Ok, so I’m getting used to life in Phnom Penh during our second week – checking out more hipster cafes like Artillery, Enso, and Backyard Café, being productive, and enjoying the seemingly endless sunshine (dry season in Cambodia means blue skies for days).
I’ve even grown accustomed to getting a tuk-tuk: instead of asking a price, I pay what I believe to be the right amount at the end. No scams here, thank you very much.
During the week, I checked out the National Museum, which is more notable for the building and beautiful courtyard than the Angkorian sculptures inside. It has potential, but with few signs (and not many good signs in English), it’s a bit disappointing to wander through.
We also had The Junction, our monthly networking event, this week. The theme was all about art and creativity, and we got to see a short shadow puppet performance while listening to traditional Khmer music, as well as a troupe of break-dancing kiddos called Tiny Toones. They were awesome and the cutest.
What Could Koh Rong?
Arestia and I decided to go to Koh Rong, an island of the Andaman coast of Cambodia that’s a less popular, more beautiful/untouched version of the Thai islands. Martin Luther King Day meant having a long weekend for the trip, so we booked beds at a recommended hostel called Suns of Beaches. “You’ll have your own private beach,” he said. “It’s pristine.”
We took a bus to Sihanoukville and a ferry to Koh Rong, which basically dropped us off on a deserted beach. We walked a few minutes along the beach and got to our hostel, which had all the makings of a great weekend: no electricity, white-sand beaches, aquamarine blue sea, a rustic bungalow-style main area, and hammocks galore.
We had a great afternoon of splashing around the ocean and relaxing in hammocks, reading. We even made friends with Dan from Australia that evening over a shared love for the cutest puppies that lived at our hostel.
Fast forward to the next morning: Arestia and I, along with one other guest, wake up in our dorm with bites all over. We notice some creepy-crawlies in our mosquito nets and the hostel owners confirm: it’s bed bugs. “We’ll steam the bunk,” they tell us nonchalantly.
We spend the entire next day with more and more bug bites popping up, until our whole bodies are covered in welts. We’re itching like crazy and overall miserable. Poor Dan puts up with our complaining all day, and we make the walk into town in the afternoon to find hydrocortisone, dinner, and lots of beer.
We ate at Sigi’s, which was an amazing Thai stand in the middle of town run by one guy. He had a great sense of humor and delicious, authentic Thai food. Highly recommend it.
During second dinner at a pizza place, we were approached by a guy who sells us on his all-day boat trip around Koh Rong. His name is Adventure Adam, and he talks about giving back to communities and starting this business for the good of the island. Even though we’re all pretty savvy, for some reason, we trust Adventure Adam and hand over cash for the next day.
After probably the most miserable night I’ve had on Remote Year full of itching, twitching, turning, paranoia about the bugs (even though I moved rooms, I’m convinced there were still bugs around) and no sleep, we got picked up and headed out for our adventure with Adam.
We saw a local village that Adam contributed to regularly, including projects like sanitation systems and schools. Not sure how much of it was true, but he did seem to have a great relationship with the locals and we had a warm welcome – of course, not without the suggestion to purchase coconut oil.
We snorkeled in one of the bays and had a decent lunch, but it wasn’t until around sunset time that we got over the crankiness and exhaustion of the day spent itching. The weather wasn’t great, which didn’t lead to a great sunset, but we had fun splashing around. The highlight of the tour was night swimming with plankton. I had done this a couple of times in Puerto Rico and the famous Monkey Beach in Penang, but this was something else. We wore snorkeling masks and I felt like I was magic. I’d move my hands and the water would light up like I was shooting sparks from my fingertips. I’d kick my legs and the sea became the nighttime sky, full of stars. It was truly incredible.
That night, we slept in a newly-constructed yurt at the hostel, which nobody had slept in before. No bugs, the sound of the sea, and slightly less misery. We definitely didn’t get a good night’s sleep because we had to hike an hour back to town in the dark to catch our ferry the next morning. We walked through jungle, forded an ocean inlet (during which Arestia almost left me because I was being so nervous), and trudged through sand. Seeing the first morning light and sunrise over the ocean was beautiful, though.
The bus ride home was uneventful, spent mostly sleeping and trying desperately not to itch, and a few hours when we arrived washing, bagging, and sauna-ing our belongings.
We probably should’ve just left early since we were so miserable, but didn’t want to feel like the trip was for nothing and the island defeated us. It was so beautiful and untouched and peaceful – I know it would’ve been a highlight of the month if not for the bugs.
But hey, if this is the worst that happens this year, I’ll take it.