Last weekend, Tyson and I decided to head to the coast with two of our Phnom Penh friends. We hadn’t caught a glimpse of the ocean in almost three months, and as island people, we decided it was high time. Koh Kong is small, remote and hugs the Thailand border. It was our destination because our friends had to do a border hop. The bus ride took almost seven hours, and brought us through some of the most hilly parts of Cambodia. Phnom Penh lies in the east of Cambodia, right on the Mekong river. In order to get to the coast you either have to travel south or west. We were travelling west, and had a chance to see the untouched beauty that is quickly disappearing due to illegal logging and other environment-threatening practices.
Traveling by bus is perhaps not the safest thing to do in Cambodia, especially on roads that swerve. But our driver was good, and got us there just after dark. We checked into a hotel called The Dugout, and for $16 a night, had a nice big room with air conditioning, hot shower and a fridge, and access to a small but quaint swimming pool.
The following day our friends had to do their border hop, so we accompanied them in a tuk tuk for part of the way, and got dropped off at a very vacant beach. The beach was being hugged on all sides by an enormous casino, and it appeared to be very empty. This is the rainy season, so the waves were hitting the beach quite hard, and pulling in lots of dirt and sand with them. Not exactly ideal for swimming. Tyson and I puttered around for a couple of hours, and when our friends returned, we decided to head to another beach, which was apparently going to provide us with more things to do.
When we got there, the waves were actually worse, so again, swimming was out of the question. But I decided the weather was perfect for a run, so while the others ordered a few heaping plates of seafood from a little eatery, I went for a jog. I returned just in time to partake in the feast. We’ve been kind of avoiding seafood in Phnom Penh because it is either very expensive or questionably handled. This was a real delight!
On our way back into town we stopped the tuk tuk to take a few photos. While the others were poking around I decided to walk up the road a little bit, and came across three young Cambodian children playing with puppies out front of their home. They were thrilled to see me, and when I motioned towards my camera and their small dogs, they obliged. A photo shoot began.
On our way back, out tuk tuk driver decided to make a stop for us, but his English wasn’t very good, so none of us were entirely certain where we were headed. He took us up a dirt road and stopped near a monastery. We got out and looked around. Someone spotted a strange statue, so we headed in that direction. Sitting on a small cliff overlooking the river was a collection of life-sized stone statues. And they were torturing one another! They looked old and rather crude. We were a bit confused, but found the place fascinating.
That afternoon we took a stroll through a mangrove forest, which is supposedly the largest in SE Asia. It was very cool, though there were a lot of people, so we didn’t see much wildlife. The rains began just as we were heading back into town, so our timing was perfect.
When we returned to The Dugout, I enquired with the owner about the statues. It turns out they are meant as a depiction of hell according to Buddhism. We were told the locals like to take misbehaving teens there to teach them a lesson. He also thought they’d probably been built on the water as a behavioural warning to fishermen heading out to sea.
The following day we decided to trek out to a waterfall. It was very cool, but no more fascinating than what we have at home. The water was moving far to fast for swimming, so we headed to a more gentle place so the guys could take a dip. The skies were cloudy, and the water cold by my standard, so I just watched.
That evening we had dinner at a small Khmer restaurant in town, and indulged in more seafood. The following day we headed home by bus.
Along the way, and through a particularly treacherous part, our driver slowed to a near stand-still, and people got up from their seats to look around. Ahead of us was a bus and a couple of cars that were stopped in the middle of the road. I thought for certain that we had come across an accident. I began to summon all th first-aid training I had ever received, thinking that if people were in trouble, at least I’d be able to help a bit. We crawled forward.
Then, to our absolute delight, we realized that the vehicles had stopped because they’d spotted a wild elephant on the side of the road! Out came our cameras. I so desperately wish the bus had had openable windows, but alas, my photo has a few fingerprints in it.
Now we’re in Phnom Penh again, and life goes on.