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Playing Survivor on Koh Rong Island, Cambodia

GTO was championing Koh Rong as a travel destination and I also had it on good account from another friend who had recently been there. This is how we found ourselves on the small island off the coast of Cambodia.

We didn’t have much background knowledge of the island except that it is often erroneously referred to as Monkey Island. This likely originates from Monkey Island, a bungalow beach resort which is only one of three accommodation options on Koh Rong. 

We set out and were among a handful of other travellers headed to the island. Boats service Koh Rong twice daily. We reached the wharf and met our first Aboriginal Canadian traveller. She was from Nunavut and thus she was referred to as ‘North of 60’ for the remainder of our trip. She worked at Monkey Island and gave us a pretty good description of what to expect on the island, or rather, what not to expect. A forty of Jack Daniels was being passed about and midway to the island we inquired into what she had been doing on the Cambodian mainland. She casually mentioned that she had been there for two weeks to check her email, phone home and take a hot shower. No…hot…water? “Yeah, and there’s only electricity for 5 hours a day. In the rooms anyway.” And that’s how I accidentally fell off the grid for five days. My mom is going to kill me. (True story: my mom phoned my sister asking whether she had heard from me recently. My sister replied, “I don’t know but she was just tagged in a photo holding a machine gun.”)

We washed up on shore and lugged our bags down the beach. There’s not even a road on the island. We heard that the French version (that’s France to you) of the television show Survivor had recently wrapped up on the north side. We arrived at Monkey Island to discover that bungalows were $25/night, way over budget, which led the five of us to bunk together (a trip first). The bungalows were extremely rudimentary, constructed entirely of palm with light gaping in between many crevices. We quickly discovered that  any open food items invited bugs and rodents in to the bungalow. Mosquito nets romantically draped over the beds and friendly dogs loitered about the grounds.  Bathrooms were constructed on concrete platforms and featured cold water showers and non-flush toilets. Bungalows were provided electricity five hours per day from 5:00pm-midnight. 

Koh Rong’s most popular attraction is simply its pristine, white sand beaches. Fine sand, warm water and turquoise seas invite travellers to lay out and enjoy the drumming surf. If you’re seeking some day activities look to hire a fishing or dive charter, hike through the dense jungle (watch for buffaloes) or engage in some beach volleyball. The pace of life on Koh Rong is extremely slow. After nightfall you won’t find much action. We scoured the beach for some excitement only to return to the Monkey Island bar and stir up our own. 

We spent our first day sipping tea, reading, socializing, laying in hammocks and soaking in the view. We resolved to charter a boat the next day. A day passed and we pushed the charter back, we were officially operating on island time. The group hiked across the island and stumbled upon an abandoned ‘resort.’ GTO had unwisely decided to hike in a Speedo.

The next day we boarded our boat and took off to some smaller islands. We did some snorkelling and then descended on our first dive, only to have such poor visibility that we ascended 18 minutes later. We relocated and descended again. I wouldn’t describe Cambodia as a ‘dive destination’ but it’s always an activity I enjoy. I can’t recall the name of the particular location we dove but it was near a small cluster of islands that used to serve as a hot bed for pirate activity. These days the only suspect activity includes Thai boats refueling offshore from large Cambodian tankers. We were in no way going to catch the outgoing ferry to the mainland so we trolled out further to enjoy a gorgeous Cambodian sunset. Having checked out of Monkey Island our dive master invited us to stay at his guest house. The next day we made our way back to Sihanoukville. 

Would I revisit Koh Rong? Likely not. It’s perfect for the individual who really wants to make themself remote. It’s the type of place where someone may pen a hand-written manuscript or really lose themselves. The island is lazy and far removed, really its own world. Go to Koh Rong and chill out off the grid. Let go of world headlines, ditch the internet and make the Robinson Crusoe experience your reality. 

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