Plans change, as they always do, and we had an extra week to spend in Cambodia. So why not spend an extra week at the beach? Our friends who had previously visited Koh Rong raved about the untouched island so it was an easy decision to book seven nights at White Rose Bungalows.
After baking in the sun on a calm ferry ride, we arrived on beautiful Koh Rong. This island off of Cambodia has yet to be hit by the tidal wave of tourism. It remains a hidden gem for travelers. There are no roads, no electricity, and no worries.
Bungalows, bars and restaurants line two kilometers of the main beach. Behind them is jungle, nothing else. Generators turn on for a few hours at night. The water runs out several times a day. Shoes are put away as every path is in the sand.
We arrived during the Cambodian New Year which is a week long celebration that consists of throwing water and talcum powder at each other. The locals radiate joy as they dance and play. The men toast several beers to the New Year and the women sing along to every song. The holiday celebrations were alive and well on this island. We unknowingly chose accommodation right next to the local hangout. The Cambodians on the island erected a giant wooden pole in the middle of the sand path. All of the festivities took place around this pole. They hung a basket of money at the top of the pole and greased it's length. Whoever could climb to the top of it won the basket of cash. Obviously a bunch of drunken partiers have a slim chance of going up that pole. The locals danced in circles into the wee hours of the night. They had a playlist of ten songs that was put on repeat. At first seeing and being part of the celebrations was wonderful; however after the fourth day of listening to the same ten songs on full volume, I was ready for the holiday to end.
To find silence we went to the beach - which we were surrounded by. We visited Treehouse beach, 4K beach, Police beach, and Long beach. Each one drastically different than the other, even though it was the same island. Lush jungle separated these sandy coves and narrow paths connected them.
Koh Rong surprisingly became a party island thanks to the national holiday. So while the locals and travelers slept off their hangovers we found secluded beaches.
Past the main strip and through a short path lays Treehouse beach. This small cove overlooks cornflower blue water and a cloudless sky. The sand is golden and squeaks beneath your feet as you walk along it. I've never heard such audible sand before in my life. Everyone who walked through the beach couldn't help but giggle at the squeaky sand.
One day we decided to visit Long Beach which is located on the opposite side of the island. There is a path that travels up and over the mountain that is meant to take around 45 minutes. We set off for a jungle hike and a new beach. The jungle hike quickly became a jungle obstacle course. The path disappeared and we had to free climb down boulders to decline the mountain. Swinging from vines, scaling down bamboo shoots, and balancing on ledges made me feel like Jane from Tarzan. It was exhilarating and an unexpected find. Once on level surface palm trees broke away into ten kilometers of glory. The tide was low so chestnut colored rocks protruded from the pale blue water. A narrow strip of white sand buffered the warm sea from the abundant jungle. We spent a great deal of time in the Jacuzzi water in order to escape the terrible sand flies.
There is no such thing as perfect and Koh Rong is a quintessential example of that. There is another side to this beautiful island. Sand flies unfortunately come with the package of picturesque beaches. These nuisances are the ninjas of the insect world. You do not feel when they land on you and the bite at first is just a small red dot. With time that dot becomes more inflamed and itchy than a mosquito bite. I discovered after some research that they are attracted to females and blondes. That being said, I was destroyed by the sand flies on Koh Rong. They didn't plague every beach but you couldn't escape them if you tried. By the time I left the island I was covered in swollen hives and driven a bit crazy from the itching. To prevent infection, as I was not living and traveling in the cleanest and most sanitary conditions, I bought some antibiotics and antihistamine. Nevertheless, even the sand flies couldn't have ruined my time on Koh Rong.
Besides the tiny devil sand flies, dozens of dogs and their puppies called this island home. They were everywhere; playing at your feet, sleeping next to you in the sand, and running in the water. The Buddhists do not believe in spaying or neutering the animals so they procreate over and over again. This has left many dogs over-bred and over-nursed. Many pups are sick with diseases passed on to them and do not make it. In the cities these "soi dogs" are quite neglected; however, in this haven they are loved and cared for.
