Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Koh Rong Samloem (Cambodia). The lost Paradise?

M' Pai Bay

After our frustrating experience with the little (or none) interest from the Koh Rong Diving center for our waste management (and very much needed) volunteer offer it was time to go to the 2nd island Koh Rong Sanloem.
We were hoping this time to be a bit more successful.

The Marine conservation Cambodia has the same meeting point to go to the boat in Seahoukville city center  than the Koh Rong one, in order to go to the island (They are one in front of the other). 

This time it was just a tuk tuk who gave us the lift to the 6 of us, unlike the last time when we went to Koh wrong which it was a rammed little bus.
The guy who was supposed to come with us from the conservation center wasn't coming on the last minute (I think I realized pretty soon why) so we were on our own with the staff of the boat who were a couple of Cambodian kids and the captain, a very gentle Cambodian man with a huge smile on his face (No one spoke any english).

A soon as we got on the docks I could see that it was a very windy day, and that wasn't a good sign.
And how right I was!

And that was only the start!

Once we left  Sihanoukville harbor the waves were getting bigger and bigger and I could tell by the faces of the staff there (even being locals) that things were not looking good.
Our little boat was going up and down like in a sea roller coster and things were falling all over inside the boat, and the waves were getting higher!

It was a hell of a trip and to be honest the only comfort I could find was when things were really nasty I looked at the captain to see what were his reactions and the only thing I could  see every time was a big smile….like if he was enjoying it !…or maybe he was trying to keep us calm and make us feel like everything was under control?
(you can see the waves as we got in the island in a video I edited below)

I will never really know!

The thing is that after the 3 hours trip (with a similar route we did before to go to the other Island) we managed somehow to get to the closer to the shore….well, not really. 

The waves were so big that there was no way we would be able to get close to the pier, let alone jump out the boat.
So there we were stuck, about 500 or 600 meters with the shelter of another small island nearby (Ko Khong) waiting for the weather to change or at least for the waves to be a bit smaller.
As time passed by and things didn't seem to change the management of the Marine conservation center decided to send a smaller boat to pick us up and so we would be able to get to the shore. What an odyssey.

M' Pay Bay Beach

It wasn't easy I have to say as the boat was going up and down like mad and things got a bit dangerous to be honest but finally the nightmare was over and we could get out safe in the pier.  And intense arrival for sure! ….and not recommended for those who get a bit sea sick.

Cambodian girls

Paul (the owner of the cambodian conservation center) came to welcome us and he proceed to show us the bungalows were we were supposed to stay and also showed us the Conservation center premises.

Our hut
The place was ace! Literally a few yards from the sea and all surrounded by jungle. And i could see Koh Rong on the distance. The huts were small but very comfy. They had a double bed with mosquito nets. That was all we needed after such an intense (and scaring) day.
Look at that little boat. Pure recycling!

I had the best sleeps in all my travels in Asia while we were there, with the gently sea breeze coming in every night (Which it means no mosquitoes btw). What a fantastic place.

M' Pay Bai village

I have to say that the attitude from Paul and all the staff in the island from the very first minute we arrived was completely different from our previous experience in Koh Rong. 
It was far more positive and they proved us a more honest an altruistic interest in the conservation of the island.

M' Pai Bai beach

Paul told us us how he arrived to the island a few years back, broken and with barely no possessions with him. 
Local kids

The local fisherman's gave him a very warm welcome and he is been living there since, helping the community and trying to manage the Conservation center and organizing and programming activities for all the young volunteers. He even married a local woman and had a child with her. 

Hua and locals

You can tell Paul has put a lot of soul, time and love in there.

The first days we were hanging around and exploring the island. It was very easy to fit on the place. People was so over friendly.
We also went fishing with the local kids. God they were good…and we were crap!

The kids were pros fishing!

They fish just with a string and an empty can of soda but when we gave them the fishing rod they were total pros.

So how could we give Paul a way to thank him his hospitality in Koh Rong Samloem?
Coincidentally walking to the recently build local school my friend Joel saw some big puddles of mud in the way . 

Mud for our bricks

He thought the mud was brilliant to make bricks (old style) so we  suggested that we could build a playground for the kids on the school yard with the sun dried bricks. 
It sounded good to everyone and Paul agreed!

So on the next days we spent the early mornings and late afternoons (Don't forget is a tropical island and it gets very hot there) making the bricks with some molds we previously made with pieces of wasted wood.
Other days we did clean the beach as sometimes depending the sea streams you get some plastic tossed on the beach from the mainland.


It was fun!

