“No information whatsoever, multiple changes underway to smaller and smaller vehicles, unexpected additional fees and in the end they left us in Trat and we had to find our own way to Koh Chang. Don’t use them.” I read out loud to Esther while scrolling through dozens of negative reviews on TripAdvisor. It is our last day in Siem Reap, northern Cambodia. After experiencing the temples of Angkor we are heading south to the countries coastal islands. One option is an hour long flight from Siem Reap to Sinoukville but at $75 a ticket that would put a dent in our budget. The cheaper option is the 10 hour bus described above.
$25 a ticket on the most reputable bus we could find will save us $100, equaling extra 3 days on Koh Rong Sanloem, our destination island.
That evening we board the Giant Idris bus, a night bus with fully equipt beds that dont gaurntee a wink of sleep. We make our way to the last row, our prize for booking the night before. The humming engine makes this a vibrating bed. The palm sized air conditioners fixed to the roof put up a feeble resistance to the heat generated by the engine, adding to the warm weather. We quickly work up a shvitz that lasts the whole ride.
Up every once in a while, because of a particularly bumpy road, I wake up for the last time to an anouncement from the front of the bus. It is in english but the Cambodian accent is thick and the acoustics so poor I can only make out the words “…. Sinoukville … thank you for ridding with Giant Ibis …” Ten mintes later we are in the city center.
When we decided to come here we imagined Sinoukville as an idyllic coastal town, like the islands a few miles southwest. Instead we find a city that is having trouble keeping up with the development. There are more craines in the sky than birds.
It is 7am and our boat to Koh Rong Sanleom is at 9am. We walk towards Serendipity Bay, shooing away the Tuk-Tuk drivers that swarm us as we get off the bus. Our 20 minute walk through hap hazard construction sites and garbage lined sidewalks ends at an even more disheartening site at the coast.
We pass tables strewn with half finished plates of food, empty beer bottles, and other remienents of parties that only ended hour ago. It is sad to see this blasé attidue towards keeping the beaches clean, and pollution in general (it is commonplace for people to burn their garbage here). In a country struggling to sustain their economy the tourists dollar and Chinese development grants win.
Two hours later we are on our speed boat headed towards Koh Rong Sanloem. Relief comes as the sky scrapper hotels disappear in the horizon. An hour later, when we get of the boat, we are surprised to find most of the other passengers joining us. From our research we thought Koh Rong was the bigger tourist attraction, leaving Koh Rong Sanloem a quant and undeveloped island dotted with a few hostels and basic amenities.
Walking along Saracen Bay we pass dozens of hostels, hotels and bungalow providers until arriving at our own, The Island Beach Resort. There is a cell tower in the distance, slow wifi, and more than enough resteraunts to give us somewhere new to eat for every meal during our stay.
The water sparkles blue as we pass it, the gentle waves become irresistible. Before even arriving at our hostel we unburden ourselves of our few possessions for the trip and gleefully embrace the water. We wash off the accumulated sweat of the night bus and the grim of Sinoukville.
We arrive at our hostel, on the southern edge of Saracen Bay, feeling fresh and ready to make the most of not having anything to see or any place to be for the next few days. Our bungalow is on one of the remotest parts of this bustling bay, affording us peace and quite.
On day two we find Nakry’s House, tauted as the most affordable cuisine on the isand. Simple dishes, a limited menu add being well fed to our utter relaxation.
After two days of lounging we venture inland to Lazy Beach, on the western side of the island, voted among National Geographics top 21 beaches. The jungle walk through the small island is cool break from the exposed beaches and tropical heat.
Lazy Beach is smaller than Saracen Bay but also less developed. There is only one company that runs both the bungalows and the bar; the rest is open beach. Being on the western side of the island we see the pink sunset. A Faustian beauty because it is a sign of poor air quality.
The next day I hike to the islands light house, an hour each way. The walk reminds me of hiking in southern Washington and a reminder for me to finish the 700 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail I skipped in 2017.
After paying my one dollar entrance fee I climb up 5 levels of on a rickey ladder ending at the top of the light house turned cell tower. In the distance I can see the looming towers of Sinoukville behind a curtain of smog.
When I get back to the bungalow I make my last jaunt in the warm ocean waters, a foreign concept to someone used to the cold of the Pacific Ocean.
The next morning we take the 10am ferry back to Sinoukville and do our best haggle a decent priced ride to the town of Kampot, 2.5 hours away.