“Tucked away on the shores of Cambodia- the good, the bad and the ugly “
I have to admit, i hadn’t planned this part of my trip as well as i would’ve wanted to. The upside to an unplanned trip – i had absolutely zilch expectations and an open mind.
I spent my night at the Bangkok airport and took a flight out of Bangkok to Phnom Penh which is the capital of Cambodia. The flight was just about an hour long. On reaching Cambodia i got my visa on arrival which luckily and THANKFULLY was an easy one and took me about 15 minutes.
I got out of the airport and was hounded by hoards of tuk tuk walas, but i just about managed to escape them and headed out to a bus stop that was a 5 minute walk from the Airport gate. With the help of a few locals nearby, i took a bus to the Bus station to catch another bus to Sihanoukville (a province in Southern Cambodia).
For starters, the bus took the longest time to reach the station owing to the massive traffic jam. And i literally felt like a sundried tomato, zapped out of energy in the Cambodian Heat.
Now in Cambodia, everyone accepts USD and the Cambodian Riel as the currency. So one pays in USD but gets all the change back in Riel which i thought was pretty absurd because you have to deal with 2 currencies all the time. Also i was highly under the wrong impression of Cambodia being a cheap country. It turned out to burn a bigger hole in my pocket than Thailand. You’d find beer to be a cheaper than a bottle of water in a few places here!
Anyhow, on reaching the Bus station i got a $11 ticket to Sihanoukville via the Giant Ibis Mini Bus which is considered to be the most reasonable bus to take in Cambodia. It took me about 5 hours to reach Sihanoukville.
The landscape was pretty barren with patches of burnt forests and dust storms blowing every now and then. It all kind of gave a very rustic wild west feel.
Sihanoukville (also known as Snooky) is the most popular destination in South Cambodia and is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in South Asia. I was staying at the Ochheuteal beach (still havent gotten a hang of the pronunciation).
The Ochheuteal (also known as Serendipity) beach has a pier so quite a lot of boats are anchored there and one can’t do much. One end of the beach has a few beach shacks and that’s where the crowd is.
A little south of it lies the Otres beach, the route is a bit tough to get to because there’s no road but a rough path of red sand. I had gone there late in the evening in the hope to find some glowing planktons at night on the shore but didn’t get lucky on that one. Otres is definitely one of the better ones in Snooky with a long stretch of shore and less crowd, It definitely has a more relaxed vibe than all the other beaches on this side of the coast.
After my fail attempts at catching the sight of the glowing planktons, the next day I took a 2 way Speed Ferry ticket for $20 to the Koh Rong island from the main pier.
Koh Rong has a 43km stretch of white sand beaches and is an island that is still developing. On the main shore one can find plentiful of accomodation choices with rooms starting from $5. Most of the people who are managing these cafes cum guesthouses are expats who are just travelling and choose to stay put on the islands and work for a while. There aren’t any roads on the island, but only beaten tracks and little did i know that i was about to get a taste of exactly that.
At around 4 pm I took off to trek the Koh Rong jungle to get to to the Long Beach which is a deserted 7km stretch of turquoise water and white sand. I was there with 2 other people and we were told that the trek would get wrapped up in an hour, and that worked fine for us because we would reach just in time to catch the sunset there and take a boat back to the pier.
Now the Koh Rong trek is a legit jungle trek, you have to figure it out by yourself ,there’s no clear signs and a whole lot of diversions which are bound to confuse you. And not to forget the million animal sounds around you. A thousand rocks to climb up and step down from, the entire time i felt as if some animal would just pounce on me. Creepy insects around , climbing down cliffs,massive jungle overgrowth in certain areas, the list goes on. Till about halfway we could mostly figure out the route (all hail Google Maps) but after a point we kept coming across diversions and Google maps also kinda gave up on us so we followed this black cable that was running superfically underground and was visible for every 20m in the hope that this cable would lead us to someplace with a human maybe?
The entire time i felt like i was in the “Lost” series , deserted on some island and i regretted every decision that i had ever made in my life that had brought me to this very point. An hour into thinking about my very last day on this planet, we FINALLY could hear the sound of waves and a few people talking. I’d never felt relief of this kind.
Towards the end of the route we had to climb down cliffs which were literally at an 80 degree angle and that was scary but i would’ve walked through fire if i had to honestly. I just wanted to get on that shore – to some place human.
After getting down and walking about 50m we saw the beach and GOD were we thrilled.
The Long beach was just so serene and beautiful. The water was transparent till as deep as i went. A million fishes kept nibbling away at my feet and i could also feel the plankton touching me , it felt a bit creepy in the beggining but the whole setting was just so dreamy, with the jungle behind and this expanse of a shore infront of me. We caught the sunset there ,cartwheel-ed around like happy maniacs nd took the last longtail boat back to the main pier. (There was no way we were trekking back again)
After reaching the main pier ,we got something to eat and booked a $5 boat ride to swim with the glowing plankton, which was something that I’d been psyched about since the very beggining of planning this trip. The Koh Rong island has phytoplanktons in the sea that light up or illuminate when disturbed. A thousand of them wash upto the shore sometimes and its just the most beautiful thing ever.
So our boat driver took us about 15 minutes away from the island , and gave us snorkelling masks to put on and told us to dive into the water. The moment i jumped into the water with my mask , i saw a million small dot like creatures glow,emit a bluish light. I swirled around in the water and all the phytoplankton would move and light up and the water around me would glow. Major “Life of Pi” feels. It was the most beautiful experience of my life. We were there for about half an hour enjoying this breathtaking phenomenon before heading back to the pier. We swam in the ocean in the dark, under a thousand stars while it seemed like ocean reflected the stars above with the phytoplankton glowing at night. The glow was so much that you could see the surrounding fishes also.
I couldn’t believe that thousands of miles away from where i live, something so surreal like this happens every night, and i just felt so blessed to actually witness this and live on a planet this beautiful. The saddest thing about Koh Rong is that despite it being in its early developmental stages one can already see the pollution, the plastic bottles and bags floating in the ocean , it’s just so sad that a place that has something so magical to offer us is being taken for granted.
We headed back to the shore after a bit of this late night swimming in the ocean. The next day, i headed back to Sihanoukville on the speed boat, went to see the Kbal Chhay Waterfalls which was totally the worst decision of this trip because the falls were damn dirty and crowded and there’s no road to it so basically abstain if you ever plan to come to Sihanoukville. I came back to Sihanoukville in the evening from the falls, caught the sunset at the Ochheuteal beach, then took the overnight bus to head to Siem Reap.
Cambodia has turned out to be a land of such stark contrasts.. On one side on the mainland its all about the grind of the rough beaten and offbeaten paths and heading to the islands offshore it just seems like a different universe altogether. But i guess that’s where the beauty lies, the fact that one place can offer so much to you, can make you hate it and love it at the same time!
This trip was originally published on Loving Lost