When I decided to forego the cheap apartment and leave Siem Reap, I wasn’t really sure where to go. Admittedly, my knowledge of Cambodian geography was minimal. I wasn’t particularly keen on going to the capital city, Phnom Pehn, just yet and was definitely opposed to going anywhere that required me to pass through Bangkok again, which ruled out Southern and Northwestern Thailand.
Those things considered, I had three real options: 1) stay in Cambodia, 2) take a bus to Vietnam, or 3) fly somewhere else.
While Vietnam was appealing, I didn’t feel excited about the prospect of spending several days in Phnom Pehn while a visa was processing, and had envisioned a future Myanmar/Laos/Vietnam trip, anyway. I could hop on a plane, but when I thought about it, my heart ached. I wasn’t ready to jump ship and leave the country I had begun to really love.
After a little research, I discovered a blurb about the beautiful and exotic beaches and Islands of Cambodia. My reaction: “Shit! Cambodia has Islands?!” Who knew??
As it turns out, Cambodia rests along the Gulf of Thailand, and has several beach towns and ocean side hot spots for residents and tourists to chill out and catch some rays… most of the time. Unfortunately, I came during the rainy season, and my god did it rain.
I caught a bus from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, a trip that ended up being twice as long as anticipated when 1) the bus broke down twice, and 2) we arrived at the final stop and found out a handful of us had been put on the wrong bus from the start and were actually six hours away from our destination.
Eventually, 16 hours after departure, I arrived in Sihanoukville soaked in rain and checked into Tranquility Guesthouse, 10ft from the sands of Serendipity Beach. I was a little nervous about the room, because some of the reviews for the beachfront properties mentioned spotting rats, but honestly, I had a lovely time.
My word to visitors: You’re on a stunning beach in Cambodia. Stop bitching about rodents. They like the beach, too.
(This is the view from the beach, of the guest house cafe. I spent several mornings sipping coffee and enjoying free WiFi with the beautiful soundtrack of waves. All for $10 USD per night. Thanks, Tranquility Guest House!)
At this point in my trip, I wasn’t sure where I was going next. I had a tentative job offer for a position starting in August, and potential (but unlikely) temp work in between, and a freelance writing client, but money was running low and my life was up in the air. Anything could have happened, including being forced to fly home, so I decided I might as well stay on the beach for another week while I was figuring things out.
I spent a few nights hanging out on Serendipity Beach with the coolest bartender around, who supplied his personal hookah to patrons for FREE along side cheap-as-hell drinks, and met some incredible people, including my friends Lou and Aidan (who I’ll mention in a later post) and a tour group of Irishmen, Aussies, and one Kiwi who, within an hour of meeting me in a bar, handed me his wallet for “safekeeping”. Luckily, he picked a good girl to trust, but his blind confidence makes me smile and laugh.
I passed an intriguing sign on my second day at Serendipity Beach that read: “Island Ferry Both Way 5 Dollar” … clearly I had to rush in and say yes. I didn’t care about the details, or what Island this $5 ferry was taking me to, as long as it came back someday!
It ended up being a ferry to Koh Rong Island, which I had heard was incredible, and locals boasted that it had even been featured on Survivor. (Fortunately/unfortunately, I didn’t see this article detailing the death of a cast member and suicide of a doctor, both this year on Koh Rong. That definitely would have made my time on the Island more creepy.)
The next morning, I rolled out of bed at 6AM (which felt exactly like this) to catch the shuttle bus that would take me to the docks. Getting on the ferry felt a little dangerous, just sayin’… seriously, what the hell — but before long, we were on our way, and I was free to read Eat Pray Love in peace while other travelers sprawled out and took naps in odd places when it wasn’t pouring rain.
Arriving on Koh Rong Island, I felt like a giddy school girl. I couldn’t contain myself. At all. I was bouncing around, and dancing, and snapping photos, and told anyone near me, “Omg! This is my first time on an Island!” … yeah, I’m that girl. No shame.
Because my trip was so last-minute, I hadn’t made any guest house arrangements, which left me free to explore the beach and scope out potential accommodations. I ditched my suitcase at the diving center, and went wandering.
The inhabited area exists on both sides of the island, although they are only accessible to each other by a 7km hike. Both are relatively small, but there are easily over a dozen guest house options between them. There are also native Khmer people who live on the Island and run businesses catering to the tourists — an outdoor general store, a few laundry services, a clothing boutique, and several guest houses.
I checked out a few hostels and guest houses, but none of them really stood out. Until I found the Treehouse Bungalows.
With bungalows priced at $36 per night, about 5x what I had paid anywhere else during my trip, I could only justify spending one night in this magical fortress. But it was completely worth it. (Photo 1: After the first flight of stairs, they kindly provide a basin to wash your sandy feet. Photo 2: Seriously. How did I ever leave this place? Photo 3: Alright, I’m moving back. Who’s coming with me? I promise the Survivor ghosts were friendly!)
Instead of getting wasted on 50 cent beer with the shirtless Island studs and traveling bikini babes, I spent the afternoon eating fresh take-away seafood, reading Eat Pray Love in my awesome hammock, and enjoying the beautiful view and calming sound of the waves. No regrets. (Although, to be honest, the non-lockable windows kind of freaked me out, as a solo female traveler. Eventually I just convinced myself if I’m going to die someday anyway, it might as well be in an incredible treehouse on an Island, and went to sleep. I might have felt differently if I had known about the Survivor death/suicide.)
I ended up staying on the Island for two more days in a way less cool, but more economically sensible accommodation. On the third day, I fled urgently in a hungover stupor and had to throw my luggage — and myself — on a moving ferry.
But that, my dear, is a story for another day.