With this blog post, we first have to tell the story of how we end up the idea of visiting Cambodia. We actually wanted to fly to Myanmar from Malaysia. We dreamed of Myanmar already from the beginning of the trip. We had heard a lot of good about this country and that the local living there is still quite authentic and not damaged by tourists because the borders of the country were opened to tourists very recently. We began to do research on what to do in Myanmar, ie where to go and what to visit. However, the research revealed that the beginning of May is one of the hottest times in Myanmar, where temperatures reach up to 40 degrees. In addition, the northern part of the country has a so-called burning season, and cities are full of thick smog. These two were sufficient arguments for us to skip Myanmar this time and choose another Asian country, perhaps not so hot. So we found cheap tickets from Malaysia to Sihanoukville Cambodia. We hoped we could enjoy our beach vacation a little cooler climate and we didn’t disappoint.
However, when we first landed in Sihanoukville, we were quite indignant and, in some ways, even got a culture shock. At the airport, we were welcomed by a taxi mafia who cashed a decent amount to drive us to the city. No bus or alternative means of transport between the airport and the city is supposedly be available. But when we were sitting in a taxi, we were struck by a full-fledged nightmare, because what we saw around did not match our vision of the paradise beach and jungle. Sihanoukville is like one gigantic construction sites flooded with rubbish. We had not encountered this kind of rubbish dump during our trip. In addition, the city was full of Chinese labels and Chinese tourists. Although we had initially thought we would spend a few days in Sihanoukville, then luckily, we didn’t. We took the first available ticket to a speedboat that took us to the island of Koh Rong Sanolem.
Getting on the ship and riding it was a separate adventure it’s own. First, we bought the tickets from a ticket counter in the city and then we went to the harbor. In the harbor, we were walked to the bus (which was quite far from the harbor and we felt sorry for those tourists who had to pull up their bags on the wheels on the muddy gravel) and the bus took us to another port. Of course, the bus rode by from where we originally bought the ticket (we had no idea why we had to walk to that port at all). Due to traffic, the ride to another port took about an hour and a half. It seemed that the bus driver was not very aware of where he had to go, because at some point he turns around at a narrow road and drove back. In any case, we finally reached the port where we had a pretty nice time to wait for the ship. The surroundings of the harbor and the water were full of plastic rubbish. There was no place in the water where there would be no garbage … it was, quite frankly, quite appalling. Going to the ship was also quite a challenge, because the wave was quite large and splashed against the quays. We felt sad about a family with two children, who were trying to get onboard with their big bags. In the blazing sun, nobody cared that they are with kids and it was obviously difficult for them to manage all this. Finally, with Jaanus, we help them with their bags and let them board before us. They were brave parents!
When we were already at sea, the first 30 minutes we got a good horror ride and the wave sprayed inside the ship. Fortunately, it was a catamaran-type ship, so we were not afraid that the ship was going to capsize. However, swinging was unpleasant and probably some passengers got seasick. In the end, we still made it safely to a long-awaited paradise!
One thing is always good with such a negative experience. If everything is bad, the next can only get better. In Koh Rong Sanolem’s M Pay Bay port, we jumped off the ship and realized that we have now arrived in Cambodia of which everybody is talking. We were greeted by a beautiful sandy beach with numerous small cafes and hostels. We hardly had to walk a few hundred meters to reach our hotel. For a whole week, we had booked a sea-view bungalow at Sunset Hostel. Already before the hostel employee got us to our bungalow, we were fascinated by this place. This is the perfect place to swing in hammocks for a week and just enjoy the sea.
Our hut was quite ascetic. One small room with a large bed covered with mosquito nets. There were two fans in the room, but the air conditioner was missing (the walls of this hut would not have been able to hold the air-conditioned cold air) and a small bathroom. When we booked it, we took into account that electricity can only be used there for a limited time of the day. Luckily, however, we still had electricity for the night and we could keep the fans on to have a cooler sleep. There was a small table in front of the hood and a hammock with a view of the waves. There was no other soul to see around and we could be completely alone. Unfortunately, the beach at our bungalow was not a typical sand beach, but it was a rocky beach strip. We had chosen this place because there should be the best place for snorkeling on the island along the rocky beach. But unfortunately, we did not do this because for a whole week, this side of the island there was heavy wind and the big wave did not let go to the water. The locals claimed that such wind is very unusual. But we were not particularly sad, because at last, we were somewhere where the temperatures were tolerable because of the cooling sea breeze.
Why we chose Koh Rong Sanolem Island as our holiday destination.? Next to this island is her big brother Koh Rong, where many tourists spend time. But the preliminary research made us prefer Koh Rong Sanolem, which is less touristy and quieter. M Pai Bay is also a famous backpacker stopping place and the bohemian atmosphere of this village was what were the main arguments of our decision. Indeed, we barely met typical Chinese tourists or older people in this part of the island at all. Most of the so-called white people were young backpackers who had come to the island to rest, party or work for a while. Nearly every bar and hostel we found a backpacker who worked there as a volunteer in exchange for bed and a meal. However, we have to admit that high season tourism, has left its mark on the island, especially in terms of higher prices.
Having traveled to Asia for some time now, we quickly realized that buying a meal on this island is not so cheap. One person must pay at least USD 5 for a decent breakfast, lunch or evening (in Cambodia the USD is used as an official currency alongside the Cambodian Riel).
We did not have much time to explore the island. Partly because there were a few rainy days where it almost rained all day, and we were forced to run to our hostel’s restaurant and run back to the bungalow because we did not want to go too far for the food. These rainy days we mainly spent reading, writing a blog and planning the future.
We took only one major trip to the Clear Water Bay during the week – a beach with very clear water. Getting there took us an hour. We had also chosen a sunnier day for the hike, so the sun burned us pretty well and soon it became clear that we had too little water (only 1.5 L). The walk to there was beautiful, as it ran partly along a beautiful sandy beach. But the beach with clear water was a separate class. When we arrived, we were pleased that we had taken the long walk. The whole giant paradise beach was just ours! We cuddled in warm water and took a lot of pictures and enjoyed the beautiful view. If we had only been able to plan better our water reserves we would probably have spent the whole day out there. But the empty stomach and lack of water soon forced us to head back to our village.
So we spent a whole week at the beach or laying in a hammock. The only important thing to decide during this time was which restaurant to eat in the morning, evening and lunch. So, despite our first negative emotion about Cambodia, we were able to experience the charm of this country by the end of the first week.