh and didn't have any holes, the wood and bamboo was still fresh and clean etc. Bridger and I both commented that somehow we actually felt more comfortable in this wide open air treehouse than we did in enclosed, dark bungalows!
The pace of life was insanely slow and insanely tranquil and quiet...most of the time you didn't hear people or music, only jungle sounds and the ocean. Half the time, day and night we just sat on our balcony chatting and overlooking the sunset and the ocean.
One day I spent a ridiculously long time watching a lizard on our treehouse eat ants. It was so cute because he would launch and grab an ant and then just munch on it, opening and closing his mouth. It was also curious because he would stand still and stare at the ants for a long time before eating one, like he was choosing which ant he wanted-but how different can they be?! And then he would eat and then move a few inches over and keep hunting the same family of ants-but why move because it was the same ants and it's not like they changed their patterns after he ate one?! Ah nature. Other times we just swam or played in the amazingly clear water right in front of our treehouse.
In the evening we went over to the restaurant of our bungalow (not much choices!) for supper and sometimes chats with the other ppl who were staying there. This seems simple but was usually preceded by a 10 min argument between Bridger and I over whether we would sit at the bar (great for Bridger because he can't bend properly like a 90 year old man, shitty for me because I cant reach the ground so my feet dangle like a 3 year old child) or sit at the chairless Asian short tables with cushions (great for me because I can bend and its my height, shitty for Bridger because again, he cant bend) ending with compromising alternates or just sitting in separate places! (Note: these "arguments" were not isolated to Koh Ta Kiev but happened every day all over SE Asia as Bridger seemed to be in an endless quest not to bend and I, in an endless quest not to dangle!). At the restaurant, there was a darling little girl there (Asian kids are CUTE, especially Cambodian ones!) who was the daughter of one of the staff and she spend the night running around making friends with tourists, making faces at them and enticing them into playing games. At one point Bridger and I found ourselves at the bar playing some game with plastic puzzle piece construction toys until she abandoned us for someone else leaving us to play 5 year old toys by ourselves...I thought I left that SLP life behind in Canada :) Little gal barely had any English but enough to say "me no picture" when another tourist tried to take her picture and, "you no small!" to Bridger, just in case he was starting to think that maybe he'd dropped a few pounds on the trip so far :)
Haha the days were more than fine but the nights were a little more exhausting and I'd say, even in spite of sheer tranquility, we slept like garbage. What was lovely was that you could lay in bed and see the moon and sometimes the water and other than that it was pitch black. The night challenges usually started when we had to walk back through the jungle from the restaurant to our treehouse. The menu actually said something like "though you're highly unlikely to see one, snakes in Cambodia are venomous so make sure you have a flashlight"-reassuring! Those walks through the jungle were never relaxing and god forbid you had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and had to make the trek back after the electricity went off! I committed to just not (I never realized just how long a human could hold their pee) or worst case scenario, I'd just do whatever I had to do under the treehouse but whatever happened, I was NOT going back to that bathroom in the middle of the night! When we got back to the treehouse we would get in the bed and tuck the bugnet all around under the mattress so not just mosquitos would stay out but every possible creature who could join us at night would not get in our bed either. I am still haunted by reading a review about some bungalows in one of the Cambodian islands where a girl recounted the greatest horror night of her life where it didn't matter what they did with their bugnet, it could not keep the rats out so they spend the night with rats crawling around their head...haunting! Every night before you go to bed you just hope that you sleep so you don't have to be present for every hour on the clock and the mysterious jungle noises that come with it! The first night Bridger tossed and turned all night and I woke up at 5:00 am and there was definitely some action in the area--not sure what it was but there was definitely some little footsteps on the floor of our treehouse and something rustling around in the bamboo roof so needless to say, sleep was not coming after that! Of course your natural reaction is to turn on the flashlight to see what it is and that's exactly what Bridger immediately went for. I'm of the camp that you should NEVER do that because its really better not to see and know what's out there! If you're just interested