Monday, 11 March 2013

Koh Rong - On the Beach, Diving and Snorkelling

The veranda where I spent
rather a lot of time doing
not very much
In order to be transported from the mainland to the island of Koh Rong we met at the Dive Shop at 7am.

The first leg of the trip involved us all piling into the The Dive Shop's industrial tuk tuk with our luggage which took us as far as the harbour on the other side of town and from there we caught the boat which would take us on the 2 hour journey to the island.  The Dive Shop has 3 boats, rather unimaginatively called Dive Shop 1, Dive Shop 2 and (you guessed it) Dive Shop 3.  We were catching boat number 1 to Koh Rong.

The standard fare for the boat ride to Koh Rong is $20 return and this service is provided by lots of businesses in Sihanoukville, particularly those with bungalows to rent on the island.  On our trip there were about half a dozen passengers, plus a couple of the guys who work for The Dive Shop and the Cambodian crew.

The two hour trip, after all our horrendous coach and minibus ordeals in Cambodia, was absolute luxury.  On the approach to the village the sight of the pure white sand against the turquoise/light emerald sea was stunning.  It all looked rather picture perfect and so much quieter than Sihanoukville.  After a very pleasant and cool trip we moored at The Dive Shop’s pier in the main village at Koh Rong.  

We arrived at about 10.30am and we went straight to our bungalows at a place called Island Palace just opposite the very rickety pier, Paul dropped his rucksack off and headed straight out again to start his PADI Open Water diving course.  He was looking forward to it but also a bit concerned because he still had a bit of a cold and his ears and sinuses were blocked – never a good thing when you’re diving but he is nothing, if not determined (some might say a little pig-headed on occasion!).
Our beach hut

The path leading to our bungalow from the beach was very steep and very uneven.  The bungalow itself was huge with 2 double beds and plenty of room inside for all our stuff.  It was set into the hillside on stilts and we had an amazing view from the the comfortable chairs on the veranda out to  sea,

I quickly set about making the hut home by unpacking a few essentials.  That took all of 5 minutes and I then got out the music player and my kindle, assumed a position on the veranda from where I could read my kindle, glance up to gaze at the sea every so often, and watch all the birds and butterflies flying about, when I wasn’t engrossed in whatever I was reading at the time.

Paul in the shallows doing
the basics
I did venture down to the village for some breakfast at a beach cafĂ© and went for a little wander along the beach afterwards but soon headed back to the bungalow and to the comfortable privacy of the veranda and the luxury of my own choice of music.  While Koh Rong was much quieter than Sihanoukville  it was still full of twenty somethings with a taste in music which had yet to mature.  Actually, I'm just too old to listen to dance music in the middle of the day on a hot and sunny beach in Cambodia, preferring a bit of Red Hot Chili Peppers.

When I was back at the hut, I spotted Paul from the veranda in the shallows doing his initial training with his Croatian instructor, Peter.  After that he went out on the boat and did some open water diving before returning for more training in the shallows.  Peter was a really great guy and an excellent instructor, very thorough and certainly gave Paul the confidence he needed to persist with the course, even though his ears were causing him a few problems.
The view from the bottom
of the stairs of our hut

Paul didn’t return until gone 6pm that evening and was absolutely knackered.  As he was having problems with his ears, he was concerned that he may not be able to complete the course the following day.  The second day involves a deep dive (12 metres) which puts more strain on the ears, causing more pain, and he was very worried this would be a problem.

That evening he had to return to The Dive Shop pier at 6.30pm to take the written test and evaluation and I went along with him while he completed it and then we went off together for something to eat.

Walking through the jungle
to the beach
There are quite a few eating options in Koh Rong and most of pretty basic but cheap.  There are three bungalow resorts at the far end of the beach which are a bit more pricey but in the main village there are quite a few little bars and a couple of places run by local people that serve up a good barbecue each evening.

During our 4 days on Koh Rong we had a barbecue 3 of the nights but one evening ventured down to Paradise Bungalows which had been heralded as a more upmarket place where people who need a few home comforts usually stay. 

The deserted beach
However, the food (despite being recommended as some of the best in the area) was mediocre at best, the service incredibly slow, and the atmosphere was a little stuffy.  Paul hated it and couldn’t wait to leave.

On our way back we popped into Monkey Island Resort bar for a drink but this wasn't much better as it has a reputation for being a bit of a "happening" place and it's clear it thinks it is a bit trendy.  It's full of young backpackers and although we had cider (a very nice but very expensive treat) we were short-changed by the English bartender (which happens far too often and gets beyond irritating), so we didn’t go back there either.

On a positive note, Paul did manage his second day diving and completed his course.  He managed to do two deep dives with little trouble with his hears (just leaving him a bit more deaf than he usually is) and he also did a night dive.  He absolutely loved it and so his obsession began.

Koh Rong village
That day I spent the second day exploring a little further down the beach, finding somewhere to have breakfast that served proper Vietnamese coffee.  Other than that I spent about an hour on the beach and then it was more of the same back at the hut reading and listening to music.

When Paul finished his course we spent the remaining two days on an almost deserted beach around the headland from Treehouse Bungalows at the far end of the main beach.  This involved meandering for about 20 minutes along the main beach then cutting across the headland through the jungle for about 20 minutes.  When you emerged the other side of the headland you were confronted with a vision of a pure white sandy beach stretching for what seemed like miles around a huge bay filled with beautiful clear aquamarine water full of fish, swimming really close to shore in the shallow waters and lots of other sea life.

Me, doing my mermaid
So our third day on Koh Rong we spent just enjoying swimming the in the warm waters and lazing around under a tree on the almost empty beach.  It was almost deserted with just a handful of people passing by every so often.  We watched the sand crabs darting about, digging their little holes, and spent what seemed like hours just floating about in the water before eventually wandering back to the main village for a bite to eat.

On our last day we hired snorkelling gear and on the way to our little spot we stopped to investigate one of the little rocky bays which had some coral and all sorts of marine life including sea urchins and starfish, schools of lots of small yellow and black stripy fish, pale green fish, and small but brilliant blue fish, as well as a lot of fish cunningly disguised as sand but easily visible underwater.

A crab - we couldn't tell one
end from the other
When we reached the same spot under the same tree where we had spent the previous day, we stretched out and lazed around for a bit and then every so often ventured into the sea for a bit of swimming or some more snorkelling.  We were amazed at how many fish we saw in the open sea.  You expect to sea stuff around rocks and coral but they swam in so close to the shore in open waters and with the mask you could see just how many fish there actually were.  We also saw a few bigger fish jumping out of the water further out to sea (which only made me think that they were being chased by sharks, such is my paranoia!).

The only downside to this part of the world is the horrible little sand flies that bite indiscriminately and infect really easily.  I am usually eaten alive by mosquitoes but generally I was luckier with the sand flies although I got some nasty little bites on my upper arms and lower legs which take ages to heal and itch like mad.  While mosquitoes can give or take Paul’s blood, sand flies certainly seem to take a liking to him so he was caned by them.  Coconut oil is the answer but as usual that was something we found out after the event – not very helpful but we will certainly remember it for the future.
Sunset from the

The sand flies were a small price to pay.  After Paul’s diving course, he enjoyed spending a couple of days just relaxing on the beach, and it is not something I find at all difficult as long as I have a fully charged kindle to hand and beautiful clear, warm water to cool off in.

After 4 days on Koh Rong, we were looking forward to more of the same at Robinson Bungalows on Koh Rong Samloem where we had booked 6 days of relative isolation on an effective private beach.


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