Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My First Tropical Island - Koh Rong Island, Cambodia

For someone who travels as much as I do, it might seem strange that I had never been to a tropical island. But that was exactly the case until several months ago. I finally visited my first tropical island, Koh Rong Island, off the coast of Cambodia.

Tropical islands are a hot spot for a lot of people in the United States because of the proximity to the south coast and the travel deals associated with them.  A lot of people also honeymoon on islands in the Caribbean, so of all the places Americans travel, and let’s be honest, it’s not that many statistically, tropical islands tend to be one of them. I had somehow escaped this particular type of travel, probably because I have trouble sitting on a beach or by a pool for too long. The heat and I just don’t really get along. (Yes I know I was in Southeast Asia for three months in the heat.)

About two and a half months into the Southeast Asia Leg of this journey, I finally made it to a coast and saw some ocean. It was worth the inland wait. To get to Koh Rong, you have to catch the ferry from Sihanoukville, a coastal city in the south of Cambodia. For me Sihanoukville was nothing more than a stop-over and I was happy about that once I saw it. It’s shabby and the whole place just feels icky. There is a lot of sex tourism and it’s not the kind that hides behind closed doors. I stayed one night in Sihanoukville because I couldn’t make the ferry in the same day as I arrived. The place I stayed was nice and had a lovely pool, however, once I started reading the materials in the room, I realized that it was a place where sex tourism was, I don’t know how to phrase it, tolerated, perhaps, maybe even encouraged.  

Koh Rong is known for being mostly undeveloped. There are rumors that someone has bought most of the land for development with the intention of creating a ring road but it is either untrue or held up in red tape. No one seems to know for sure. Frankly, I think it’s a good thing if it is held up in red tape because it allows time for more people to enjoy it in its near natural state.  Right now, there‘s basically the dock area, where the boats come in, guesthouses, bungalows and restaurants and bars.  It is a small strip and once you move off of it there are basically just beaches and a few bungalows.

I randomly found a place that was out of the main town and essentially had its own private beach. Well I guess it technically wasn’t private but there was no one there.  My getaway was called Pura Vita, and I was lucky enough to call when they were answering the phone to get a booking for three nights. It is on the pricier side for Cambodia but it was worth every penny to me. There is nothing around so the restaurant at Pura Vita is the only place to eat. I didn’t leave the area except for a long beach walk. It was bliss. I found it to be a wonderful break from the backpacker scene on the other side of the island.

My bungalow.

The heat was intense on the beach and even a dip in the clear turquoise water didn’t help. You could only be on the beach earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon/evening, otherwise you roasted. I went out for 15 minutes without sunscreen and I got a really bad burn. There’s plenty of shade, benches, hanging seats and picnic tables to get of the sun. Each bungalow was also equipped with a porch and double papasan chair, which was easily shaded.

Because of the timing, I was in the family bungalow which was larger and closer to the restaurant. I was given the option to change to a different bungalow that the owner claimed was nicer, but I really thought they were all the same so I stayed in my original bungalow. At night I could hear the waves crashing and they lulled me to sleep. I had a moonlight nightlight that glowed past the shades in my room and in through the floorboards. It was incredible. If you’re not going to see a tropical island until 31, then that was the way to do it!

A few notes on Pura Vita, it’s not a resort. It’s a string of bungalows practically right on the beach. It is hard to get to, they pick you up in a very small dingy from the dock and bring you over to Pura Vita (apparently it’s only a 40 minute walk into town but I never bothered to find out). Because of its isolation, it’s very quiet, trash disposal is a problem and the food is a bit expensive, but delicious. There is only power from 6pm to 10pm at night via a generator. Obviously this means there is no Internet. It’s a true retreat. The owner is absolutely wonderful and was chef in Canada for a while. She has taught her staff the ways of her kitchen and treats her staff like family. Everyone genuinely seems to be enjoying themselves and each other. At times it felt more like a home stay than a bungalow hotel. I would recommend a stay there any day.

As I was leaving an advance crew for TV show Survivor was trying to book with her. They were apparently filming nearby and wanted to use it as a base. She was very hesitant. She said she would rather have different guests for two months than the same guests for two months because it’s better for the referral part of the business. She also seemed skittish about the whole TV part of it. I was glad to hear she wasn’t just going to do it for the money. She clearly loves her place and works hard to make it paradise for everyone who passes through. 

---- A few friends I made ----

Friday, May 9, 2014

Bali Eco Cycle Tour

While in Bali, I had the great pleasure of taking the Bali Eco Cycle Tour. It was recommended by a friend and it was an excellent recommendation. It showed the side of Bali I was looking for, the culture and the countryside. It was a full day tour that was balanced in a way that you never felt bored or rushed.
We were picked up in a van between 7:30 and 8:00 am. (I was picked up at a random supermarket that I was told was close to where I was staying, it wasn't and I got chased by a very scary dog on the way. I uttered a scream I didn't now I had in me, as it chased me up a hill on the outskirts of Ubud.)  By the end of pickups we had a group of 9 people, plus our guide Argus or Augus, I’m not really sure which one it actually was. We learned through the day that Argus was a funny man, a jokester. He was subtle about it and for a second you thought he was telling you a real fact about Balinese culture when in fact it was a joke. It made for a very entertaining day. As with all tours, the guide makes all the difference in the end.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

That time I drank "Poo" coffee in Bali.

Roasting the coffee by hand. 
When I was in Vietnam I started hearing about “poo coffee.” It is supposed to be a high end type of coffee that is essentially a non digested coffee bean that an animal eventually expels.  That’s right. The animal eats the beans, passes them, they are collected, cleaned many times, and then roasted by hand. I’m not kidding. It is nicknamed, poo coffee. There are a few different types of animals that are used for this purpose because the conditions in their body do not digest the actual bean. The digestive conditions are supposed to do something to treat the bean in a way that can’t happen anywhere else. Clearly I think this is a gimmick to charge more for coffee, but I decided to suspend my disbelief for a while.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Introverts Guide to the British Museum

The Great Court. 
I’ve visited London numerous times. Each time, I stay in a different neighborhood, which allows me to explore the city one corner at a time. This method is clearly flawed. It means you miss out on some of the other great things in the city if you focus on just one neighborhood. The only way this works is if you know you are going to be a regular visitor. I've made a lot more trips to London than I would have ever originally imagined. However, one big spot has always escaped me, The British Museum  This is rather odd since I used to have a minor obsession with the Rosetta Stone. Honestly, the first two trips I didn’t even know it was IN the British Museum, so, my bad.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Bhutan in Pictures

Tiger's Nest Monastery

To celebrate the one year anniversary of my trip to the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan, I put together this set of photos. I get a lot of questions about Bhutan and someday I will write about it but I think the pictures say most of what I want to. It's a beautiful place stuck between the future and the past, hesitant to commit to either. It constantly finds itself in the in-between. While the King is young, Western educated and seemingly progressive, I think it will be many years before the prices come down and they let tourists wander on their own. Currently the government has a set price, for tourists, per day. You can check on the government tourism website to see the most up to date rates. When I went, the only option was to join a tour, I was not allowed to wander on my own.