In the words of Douglas Adams, a beach house isn't just real estate, it's a state of mind. Lazy Beach on Koh Rong Samloem lived up to its name. A collection of bungalows, each cached away in the jungle, hammocks swinging on the front porch, and big round blue suction cup papasan chairs in view of the waves crashing into the sand and in reach of dinner. I hadn't planned to stay as long as I did, but the place, and the mental state, got a hold on me.
I wound up on this island south of Sihanoukville in the Gulf of Thailand, because I couldn't figure out where else to go in Cambodia. Although the Lonely Planet promises that there is adventure not to be missed if you take the time, it goes on to say that most of the eastern and northern parts of the country aren't really passable during the rainy season (peak period July – September). Sihanoukville is known as a beach destination, but from different accounts it sounded seedy and crowded. The islands, on the other hand, with some more exotic bird species, macaques and tropical forest seemed worth the trip.
I thought I'd go for a day or two and ended up staying over a week. “The Beach” (named after the movie) dorm for $5 a night with a view of the water was a good deal, but it was no competition for Lazy Beach, which thanks to a German friend, I discovered on the other side of the island. Only a 20 minute walk, it was a world away from the congestion of young backpackers and hodgepodge of palm leaf bungalows getting thrown up side by side in spaces just emptied of trees. Lazy Beach has the place to itself, open to the wind and waves off the ocean, unlike the still and stagnant-smelling beach facing the mainland on the opposite side.
There were things to do – ping pong and board games, neither of which I played, as well as snorkelling, jungle trails to hike and wildlife to watch, but the main activity was hanging out. For the first two days I spent a good part of the daylight drifting off every time I sank into one of the papasan chairs. I did go swimming every day, and I spent a lot of time looking at the water, which was always changing. I also had my first imposed detox from the Internet, with no access anywhere on the island. I wasn't ready for it, and it was somewhat painful, as the nagging feeling of not being able to respond to pressing emails took on a bigger importance than was warranted when I finally logged on. The Beach offered free wifi, the only catch being that it didn't work. As I was testing out the connection on day 2, I started to feel disappointed about the idea of having to be fully logged on again. In all of my travels up until this point, between working on the blog, emails home, assorted personal admin and travel planning I hadn't taken a break from being tangled in the web. And it made me realise this might be an important part of having a real holiday. As it turns out, Cambodia has been a good lesson in that.
In place of the web I managed to make time for a few other things on my to do list. From the bungalow's balcony I watched glossy black Oriental Pied Hornbills plucking white berries with their unwieldy gargantuan beaks. For the first time since purchasing them in Japan, I pulled out my watercolour paints and notebook to paint the trees facing the balcony.
In between I suffered from repeated bouts of Cambodia belly, even though the food was mostly Western and tasted good. I scorched my feet on the hot sand and reminded myself that in the scheme of things, it was a pain I could bear.
And fittingly, as he has provided the opening quote and title for this blog, I re-read Douglas Adams' 5-part Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. It inspired my snorkelling along the side of the bay, where I bobbed above schools of fish like Arthur Dent learning how to fly – somehow held above the rocks and the action without any real effort. It seemed fitting to be reading about galactic space travel in a place where at night the Milky Way was so sparkly and clear that I kept expecting to be beamed up into it.