Thursday, December 25, 2014

Cambodia - Day 9: Koh Rong Island

Christmas morning without the attendant gifts. We had exchanged gifts among the three of us before leaving for Cambodia ten days ago, and told Vito that, assuming he had met all of the appropriate prerequisites, Santa might have left something under our tree back in Doha. Wink wink. So without the usual holiday ceremony, and without really missing it, we packed our suitcases, ate an uninspiring breakfast at our hotel's adjoining restaurant, and then grabbed a tuk-tuk to the pier. After about 30 minutes, the high speed ferry arrived and, after the 60+ passengers who had been milling about on the dock boarded, the crew loaded and stowed all of our luggage. The ride was hair-raising. Before the cabin attendants zipped up the plastic windows, all of us were covered in spume and soaking wet. We bumped and jostled for two hours while passengers right and left were vomiting into plastic bags. The three of us, aside from exchanging horrified glances and fearing for our lives, did not experience any ill side effects.

There were two stops along the way—the first occurred after about 90 minutes at an island where a couple passengers disembarked for an eco-dive (whatever that is). The sun was shining, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the water was translucent blue and the island was a wall of green jungle. While docked, I scanned the landscape for any signs of life, but didn't notice any. The second stop was another island on which there appeared to be a small village. Many additional passengers boarded our already full ferry for the final leg of the trip. Standing room only!

We got off with most of the rest of the passengers at the third stop at the end of a long wooden pier where many other boats and ferries were tethered, and where there was another dive shop and a restaurant under construction. Vito’s eyeballs were turning yellow and we pushed to the front of the disembarking passengers, jumped off the ferry first, ran the entire length of the pier while Vito muttered “bathroom” every two or three seconds and held himself while we looked for a bathroom. Angela waited to retrieve our luggage. Vito made it in time to preserve his dignity and, when we had returned to the ferry, Angela was making her way down the pier burdened with all of our belongings.

The beach.
The pier ended in the center of a small seaside village lined with shops, bars and guesthouses. There was a narrow strip of white sand up against the light blue water, and we had to carry our luggage—one large suitcase weighing around 20kg and another smaller one weighing half as much—to our hotel. We didn’t know where to go but, after inquiring, we learned that we had to walk to the far end of the beach. No one was waiting to help us. There was nothing else to do except begin, and so we hoisted our luggage and proceeded.

After about a 15-minute walk on the sand in the nearly midday sun, we arrived at Paradise Bungalows. The were no rocks or shells in the fine white sand, and the beach looked marvelously clean, the water inviting. We put our suitcases down, removed our shoes and entered the large open-air restaurant to check in at the front desk. Our bungalow wasn’t ready so we took a seat where, perhaps, a dozen other guests were sprawled about reading and plunking away on laptops or swiping their mobile phones. We weren't thrilled about having to wait, especially as we had notified them of our arrival time, but we couldn't do anything about it. We were just happy that we had arrived and that we wouldn't have to move again for the next five days.

The restaurant had a very high palm-covered ceiling held aloft with large trunks of wood and braced with crossbeams of the same. There were eight large tables around the exterior of the room, and approximately eight tables-for-two with cushions in the center of the room. The tables on the exterior had large cushioned benches with pillows on one side and wooden benches on the other. There was a straggly but large Charlie Brown Christmas tree in the center of the room and many Buddha-head busts and statues on the counter of the bar and throughout the room. A small card on each table advertised a Christmas meal, and, without having any better plans for the evening, I booked a table for the three of us. We had to wait a couple of hours for our bungalow to be readied. Vito and I found enough pieces among the wreckage of numerous board games to play backgammon and Chinese checkers. We also ordered lunch.

Our bungalow is on the far right.
Eventually, our room was ready and we carried our luggage up a small hill to our bungalow overlooking the sea and about 100 meters from the beach. The bungalow was open air, which meant critters could enter, but the three beds—two single beds and one queen-sized—were enclosed in mosquito netting. The bathroom, which included a cold-water shower, was located outside and was completely uncovered. Tangled jungle rose up beyond the wall of our shower. As we had come to Koh Rong Island to swim and enjoy the beach, we changed and headed down to the water.

There weren’t many people around, but neither was it deserted. While we were on the beach, a monkey had entered a nearby bungalow, was chased out onto the roof by the inhabitants, and harassed by staff members who were throwing stones and sticks at it. The monkey jumped from roof to tree and back again, scrambling from one side of the roof to the other, and made for quite a bit of entertainment. Watching the comedy, I realized that we had left all of our suitcases open in our own bungalow, and returned there briefly to zip up our suitcases and make sure that nothing could be stolen by a monkey or any other creature. I went back down to the beach and we stayed there for the rest of the afternoon.

Reading on the porch.
When we returned to the bungalow, Vito parked himself in the pink rope hammock that was suspended from two posts on the porch of our bungalow and read one of his books. Angela and I sat on the large padded bench next to him and did the same until it got too dark to read. With still an hour to go before dinner, we decided to walk up the beach to grab a drink. The tide had gone out quite far, and many people were walking on the now wider beach streaky with long reflections of lights and glossy in the dimming evening. We stopped at the first bar we came to, a little white shack on the beach in front of a couple bungalows, and ordered beers. The bartender introduced us to some Cambodian hip hop while Vito counted geckos.

Like most of the other guesthouses along Koh Tui beach, Paradise Bungalows had bungalows right on the beach, but the restaurant was set further back up on the hillside. Walking back and looking up at it from the beach, it seemed quite beautiful. Christmas lights were strung up around some of the columns, and long thin lights covered by bamboo tubes were suspended from the ceiling. It looked impressive and more beautiful in the night, a glowing jewel in the jungle.
Paradise Bungalows.

In the restaurant, we ordered drinks and seated ourselves in a corner, a bit early. The restaurant quickly filled and there was not an empty table in the place. I was glad that we had reserved a table. Dinner took a long time to be served, but it was tasty: prawn cocktail salad with watermelon for a starter, Khmer red curry soup, a main course of pork loin with bacon and cabbage, and mango sticky rice for desert. It was about as nice a meal as we could have expected. I Skyped my parents and wished them Merry Christmas, although it wasn’t a particularly clear connection, and then we returned to our bungalow to sleep. I woke up momentarily when it started raining in the middle of the night, but it didn’t last long, and I quickly returned to sleep listening to the rain patter fade into the shush of the sea outside.

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