Ever had one of those days where everything seems to work itself out until the very last minute when it all goes wrong again? Try four of them in a row on my latest excursion to Sihanoukville!
Last week was the Water Festival, or Bon Om Touk, in Cambodia. This is an epic celebration of the life-blood of this country, the Tonle Sap river which reverses its flow in November after the Tonle Sap lake swells from months of monsoon rain, pushing the water back towards the capital. More importantly for us foreigners, we get another three days off work. With Jess having abandoned us to the stunning beaches of Bali, Clare and I set off on a two gal adventure of our own to another of Cambodia’s islands.
Despite the title of the blog, the bus journey there was actually a complete success. The failures began when we arrived at Sihanoukville. Firstly, I had assumed that since the Water Festival draws several million people to Phnom Penh we didn’t need to book a room for the one night we planned to stay on the mainland. After enquiring at the eighth or ninth guest house and being told they were full, I realised we had made a mistake. We ended up basically telling a tuk tuk driver to take us to a place he knew which had rooms. We ended up at an Australian guest house/bar run by a sex-pat who didn’t seem to think new sheets were a requirement for paying guests. So yes, we had a roof over our head and it was cheap, but ….. Almost winning at life.
The following morning was the start to Clare’s birthday. And what a start it was. The payment receipt for the ferry to the island was apparently not good enough, forcing us to walk to the head office, where Clare got into a minor altercation with the obnoxious, stubborn, and defensive owner. But we got our tickets, marched back down to the jetty, found some coffee (my life was complete then), and waited for the boat. The boat arrived! Win! We got on the boat! Win! The boat set off! Win! I saw a flying fish! Win! We arrived at an island! Win! “Welcome to Koh Rong!” Hang on, wait, what? Koh Rong? We had booked three nights on Koh Rong Samloen. FAIL! And back we went to the mainland, off the boat, onto another boat, and off again, this time to Koh Rong Samloen. It’s about 10am by this time, we’d gotten up at 6:30 and hadn’t eaten. Fail! But we got there, and it looked like this:
Such a stunning beach and beautiful, clear blue water. Our bad moods were blown away immediately by the cool sea breeze. We had booked dorm beds which were, in theory, quirky and fun: open air, double mattresses, shrouded in a mosquito net, on a platform overlooking the bay … but my sheets were so stained and gross, that I was compelled to drink copious cocktails every night to face sleeping on them. Almost winning at life!
The beach was wonderfully peaceful and relaxing. Clare and I settled down to enjoy our bruschetta (the food of the holiday it turned out) and try and forget the boat debacle of the morning. We were considering whether to move or sunbathe by the hotel when a party boat arrived and made the decision for us! This wasn’t a party boat in the Ibiza, Malaga sense of the phrase. It was a dirty brown, clapped out old ferry filled with Khmer, Korean and Chinese tourists who descended loudly and in force on our little corner of heaven… Almost winning at life!
We met some friends from dodgeball on the beach who recommended we visit a waterfall at the far end. The waterfall was really cool and we climbed up the lower part of the fall itself rather than take the path, just for fun. There was a small pool at the top, with fish which nibbled your feet and a ledge under the waterfall that just screamed “photo-op”. Sadly for my sunglasses, it screamed “diving time”. We never found them but I do have this picture:
Almost winning at life.
The next day we decided to trek over to the smaller beach on the opposite side of the island, using a narrow path through the jungle. A proper desert island adventure during which Clare and I passed the 40 minute trip discussing survival tactics for a marooning situation. The walk involved some climbing up and down rocks but wasn’t too difficult although I was constantly on the lookout for snakes and Clare was equally wary of spiders. But we made it unscathed and emerged onto one of the most perfect beaches I have ever seen.
It was so quiet that we decided reading our books and sunbathing had to be the order for the day. The monsoon rain which arrived barely thirty minutes later had other ideas. Almost winning at life.
Luckily we found shelter in Huba Huba Bungalows. Yes it’s stupidly named but it also happens to be run by Clare’s dream man. The French owner was so perfect in fact that Clare couldn’t actually speak to him. How’s that for winning yet losing at the same time.
