It’s public holiday season in Cambodia and last weekend saw a group of a baker’s dozen heading off to Koh Rong. This is an island off the coast of Sihanoukville which I’ve not visited since 2014 and it was high time I returned!
Leaving at 3:30am, we’ve discovered, cuts the usual five hour road trip almost in half and we sped into a bleary-eyed Sihanoukville at 6:30 on Friday morning. Then we had a leisurely two and a half hours to wait before boarding out catamaran and speeding off to Koh Rong. Once we landed on the built-up, touristy beach, we grabbed a sugar cane juice before clambering ungainly into a far less stable, gaudily painted green and orange, water taxi. We were whisked, rocking and pitching, away to a quieter, more peaceful, and infinitely more beautiful Coconut Beach. Yes, there were lots of coconuts. Between us we had three bungalows perched right on the sandy shore.
I spent most of the rest of the time in the sea and on the beach. The water was crystal clear. So clear in fact that when I jumped off the pier and then lost my sunglasses, I could simply dive under, eyes stinging from the salty water and retrieve them with relatively little trouble. As a side note, I wouldn’t advise jumping from that pier when the tide is out. My second jump resulted in my shin colliding with a concrete girder I had failed to spot. But I’m fine!
After hours of swimming, frisbee and food, some of us walked over the hill to the small fishing village nestled in the cove on the other side. It was an adorable place and I briefly wondered whether I could justify setting up a SKOPE project there. For now, however, it seems a bit too remote!
We were accompanied on our trip by the young dog (for the purpose of the alliterative blog title, I’m considering her a puppy) who lives at our accommodation and she became a constant companion from that evening onwards. In fact, most of my photos of the holiday are of her! When we returned we were invited by some villagers to drink with them. Some spoke limited English but as the whiskey flowed, my Khmer improved remarkably and we all had a great time laughing together even if there was a language barrier.
Saturday saw a lazy morning after a somewhat inebriated night of games, chatting, midnight swimming and carrying various friends to bed (no names mentioned). There were two other accommodation sites on the beach: a pretentious, soulless hotel and another bungalow place, built into the cliff face. Rachel and I walked down to explore the latter on Saturday afternoon, particularly as we’d discovered our place was expecting a large group of Khmers and were going to be unable to cook for us. We were accompanied by the dog, naturally. This dog, whom we never actually named, also joined us in the sea. She swam out to us but then wanted to be held. She wasn’t small but she was so cute so I handed her off to Jordan and went to get my camera. Literal couple’s photoshoot!
There was some fishing action too. Whatever we caught (and by we I don’t mean me), the chef would grill for us. I think Nary had the most success. The crab in particular was delicious!
Sunsets are always hit or miss but we struck gold (purple and red) with the one we watched from the top of the hill. A group of us sat in complete silence, watching as the daylight slid from view and the sky was filled with the most beautiful colours.
That evening we mostly ate burgers which made a change from the delicious but sporadically served fried rice at our accommodation. I also got thrashed at chess by Eli before we all wandered back and the cards and booze came out again.
Time disappeared from us and the group gradually got smaller. Just after midnight, the owner of our place came over and asked those that remained if we wanted to see the phosphorescent plankton. Ok, he didn’t say that, he said “see plonkton?” The night before we had seen glimmers of light as we splashed in the water but knew the later it got, the brighter they shined. We were not disappointed.
As we waded out, clouds of light bloomed around our feet, tiny sparks of life glittering in the inky black water. Trailing your fingers through it made you feel magical, power emanating from a simple touch before fading once again into the darkness. They clung momentarily to our skin as we splashed each other with water, tiny pinpricks of light in the dark night. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I wish I could have taken a photo. The images will have to remain in my head, however, but I urge every one of you reading my blog to add this to your bucket list. You won’t regret it.
Sadly our phosphorescent fun was cut short by some loud, drunken Vietnamese boys returning from a night out on the main beach. Their boat beamed a neon green light over the whole area and the plankton faded from existence. They returned, of course, as the boat headed back out to sea but somehow the magic had gone.
On Sunday we returned the way we came. The swaying, unnerving little boat, a huge, steady catamaran (once everyone had finally located their return ticket – no names mentioned again), and then our Speedy Gonzales bus driver. We pulled into a dusky Phnom Penh, tired, sandy, sweaty, salty, but wonderfully relaxed and even a little bit tanned.
Cambodian long weekends are simply the best and I’m already looking forward to the next one … this coming weekend!
And finally, this blog is dedicated to Mrs Sheila Yale, a regular reader of Lemon in Cambodia and someone who has supported my adventures for many years. When I briefly connected to the Internet on Saturday evening, the sun setting steadily in front of me, I received a text from my mother informing me of her passing. Sheila loved to hear about my trips and we regularly wrote letters to one another. Whenever I was home, I’d visit to catch her up on my life and she’d do the same. It was an honour and a privilege to call such a loving, caring, and genuinely kind woman a friend. I will miss her greatly and sincerely hope she has found peace now she is reunited with her loving husband, Henry.