Getting to Cambodia
We came to Cambodia looking for a land of wonder and adventure and found an excellent opportunity volunteering at a resort on Koh Rong. Koh Rong is an island about 20km off the coast from Sihanoukville in the Gulf of Thailand. The way that we found the volunteering job didn’t give us much time to book flights, leave home and get to the resort to start work as high season was just beginning. We landed at Phnom Penh mid-November, unfortunately, my luggage got lost between Guangdong and Phnom Penh and our bus that we had booked to get us to Sihanoukville didn’t collect us! It was not a great start to our time in Cambodia!
After discovering that my big backpack had gone missing in transit and reporting it lost at the lost luggage counter, we finally walked outside the airport for the first taste of the humidity and heat that after just leaving England I was ill-prepared for. Sitting outside Phnom airport for about 3 hours waiting for the Giant Ibis bus to pick us up from the place where they had told us they would meet us was stressful and hot. Our mobile phones were dying and luckily we had an answer from Giant Ibis before they completely gave up that the driver “apparently” couldn’t find us and had left without us! I say luckily because at least now we knew we had to find an alternative way down to Sihanoukville. After haggling with a taxi driver getting the price from $100 to $50, we were finally on our way, minus one rucksack, to Sihanoukville for one night before meeting the resorts ferry the next morning for the trip over to Koh Rong Island.
Before heading to the Palm Beach resorts office and catching the ferry, Roy, the resort’s owner, had very kindly arranged for his tuk-tuk driver to pick us up from our hotel and take us to the Market. My lost rucksack contained all of my clothes and all of my toiletries, teaching me a lesson to at least pack a change of clothes in my carry-on luggage in the future!
My partner Gemma and I volunteered (and still are as I write this) at Palm Beach resort, I am there to help train and teach the kitchen staff western hygiene practices and better ways of cooking, my partner is a qualified English as a Second Language teacher and is teaching the staff on the resort English. I have found the language barrier in the kitchen a fairly big challenge but not as large as the cultural barrier with regards to hygiene practices. There is a very big difference both culturally and educationally with the way of thinking and understanding about bacteria and mitigating risks. When it comes to cooking it is completely different to anything I have ever seen before!
Getting My Luggage Back
After nearly a 3 weeks of phone calls and making arrangements with a local travel agent, I eventually got my rucksack delivered to the island. After locating my Rucksack it turned out that the airline wouldn’t send it down to me because I had lost my luggage ticket on my first flight, in order to get it they insisted I travel all the way up to Phnom Penh to get it in person. Palm Beach has one ferry per day running back and forth to the mainland so this would have ended up taking 2-3 days to and from the resort plus a lot of expense, after talking to a long time resident of Palm Beach, David who was very clued up he put me in touch with a local travel agent who he thought could help. Mike at ANA Travel was indeed very helpful and we arranged for me to send a barrage of emails to the airport with Identity cards, and my passport copy so that I could get the bag released into someone else’s custody, eventually after two attempts had fallen through, I had a random call from a taxi driver late at night giving me his details, he duly collected the next day and bought it to the Palm Beach office for a minimal sum of $10, despite the amount of time it had taken it was probably the best $10 I have ever spent. ANA Travel also sorted out the 3-month extension to our Visa’s for us for a very minimal fee, I would highly recommend them to anyone in Sihanoukville or surrounding islands.
Koh Rong and the Resort
Koh Rong is a magical place, so very beautiful but also a very large island. It is roughly the same size as Hong Kong, but almost undeveloped, with a population of around 10,000 it is very sparsely inhabited. On the ferry trip after passing Koh Rong Samloem, Koh Rong begins to come into view, Palm Beach is at the opposite side of the island to the main resorts and village of Koh Tuic, it is located just over a stone’s throw from the very exclusive and expensive resort of Song Saa Private Island. Passing Song Saa on the boat and heading towards the pier of Palm Beach was really exciting, at this point, I could start to see the resort and was really looking forward to working in what seemed like an island paradise. We met the owners, Roy and Mirielle in the bar after they had done the welcome speech for the new guests that had arrived, Roy then showed us around the resort and to the bungalow that we would be staying in.
The Bungalows here are fairly basic, there is 24-hour electricity but then the generators do go down and stop once in a while. There is no hot water so it is cold showers only and the toilets are for the most part are manually flushed with a bucket of water. The sense of nearly being back to the basics was at first a little overwhelming and also very exciting. The cold showers were for the most part very welcome especially in the 30 degree Celsius heat here. There is no air conditioning (well there is in some rooms, but if it’s running then it cuts off power to the rest of the resort!) but there is a fan in every bungalow that does an amazing job of keeping you cool and stopping the mosquitos from landing on you while you sleep.