and curious and that's why your trying to find thesource, whatever, if you're freaked out, then definitely bad idea! He turned it off before we saw something that might haunt us for the rest of our lives! Needless to say 5:00 to sunrise was a reeeeallly long hour! It was actually so beautiful to watch it get light from our bed (morning is such a welcome sight after a long night!). You also realize when you watch the whole process that forever we've been trained to think about day and night as so dichotomous but in reality it's such a constant and gradual transition such that at any given time I wouldn't have been able to tell you whether it was day or night because they really are inextricable from eachother. Haha wow, I promise I wasn't high... The next night in spite of my best hoping to sleep I woke up at 2 am and couldn't sleep and that was torturous because daylight (and reprieve) was soooo far away! Lucky for me, unlucky for him, Bridger sleeps so crappy that most of the time I'm awake, so was he. This time the footsteps were there again and at one point I'm almost certain that I heard something trying to drag my mini backpack (the only thing with food in it-malaria pill snacks, damn you!) across the floor. We tossed and turned for a few hours being tortured by night sounds with visions of creatures invading our mosquito net and into our bed. I've never had to pee so much in my life but I did not want to leave my bed even to pee under the treehouse with all the mystery creatures directly outside our safe haven net. I eventually fell asleep again and when I woke up it was already light-I've never been more happy to open my eyes and see light rather than darkness! Nights were also long because I would start to thinkabout how isolated we were and how if there ever was a medical emergency (snakes!), you're pretty well stuck with no speed boats on the island. And then I go back to my travel motto "just don't think about it"! When it worked out, it was such an incredible feeling to wake up naturally to the sun instead of an alarm clock, even if it's ungodly early, you still feel fine and happy. Gosh, if everyone could just wake up early naturally by nature every morning we'd all be so much better adjusted people (except for you handful of assholes who are just naturally morning people who I envy to no end).
Haha one day we decided to rent a kayak and paddle around the entire island...a good plan in theory but turned into more of a mission than a joy! The kayaks ended up being the inflatable kind which really, lacks any of the qualities that makes it inherently "kayak" and ended up being more "dingy". And the guy only had the two person kayak to lend us AND he only had one paddle. No problem Bridger says, he's up for the challenge and besides, the guy said it would take about 4 hours to get around.
We (Bridger) started paddling out of our little bay and rounded the corner pretty well into open ocean with wind and really big swells that were really hard to paddle through, especially for a single paddler and a two person kayak! But Bridger is gritty as fuck and kept going until we made it to a long sandy, almost completely empty beach save about 3 people. We turned our kayak to start heading in for a swim and at pretty well the same time, the one man on the beach literally turned to face our way and he took off his pants and stood there nude...Now I'm not sure if that was coincidental, a cheeky embracing of the name because ironically the beach was called "naked beach", or a warning to find our own stretch of empty beach but we interpretedthe latter and kept paddling down the beach a bit! By this point we had been paddling for about 2 hours and were only about 1/3 of the way around the island, not good sticking to the time frame, Bridger was exhausted (I offered to paddle!) and we seriously contemplated whether we should just turn back because we didn't know if we could actually make it fully around the island at this rate! Bridger, god bless him kept paddling around the next corner where we stopped for a drink at a long amazing white sandy beach with another bare bones resort on it. Crazily enough we also met another couple who were doing the exact same thing as us (except with two paddles) so we compared notes about our grueling progress so far and talked about whether to turn back or keep going. Turns out they're staying in thebungalows at the resort right next to ours and they had a giant resident spider in their bungalow and their neighbors had a resident snake so we felt like we were doing pretty good with our little treehouse. Anyways, we both decided that now that we had rounded the corner there would be less waves and it would be easier going from there so best to commit and keep going. It was much less wavy which was incredible but then we ended up in the middle of a super shallow, rock, coral field--all we needed now was to be popped and beached on an island with no roads or electricity or phone system! But Bridger kept on padding (I kept offering to take a turn I promise!). And THEN it started to rain and I really freaked out because