We enjoyed an afternoon of reading and scrabble, sheltering from the rain as we waited for the downpour to pass so we could head back. Mr Huba Huba had warned us that the path would be rather slippery and we were aware of the fast fading light so when the skies brightened somewhat, we headed back to our own little corner of paradise. The trek back was much harder than the way there, firstly because the steep climb at the start was slippery with water and fallen leaves, and secondly because we left a tad too late and ended up walking in near darkness, unsure at times whether we were on the right path because the monsoon had created new puddles and streams, making the route unrecognisable. We emerged onto our beach at last, after a brief internal panic on my part as we seemed to be walking through endless, dark jungle. Our day trip hadn’t allowed us to do the sunbathing we had planned but Clare did meet Mr Right … she just can’t speak to him. Almost winning at life.
Our final day on the island allowed us to sunbathe all morning. As always, both Clare and I missed little patches when creaming up and I now sport awful burn/tan lines on my right side – damn you sun! Almost winning at life. That afternoon we decided to rent a kayak off a hilarious, slightly drunk, and rather stoned hippy guy who has made his home on the island by renting bikes and kayaks and conducting sunset tours to the far side of the island and escorting tourists back through the dark jungle … if only we’d known that the day before! Clare loves diving so we decided to try some snorkelling. It had been windy all day but calmed down so we figured visibility would be ok. It wasn’t! We couldn’t even find the first reef and ended up beaching the kayak and walking into sand-churned water looking for a shallower one. Well I stubbed my toe on something but I have no idea what! We decided to try and swim to a bluer bit of water up ahead but after about a minute of swimming through chopping, murky water with no idea what was underneath us, I freaked out completely and turned back with Clare close behind me. We spent 10 minutes sunbathing on a rock and then decided we ought to head for home as the light was failing … again. On the way back, we found a reef but it was very shallow and there was nowhere to leave the kayak. Clare jumped into the water and tried to snorkel but got freaked out again as the rocks were covered in sea urchins. Instead she climbed back onto the kayak and lay across it like a plank with her face in the water as I paddled over it. She looked hilarious! And only saw a few, dull fish. We gave up after I found a few sea urchins to hit with my oar (I hate them!) and got back just before night fell. Despite having given our arms a good workout, the aim of the kayak trip hadn’t quite come to pass. Almost winning at life.
The biggest failure was on the way back to the mainland the next day. If you take one thing away from this blog, it should be to never travel with Speed Ferry, the company which messed up both on the way to Koh Rong Samloen (via Koh Rong) and the way back. Firstly the boat was an hour late. Secondly, both the small boats had broken down so they brought a massive, slower moving one. Thirdly, they didn’t inform us that this boat was going to every single pier and jetty on both Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloen on its way back to land. And my God are there loads of them! It took us over three hours to finally get back to Sihanoukville – it should take 45 minutes. By this time, our bus was due to leave for Phnom Penh in ten minutes as I realised that instead of arriving at the pier just a few minutes from the bus stop, we were approaching the docks, several miles out of town. I called the bus company and they said they’d hold the bus for us for ten minutes. Clare and I leapt off the boat and grabbed a tuk tuk driver, explained our hurry and he raced off towards the town. Seemed like we were finally winning. Except we’d had no food, and no money nor time to buy some. We arrived at the bus stop and there was no bus in sight. Our heart sank until we saw that there were lots of westerners waiting so the bus couldn’t have left. The tuk tuk driver, to whom we should have been grateful, promptly demanded $10 for the journey. I was going to pay him $5, Clare had persuaded me to give him $6. By this time I was so stressed and tired and hungry and coffee deprived that I got really annoyed at him, explained in Khmer that I work in Phnom Penh teaching orphaned children and that I come to Cambodia to do good and don’t want to be ripped off in the process. I then opened my wallet to show him the 3000 riel I had left – $0.75. Eventually he said he’d take $8, which Clare gave him, reprimanding his attitude and greed as she did. It transpired that the bus was 45 minutes late so the worrying and the stress and the speeding tuk tuk had all been for nothing. We caught out bus home but had to console ourselves for our abysmal morning with an overpriced snickers bar. Almost winning at life!
The plus side to all this, the three days on this island with an awesome friend. Definitely winning at life!