Back on the coast!
After Phnom Penh, we took a bus to Sihanoukville, a famous tourist town on the peninsula in southern Cambodia. The town has a huge PARTY scene, which we were looking to avoid. So we rented a moped to check out some far removed beaches away from downtown. You should have seen us! Mikey on the front of the moped with his big backpack while I was sitting on the very end of the seat, hanging on for dear life, while my backpack was jutting out over the road bouncing with every bump. I’m surprised it didn’t break down from all the weight!
A nice long quiet beach lay just 20 minutes down the road with some guesthouses and restaurants: Otres Beach. It was much more our scene! I’m almost embarrassed to say that the length of our stay in Otres Beach was decided by the progress of a book we were both reading: Eragon (don’t judge us). The nice thing about traveling is that you have lots of time to read but the downside is that if a book is TOO addicting then you don’t want to do anything else! We did rip away from our books to enjoy the ocean and a fun, eclectic night market. At the night market we listened to some of our first western live music and bought a pocket watch from a woman in a mini clock tower (how ironic). One adventurous day we rented a small catamaran sailboat (13’ Hobie Cat) and had a blast sailing between some of the islands scattering the coast. Our days also consisted of building sand castles and taking night swims to see the bioluminescent plankton in the water (dubbed the Avatar swim)!
When we finished the Eragon series (four books in total), we wanted to venture out to one of the islands off the coast for a few days. However, it was a stroke of luck that we found the island of Koh Ta Kiev. Originally, we wanted to go the the most talked about island of Koh Rong, but when we went to buy tickets we were shocked! Every ferry company had raised the price from $10 to a staggering $25 the EXACT day we went to buy tickets. Obviously we were pretty bummed and cursed our bad luck! How is it that the same day we want to leave the price was raised?
That night we went to a traditional Khmer buffet dinner and dance show and met two nice couples. One of the couples, Suzie and Laurie, were working at a small Absinthe Distillery on Koh Ta Kiev Island, a much less developed jungle island only an hour away. They convinced us that Koh Rong was the WRONG island and to go with them the next day on a distillery tour and trip to the island. If we liked it we could stay, if not we could go back to Otres Beach. How ironic that we found this nice couple who could take us to an island for cheap, cheap! So we read the signs and jumped aboard.
The island was beautiful! A huge beach with only a few small bungalows and tents. No electricity, no internet, no running water, no ATMS, no stores! After a tour of the small distillery, we went to find a bungalow and what we found were treehouses! Staying in a treehouse, like Swiss Family Robinson, has always been a childhood dream! After settling in, we went to the bar for food and the first thing we saw was a sign that read,
“Sometimes not getting your way, can be a stroke of luck,” by the Dalai Lama.
And it truly was! We stayed off the grid with no internet or electronics (Kindles don't count) and couldn't have been happier.
Six things that happen on an island without electricity:
1. You go to bed early because candle light really isn't the same.
2. You meet a ton of friendly, fun travelers! Not one person was on their stupid cell phone and therefore dinner was an all-out-family-affair, with the whole restaurant talking and laughing.
3. Time melds together. Have we been here two days or eight days? What time is it? Who cares!
4. Instead of watching movies at night you sit around a fire! A 9 p.m. fire was our ritual with the staff/guests at our bungalows where we would play guitar, talk, and eat Oreos!
5. You're always dirty and sandy! The ocean becomes your bath! With no running water, getting clean and sand free was nearly impossible. You learn to just deal with it.
6. You live with critters. Night one there was a bat in our treehouse, night two there was a rat eating our soap, night three there was a MASSIVE cockroach on the bed, night four a snake in the woods, night five a flying lizard!… well you get the picture!
After a few nights in our treehouse we moved down the beach to a set of cheaper bungalows and found an amazing group of people. Nak, Melissa and Andy became our island family! We were able to thoroughly explore the island and came across a plethora of good finds. Eating at the fisherman's village and trying to navigate the rickety “docks” on the opposite side of the island was a real treat! Seeing them pull fresh live crab and fish out of cages in the ocean and then cook it for us was a delicious, once in a lifetime experience.
One of our favorite activities was earning free beers by cleaning up trash on what could possibly be the most beautiful beach of the whole trip. Unfortunately, the beach acts as a natural catchers mitt, making it a losing battle for trying to clean up trash. With each rising tide new trash arrives from surrounding areas and blows up onto the beach.
There was also a small music festival at one of the restaurants and in true island fashion we kayaked there and back in the dark with Melissa, Andy, and our friend Thomas. When we left at around 11pm the water was dead flat and the stars and moon were bright as could be! Quite an epic ride!
Unfortunately, we aren’t sure how long all these small businesses will be around. A group of Chinese investors bought the island and are planning to bulldoze all the bungalows in order to build a casino! Yes a casino! It is so sad to think that in a few short years our paradise island, that we found just by a stroke of luck, won’t exist anymore. We are so fortunate to have met such wonderful people before it's developed. Our original plan of spending just a few days on Koh Ta Kiev was quickly foiled and with a short ATM run to the mainland, turned into a 12 day ordeal. Our visa was almost up in Cambodia so we had to unwillingly leave the island but we took with us so many good memories from this little hidden gem!