Water and Wildlife, Koh Rong Samloem

Heading into the waves

On the Water

When the wind was up the waves came in with a force on Lazy Beach. Going out into the surf further than I could touch bottom scared me, and I didn't always feel like braving the pounding, especially by myself. Later in the week, after a hot day of zapping heat I worked up the nerve to join a bunch of Russian kids jumping in the washing machine waves and I was suddenly revitalized, laughing and playing alongside them. I stayed in there until sundown, getting pummelled with water and sand and smacked around, still ready for more.

Stormy waters

After days of taking turns postponing leaving with my German friend Rafael, the planned day of departure, Sunday, marked a change from the heat and sun, with a gloomy look reminiscent of the English moors – for me a welcome change. As much as I love being warm, I don't like intense sun, and this dull day felt like a total relief. The sky was light grey with darker grey clouds, the sea stormy and the air full of wind and rain. At times like this the landscape seemed charged with anticipation – entrancing to sit and stare out at, waiting for something to happen. It felt much more pleasant than the deceptively sweet calm sunny days when the light reflected diamond patterns clear through the water on to the sandy bottom, and the sunbeams cooked my head and body, sucking out all the energy in the time it took to walk down the beach and back. I was in no hurry to leave this lazy beach, despite the rain that was on its way.

Facing the wilds

On the Wildlife

At a distance I watched a family of country monkeys sit in a tree near the beach – so unlike their urban cousins that they didn't even try to steal or eat my clothes, sunglasses and binoculars when I went in for a swim.

Into the drink - Water Buffalo and companion

Closer up, I saw a big fat jungle rat trying to scramble its way out of the bathroom when I opened the door. I took a look around and found what it had been up to, besides crapping on the floor, was gnawing on my soap. Nice fancy natural soap that I had just got delivered from home, it was clearly appealing to a whole range of species. I had noticed the soap lid on the floor that morning, but I hadn't thought anything of it. The next morning the tightly closed soap dish was cracked and chewed but still sealed, lying on the floor surrounded by a pile of frustrated rat droppings. It made me wonder, how do you clean rat germs off soap?

Another pier, another beach, same island

Closer still, I learned the importance of shaking out my pants before putting them on in the jungle. I had grabbed my full-length nylon pants before dinner in what turned out to be an unwise method to avoid mosquito bites. I thought I felt something moving in my pocket and I shook out the pants with no results, but felt a skoosh of air up the middle when I sat back down. It seemed calm until a few minutes later when I felt something brushing my ankle. I saw dark tentacles sticking out and I jumped up, promptly getting rewarded with a nasty pinch up my calf. I danced around in the restaurant until a long brown centipede crawled off my pants and disappeared between the wooden floor planks below. After that I felt my calf burning and phantom things crawling in the folds of my pants all the way through dinner. Waves of burning heat instead of cool water, stimulating in their own way.

Late afternoon sun



Lazy Beach

Sea, Sand and Sun

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.

Dog-gone Irresistible

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.

Nesting right outside the bungalow

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.

The Beach

Hammocks in sight - Lazy Beach

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.

Breaking free

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.

Sand tracks

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.