Friday, 15 March 2013

Koh Rong Samloem - The Scopion Incident and Paradise

Sunset Beach
I shall begin with the scorpion incident.

We were packing up to leave Koh Rong to head out to the smaller island of Koh Rong Samloem, where we were booked in for 6 nights in yet another beach hut on the almost deserted Sunset Beach. Although Koh Rong wasn’t anywhere near as busy as Sihanoukville, the peace and solitude promised at Koh Rong Samloem was, for us, alluring and we were looking forward to a bit of isolation.

It was during our packing up at Koh Rong and before we headed to Koh Rong Samloem that we had said scorpion incident.

Having been born and brought up in the UK I have for a long time held the mistaken belief that all scorpions stings are deadly.  I now know scorpion stings are rarely deadly, that some are worse than others, and that the deadlier the appearance of the scorpion the less likely his sting will be life threatening.  It is also an irrefutable fact that myths told you in childhood never properly go away and will rear their ugly little heads whenever there is a gap in reasonable and rational thought which in my case happens on an alarmingly regular basis.  For instance, the theme to Jaws never leaves my head for a moment whenever I am swimming (even paddling) in the open sea.  I digress but this is nevertheless relevant when Paul happened to be stung by a scorpion.

Me, catching flies in the
hammock on the veranda
I was on the veranda collecting our clothes that had been left out to dry overnight when Paul shrieked from inside the hut and screamed something along the lines of “Don’t panic but I’ve just been stung by a scorpion”.  He actually said a lot more than this but I am leaving out the swear words. 

I dropped the clothes I was collecting from outside and, to my credit, did not appear panic stricken but I just stood there, dumbstruck, mouth agape, while calmly reaching for the Germolene.  Paul was at this point jumping up and down in obvious agony, clutching his left hand with his right (it was his left thumb), and shouting and swearing and screaming.  Actually he was screaming a bit like a girl.  Apparently it hurts a lot to be stung by a scorpion.

However, knowing my propensity to overreact in most circumstances, in his moment of agony Paul took the time in between screaming and cursing to reassure me that it was nothing to worry about, it was just a little scorpion but that the stung was really very painful.  To be honest, in my defence, seeing my 6'6" built like a wrestler husband writhing around in agony did make me wonder whether he was being entirely truthful, but I bowed to his better judgment (and knowledge of creatures likely to do you harm, him being Australian and all that where everything seems to be deadly).
Our hut at Robinson Bungalows

After a short discussion during which time I believe I hid my panic admirably, we agreed I would pop down to the beachfront to the only shop on the island which had a small glass cabinet housing about 10 different medicines which proudly called itself a pharmacy.  My mission was to ask if they knew whether this particular scorpion was particularly poisonous, and whether they had anything which might help with the pain.  I was under strict instructions not to run (the likelihood being, I would trip and break my leg (or something equally disastrous) and we would end up having to cut short our trip and fly to Australia immediately anyway).

Although outwardly displaying a cool, calm and collected demeanour, there were several things that were worrying me just a tad.

Firstly, we really had no way of knowing how dangerous this creature was and I decided I would google it when I returned from the chemist, believing any local knowledge would be more valuable in the first instance.  

The bar/restaurant (actually the seats we spent
 most of our time - horizontal)
Secondly, we were currently on an island with no roads, no motorised vehicles, no medical assistance, patchy internet access which relied on electricity provided by generators, and a twice daily 2 hour boat ride to the mainland.

Thirdly, we were shortly leaving this comparative metropolis of modern living for an extremely remote island an hour further away from the mainland (i.e. civilization) with zero facilities beyond a few beach huts, shared bathroom facilities, snakes, monkeys, lizards (and probably a lot more scorpions) which really wouldn’t be somewhere you would want your husband to go into anaphylactic shock and die.

I hurried down the path to the beach (but as instructed didn’t run) and dashed through the sand to the shop where I found a local lady manning the pharmacy cabinet.  However, there was a queue and two girls were asking for information about bus tickets on the mainland.  And they were acting like they had all the time in the world, which obviously they did because they were on holiday but I didn’t because my husband had just been bitten by a bloody scorpion.

