Island Life – Koh Rong, Cambodia

I left from Siem Reap on a night bus, a reclined sleeper. It was the most unique setup I’ve seen on a bus. The “beds” were not completely flat, but mostly reclined, and your feet fit under the torso of the person in front of you. Bunk bed style. It was pretty comfortable, but if I had been any taller than 5’10” I can imagine it would be much less so.

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The bus arrived in Sihanoukville in the morning. Another westerner had made friends with a local that worked at a bar on Koh Rong, and he helped us get a tuk-tuk that took us to the touristy part of town. We could buy tickets for the boat in many of the shops there. The fast boat ran about 40 minutes and cost about $15, the slow boat takes 2 hours and costs $10, round trip. The choice was obvious, except the fast boat was sold out when I got around to trying to buy my ticket. Slow boat it was.

The passengers were picked up from one of the guest houses and dropped off at a random looking industrial building at the docks. Unsure of where we were supposed to go, we find a group of westerners and locals lounging around an area definitely not made for passengers. Looking around at the boats, it was pretty unclear which was the “slow boat” transport to the island. I kind of hoped it was the yellow junker. I got my wish.

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Throughout my trip, I was trying to capture nice shots of my sweet Osprey Waypoint 80 that the company had sent me, but it was rare that I had the opportunity to set my bag down in a picturesque spot. I took this shot as proof of concept, and was waiting until we left the dock and possibly neared the island to take the money shot…then about 10 people sat on and all around my bag. Picture ruined.

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The boat was a little crowded, mixed with supplies for the island.

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I spent 3 days on Koh Rong but didn’t take very many photos 2 of the 3 days. I was just enjoying the friends I was making and the atmosphere on the island. On the boat, I had met a couple from Belgium, and we kept running into each other on the island. We decided to take a hike across the island to Long Beach, a 7km long white sands beach. The trek over the “mountain” is pretty steep going up and down, and when we reached the beach there was military personnel everywhere on an industrial looking dock with construction all around. Not the pristine beach we were expecting.

We walked along the beach, and the further from the dock the nicer it became. At the end of the beach we could see a small village, we decided to try and reach that. On the way, we met a British guy swimming with three girls and we took a break with them. Joe, Pleun, Bridgette, and Katrin ended up tagging along with us. At the village, we could either take the boat back for $5, walk all the way back along the beach, which seemed to take forever, or attempt to walk across the middle of the island. I wanted to see more of the island, so I decided to take the path across the middle of the island, and Joe joined me. I’m glad he did, would have been a long, lonely walk through the completely unremarkable terrain. It was 2x as long as the way we’d come. And I was in flip flops – I never wear flip flops. In all we walked about 24 km, it was a bit more than I’d anticipated.

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The only interesting thing on the entirety of the middle of the island.

The next couple of days I spent exploring the island, swimming, seeing the bioluminescent plankton, listening to some great music, dancing with the locals, and just spending time with a great group of friends. It’s amazing to me how you can meet random people from all over the world, spend a short, intense amount of time with them, and feel like you’ve known them forever. These short friendships feel so organic and natural, but also a bit bittersweet, since you never know if you’ll ever see them again. We had a girl from the Netherlands, two girls from Austria, two guys from Belgium, a guy from the UK, and myself – and we just clicked.

My last day on Koh Rong, we spend the day relaxing, reading,paddling in a kayak, and swimming, on a quiet beach a 30 minute or so hike from the main strip. It was the perfect relaxing end to the majority portion of my trip.

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Pleun enjoying the magazine she carried with her for the entirety of her trip.

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Bridgette and Katrin

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Job getting cozy with the white sands

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Flo from Belgium

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Job from Belgium

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The lovely Pleun (Ploon? Ploowen? Plown?) from the Netherlands

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And the lovely Bridgette from Austria

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I got really into photographing the waves

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Every time I’m around the ocean I want to find an interesting bit of coastline to photograph at night. I love those eerily smooth ocean nightscapes. I struggled to find anything to make an interesting photograph, and I tried for probably an hour to take a shot of rocks in the crashing waves. But with no moon, there wasn’t enough light to make an image. When I was returning to the village I found this salamander eating bugs on a lamppost. It made the wasted hour worthwhile.

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The light in the morning, when I was heading towards the slow boat, was pretty incredible, and I was finally inspired to shoot photos of the island.

A little about the island. When you arrive at the docks you’re overwhelmed by locals trying to get you to stay in their guesthouses. The beachfront is full of loud bars spilling Westerners out onto the sand in varying degrees of drunkenness. Many of the bars have guesthouses directly above them; I would not recommend staying in these. They’re incredibly dirty and loud, and even though they might have a good price, I’d recommend walking south along the beach to find some quieter places off of the main strip. I found a nice, quiet guesthouse with dorms and private rooms, only a 2-minute walk from the strip. I was the only guest in the dorms and effectively paid $4/night for a private room.

It was a good end to my trip, just enough beach time to relax and fulfill that need for a couple years. From here, I made my way to Phnom Penh, and then onto Hong Kong. Thing of note: None of the hotels in Phnom Penh accept credit cards. Because I was operating on very limited cash after having my wallet stolen, a friend was trying to pay for my hotel for me. She thought she had done so, and I argued with the clerk for a while telling him my room was paid for, yet he insisted I pay him cash. Finally, he called a supervisor who told me that none of the hotels have the ability to accept credit cards, so it was impossible that she had pre-paid for the room. I paid the exorbitant fee of $15 for the night. In the morning, I walked across the street to the airport and flew Air Asia to Hong Kong.

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