We FINALLY made it to the islands! This had been on our list for quite some time now but with the bigger holidays in the fall and wanting to be the most efficient as possible with the week long breaks, we had not made it in the 6 months we had been in Cambodia. Nonetheless, we were determined to get there in Jan. or Feb. So, after a whirlwind of an amazing week and a half of traveling with the in-laws (Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Bangkok), we decided to keep going and do it as a late birthday celebration weekend for Adam.
The islands are a little tricky to get to from PP so we opted for a 4 day weekend trip. We booked a ride with Giant Ibis (around $18 pp round trip) for the early morning (8:30 am) bus ride down to Sihanoukville. We also bought ferry tickets in advance so we would not run into any trouble getting over there. Our friends Siv and Ryan had already been and recommended Speed Ferry. The only difficulty was that most of the ferries only go three times a day – a morning one, an early afternoon trip and a 3:00 one. Since our vans scheduled arrival was 12:30 (and we always anticipate an extra hour of travel than they say in Asia), 3 o clock was our only option.
On our way there, I ended up sitting next to this AWESOME woman named Lindsey from San Francisco (always crazy to me how small the world is!) whom worked for a prestigious environmental award group called The Goldman Environmental Prize. She was in Cambodia to give the award to a Khmer gentlemen whom has been doing a lot of work to try and help preserve Cambodia’s forests. I was so happy to hear this as there has been a lot in the news here lately about illegal logging, forest rangers being murdered, etc. IT might be shocking to know that Cambodia is one of the most dangerous places in the world, right next to Columbia, for environmental activists and reporters. She had just traveled from Austria and Slovenia. I was amped to meet someone that had been to Slovenia and we chatted the whole four hours away. Bonus – We actually got there a little early!
After we hopped off, we took a Tuk Tuk down ($2.5). Grabbed our tickets for the ferry from the Koh Rong Dive Shop and confirmed our stay at Lazy Beach. (They do not do online reservations. Just call and they will hold a spot for you. Then confirm when you get there.) We then sat down at one of the, what felt like hundreds, umbrellas and worn down but comfy rattan chairs and grabbed a brewski and lunch. Impressions of S-nookyville were that it was a hub for party backpackers and it would throw a mean high school-esque party. Reminded me a lot of Ocean City Senior Week back in Maryland. There were both Khmer and Western options for food but mainly it appeared to be a touristy spot. After a very greasy first attempt at lunch, we went for a second one. This time we went right (when looking at the harbour) versus left. We were happy to find a few cute and nicer spots. I LOVED the curry at the first spot we found (1 store past the Ferry cafe I think). And we also ate at Luna on our way back and really liked the Italian/French food.
Having had grip-for-your-life ferry experiences in Thailand and Bali in the past, we were realistic about a little bit of puking being involved on the way over. We boarded the ferries with families, dogs and babies in tow. As we took off we braced ourselves…..Fifteen minutes in and no travel sick Tracey in sight (check out these British vloggers if you want a laugh and want to know about “Tracey”) It was a miracle! The transportation gods (this is a real thing in Asia) must of have been looking down on us because it was literally smooth sailing. The ride was super short AND we went straight to Koh Rong Samloem which was never a guarantee.
Even crazier was when on top of the easy trip, as soon as we got there, we were surrounded by crystal clear aquamarine water and white sands. Jackpot!!!!!
After we pinched ourselves a few times and took pics of this postcard worthy beach, we walked down the beach to find the signs for Lazy Beach. We had heard good things from two different friends of ours about it being the better side – cleaner and less populated. I have to admit that after seeing the water on the first side, it was pretty hard to leave it to trek more in the sweaty sun not knowing what we were going to get. After about a 25 minute walk through the jungle with the monkeys, we finally got to Lazy Beach.
We were in Cabin 19 which was the second to last one. The bungalow was pretty basic – think girl scout troop camping trip – but considering we could hear the waves crashing we were so close to the water it definitely did the job. One of our favorite things about this spot was how secluded it was. You really did feel like you had your own little spot of the beach/island. (There was only about 5-8 other people on the entire beach including some nudists.) I will say though that we were a little let down with the waterfront, value and beach itself. But…we decided to give it a try for the night.
We swam around in the ocean for a bit, took a walk and swam again as the sun set before heading to dinner. (The water was so warm!) We had specially ordered a whole fresh fish earlier in the day and we’re pretty stoked to taste this new Asian fishy called Trevally that we had never had before.