Sunset from the bar
But I am British so what did I do?  While in my head I was screaming “My husband has just been bitten by a deadly scorpion and for all I know he could have dropped dead already, and all you want to bloody talk about is BUS TICKETS”, what I actually did was politely wait my turn and waited for them to finish.  It was a queue after all and I am British. 

After what seemed like hours but was probably about 4 minutes when they turned to leave the shop, and I was feeling some relief that I was finally going to get my urgent medical advice, when they paused, turned around and started asking the lady where they could get breakfast.

Once again, in my head I’m screaming “Open your fucking eyes you stupid bitches, there are about a dozen places within cat swinging distant that are currently serving breakfast, can’t you see I’m on an emergency mission because my husband is about to drop dead because he was bitten by a scorpion?”.   As you can see I'm not leaving out the swear words here but I feel the need to emphasize just how much I was beginning to freak out.

Our roommate the Tokay gecko
However, I did not even do so much as scowl at them and continued to wait politely until they had finished and were on their way.  Only then did I start to explain my predicament and my panic was beginning to surface.  Thank God no-one else turned up because it’s likely I would have insisted they be served first.  What is it about us British, queues and politeness?

So by this time, calm exterior is beginning to crumble and I am actually quite close to tears.  I manage to carefully explain to the lady that my husband has been bitten by a small brown scorpion and does she have any medicine that might help because he is in a lot of pain, and also, more importantly, does she know whether these creatures are very dangerous?  Her first reaction did nothing to calm me down as she looked at me wide eyed and said “A scorpion?  Oh no, that’s very bad” and then proceeded to translate what I have said to her into Khmer to the two men sitting on a sofa next to the pharmacy desk (one turned out to be her brother).

Again, I patiently wait while they discuss my predicament at some length and the knitted brows and looks of concern do nothing to reassure me and my anxiety increases. 

No Geckos here!
Finally, she turns to me and explains that a woman in the village was recently bitten by this scorpion and she used a paste or lotion to put on the sting and it all turned out OK, but she didn’t know if the woman was around so she would send her brother off to look for her and ask her if she had any of her medicine.

Her brother dawdled off and I paused about 3 seconds before thanking her and saying that I needed to go and check on my husband and (assuming he hadn’t dropped head) we would drop by later on our way out to the pier.

I hurried back to the beach hut, not pausing for breath on the steep climb up to the hut (partly because I was instructed not to run but partly because I couldn't have run if both our lives depended on it as I am just not that fit).  As I climbed the path I anticipated 3 scenarios:-
  1.  Paul would be dead (despite how dramatic that sounds at the time I honestly thought this was a possibility).
  2.  Paul would be pretending to be dead (this was also a distinct possibility with Paul’s warped sense of humour and if he did this I would kill him)
  3.  Paul would still be screaming like a girl

Luckily (and I mean this in the best possible way) I found Paul still writhing in agony although he had stopped screaming like a girl but he hadn’t stopped swearing like a navvy.  Apparently a scorpion sting really hurts.

Another roommate - this mud wasp built
his nest within the space of only
24 hours
At this point I googled “small brown scorpion Cambodia” and found that it wasn’t deadly unless the victim has an allergic reaction in which case he or she should seek medical attention immediately.

Clearly that was an issue so after another brief discussion Paul stated quite emphatically that he was not going to cancel our visit to Koh Rong Samloem or return to Sihanoukville on the basis of the remote possibility that he might have an allergic reaction to a scorpion sting, arguing that if he was going to have an allergic reaction he would have had one by now.  Knowing Paul, even if he was experiencing some kind of allergic reaction he wouldn’t have admitted it.  He was insistent that we continue to Koh Rong Samloem and there was no arguing with him.

We realised that what had happened was that sometime during the night the scorpion had crawled into Paul’s t-shirt which had been discarded on the floor of the hut at the end of the bed.  I had also discarded a few items of clothing nearby and earlier that morning had sorted through those items that were mine to either pack or wear.  One item of clothing was a bra and that alternative scenario just doesn't bear thinking about.

