Posts Tagged With: Gulf of Thailand

Koh Rong, Cambodia’s Survivor Island

Cambodia’s islands are a place of mystery. In comparison to the Thai islands, they’re pretty much distant specks on the map. As I’ve said before, Cambodia is most famous for Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields. But once you’ve visited the Cambodian islands, it’s tough to stay away.

The most popular port for getting to most of the islands is the city of Sihanoukville, or “Kampong Som” in Khmer. If you look at the map below, you’ll see that Cambodia has two tiny peninsulas that jut out along the coast.  The left peninsula consists of Koh Kong and Botum Sakor National Park. The right peninsula has Sihanoukville and Ream National Park. This past January, we took a long weekend and headed down to the coast for a dip in the Gulf of Thailand.

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The town of Sihanoukville isn’t much in itself; the layout is rather disjointed and scattered across a series of hills. The beauty of the area reveals itself when you step onto the sprawling white sand beaches.

We arrived at the port in the morning, and were planning on catching a boat out to Koh Rong at around noon.

In the meantime, I snapped a photo of the ephemeral graffiti scene that seems to be making its way across Cambodia…

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Our destination was the island of Koh Rong. Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 6.44.28 PM

The journey to Koh Rong used to take a minimum of two hours. As you’d imagine, this greatly dissuaded us from visiting; there’s nothing worse than spending two hours leap-frogging over waves with an outboard motor under the penetrating sunshine.

Luckily, Koh Rong has a speedboat business now that cuts the trip down to forty-five minutes.

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Packed full of Khmer and foreigners alike, we held onto our lifejackets and started our journey.

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Now, a bit about the title of this post. To those who read local news, I like to think that Koh Rong is known as “Cambodia’s Survivor Island”. In 2013, the French version of Survivor, titled “Koh Lanta”, was filmed on Koh Rong. (Koh Lanta is actually an island in Thailand, but it wasn’t filmed there. Perhaps the producers thought that Koh Lanta sounded more romantic than Koh Rong?)

Here’s where it gets eerie. First, one of the contestants died from a heart attack during the filming of the show. Then, the television show’s resident doctor was found dead ten days later, having committed suicide in his bungalow. He left a note expressing his guilt over the heart attack of the contestant days prior. (To read more, click here.)

As if that’s not enough, the American television show Survivor is currently being filmed on the island as we speak. No joke. As stated in The Cambodia Daily, filming began this spring and is expected to conclude in July.

But to be clear, Koh Rong is not as remote as primetime television may lead you to believe.

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It is one of the more touristy islands of Cambodia. From the snorkeling and dive companies to new restaurants that pop up daily with fried rice and banana pancakes, some say that Koh Rong is a backpacker’s paradise.

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We did expect it to be full of tourists, but I didn’t quite anticipate how crowded the little stretch of beach would be. Since there’s no roads on Koh Rong, all the shops and bungalows open right onto the beach. This leads for a continual stream of bikini-clad tourists and pounding bass long into the night.

They’ve even got a pharmacy for tourists right at the pier once you get off the boat. Need some stitches? They’ve got you covered. What about typhoid? Ear cleaning? Or how about just some basic “cleaning stuff”? And while you’re at it, why not a blood test?

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We didn’t want to stay on this part of the island. Luckily, we didn’t have to.

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I booked our time at Pura Vita resort, a tiny series of bungalows on a secluded stretch of the island. Pura Vita means “pure life” in Italian, and is well-reviewed for being a clean and comfortable place far away from the hustle and decadence of the main part of the island. We were picked up by our hotel and jetted off across the bay and around the corner, to a truly quiet stretch of the island.

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And it was perfect.

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There was no one here except for some morning joggers, the other guests at our hotel, and our lovely host, Vanny. In her mid fifties, Vanny is a Cambodian woman who fled the country during the Khmer Rouge and grew up in Canada with her family. She ran a restaurant for most of her life, but had a dream to return to where she was born. So, with her kids enrolled in college, she bought a patch of land on the island, and started pursuing her dream. If you ever visit Koh Rong, definitely stay at Pura Vita and have a cup of coffee with Vanny. She’s great.

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We spent our days watching the waves, swimming, and walking along the gorgeous 7 kilometer long beach.

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And, sometimes, I did feel like we were on the set of Survivor. 13

As idyllic as it was, we were curious about that rag-tag stretch of restaurants by the pier. So, we spent one afternoon walking from our stretch of beach across the island over to the main area.

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Even though it got a bit more touristy, it was still equally as beautiful.

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As we settled into lunch, we ordered our meals and some smoothies to quench our thirst. Little did we know that you got “One free beer with every meal.” (You can actually see the chalkboard advertisement behind my sister in the above photo.) It was definitely one of those “Only in Southeast Asia…” moments.

