Next stop Kep. A little sliver of sandy beach on the south coast of Cambodia. Starts with a four hours bus ride which was a new experience. Theres’s a tv screen at the front of the bus which flickers to life as we pull away with images of a Cambodian couple singing to one another. But better than a just a Cambodian love song, the words appear at the bottom of the screen for Karaoke. What have we done, no wonder the ticket was so cheap. We were saved from too much of this as after about half an hour a film comes on. All in Khmer so we have no idea of the story but the whole of the bus are in fits of laughter which is infectious. I am chuckling at them laughing and when I watch some of the movie to see what is so funny it’s like a ‘Carry On’ film so you don’t need to know what they’re saying. Its proper schoolboy humour and slapstick from the 70s which certainly helped while away the hours.
We arrive in Kep, a quaint seaside village which has a reputation for the crab market. We head straight there and are not disappointed. It’s a Sunday and people have come from as far away as Phnom Penh (4 hours) to buy the seafood. There’s a covered area in front of the jetty with about 20 women selling their catches of the day. Prawns the size of Chris’ hand, crabs from small enough to get one mouthful up to enough to feed a family of four, colourful lobsters and squid of any size and quantity you could possibly want. The smell is not unpleasant as it’s so fresh and it’s over powered by the smoke and smell of wood burning in the clay ovens next to the fresh fish. We looked confused so a kind young man explained how it works. You pick exactly what seafood you want, buy that then you take it over to one of the ovens and they cook it for you. Simple as that, the freshest tastiest most simple seafood you can have. There are other stalls outside selling rice, drinks, banana leaf plates and sweet waffles. We sat with the locals munching our slipper lobster picked up with our fingers and swigging our beer. Exactly what we wanted.
Crab sales fresh from the sea
The next day we checked out the local market behind our hotel and went along the coast where we stopped and spent a lazy couple of hours swinging in hammocks, drinking lime soda and listening to the sea. Followed by more seafood, prawns and rice served to us in our arbour. All along the shore line there are arbours with hammocks hanging and then every couple of hundred yards a shack selling drink and seafood. So you pick your spot and order from the closest one. After enough lying around we thought we should see a bit of the National Park so headed up on our bike. We managed about an hour on the Jungle Trail but it all of a sudden got very steep and slippery and I had crap shoes on (my excuse, I was hot and had a full belly!) so we headed back down to watch the sunset from our hotel roof….with the obligatory rum and coke.
Rachel in the Jungle
The following morning was an early start for a two and a half hour bus journey to Sihanoukville. A busy coastal resort popular with the young backpackers and we weren’t sure that we actually wanted to stop there so Chris called around and we found a bungalow on the beach on an island. The journey to Koh Rong Island is made via a converted 32 ft fishing boat. Conversion means a couple of wooden benches along the sides, a wooden canopy and the fishing nets removed. Our luggage was slung in the middle along the provisions that were being taken out to the island at the same time. There’s a single Canadian guy, a Swiss/Thai couple and two chinese women also on the boat. The boat chugged along past little green islands through shipping lanes and after about 3 hours Sihanoukville was a dot on the horizon and we were in the bluest/greenist sea approaching a white sandy bay about 2 miles long with a dozen beach bungalows at one end. We were all excited hoping it was our destination and it was. That fooled you!
Fishing boat on Koh Rong jetty
The boat docks next to a dilapidated jetty and half a dozen kids are smiling and waving and shouting hellos. We climb off rather inelegantly and are pointed to bungalow number 3. Its on stilts and has an enticing looking hammock on the veranda. Inside there are 2 beds with mosquito nets and a room stuck on the back which is the bathroom. It has a tin roof, cold water shower, a toilet, a tub of water and bucket (for flushing) and a small mirror. Not exactly luxury but perfect in its rusticity.
Over to Chris the following morning….
There are times, places or events in our lives which cause us all to suddenly connect with the now in such a strong and profound way that it shakes us to the core. Colours, sounds, smells, feelings all working at 110% and the joyous electricity of a good life pulses through our veins. I am there now, at this moment, in Cambodia. My colours are blue skies and turquoise sea, green jungle and a bleached white beach shack; My sounds are breaking waves: My smells are of the open sea mingled with sun heated wood; My feelings are of contentment, hope and overwhelming feeling of love for the woman at my side. My life, or rather our life, is a freeze frame of a hammock pushed idly by Rachel that is tethered on the beams above our heads whilst we both stare into the forever of the ocean. A white sand beach, devoid of people, arches away from us into the hazy distance of this lush and beautiful bay. And us, we, read and daydream, and talk and laugh and touch and feel so at one with one another that our eyes moisten as our hearts swell with a feeling that has a physical weight in our chests. This, thing that exists between us just grows and grows and grows and continues to surprise, enthrall and amaze us the more time we spend together. Time passes so quickly and 2½ years have passed in 2½ minutes and how I have arrived at this particular ‘now’ is a mystery but with 4 months of travelling behind us and world of opportunity in front this ‘now’ is a wonderful place to be especially since now has sand, sea, surf and rum and coke in it.
He’s a soppy tart, but you get the gist of Koh Rong. We spent a couple of days, lazing around in the hammock, cooling off in the shallow crystal clear waters, strolling along the soft white sandy cove and eating and drinking our way through the menus of the 2 restaurants. I might add that neither restaurant (generous description) had extensive choices so it didn’t take long.
This sounds pretty idyllic but there’s a bit of down side to all the loveliness and solitude. Electricity was limited so consequently we only had lights in the room and a fan from about 6.30 till 10 in the evening. Not too much of a problem except it was so bloody hot that even with all the gaps in the wood(what passed for windows) as wide open as they would go and the door open there was no air. So without exception we would be dripping in sweat from midnight until about 5 in the morning when it seemed to cool down. Chris would have at least 2 showers, in the dark, during the night. The mozzy net was of course lifted open several times and I had bites on my arse, back, legs blah blah blah. And the first morning I woke to find a huge cockroach inside the net at my feet. You can imagine the scrambling and hysteria that followed that! And then just as we dropped off to sleep the locals living in the village just behind our beach bungalow would wake up. Noises in no particular order….generators, cockerels, dogs barking and howling, boat engines starting up, children squealing, children with whistles, hammering, children climbing our tree to steal the coconuts, peasants walking along the lane, birds chattering and a constant crashing of waves on the shore 3 feet away from us.
However, we came away relaxed, if a little tired, and don’t really want to tell too many people about the island in case it gets spoilt, though with only a dozen bungalows it will be difficult to over crowd.