At the age of twenty six, I temporary retired. I made a budget, quit my job, and eventually found myself stretched out on a hammock in paradise, aka Koh Rong. What makes Koh Rong so special? No roads, no vehicles, and no power from 2am to 8am, except for the few bars that have car batteries. This combination, along with great weather and Zigi Thai’s two dollar Pad Thai plate answers why so many stay so long.
Koh Rong is an island off the coast of Southern Cambodia known for its rural, beautiful beaches and raging nightlife. Besides a zip line and some local housing, a stretch of guest houses/bars along the beach front are the only establishments on the island. In total, between maybe five to ten percent of the island is established. An adventurous one hour hike through the forested center of the island allows guests to explore the long, peaceful beach that is on the other side, making the excursion my favorite attraction on Koh Rong. A lovely sunset and cheap boat ride back adds to this notable location. Of course, skipping the hike and lazing in a hammock all day is just as appealing.
With the bright sun above and a vibrant jungle reaching to the glistening ocean before me, it could not get much better. Though Koh Rong was sweet, there was not much space to find solace. The partying each night that bled into the next day was not what I was seeking, so I moved on.
Happiness arose within the Northeastern jungles. Excitement brewed even as my legs were bleeding nonstop with the stench of yesterday’s sweat occupying my nostrils. This stench signified accomplishing a treacherous trek through the thick, wild, jungles that still remained in Cambodia. Bloodsucking leeches feasted on my beautifully tanned legs for three days and they could not get enough. Nevertheless, it was epic indeed.
Luckily, the bus ride east provided two willing participants, Serpil and Sophie, to join me on this unknown journey. A bond grew between us as we ventured through rice fields and rural living to embark upon the jungle. The jungle is a lot different than one imagines. Many years of hunting killed any chance of spotting wildlife and what counts as actual jungle was not seen until our second day of trekking (at least fifteen kilometers of hiking). When we did reach the jungle, we only ventured through for a few hours. Ratti, our guide, told us it would be at least another day of trekking before one would even see any signs of wildlife. The natives had devastated the area enough to scare all the animals deep into the jungle. It would be a difficult day in my opinion because the few hours we had getting through the thick vegetation was hard enough. Plants and branches grabbed at us from every direction as we continued along the nonexistent path.
Our eventual destination was a local home on the border of a National Park, where we spent the evening getting to know the family that resided. Ratti took us to a nearby waterfall within the park, which was an interesting journey in itself. He mentioned that we had a small river crossing in order to access the park. When we approached this “small” river, we not only discovered that it was a swim for our lives, but we were also illegally entering the park. I knew the crossing was difficult when I witnessed Ratti barely cross, and then it was our turn. The rushing river sucked me under quickly, soaking my clothes and boots that I held overhead. “God damn,” I muttered (possibly a bit more vulgar) as I rose out of the river with my drenched boots that I struggled to keep dry the entire day. Of course, the views and swim in the waterfall were well worth the effort. I was reminded of why I worked so hard to retire. It was not to lounge around on the beach for weeks, though a few days are acceptable, but to battle through the grittiest parts of our world to be in this moment. To work my way into the deepest regions that I, nor many for that factor, have discovered.
Staying with a local family was a bit awkward at first as we exchanged blank stares with one another, but everyone became quite social once the rice wine was busted out. We spent the evening teaching each other about our cultures and languages. We all had a good laugh and were able to bond as we ate spiced porcupine with lime. Very tasty I must admit. Rumor was the rice wine was delectable as well. It was an extraordinary experience all around spending three days in the jungle and with a local family; however, the route to and from the city of Banlung to our destination was a riot alone.
One of the most memorable moments was the motorbike ride back from our tour. Ratti and I were cruising along, until our bike slowly puttered to a halt. We ran out of fuel without a petrol station in sight. Learning a new trick to assist myself in future dilemmas, I watched Ratti miserably blow into the gas tank to get what little fuel we had to start the engine. We hauled ass for a few minutes, and then broke down again. Still stranded, Sophie and her driver showed up a few minutes later to deliver hope. Afraid to lose a limb, I gave her driver a lot of credit. This guy not only drove his bike with another passenger and her bag, but he was also pushing our bike with one leg. The scary part was that his front tire was right next to my leg and every so often he would jerk toward me. He knew what he was doing and I had faith in him, yet it freaked me out. In the end, we made it to the gas station and had a good laugh over the warning signs about land mines throughout the area. What was not so funny was how our guide (not Ratti, but a ranger from the National Park) apparently walked ahead of everybody in case a mine should go off. No wonder why he smoked so many cigarettes.