The steps leading to our hut
Furthermore, we had also both visited the bathroom during the night (in the dark because the electricity is turned off at midnight).  Either of us could have been bitten at any time.

In the morning when Paul picked up his t-shirt to put it on, he brushed off a dead spider (we guess he was the scorpion’s dinner) and it was then that the scorpion stung him. 

We have both since discussed at some length how lucky it was that the scorpion had not found its way into any of my clothes or that I had been bitten in the night during one of my nocturnal trips to the bathroom.  This is because in my panic (hysteria) I honestly would have believed that I was going to die (childhood myths:  see above), and we probably would be on the next flight to Australia.  I know this is true and I have not tried to deny it.  I never thought that anyone would say it was lucky that they were bitten by a scorpion but Paul remains happy that he was the victim and not me.

The little black gecko on a
neighbouring tree that
could fly
Paul assured me that the pain was starting to recede a little (he downgraded it from the level of absolute agony to intense pain), and we needed to finish packing to make sure we were ready to catch the boat.

Before we left our beach hut however there was the little question of Paul’s attacker.  It had remained hidden in his T-shirt all this time and now Paul very carefully picked his shirt up and shook it out until the little creature was revealed.  He was about 1 inch long (with his tail curled over) and light brown in colour.  We couldn't just leave him there so with little ceremony and a cry of “Take that, ya bastard!” he twatted it with his flip flop.  Problem solved.  I didn’t even get a chance to take a picture of the little critter.

Another stunning sunset
I would like to point out here that had we just found the scorpion in our room (and he hadn’t stung Paul) we would have taken a few pictures of him and then carefully removed him to safety somewhere outside.  As it was, Paul was very pissed off with this scorpion and he wasn’t going to live to tell the tale.

So, we finished packing discussing new rules about discarding articles of clothing on the floor, and set off down the hill to the little pier where we left our rucksacks and then headed back to the “pharmacy”.  The lady greeted me with an apology saying that her brother had found the woman in the village but and that although she had some of her medicine she couldn’t remember where she had put it.  We gathered from this relaxed attitude that, despite her initial reaction, maybe the sting wasn’t so much to worry about after all.  However, as Paul was still in a great deal of pain we purchased some strong painkillers and off we went.
View through the door of our hut

As we waited for the boat to Koh Rong Samloem we mused again how “lucky” it was that the little critter had bitten him and not me.  Paul also considered the outcome had the little blighter found refuge in his boxer shorts (which were also discarded on the floor of the hut) and a rather pained expression passed over his face and remained there for some time as he contemplated this possibility.  He now also considered himself lucky he was bitten where he was! 

The sting continued to cause some pain for the next 24 hours and he wasn’t able to touch anything with his thumb without getting a shooting pain like a nasty electric shock.  But he has lived to tell the tale and by the time we arrived in Koh Rong Samloem the incident was all but forgotten.


The unfinished pier
The boat trip to the small island of Koh Rong Samloem takes about an hour from Koh Rong and anchors next to an unfinished pier.  You have to jump into the water and swim/wade to get ashore while the staff carry your bags to shore from the boat on their heads.  When we reached the beach we were welcomed to Robinson Bungalows by Stan, the manager, introduced to the staff and shortly afterwards shown to our bungalow.

The private beach was simply stunning.  The beach was clean and edged with very pale golden sand and the sea changes from sparkling clear waters at the shoreline, turning to pale aquamarine and then turquoise before finally changing into a deep blue all the way to the horizon.  The sea was calm, almost like a pond, and the waves lap the shore lazily making a constant soothing background sound together with the rustling of the surrounding trees.

A Cambodian fisherman
balancing on his boat
Our beach bungalow was simple:  we had a bed and mosquito net, and a veranda complete with hammock and swing.  We also had our very own Tokay gecko (green with aquamarine spots) but he seemed to leave in the night and he didn’t make the usual call they make which was a bit of a relief because they can go on all night sometimes.

