October 18, 2010

Tales of Cambodia: Welcome to Koh Rong Island

upload-b5The rain poured over us in sheets soaking every inch of the boat not protected by the off blue tarp.  It came at us from above and in front never stopping for a moment.  We all huddled together, the ten of us, protecting ourselves as we could from the rain.  In front of us Koh Rong Island waited, about an hour away.  Behind us Sihanoukville bid us goodbye, also about an hour away.  We were alone in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand in the middle of a rain storm bobbing like a cork to and fro in the wind and waves.  Looking around everyone had one sort of grim face or another plastered on but I was grinning like an idiot.  What fun this was!

Why stay in Sihanoukville a small town where the only thing to is drink and relax on the beach when you can do the exact same thing on a secluded island?  That was the reasoning I used to convince myself to head to the local dive shop and book a boat trip out.  At $3 a night for the dorm I wasn’t going to break the bank either, and heck, I’d never been on a tropical island before.

Now sitting with my back to the rain with a life preserver as my only protection from the biting cold I began to wonder if this had been the best idea.  Actually, I never did wonder that.  I was too busy having fun.

The boat may have been lurching left and right, I might have been chilled to the bone, my stuff may have been getting soaked, but I was having a whale of a good time and wouldn’t have wished to be anywhere else.  ‘Ahh, the fun of travel’ was the only thing I was thinking.

Eventually the torrent let up and the grey clouds passed over head.  Staff from the dive shop had thought ahead and so from a giant thermos poured hot water over tea bags into small plastic cups and passed them around.  Warm tea had never tasted so good.

The breeze was still cool but nothing that would cause a cold.  Conversation once again sprung up around me on topics not regarding weather.  The one closest to me was about Nepal and so I listened intently occasionally asking questions.  My next planned port of call after returning to Thailand was that part of the world and these guys had just been there.

Time passed…

And then it was in front of us, Koh Rong Island.  At only 80sqkm it was pretty small and with a population of about 2500 spread about five fishing villages it wasn’t too crowded.  White sand, palm trees, a small village, it was everything I had ever imagined an island like this would be like.

With a bump the boat made contact with the pier and we had arrived.  My heavy pack made for uneasy goings as I jumped from the swaying boat to the safety of the stationary dock.  A lot of the weight in my pack was definitely going to have to go before I attempted to climb to the high reaches of the Himalayas.

The ten of us filed off the boat making our way down the pier and to the common area each in our own little world.  Veteran divers took the place in stride but I, as a neophyte, (but not diving) was stunned.  ‘Places like this actually exist on earth and aren’t just made up by teams of marketers trying to get your tourism dollars?’ I laughed to myself.

upload-d1upload-d2We stopped and gathered waiting for our guide to reappear.  The common room was on the pier, and, as I found out a few minutes later so were the dorms I had booked.  It was a primitive place yet the air of easy living was unmistakable.  Electricity was only available from 6pm to 10pm at the restaurant and lights in the dorms, well, the generator was on the fritz so it was flashlights and candles for us.

Suddenly one of my travel mates gasped and pointed at the water beside the pier.  Some of us rushed over and looked to where her finger reached out.

I started to laugh.  It was a good laugh from deep in my belly.  I was definitely not in Kansas any more.  Around me the other people started to laugh as well.

upload-c1Just off the brilliant white sandy beach a giant water buffalo was completely submerged in the milky blue water.  It just walked around like nothing was the matter occasionally sticking its head above the surface to take a deep breath and observe us tourists.  On the shore a young boy with a short stick would occasionally yell at the loafing beach to make sure it didn’t wander the wrong way.  The water buffalo took it in stride, mostly ignoring him and enjoying its refreshing bath.  I shook my head at the whole scene trying to wrap my mind around things.

Behind me the staff member appeared and called for our attention.  ‘Welcome to Koh Rong Island…’  Yes, welcome to Koh Rong Island…

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