After the chaos of Phnom Pehn, it was a relief to reach the more open spaces of Sihanoukville. However, the focus of this post will move directly towards the KHO RONG islands, where we spent a blissful six days. After an extremely unstable ferry journey, where the boat rocked so dramatically that waves crashed as high as the windows, we arrived at the pier. Meters back from the piercingly blue waters a jumble of wooden shacks stood shoulder to shoulder, marking the end of the beach and the beginning of the towering jungle hills behind. The furniture of various cafes and bars spills onto the sand, whilst a roof of lanterns and fairy lights dangle above.
We traipsed through the sand in search of a bed for the night, sinking under the weight of our enormous backpacks. In the nearest hostel, we were greeted by a mysteriously giggly receptionist – I have found Cambodians to have fantastic sense of humor, even if we are the butt of it. Steep stairs, that were really more of a large ladder, led to a wooden walkway with dorms either side. These rooms were empty aside from several large, slightly wonky, bunk beds draped in mosquito nets. This open plan layout, exaggerated by several alarming gaping holes in the walls, gave the impression of staying in a gigantic jungle tree-house.
In order to immerse ourselves in island life, our first full day was spent on a small boat that drove us to a neighboring island. With Justin Beiber blaring out of speakers larger than the engine, we crashed through the waves which sprayed abroad, drenching us in our seats so that when we arrived we where so wet we might as well have swam. Here we were able to snorkel and explore the hilly terrain which concealed a temple of brilliant reds and golds. When we were all adventured-out, we clambered back into the rickety boat and took our seats. It was at this point, however, that a second boat laden with Vietnamese holiday makers, pulled up next to us. The passengers proceeded to bundle abroad our boat, which was now swaying dramatically under the weight of what must of been double its capacity. The last figure hoisted herself abroad cradling a mysterious something that, on closer inspection, turned out to be a minuscule poodle clothed in a horrendous baby-pink t-shirt. It glowered back at me, its matching headband squashing an already far too small head.As cold beers were handed out to everyone abroad, the girl began pouring beer on to have fingers and then into her cupped hand, which the dog licked at furiously. Half amused, half disgusted, I found it impossible to do anything but stare. As the dog appeared to become evermore thirsty, one of the new arrivals began rummaging through a rucksack so large that it would be better called a suitcase. Eventually, after checking about ten different pockets, he produced a knife roughly the length of my forearm. He glugged down the remained of his beer and sliced the bottom of the can off. He then filled this with beer from a new can and placed it in front of the already tipsy dog. As fresh fruit was handed round the passengers the man repeated a similar process but, instead of filling this bowl with more beer, he tipped carefully diced mango into it as if in the hope of sobering the animal up.
In the midst of this commotion, and without any explanation, the boat drew to a halt. Several reals of fishing yarn where passed around by which we deduced that we were about to be expected to fish for our promised barbecue dinner…Having never fished before, I had absolutely no clue where to begin, gingerly picking up my reel so as to avoid contact with the pinky-red bait that lurked on its hooked end. So there we remained, our noisy boat crammed with 15 or so passengers (plus one half dog which lolled uselessly on the boat’s floor) drunk off the local rum that had been provided, bobbing about in the ocean fishing for our dinner. After a fruitless hour, where the only fish caught by anyone was about 4cm long, the crew decided they had clearly laughed at us for long enough and we sailed towards an isolated stretch of beach.
We waded ashore, the dog paddling frantically through the waves clearly awoken from its drunken stupor. Clear waters ran over the shallow sands, ripples glinting in the afternoon light. Here we spent a long afternoon, lazing in the glow of the setting sun, acutely aware of how easy life is at the moment.