I am just in Phnom Penh reading First They Killed My Father by Luong Ung and the pre-Khmer Rouge city she portrays is way too similar to the Phnom Penh I am seeing now: young boys chasing each other through back alleys, schoolgirls in uniform playing hopscotch, ladies being pushed around through the incessant traffic on cyclos, food carts surrounded by people snacking at every corner and the usual cornucopia of market goods overflowing onto the street. Was that ill-fated day of 1975 when the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh and expelled everyone from the city a day like today? The extent of the atrocities that are unfolding before me as I visit Phnom Penh’s main memorial sights make it to hard to believe. Alas.
Saying that we were reluctant to leave the beach would be a slight lie. Upon returning from our remote paradise in Koh Rong Samloem, we arrived in the mayhem that is Serendipity: aggressive tuk tuk drivers, pushy street vendors and beauticians, and drunken half-naked westerners – my newfound zen was being rubbed the wrong way. The next morning, we were almost relieved to leave beaches and sandy buttcracks behind to experience a somewhat more cultural side of Cambodia.
Having only seen beaches and paradise islands since arriving in Cambodia, we felt it was only natural to go forth with the theme and to crash one more island before moving along to the ‘real’ Cambodia. There are several islands around Sihanoukville where one can stay overnight, the main ones we were interested in being Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, both located just a few hours off shore from Sihanoukville.
Arriving in Otres Beach, we spent a good hour combing up and down the two dozen or so guesthouses that lined the sand and beach road, comparing rooms and prices. With no 3G or WiFi to check Tripadvisor, and with the Lonely Planet recommendation of the Koh Kong Guesthouse still fresh in our minds, we were understandably taking our time to have a close look.
We arrived in Cambodia via the Hat Lek / Koh Kong border with surprising ease, having seemingly avoided the scams and touts we were worried about. I guess we had gotten a little comfy in our travellers flipflops, as we didn’t really do any research into where we were going to stay, nor did we get a sim card to investigate hotel reviews before venturing in, just wishfully thinking we’d wing it as we had successfully done before. Upon Lonely Planet’s recommendation, we were taken to the Koh Kong Guesthouse and checked in for the bargain price of US $6 a night!