Cycling in Cambodia: Koh Rong Samloem to Koh Rong
I awoke to the sound of the sea lapping up the sand below my tent platform.
There had been a rainstorm overnight and the air was fresh, I decided to take a walk along the beach.
Koh Rong Samloem is the smaller of the two Koh Rongs and is supposed to be far less developed than its’ bigger brother. As with most islands in South-East Asia, development is well under way to change this. Signs of new lodges being built on the sand were evident, some in keeping with the traditional reed-roofed huts, and some that wouldn’t look out of place on the Jetsons. The beach however, was beautiful, with clear turquoise water and soft white sand.
I walked the length of the crescent-shaped beach and ended up having coffee in a beach shack to catch up on some emails. Not a bad little office.
Back at the Dolphin Bay, not a lot had happened by the time I returned. A few of the French group were rolling their first joint of the day, and the Israelis were asking for a lighter. Probably to light their first joint.
I’ve never been good at staying still, my original plan was to stay on Koh Rong Samloem for two nights, skip Koh Rong, then return back to the mainland. I was intrigued to see the difference between the two however, so got the taxi boat along the shore to the pier.
Yet again, my trusty Surly was passed across the water from the taxi to the pier, this time one of the boat crew did the classic lean the bike frame up on a concrete post. The other taxi passengers made a resounding “Ooohhhh” as I hopped off the boat to prevent any further damage to my beloved bike. Luckily, I’d gotten away just a minor scratch on the crossbar.
I chatted with a young ferry operator on the pier as he told me about how he worked his way up, leaving his family behind to get his job. He was from a large family near Phnom Penh and had lost two brothers and a sister during the Khmer Rouge conflict. Now the main breadwinner of the family, he was sending money back each month to sustain his family. I would imagine was around 19 years old. I thought back to my life at 19, our lives couldn’t have been more different.
The ferry soon arrived and a new batch of island goers disembarked onto Koh Rong Samloem. Around thirty minutes later, I was passing my bike over the water for the third time. Instead of waiting for my bags to be passed up from the hold, I walked along the pier and reserved a room in Vagabonds before the crowds of the ferry reduced my options.
They were a friendly bunch at Vagabonds, but I definitely got the vibe that not a lot happens. I chatted with few girls at the bar, they were welcoming the return of an English girl who had evidently been home for a while. I struggled to imagine myself living and working in a bar or hostel on a island somewhere. It’s a romantic idea, and perhaps a few years ago I would have considered it.
As I checked in, one of the girls flicked through my passport and remarked, “you’ve got an interesting passport there” to which I explained that travel was part of my job.
“I wish I had a job that I could travel with” came the reply. This was a place of pure hedonism, of living in a place of real beauty, but throughout our conversations, I couldn’t help but feel that the reality of living somewhere like Koh Rong was very different from the Facebook posts that circulated.
As the sun went down, I chatted with a girl from New York who seemed a little lost in life. There was also an American chap, who’d spent a year living in a Cambodian jungle building a guest house for a friend, living on rice and whatever they could muster up from the jungle. I love meeting people from all around the world, but I’d begun to notice a theme in my conversations.
There was certainly a different feel to Koh Rong. It felt far more like the islands of Thailand, with a large concentration of ramshackle concrete and wood buildings running out from the pier. There was a mix of people, young and old, and the main beach was beautiful and relaxing. Later that night the main strip turned into a scene I’d imagine in Benidorm, I decided that I’d leave the next day.