We are currently sitting in a bus stop in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Waiting to board another overnight bus taking us back to Bangkok. We should arrive in seventeen hours (so they say). But our experience tells us it may be somewhere along twenty. (Update: we arrived in twenty two hours). Moving on..
We just spent five days on the Koh Rong and Koh Rong Somleom Islands of Cambodia. When we began researching this destination we were stunned by the images online, but horrified by some of the not so positive reviews.
Several bloggers were staunched on never returning to these islands. They were described to be over infested with bedbugs. There was a rat population that overruled the human population. There's garbage everywhere. Including mixed in with the sands. We read them all. Booking a hostel for this island was a tough job. Try to find a place that didn't have bedbugs or rats, and wasn't on top of the noisiest party bar on the island, think again.
What is island fever? When you realize that you are on an island. Without escape. Take this with a grain of salt my friends, I never wanted to escape. Koh Rong is only reachable by boat. There is a tiny medical clinic on the island, which I believe only holds first aid qualified medics. And on Koh Rong Somleom (the smaller of the islands), there is no medic. This island is only accessible three times a day by water taxi. The last one at four pm. There is NO wifi on the smaller island. If you miss the scheduled taxi boats, you are screwed. You are staying on this wifi-less party cove another night. Do not get sick after four pm. Do not get injured after four pm. Do not run out of food or water after four pm.
You really develop a hyper awareness when you're backpacking. A very in tune awareness of your body, your emotions, your surroundings. On these islands there is a small police shack, but I am unsure how many police there actually are. I am also unsure what protocol or influence these police would have in the case of a serious crime. Oh and fire detectors. You think there are fire detectors in Southeast Asia? You're wrong. Bamboo huts don't need fire detectors! (Insert eye roll here).🙄 A German girl and French guy she was with had just stayed in Siem Reap (the same weekend as us), and their hostel burned down. All of it. To the ground. Thank God nobody was seriously hurt.
I've been very in tune with my body since about one week into our trip. I'm very aware of headaches, drowsiness, stomach pain, dizziness, bug bites, you name it. A random case of hangover in the states is not the same as it is here. Nor is a twenty four hour bug (that you can't read vitamin labels for), a bad apple, or head cold. Multiply your common head cold and body aches by 20, and we may be starting to get closer to the small everyday viruses here. Then take away all your western comforts and luxuries like clean toilets, REAL toilets, flushing toilets, toilet paper near toilets, and quick and easy over the counter medicine. Now we're getting closer.
I'm more hyper aware than ever, but I've always had a case of 20/20 paranoia. I can thank my mom for that. For those of you who don't know what 20/20 paranoia is, it's when you've watched so much 20/20 in your life, dating back to your childhood, you now make sure to never go swimming alone at night, you always walk in the center of the street at night, and you know the protocol for scaring an attacker away by screaming vulgar and obscene language.
I hadn't really thought too deeply about the fact that we were on a secluded island off the Cambodian coast, where nothing is of easy access until I heard a brawl outside of our hostel at 2 am. We were on the larger of the two islands and staying on the main strip. There's quite a few travelers here, even though the island barely opened up to tourism within the past fifteen years. The island has no roads and no electricity. There is a generator that runs the island that cuts out for several hours everyday. Wifi is starting to come around, though it's pretty non existent. Back to the point. This island is now inhabited enough that you don't feel like you're in an episode of Survivor, by any means. It's now inhabited with Khmer Islanders who make a living off of the tourism, and those tourists who make memories off the Khmer land.
Our second night at Green Ocean Hostel (which we do recommend, by the way), I was woken up by what sounded like a large, angry, drunk Russian man. The fight was outside of the hostel on the beach, but the hostel was made of bamboo and walls didn't reach the ceiling, making it very easy to hear any commotion. The Russian went on to scream things like "I will end you!" for the next few hours. I heard some wrestling and pleading Cambodians, probably the owners of the hostel trying to calm the drunk down. All was fine and nothing horrible came of it - that I heard of, but it definitely gets your blood going at two am, amidst my hot slumber under out mosquito net. Here we are. On an island. Off the coast of Cambodia. And a drunk Russian has entered the building (figuratively speaking). He's probably three times the size of any of the Cambodian police, and there is no wifi, and no boats until morning. Great.
But that's what I set out to do. To travel to remote places that the majority of the population will never set foot in because they are not willing to make the sacrifices to get there. And to answer your question on our thoughts of the islands. They are now in the top three beaches I have ever seen. Yes. It was worth the rat scare. The bedbug rumors. And the angry Russian.
I'll probably never see Koh Rong again in my life. There are too many other places I haven't been yet. And if I went back, it would probably be too overpopulated with all of the people recently discovering this untouched piece of paradise.