Exploring The Island
The work although at times fairly long hours gave me a lot more free time than I would have had anywhere else at home. One of the great things about Palm Beach is the lack of distractions, there are no tv’s or radios in the rooms and wifi is only available in their restaurant and bar. However, over time, this does begin to have its drawbacks as boredom did settle in after a while. Having said that sitting out in a hammock or sun lounger with a brilliant book was a great way to pass the time, as has been exploring a little of the island and the occasional boat trip. The dive master Craig also runs snorkelling, sunset and plankton trips. One of the big draws of Koh Rong is the bioluminescent plankton in the sea around it, although it can only be seen in dark conditions, I have to say it was one of the most magical experiences of my life. It was like swimming in the stars, every movement creating a stir in the water would cause hundreds of tiny plankton to light up around you totally amazing.
Other ways I have found to pass the time include writing this blog, sorting out the very many photos I have taken, playing cards and exploring parts of the island on foot. We have walked to Lonely beach, another resort about an hour away which is absolutely gorgeous also. We have visited the local village, Prek Svay which was an interesting experience being a fairly traditional Khmer fishing village. Currently being built and having just gone past the resort is a new road, when I say road it is more a 3m wide dirt track with a lot of steep hills and deep ruts. We plan to take a 3-hour walk to Long beach as soon as we have a day off that is the perfect weather.
We have spent several nights/ days in Sihanoukville, it seems to be very much a party town which to be honest isn’t my cup of tea. Having said that there are many things to do there and an awful lot of casinos! There are some really nice restaurants and good places to stay. We also had a great morning outing to see the monkeys along Independence road, which was quite heartbreaking at times. Many of the monkeys were missing limbs and had obviously been knocked down by cars or motorbikes travelling along the road. There was one particular young monkey who I took many photos of who was playing with a discarded plastic bag, an unfortunately recurring theme in Cambodia. Another trip took us around to Koh Tuic, the main resort/village area nearly opposite Koh Rong Samloem. Obviously much bigger than Palm beach with many bars, restaurants and even a high ropes course, it to me lacked character and, I, by far preferred the resort at Palm Beach. It was on this trip that I took a photo that summarized for me a big problem in Cambodia, the photo was of a young boy who had made a raft out of rubbish, old polystyrene and was paddling it around rubbish covered water with an old lid. It was ironically just after we had walked past an old poster for world oceans day!
All the beaches have lots of litter washed up along them, the village has rubbish just thrown to the side of the path. Even in Sihanoukville, this seems to be the way to deal with refuse. Sometimes it is just burnt at the side of the road sometimes it is just left there to blow around. I assume most of it is an educational problem but it is also an institutional one where the facilities for refuse collection and disposal just aren’t that readily available. To me, it just seems like a very great shame that the refuse spoils such a beautiful country. It is not just on land though that the problem persists, fishing boats just throw the rubbish overboard which then washes up on the beaches, maybe in time a solution to the problem will be found, I hope so.
Holiday To Siem Reap
Having worked at Palm Beach for 2 months volunteering, the owners who are amazing people, Roy and Mirielle sent us on a holiday to Siem Reap, to finally explore the ancient parts of Cambodia that inspired us to come here in the first place. Our first day in Siem Reap we decided to use to get our bearings, explore the town/city and find the best way to get to the temples around the area and generally arrange our 7 days away. We managed to book a busy schedule in, markets, night market and a good explore around Siem Reap the first day. On the second day, we had a very early start to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat followed by the small tour around the temples. Our third day we arranged a trip to see kampong phluk, the floating village. On the fourth day, we booked in Banteay Srei temple followed by the grand tour. Our fifth day took us to Phnom Kulen, to explore the thousand lingas river, the amazing rock carving of the reclining Buddha and the beautiful waterfalls below the temple. We flew back down to Sihanoukville on our 6th and last day.
My impressions of Siem Reap is that it is a much bigger, cleaner and better looked after than Sihanoukville. We managed to find numerous good places to eat and like most cities I have been to, as soon as you get outside of the centre of town the price of food and drink comes down exponentially. I still have a large list of places I would like to visit in Cambodia, places such as Kampot and Battambang however as my time in Palm Beach draws closer to an end it looks like we will be soon leaving Cambodia and travelling for a month in Thailand, followed by a new job in Indonesia helping out at a school teaching English for a few months.