The bathrooms and showers were a couple of minutes’ walk away (which would bother some people – you know who you are!) but the rates were much cheaper than Koh Rong and on the other side of the island where the more upmarket bungalow resorts are, but our beach was deserted, the little resort itself so tranquil, the atmosphere very laid back and the surroundings were just beautiful. 

The other side of Koh
Rong Samloem
The bar/restaurant was open air and quite cool when there was a breeze.  Electricity was only available from 6.30pm until midnight, the prices were more than reasonable, the food simple and very tasty, and the beer was cheap (always a bonus). 

An eclectic mix of music was played in the bar and on the first evening we watched the amazing sunset and then chatted to a Finnish couple for a while who had spent some time in Indonesia, talking about the diving and snorkelling opportunities there.

During the first night we spent there it rained a little and we both spent quite a bit of time awake listening to the sounds of the jungle:  little barking geckos, strange but very loud insects, rodents rustling in the space underneath the huts and monkeys scampering about making monkey noises. 

The other side of the
Koh Rong Samloem is a truly beautiful place, a proper tropical island and the kind of place that the word “idyllic” was invented for.  It was exactly the sort of place we had been looking forward to spending some time, the perfect spot to spend a week relaxing, swimming and snorkelling.

Days were spent lazing around on the beach, snorkelling from time to time, stopping for lunch and then relaxing on the veranda of our hut – me in the hammock and Paul positioned just inside the hut on the bed so he could see the sea. 

Another little friend
Once again, the snorkelling was fantastic and like swimming in an aquarium.  Paul swam for hours on his own as he is much more confident in the water and he explored much further afield.

We also went out together and we saw lots of brightly coloured fish, lots of royal blue fish, little turquoise fish, yellow and black stripy fish, big yellow finned fish, crocodile needle fish, a cuttlefish and an octopus (both cunningly disguised as rocks) and a huge clam with yellow and green stripes.  When Paul went out alone he saw lots of parrot fish, sea urchins which seem to have four little light bulbs for eyes, anemones where clown fish live (Nemo to you and me), scorpion fish, lizard fish, gobi, trevalley, goat fish, mullet, a crown of thorn starfish, batfish, rabbit fish, squirrel fish, crabs, and lots of other creatures that he couldn’t identify.

One night there was an almighty thunderstorm.  Earlier in the evening the generator had packed up briefly, just as I was on the way back to the hut to fetch the torch.  I considered screaming for help because I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face and I completely lost my bearings, there only being a tiny slither of a crescent moon and few stars to light my way, but I was brave and finally found my way back to the bar area.   Paul said he considered coming to look for me but I only have his word for that!

Another little roommate
After dinner we sat outside on the veranda of our hut watching sheet lightening for about an hour and then the thunder started, followed by a proper tropical rainstorm.  We left the doors of the hut open that night and the breeze was so refreshing after experiencing stifling heat for so long, and we both had the best night sleep we had had for ages.  

Our Tokay gecko popped by after breakfast one day.  We caught him climbing the back wall and he was good enough to pose for a couple of photographs but when I used the flash on him he panicked, ran down the wall and half way down promptly fell off landing with quite a thud.  He then slowly crept away and climbed over the wall and escaped outside to the trees. 

He returned for the last few days and stayed behind the door, which we left open most nights for the sea breeze.  Sometimes we could only see his little eye looking at us but we didn't want to startle him.  They are known to be aggressive if threatened and can bite.  When they do, it’s not that they particularly hurt, it’s just that they won’t let go for some time.  So when Paul got alarmingly close, chatting away to him I had visions of the gecko lashing out and Paul walking around for an hour or two with a foot long spotted gecko attached to his nose.  This would have been very funny but slightly embarrassing so I tried to discourage Paul in his attempts to bond with our resident reptile roommate.

We had other roommates during our stay.  A little gecko crawled across the roof and chatted away.  And a wasp moved in while we were there, rather impressively building a nest within about 24 hours.  We first spotted him flying in and out of the hut but we couldn't work out why until the nest suddenly appeared from nowhere.  