we were still so far away, it was getting dark and now our boat was going to get filled up with rain and sink off an island with no roads or electricity or phone system! Luckily it only spit and didn't turn into full on monsoon which it definitely had the possibility to--if that happened, I don't even know what we would have done, I guess we would have had to go to shore for awhile and wait it out losing precious daylight time. But Bridger was incredible and he just kept calm and kept freaking paddling even though he probably felt pretty desperate inside being totally exhausted paddling this terribly inefficient dingy boat for the last 4.5 hours with still 1/3 ish of the island left to go. I continued to be able to do nothing so, like the rest of the trip, I just sat in the front of the boat and tried not to get too sunburned while trying to keep my dramatic thoughts to a minimum. And I cheered him on... "Wow, Bridger you're amazing. You're so strong. I can't believe how mentally tough you are. I can always count on you to just do what needs done" haha. We rounded the last corner which put us SO close to being back except now the wind was blowing di-F'ing-rectly at us so we were moving head on into the huge waves. Poor Bridger was paddling as hard as he could but we literally were at a stand still and again, I wondered if it was even possible that we could make it back in this hell on water boat. Maybe we just pull up on the beach and wait for someone to just find us?! But the man just kept on rowing. At this point I was pretty well in total awe of not only the fact that he had been paddling for like 5.5 hours, about 70% of it being against waves but also of his absolutely tough as nails mental resolve just to hold it together and get it done...where I would have been at mental collapse mode long ago! Eventually we made it in after thesunset after about 6 hours of paddling and the guy we rented them from was literally waiting for us on the beach and was about ready to come out and do a rescue mission...on his own kayak because there was no speedboats on the island!!
I guess the couple that we met at the bar had said the last stretch was brutal and they were barely moving with two of them paddling so they weren't sure how we'd be making out with only one paddler so he was getting a little nervous, especially because it was dusk. Man did it ever start out enjoyable and then after about 1.5 hours I was done andthe last 4.5 were just annoying so I can only imagine how Bridger felt! Though once it was all done, in hindsight it was really awesome to see the entire island and truly how undeveloped and beautiful it was. One thing the trip reinforced loud and clear is how different but maybe complementary the two of us are if we remember to actually appreciate what the other brings to the table! I'm the logistical mastermind behind this whole trip- I'll do a ton of legwork and research pre-situations (Bridger, not so much!) to make sure we're doing things the best and wont have to "get through" anything where Bridger wings everything but regardless of what we have to deal with, he is so resourceful and competent andI can totally trust that while I'm crumbling and becoming non-functional, he's just doing what it takes to get it done. Either way we are NEVER going on an inflatable kayak again!
Even though Bridger and I committed to "just not going poo" the whole time we were staying on the island, nature didn't work out that way. But with only a squatty potty for 3 days, by the end I felt much more successful and comfortable doing all your business in the squatty...though I still need to take a full leg out of my pants-I don't think this will ever progress! Wonder what the Asians would think of that method! As if the universe felt me starting to give myself a pat on the back for my squatty potty success, I got my period on the last morning before we checked out...right after I got back from my morning trek through the jungle to the one bathroom...great! I definitely didn't want to do the jungle trek again (remember the snakes...I purposefully try to do the walk as little as possible) and thought that this isolated, remote, basic amenity place is definitely the place not to screw around with trying to make the diva cup work so I decided it was time to bust out one of the very few "emergency" tampons I packed (tampons w applicator are really hard to find in SE Asia--and seriously who can really use tampons with no applicator?!?!). Ok here goes...I tell Bridger to close his eyes, move to the back of the hut (which is actually like maybe 8 feet from the front) so hopefully nobody walking by on the beach can see and pop in a tampon right there...to which I realized after that the hut didn't have a garbage can...so had to wrap all the "extras" in kleenex and stuff them in my purse for later. So now, not only has SE Asia taught me how to do everything in a squatty potty without doing it on myself as well as manage a diva cup in a shower, I now no longer even need a bathroom to work a tampon haha. Gosh do men ever have it easier in Asia...actually everywhere.
