It was time to have a vacation from our vacation. Little did we know, we were about to experience Celine Dion and lanterns at Coconut Beach. We headed for what turned out to be heaven on earth on Koh Rong Island. It took a two hour bus ride and a 45 minute boat trip from Kampot to get to the private beach. The boat trip was an experience in itself; a speed boat that rocked unnervingly side to side on what looked like flat seas, with a dark thunderstorm looming in the distance.
For the first time so far we were all given life jackets to wear, which seemed highly necessary once the vessel got going. Let’s just say my knuckles were a new shade of white by the time we arrived and a crowbar was needed to remove my hand from the rail. Despite what I thought, we made it in one piece and the thunderstorm held off… for now.
We were greeted warmly at the pier and had our bags whisked off by two sprightly young lads. The beach was a kilometer long, covered in white, golden sand. The turquoise water lapped gently at the shore, with no waves in sight. This was the first beach we had found that would rival the nicest New Zealand beaches. At the Coconut Beach Bungalows we were directed to our tent, which was to be our home for the next three nights. We were situated right by the waterfront on a raised wooden platform. We were surrounded by palm trees and hammocks. The tent was small, but we were excited to be camping in paradise.
There was little choice in where we would be eating, as the lodge was the only restaurant in the bay. The next town was a 3 hour hike away through dense (scary) jungle. We went up to the lodge to survey the menu. Lo and behold, our options included the Big Kiwi Breakfast, the Sweet-As Burger and Fush and Chups (sic). Something odd was going on here. After inquiring with the girl serving us, it turned out that two eager kiwis hiked over to the beach a few years ago, back before it was accessible by boat service, and taught them how to cook. Since then the lodge has flourished and unsuspecting travelers are treated to their kiwi cuisine. Joel and Chris, wherever you are, thank you for the delicious burger!
That night the looming thunderstorm arrived. The thunder rattled our tent violently and the lightning lit it up like a fireworks display. Despite the storm it was still very hot without any air conditioning or a fan. Needless to say we got very little sleep and when we did we were awoken in the most frightening manner. By the morning the rain had seeped into the tent and attacked our bags, our bodies, and our happiness. Two sad, sodden, little kiwis crawled out of that tent. Not even a Big Kiwi Breakfast could brighten our spirits. However, by mid-morning the sun came out and a few hours later everything was dry again.
Our days at the beach consisted of floating on tire tubes on the ocean, and laying in the hammocks. The rain only stopped by once more, but moved on fairly quickly. One afternoon we took a boat trip around the island. The boat was an overgrown canoe, with two open air truck motors each with a 15 foot prop shaft attached on the back, captained by two boys half my age. A group of rowdy English chaps, each with a bottle of whiskey in hand, joined our trip at the last minute. This was going to be an interesting afternoon. We stopped to snorkel next to a little island. There weren’t enough snorkels, so we had to share and there were four life jackets for those who couldn’t swim. One was taken by one of our captains. Who knew you could live on a boat your whole life, but not learn how to swim?
The snorkel was uneventful. Our next stop was out in the ocean where we were given fishing line and a plastic cylinder to wrap it around while we attempted to fish. Despite the best of intentions, we failed to get a nibble. Then we puttered around to the main settlement of Koh Tuch to stock up on supplies (beer) and wander around the village. It involved a death-defying leap for the pier to get on and off the boat.
We then went around to Long Beach where we were able to swim to the shore and have a look around. I had underestimated just how difficult it was to swim back to a boat offshore through waves. However, I made it just fine, if not a little tired. The five English chappies, now with empty whiskey bottles, also miraculously made it back too. Our captains barbecued up our dinner, thankfully they weren’t relying on us to catch any fish, and we floated as the sky filled a bright orange and the sun began to set.
Just as the light was leaving, it was time to head back. However, the engines had a different idea. They would not start. Much to my dismay, the captains pulled out a hammer and started aggressively whacking the motor. With images of survivor playing out in my head, I made a plan to swim to the island and make a hut out of palm leaves just as the motor spurted back to life. With that, we were chugging along in the dark back to our beach with one captain sitting at the front with a torch acting as “headlight” and the other driving the boat. I am fast developing a fear for boats.
On one particularly still evening the son of the family that ran the lodge showed us how to light lanterns and let them fly into the sky. He played a special lantern playlist on the bar speakers, consisting largely of Celine Dion, and we let our lantern float up into the sky, making a wish as we let it go. It was extremely romantic, until we watched the lantern run out of fuel and crash into the sea. After that we all went out into the sea and swam in the dark. I thought it was a little crazy at first, until I saw the plankton light up as we swam through it. The experience was straight out of a Disney Movie and was like swimming through magical pixie dust.
The three nights flew by quickly, and soon it was time to leave. By the end of our stay, I was covered in bites, bruises (from the death-defying boat leaps) and hadn’t slept a whole lot. I now needed a vacation to recover from the vacation from my vacation. It’s a tough life, isn’t it?
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