Playing alongside the puppies are the smiling children. I have encountered many children in Southeast Asia begging for money or trying to sell little crafts to tourists. However, all of the business owners on Koh Rong want to keep that from happening on their ideal island. So all the expats that own restaurants and bungalows give extra love, attention, and care to the children on the island. They feed and play with them with no other intention but to help the children keep their innocence for a little while longer.
4K beach was my Eden. After a ten minute walk through the jungle a crescent of white sand and translucent water blinded you. On our first time to 4K there was only one other person resting in the shade. Everything about this piece of the world was glorious. We laid by the water and drifted off to the small waves lapping the fine white sand. We spent most of our time at this paradise.
It was here I fell in love with another book.
I am an avid reader and find such joy being immersed in a new world and getting to know new characters. I am inspired by the style and prose of some of my favorite authors.
While traveling, I am unable to carry excess belongings as I am very limited in space. Thankfully, most hostels have free book exchanges so I do not have to lug around a dozen books. When I browse through selections on dusty hostel shelves that were loved and adored before me, I know they are there not by chance. Becoming more aware of it with time, books are offered or presented to me for a purpose. Most recently, I kept finding books about the Holocaust and World War II prior to my visiting to the killing fields in Phnom Penh. Afterwards, I was given a memoir about the Cambodian Genocide.
Many of my friends have love affairs with great stories as well and share their recommendations with me. I add these suggestions to my running list of books to read; however often forget to look back upon it as I am too busy with my nose and heart in another novel. Even though I do not intentionally seek out these books on my 'to-read' list, they eventually find me.
While I was living in Italy, my dear friend, Carolyn, recommended the book Celestine Prophecy to me. It was not until I looked at the bookshelf in my Thailand apartment - for the twentieth time - right before I was about to set out on this backpacking journey did I see this green spiraled spiritual story stacked against thrillers and coming of age tales. All of a sudden this book was before my eyes and it was all I could see. I knew it was time to read it.
My childhood friend, Audrey, and I have miles of distance between us but one thing that continues to connect us is our love for reading. We survived the miserably awkward years of adolescence together and slowly found our own paths in this world. As we were battling the war of teenage dramas, we often found peace in the basement of her old colonial home. Audrey and her vivid mother would so casually speak of authors and characters as if they were members of the family. I believe witnessing these conversations sparked my interest in reading. They introduced me to the epic love stories that have lasted through out time, leaving me believing in Mr. Darcy. Perhaps this is where I became a hopeless romantic.
So when I found a book in a hostel in Vietnam called The Bronze Horseman, something made me return to that list of must read books. That same title burned bright on the page, sirening it's need to be read. I recalled that Audrey told me to read it years before. I immediately contacted my freckled and constantly smiling friend to let her know of my serendipitous find. She told me to enjoy the love story as it is one of her favorite books.
So laying in the pearly white sand of Koh Rong and sitting in the shallow water of the sea, I dove deep down into an epic love story of war and desire. The protagonists, Alexander and Tatiana enraptured my mind and heart.
I believe in consuming, whole-hearted, and wild love. The kind you fight for and cannot imagine breathing another breath without. There may be no such thing as perfect Prince Charming, but there is a counterpoint to your soul. There is a person that inspires, encourages, and complements you. They bring out the best in you and free you of your insecurities and fears. There will be struggle and imperfection, as we are all humans with free will, however the passionate love between you two will conquer and persevere. I am an eternal hopeless romantic. So while I wait to find this holy love in life, I will wrap myself in the comfort of a well written novel.
By day I immersed myself in Soviet Russia during World War II and by night I enjoyed the island life with Mikaela and a group of Aussie friends that we met in a Phnom Penh. My skin was kissed by the sun, my hair salty from the sea, and my smile radiating from within. I know one thing to be true: the healing power of the sea is equal to that of a good book.
Check out Audrey's post on our mutual love for The Bronze Horseman!
Check out Audrey's post on our mutual love for The Bronze Horseman!