Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sihanoukville & Koh Rong Island, Cambodia

Next destination after leaving Siem Reap was located in the south of Cambodia in the city of Sihanoukville. To get there I needed to first take a sleeper bus to the city of Phnom Penh and then take a second smaller bus down to Sihanoukville. The bus bus company I chose to use, Giant Ibis, is very well rated and has very clean buses with friendly staff aboard. I came across this very helpful and detailed blog post (Move to Cambodia) regarding transport around Cambodia which helped me with my decision. My first experience with a sleeper bus was not a pleasant one at all unfortunately, not due to the bus company or bus itself though but more so due to my inability to sleep well in vehicles (and the complete shit roads you will find all over Cambodia). I maybe slept about 1 hour out of the 8 hour ride to Phnom Penh and have since learned my lesson and picked up some sleeping pills for future overnight bus trips I encounter. After about a 2 hour waiting period in Phnom Penh I boarded the second smaller regular seater bus towards Sihanoukville which was approximately a 5 hour ride.

I finally arrived in the coastal beach city of Sihanoukville and luckily the hostel I had chose to stay at (One Stop Hostel) was literally a 5 minute walk away from the Giant Ibis store font. It was a very similar setting as the One Stop Hostel I had stayed at in Siem Reap which was nice to have a bit of familiarity and comfort after a bit of a rough night of transport. But there was a bonus, they have a pool ... which was where I ended up spending the majority of my first day relaxing. The city of Sihanoukville is very, very touristy and a bit of an annoying place to be as I found out over the next couple of days. While it's a nice enough place, you get constantly approached by locals (and kids) hawking a variety of useless goods. Politely declining these individuals becomes an exhausting task very quickly and it takes away from the beautiful beaches you had set out to enjoy originally. But, thankfully through some fellow travellers I had heard about a newer and far less touristy beach area about 15 minutes tuk tuk ride outside of the city called Otres Beach. That's exactly what I was looking for.

Through some on-line research (Hostelworld, Booking.com, Agoda, etc.) I opted to stay at Hacienda located in the heart of Otres Village. A nice chilled out place with incredibly helpful and friendly staff, and even a chill bar right on site where they also have an extensive menu of great food. From Hacienda its approximately a 20 minute walk to either of the currently developed locations of Otres 1 or Otres 2. But the fine folks at Hacienda can even have a scooter rental delivered right to you which is a fantastic way to explore the area and I highly recommend it for as little as $5 USD per day. If you chose to walk it though you will notice the large area of beach between the two Otres locations that is being primed far a large amount of new development so I would suggest you make a stop to that area ASAP as it will definitely loose the fantastic charm and relaxed vibe it currently has. I spent several afternoon enjoying beers while swinging in a hammock next to the waterfront in Otres 1, that's the vibe I headed south for. The currently undeveloped beach along Otres is completed unspoiled at this point so you can go and grab your own little piece of paradise for the day and not be bothered by a single person ... for now, enjoy it while you can.

During my time in Sihanoukville and Otres I had heard about the island of Koh Rong which is a very popular destination as it turns out. I had yet to visit any island during my travels so I figured I should go check it out. The fine folks at Hacienda even booked my speedboat ticket and transportation to the speedboat dock back in Sihanoukville which was great and required zero planning on my part. The speedboats you take to and from the island average about 50 minutes travel time one way. Since I didn't directly book my boat I don't recall the name of the company I used but there are a handful to chose from all costing the same, $20 USD round trip. Koh Rong was the first location during my travels I opted to just show up and find a place to stay as most of the available dorm's on the island are not bookable on-line anyway. I stayed at a place called Bong's Guesthouse located a few minutes down the beach, there is a ton of places to stay all right in one spot as you arrive. Unfortunately for me since I didn't do any research it turns out that they have a regular issue with bed bugs, yay!
The island itself apparently used to be a very chill place but has since been purchased by some large developing group who intend to make it more like a tourist island in Thailand. This as I found out after being there was a bit disappointing for me as it appears at one point it used to be a beautiful and relaxed place to be. It's now more of a commercial tourist hub which is fine if you are looking to party and do island pub crawls and stuff. While I didn't completely hate my time on the island I would definitely recommend people visit the smaller island nearby Koh Rong Samloen where it sounds like more of the unspoiled island paradise that many people are after.

Some of the highlights I found on Koh Rong island were Long Beach, which you can take a 1 hour trek through a jungle path to reach on the other side of the island. It's a beautiful 7 kilometre stretch of almost untouched beach (It too is currently in the early stages of mass development). You can also opt to take a water taxi service around to different locations on the island for $5 USD one way. We had completed the trek to Long Beach but after several hours of lounging around on the beach none of us were too keen on hiking back so we took the water taxi which was an really nice 20 or so minute ride around the south portion of the island, and we bartered them down to $10 USD for three of us instead of $15. The available food on the island was another highlight, and surprisingly it was cheaper than back in Sihanoukville. They feature many different BBQ stations along the beach front hostels and business. But if there's is only one place you MUST eat at on Koh Rong, it's Sigi's. He is an incredibly friendly gentleman from northern Thailand who now calls Koh Rong his home. A one man show who takes 4 to 5 orders at a time and creates some of the best Thai food I have ever eaten (and I started my trip in Thailand). Pull up a seat and watch him do his thing as it's an absolute pleasure to witness first-hand.

The boat day tour several of us signed up for was a great experience as well. It consisted of some snorkelling, (pro tip: the mask can be a bit leaky I found out when you have facial hair like me, but apparently some Vaseline helps fix that problem) some fishing using small handheld spools and the boat and the boat staff BBQ up all of the days catch right on the boat for lunch, a stop at one of the fishing villages located at the very far end of Long beach as well as enjoying the evenings sunset on the boat. The highlight of the days boat trip for me was swimming with plankton after the the sun had completely set, seriously the trippiest thing I have ever seen! Its like a blue-green aura that appears around you and reacts with the movement of your body while in the water.
     
So my beach time in southern Cambodia wasn't all I had initially hoped for, all in all it was a travel experience that I can reflect back on and grow from for all my future travel's.





  

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