On our last day we checked out and took a boat back to the mainland. We met some Canadian and British girls on the boat and ended up going out for lunch with them before sharing a tuk tuk from Otres beach into the main sleazy city of Sihanoukville. It was so interesting and another reminder of what it means to be a Canadian because myself and one of the British girls shared a pizza for $5.50 and when it was time to pay the bill, I didn't think twice about just throwing in $3 even and calling it a tip where the British gal got out her bills and counted out exactly $2.75 haha. As if we'd forgotten how old we are, we also got a swift reminder that we really are no longer shoestringer backpackers when we were negotiating the price for the tuk tuk in to Sihanoukville. The younger girls were holding firm that it should cost $5, an even $1 from each of us and the driver was holding firm at $6-yes people we're talking a difference of $1 here split between 5 people! Eventually, instead of negotiating (by the way, Bridger and I are becoming more terrible negotiators by the day and sometimes just ask the price and accept it without even bothering with the trouble of offering a counter offer!) we just said ok fuck, we'll just pay the extra dollar between the two of us. And we were on our way for 6 bucks!
We checked into a cheap and always basic hotel room for the night before going out to do some chores before leaving the next day to the next island. When we were leaving as always I secured up all the doors, windows, bags, whatever but realized that the window lock was broken. Even though logically I knew that people probably weren't going to scale the wall to our third floor room to get in the unlocked window to steal what little we left in there, I was still nervous because Sihanoukville has a bit of a sketch reputation. So Bridger, being the ever resourceful amazing thinker that he is, made fun of me profusely but still grabbed a wooden chair from the room and shoved it up over the bed and into the window to "lock" it (think hockey stick in a sliding glass patio door type contraption). Haha now I really wonder what the people looking up from the ground thought about THAT! Also, there was no mirror anywhere in the whole "resort" in Koh Ta Kiev. It was so weird because unless you don't have one, you don't realize that in an average day we look in the mirror like 30 times. And vainly enough, I desperately wanted to look in one, haha especially when a bug flew directly (I mean divebombed) into my eye and Bridger had to shadow direct me every mm to get it out! But guess what, when we finally got back to mainland checked into our hotel room I looked at myself and SURPRISE, I looked exactly the same!
We went out for a drink in Sihanoukville, a real splurge fro me at $3.50 US/drink...that's like home prices! Bridger drinks alot more casually than me because he drinks beer for like 50-75 cents each so much more affordable than mixed hards. I literally don't party because I can't afford to party unless I learn how to choke down beer better (I'm trying!). After that we went to get out cash from an ATM and again, had to go in a quest for a way to break our freaking 100 and 50 USD bills. The money exchanger wouldn't do it so we thought we'd try for the casino. Bridger and I both attempted to walk in wearing tank tops and I swear, still to this day I don't know why or what happened and for the first time in the history of the world Bridger, a man, was refused entry because of his tank top but I, a woman, who has to cover myself so many places I go, was allowed in in my spaghetti straps. So sure enough, went in, easily exchanged money into smaller bills and we were on our way. Sihanoukville actually reminds me alot of Vegas. It's known as a sleazy party town complete with casinos, bars, lights and glitter, sex tourists and drunk tourists. Interestingly there are also lots of Russians there (Cambodia has a huge Russian tourist pop, probably because as it seems, they own half the country). Not to make sweeping generalizations because I really don't know too many Russians, but many Russians were such quirky people for some reason...on the boat from Koh Ta Kiev there was one Russian lady who literally filed her fingernails for the full HOUR boat ride! Anyways, Sihanoukville was not our kind of town and we were happy to get out of there asap!