And of course, a trip to an island isn’t complete without some swimming.

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The water was perfect. The sand was soft. The sun was warm. The air was clean. The palms were swaying. And we were in love.

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Will I go back to Koh Rong? Absolutely. But not to stay at the main port, nor as a contestant on a reality television show. I think I like the “pura vita” just fine. 

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Kim And Sean’s Big Adventure To The Coast: Part One

I have been chomping at the bit to share our most recent adventure with you. As teachers, we work the basic 9-5 (or more like 6-5) job, Monday through Friday. When the weekend rolls around, we’re normally too knackered (a word I’ve adopted from our Kiwi friends here) to do anything but lay around the pool and catch up with our friends. When we got our first three-day weekend, we were set on venturing out of the city. I love Phnom Penh, it’s awesome, but there is so much more of Cambodia to see.

In Kuwait, there was Kuwait City, and that was pretty much it. I never felt like I was cheating myself on the weekends because I was doing all that there was to do, and I was loving it. Here, there is so much vast, untrammeled beautiful places, that they whisper to me in my sleep, taunting me.

When we accepted this job, I began to Google and fall in love with the Cardamom mountains.

We were planning on catching a bus to the coast, but our friends offered us a ride in their car to head out into the mountains to a lodge on the coast. (Yes, you can do both “mountains” and “coast” in one weekend!)

So, we all packed into their Mitsubishi Pajero and headed to Koh Kong.

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It’s a four-and-a-half hour drive, and really got stunningly beautiful about halfway through. If you look at the map above, you can see all of the environmentally-protected areas. I never knew Cambodia had so many reserves and parks myself until we got here.

The most popular part of the coast is Sihanoukville, which is near Ream National Park on the above map. To get to Sihanoukville it’s about a two and a half hour drive. The Cardamom Mountains, where we were going, take up the left-hand side of the country along the Thai border. Koh Kong is a small town along the border, and the lodge we were staying in was a twenty-minute drive inland. We were meeting another couple there, who also work at the school.

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Our friends Chino and Anna have a lovely puppy named Kampot. I am kind of falling in love with him and his goofiness.

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Cambodian countryside.

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We took a bathroom break on the long drive at a small roadside cafe. I love Cambodia’s calico sky.

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We found a new litter of puppies at the cafe. They were such cute little things! I want to get a dog so badly, but know it would be tough on both us and the doggy due to all the travel we do. I think I’ll just offer to babysit Kampot as much as possible!

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As we rolled into the Koh Kong area, Chino and Anna pulled off the road and told us we would be able to spot the lodge in the forest. I was confused about what they meant, but, lo and behold, we saw the teeny bungalows peeking out of the wilderness! You can only access the lodge by boat, but I will talk more about our arrival later…

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The pull out where we spotted the lodge. We are loving Cambodia.

Before we headed up the river to the lodge, we decided to get lunch. We had been driving since 8am, and it was around noon. We drove up to the coast and took a dirt road along one of the tributary rivers to a place called the “Crab Chack” (… or “shack” to us Western landlubbers). We had heard about how divine the seafood along the coast was, but I truly had no conception of what we were about to experience.

IMG_6716The Crab Shack was a little hideaway on the coast with hammocks, tables, and a few tourists sipping beer alongside the locals.

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You could walk along the beach, where Anna and Sasha looked at the beach glass. I was on a sensory overload. I didn’t know where to turn or what to do, it was all too much to soak in. I kept telling Anna and Sasha that I felt like I was on some tropical vacation that I would have to leave in a week and never see again, but then realized that I will be living here… for quite a while.

Then the food came.

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And what a feast it was. Anna told us to order the prawns with garlic. Each plate was heaped with the largest prawns I had ever seen. You would then create a dip made of fresh crushed Cambodian pepper and squeezed lime. The pot at the top of the photo held rice, which made it a symphony of flavors and textures in your mouth.

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I had never had such prawns in my life. They were so meaty, it was mouthfuls of shrimp. Never before in my life did I ever think I’d say, “Wow, that was a delicious mouthful of meaty, tender, juicy shrimp.” No tartar sauce needed here, folks.

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While we were eating, Sean spotted quite a beastly arachnid above our table.

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Here he tried to take another picture of the spider, but instead got a great shot of the atmosphere and mood of our lunch. Love the guy in the back.

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I was sad to leave the Crab Shack, but know that we will be back.


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Then it was time to head to the lodge… but this step of the journey must wait for another day. As it was our first ‘big journey’ out of the city, we took 300 pictures in 3 days. We were a little out of control. Instead of cramming all the pictures into one long post about the weekend as a whole, I thought you’d enjoy shorter, more focused posts to keep it interesting and palatable.

Check back in a few days to see where this boat takes us!

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