Paul returning from snorkelling around the bay
On the other side of the island, there were a few more resorts and an apparently beautiful beach.  To reach the other side you walk across the island through the jungle so one day we decided to venture out of our little sanctuary just to see what the other side had to offer.  The path is quite easy to follow, a little tricky and steep in places, but we managed it in flip flops and only encountered one snake which slithered away as soon as it heard us coming.  It was a bright green snake about 3 feet long and we lost sight of it as soon as we spotted it.  

We also saw quite a few little lizards which always seem stay absolutely still, apparently not breathing, and look at you sideways and seem to be saying “I’m not a lizard, I’m part of this tree”.  No lizard we saw was the same.  Some were brown, some green, some had red necks, and there was one particular lizard which was small and black with a yellow crest under its chin which it actually used to fly from tree to tree.

We saw millions of ants of all different shapes and sizes but the most impressive were one colony whose numbers were so great that we could hear them moving about and they were quite loud.  I have to admit I have never heard ants before, no matter how big they are (and these weren't that big, there was just a hell of a lot of them!).

The other side of the island was very beautiful with a wide, white sandy beach and beautiful shallow waters but it was a little busier so we only stayed an hour or two before heading back through the forest before it got dark.

Another view of the beach
There were insects aplenty on the island but surprisingly few mosquitoes.  Sand flies were a bit of a problem but it’s a small price to pay.

One evening we played poker with Stan, the manager, a couple of Germans and a group of French guys who we think came over from the other side of the island.  I had never played poker before but I think, with practice, I could get quite good.  Paul was very good but sadly did not take the winnings as one of the French had a lucky streak.  It made a change to do something different but if would have been even better if we had come away $50 richer!

Ling, the Chinese girl who managed the place when Stan was on the mainland, was lovely, as was the Khmer cook, a young girl who took the orders, made the food, served the food and did the washing up.  She managed all this very well and seemed pretty unflappable doing everything at once.  Unfortunately there were a couple of people who complained if their food doesn't arrive quickly enough despite it being obvious she was running the food part alone.

Yet another stunning sunset
We could easily have spent longer at Robinson Bungalows.  There are plans to develop all the Cambodian islands in the Gulf of Thailand and I believe they have actually already been sold to a developer with plans to build resorts which would be such a shame because they would lose much of their rustic charm which, for people like us, is the main attraction.  There seem to be so few places like this left in this world which is becoming smaller every day, places that are simply beautiful themselves but in part because they retain a local charm and character such as lack of electricity, and where you are truly able to escape the outside world completely.

However, we were also excited to be spending 2 nights at sea on our Liveaboard trip with The Dive Shop and so when it was time for us to finally leave and we swam out to the boat to take us back to Koh Rong we were both sad and eagerly looking forward to our next adventure.  Such has been the luxury of this trip; disappointment to be leaving somewhere you have fallen in love with has always been tempered with the anticipation of the next experience.



  1. Dawn, I love the sound of this island, except for ALL of the insect friends you wrote about!! And poor Paul; I'm with you and would probably have died from sheer panic attack about the possibility of dying! Loving the blog!

    1. Hi Danni. Koh Rong Samloem was absolutely lovely and if I had flown there straight from Europe I would have freaked at all the creepie crawlies and other little creatures but as we have made our way overland we became acclimatised! Although I still would have been convinced that I was going to die if the scorpion had bit me! I now known that scorpion stings are rarely deadly but being stuck on an albeit beautiful desert island without medical facilities is not really the place you want to take the chance! Hope all is well with you and that your tan has not completely faded, you are not working too hard, and are now planning your next trip. Say hi to Patricia too. Dawn x

  2. Hello guys, great post, koh rong samloem is really amazing island! you can look now at the official website ;-)

    1. Just a shame you plagiarized all the content from the original Koh Rong Samloem website

      And why is your sham copy site official?

  3. Hello. Thank you so much for writing about our island paradise Koh Rong Samloem – We need all the help we can get to keep spreading the good word! We are a non-profit, independent organisation created to help keep the Koh Rong Islands clean and help the local fishing communities. Would you mind sharing the link to our new guide to help our project? Your help would be very much appreciated! You can find our guide on Koh Rong Samloem here:

    Thank you!