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KOH RONG SANLOEM

Southeast Asia Part 1

Story by Jesse Morrow May 13th, 2015
Just like that, a 19 hour series of flights and we’re in the thick of it. It’s only been a year since the last time I was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, but driving down this dirt road, headed to the middle of the city, I’m realizing there’s so much of this place that I’ve forgotten. The streets are piled with little houses that double as shops for fixing scooters and small stores selling everything from fish to candy—the hustle is real! We hop in a contraption known as a tuktuk, which is essentially a two-wheeled carriage, hooked to a scooter and buzz through the packed streets. Our chosen vehicle isn’t very fast, giving us the chance to absorb our surroundings as we pass by children too young to not have supervision playing in the road and scooters with babies sandwiched between two adults. It’s my friend and travel companion, Luke’s, first time here and as the images of this foreign place glide by us, I can’t help but wonder what must be going through his mind!
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A bit of guidance from the driver and a lucky guess on my part lands us at the Russian Market, not far from where we’re staying. My friend, and Luke’s aunt, Anna, lives nearby. The wheels turn down another road that is numbered, but in no order, and suddenly, recognizing the building, I yell “Stop! This is it!” We scoop up our bags from the floorboard and shuffle upstairs to Anna’s apartment. The reunion with Anna and her boyfriend, Ritchie, is sweet and filled with hugs.

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Over dinner at a Khmer restaurant we discuss our plans for our journey to Koh Rong Sanloem, an island off the southwest coast of Cambodia. Unfortunately, Ritchie will have to hang back in Phnom Penh for work while the rest of us spend a few days relaxing on the beach to kick off our exploration of Southeast Asia. The place sounds wonderful, but Luke and I know very little about it, as Anna arranged the whole excursion. We decide that leaving early, at 3am, will allow us the most time to enjoy the adventure. For now, we’ll enjoy this Khmer BBQ and catch up on all of the times we’ve missed with each other.

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3am seems insanely early, but I’m awake with no problem—sometimes jet lag comes in handy. The cheapest route to Sihanoukville where we’ll catch the ferry to Koh Rong Sanloem is a hired driver for $130 round trip. The city is quiet, but the driver isn’t wasting a minute and quickly jumps on a phone call and starts chatting. His loud talking can’t keep my tired eyes awake though, and soon I’m drifting off to the tunes of Lana Del Rey spouting from my headphones.

7:30am puts us right in the midst of Sihanoukville and we’re boarding our ferry out to the island. Two hours pass—which seems like a lifetime after our long morning drive and lack of sleep—before I can see a white dock made from weathered boards sitting in the bright blue water. We pull along side and hop onto our new territory. We quickly find our temporary homes in the form of grass-covered bungalows and discover that there are only two other people staying at this resort. Heaven is real.

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Desperate to take a dip, we throw our bags in our rooms and make our way to the water. Walking the short distance to the shoreline, my toes finally make contact with the warm-bath temperature water and I plunge in. Swimming for at least an hour out here is enough to achieve a decent sun burn and Luke and I find that out the hard way. With no aloe, we have no choice but to lather our tender shoulders, backs, and faces with coconut oil—not really sure if it will work, but it’s the only remedy we have!

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After a full day of adventure and a big dinner, we return to our rooms which seem to be straight out of a “Brady Bunch Goes to Hawaii” episode, equipped with all of the quirks and potential catastrophes of a sitcom. Each bungalow has one large room with two beds and a front deck with a hammock. The bathroom fixtures are western style, but the water flow is hit-or-miss, same with the power, which only runs from 6pm-10pm. The hammock out front also gave way earlier when Luke tried to sit on it. The funniest part is he totally saw it coming. I told him, “No, it’s probably fine man. I just want to get this picture of you.” In the middle of my encouragement, the rope snapped and he tumbled to the floor! Perhaps it’s a little rough, but I’m enjoying the luxury camp feel this place has to offer.

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After almost two full days of island life, our restless souls are getting a bit restless. So, when we hear of a small fishing village called Mai Pei Bei down the beach, we happily venture the 15-minutes on foot to get dinner. Our local kitchen makes a mean fried rice but that’s about it. Risking life and limb, we find a small path that leads to a footbridge that leads to the village. It’s a nice spot with a mix of locals and off-season scuba instructors. The pleasure of visiting this place in non-peak season has me smiling. Our dining area is at a restaurant called Fish Hook. The vibe is similar to that of our resort area — weathered wood, rope, and coconut shells fill out the look and feel of this nook. Luke and I opt for more of a local dish of spicy curry and white rice, while Anna is only wanting western food and dives into a plate of chicken nuggets. The night is made complete with a beautiful sunset and a slightly scary walk back to our beds in the dark.

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All in all, island life ain’t bad. Luke and I are up at the crack of dawn on our last day here to do a bit of beach walking and a morning swim. This time of day suits us well as our sun burns are still healing. After 10am, we wear t-shirts, even in the water. Our time on Koh Rong Sanloem has been sweet and hopefully a foreshadowing of what is to come during the rest of our time in Southeast Asia. Trips to Vietnam, more of Cambodia, and Thailand all await!

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LICENSE PHOTOS FROM THIS TRIP