The fish was MASSIVE and bomb dot com. In fact, it was so good all the ants of the island must of smelt it too. Within a few minutes of being done, the bones were being carried off our plates by these little guys. Sidenote – Ants in Cambodia are no joke…. although I respect their tenacity, they are quite abusive towards me with their biting and I have a very not so secret hatred for them. They like to get in your towels in your apartment. They attack you. You shower off thinking you’re rid of them. Then they bite you as you dry off too.
We finished the night off by playing Connect 4 a bunch of times before walking back down the beach to our little cabin. We were greeted by a MASSIVE iguana-lizard thing above our doorway chowing down on bugs. I had never seen anything like that in the wild before! Hitting the hay pretty early, we missed out on the fluorescent plankton sea swimming. The host told us about it the next morning and it sounded like you can see it both on Koh Rong Samloem and Koh Rong proper. Definitely worth checking out if you go!
The next day we decided that although we liked having our own private beach of sorts, we really were mesmerized by the blinding blue waters on the other side. So, we trudged back over, grabbed a $60 bungalow at this little spot right on the water called Natura Bungalows and immediately jumped into the water. The accommodations were quite simple (i.e., cold water, hand held showers, one small sheet, electricity only from 5-12 pm) but the towels were clean and the beds were decent enough (just bring your own pillow). We also liked this one because they had full length beach loungers you could lay on in the sun or shade whereas many of the others did not.
After loads of sun and beach time, we cleaned up a bit and headed out to grab a cocktail, enjoy the sunset and find some din din. The sunsets are pretty darn stunning here and definitely top our list of best spots (besides winter sunsets in Santa Barbara).
We grabbed a beer from Octopussy (interesting name choice…) Then, we decided to go fancy at The One resort. (FYI – Rooms were around $100 if you book there. Might be better deals on travel sites or booking.com prior to getting there. Also it was high season due to Chinese New Year) We had cruised by it earlier in the day to snag some wifi and decided it was worth spending the equivalent of what we paid for our room, for dinner. My meal was worth the splurge (corgette aka Zucchinni risotto) but Adam’s was not as great (grilled fish with pesto and veggies).
The next day, we ended up making friends with two little Latvian girls whom started playing Monkey in the Middle with Adams hat. They were the cutest little beach toeheads and spoke only a few words of English but we laughed a ton and played for hours. We also talked a bit with their mom whom is kinda my travel hero. She has been backpacking around with these two little girls and a 6 month old baby for a 3 month holiday from Latvia. Her husband had accompanied them for most of the trip but seemed to be somewhere else over the weekend as she was on her own with the lot of them. We traded travel stories in broken English and I was interested to hear that her favoritest spot that she has ever traveled was Mumbai. She described India as feeling like home to her. Adam and I both looked at each other with a smile as it seems that all signs are pointing to a trip to India for us as well.
Sunday night we decided to check out the white igloo place aka this newly built adobe style Italian hotel run by a ex-German DJ from PP. (Rooms went for $90-120 if you book there.) For Asia, the pizza was pretty darn good and of course the music was not too shabby either. Being the wild island that it is, we of course ended the night with a movie on the IPAD. Man, we are getting old! 😉
On Monday morning, we tried to stall as long as possible with boarding the ferry. Adam grabbed a latte from The One (which were apparently quite good) and we eventually headed down. We had tried to delay until the 12 o clock ferry but after learning that it could leave anywhere between 12-1 and our van ride back leaving promptly at 1:30, we were forced into the 10 am one. 😦 Begrudgingly, we got on and ran into Lindsey again. We chatted with her more on the way back. (Note – They made one stop on the other side of the island near the dive shop on the way back.)
Last but not least, we grabbed some lunch, soaked up the beach air a tiny bit more and then grabbed our favorite western road snack here – coconut OREOS! The ride back was pretty dag on long (about 6 hours) but we made it back to the Penh in time for some sush and enjoyed the “luxury” of a semi hot shower and cleanliness.
Lessons Learned #28: Traveling seems to bring something out in people. It is this brief moment in life when people’s walls come down a bit and they open themselves up. Open to new ways of seeing and doing things, open to convos with strangers and open to sleeping in little shacks on the beach for the thrill of staying on a developing island. Perhaps the world needs more travel in it’s life to assuage this growing sense of fear of those that are “different” than us because maybe, just maybe, we are all just little kids at heart that secretly still want to play monkey in the middle all together.
“I think I fall in love a little bit with anyone who shows me their soul. The world is so guarded and fearful. I appreciate rawness so much.” -Unknown
P.S. Here is the last three months on our 6 month anniversary in the Penh!