At night there isn't much to do in the island. Power generators work from 6 to 12 am so the best recommendation is to pay a visit to Hua`s Bar. She is a vietnamese woman who owns a little bar near the beach in the center of the village. 
Hua is a local legend although I was told the locals don't like her very much and try to boycott her due to Cambodian-Vietnamese local issues.

 Hua's bar. Check that pool table!

Hua is really funny, she speaks very little english but she seems to get more fluent as soon as she drinks some of the local rice liquor that she offers for free to every on the bar. It was pretty strong I have to say! So you are warned!
On her behalf I have to say that she spoke Vietnamese with his husband ( The man was always sleeping in a hammock) and also perfect Cambodian with the locals. She also speaks chinese as seems her daughter lives in China. Wow!

Hua spoiling me with vietnamese coffee style….in cambodia!

Hoa will cook nice local meals for us every night…there is no menu though so you have to eat whatever she has. But everything was so fresh and delicious, but the best of it…dead cheap! There is also a pool table and sometimes parties last there until silly hours in the morning with the locals.


There are a couple of places more to eat in the village. Paul has shown the locals how to set a little bar, with a menu with prices, a few chairs and tables, etc…
He even keeps the prices from the conservation center restaurant a bit higher to encourage the visitors to go to the local places. I thought was a nice and very convenient idea.

Jam with a Vietnamese straw hat in Cambodia. Something you don't do! but we were fine

Also needs to be mentioned the beach in m' Pai Bay. 

Its a beautiful little secret spot and i have to say it does beats hands down the beaches in Koh Rong. It had a unique kind of beauty. 

They were building another wooden pier on the beach and also some new huts. Seems another eco resort is on the cards

M' Pay bei beach. you can see at the bottom the new pier

Unfortunately this is going to change the view from the beach for ever. I really hope they stop building there so the place doesn't gets too spoiled.

Cleanest waters i ve ever seen

An important warning though, don't stay in M Pai Bay Beach after 4 pm when the sun starts to go down as its sand flies O clock (Thats why you don't see locals at this time), and they seem to be pretty vicious . We were fine but I saw other western volunteers badly bitten. One girl had to go back to the mainland for medicines as she seemed pretty bad. 
Nature can be pretty tough in the tropics. No shit.

You have to act as locals do!
But like I said you do as told and you will be fine.

My friend Joel doing some repairs on the bridge that leads to the school

It was a fantastic experience to chill out on the island with the so nice and humble locals and also going fishing with the kids. We also did some great snorkeling. 

One day we did an excursion all around the island in a small boat. What an exciting day it was.

Our taxi driver. Nice lad

The beaches are stunning, no one to be seen around and the waters were clean as crystal glass. The whole island its surrounded by deep jungle.

 More fishing. give them a fishing rod. you wouldn't believe it!

We even saw monkeys!

Monkeys. Thats the closer I could get

At some point you pass by near Lazy Beach which is another eco resort. And also there is a light house once you turn round half the island perimeter.

Lazy Beach. As the name says: Stoner paradise

At some point we pulled over in Saracen Bay on the other side of the island. Despite i was told its a destination for some diving tours, there was barely no one that day. The place was pretty quiet.

Arriving at Saracen Beach

Saracen beach has one of the most beautiful sea colors i ve seen in my entire life (and I ve been in the caribbean and other tropical countries before!). 
The sand looked like snow….and it felt the same way when you stepped on it.

Saracen Beach

We finally got something to eat (Delicious Pasta with seafood) and after playing some pool we went back to M' Pai Bay. The sunset was amazing.

The last days we were there we didn't see much of Paul as he was busy in the capital Phnom Pen dealing with some government issues. 

Pool O' Clock!

Things aren't easy for him nowadays as he faces the possible closure of the place due to some building plans of real state investors on the place. 

But I really hope he manages to carry on with his project as he looked to me as a good and man with a lot of love to the place. He didn't seem to lack of the energy to me. So all the best Paul!
Koh Rong Samloem was, as he told us, his life.

Vietnam: Straw hats. Kampuchea: man on turbants and kilts!

After a month our visas were almost expired so sadly we had to return to Viet Nam, where more exciting things were awaiting to happen. But that belongs to another chapter.

I really hope to go back one day to Koh Rong Saloem. I truly had one of the best days of my entire life in there which allowed me to meet amazing people and some other mad Cambodian locals.

Goodbye Koh Romg Saloem!

Here is a short video I edited with some footage from my days with my friends Joel and Ari in Phu Quoc (Viet Nam), Otres Beach and Koh Rong Saloem in Cambodia.


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