I wake up to the sun shining through our hostel window. Wait, why is no alarm ringing?! What time is it?! No!!!! My phone is dead. It is most definitely later than 8:30am, when we were due to catch the ferry over to Koh Rong. Sigrid was going to meet us at the pier and everything, oh my god, I am a terrible friend.
In my defence, the entire hostel room is without a single wall plug. In the hostel’s defence… It’s $1 to sleep there. Rats.
I wake Tamara, tell her we’ve missed the boat, and we scramble to get our stuff together before heading downstairs where there are a plethora of plugs to be used. I see that it’s 9:30am according to the clock above the bar. I order some breakfast while I wait for my phone to charge, feeling so guilty all the while. I’m used to being a bit late, but it’s rare that I miss something entirely.
The first thing I do when it finally turns back on, is message Sigrid. She’s surprisingly chill about us missing the boat, and says she’ll come back to the pier for the next boat at noon. I hope it isn’t too far from where she’s staying. She’s found a room at a guest house for all three of us to share when we do finally arrive. I’ve heard accommodation can get pretty expensive on Koh Rong, but apparently this place is only going to cost $4 each a night. Sweet!
We get our stuff together for 11am and make it down to the pier…on time. We pile onto a relatively large boat with a bunch of other backpackers, and take the smooth ride across to Koh Rong. When we arrive, we are directed to CoCo’s bar where we have to listen to a small lecture they call a “safety meeting”. It mostly consists of important information like; don’t try to ride the wild water buffalo, be aware that the power goes out every night between 3 and 9am, don’t go hiking alone in the dark, watch out for snakes, expect to get infected bug bites, and watch out for theft. Apparently, because Koh Rong is still so newly available to tourists and mostly consists of simple wooden guesthouses, they’re easily broken into and many things mysteriously go missing. When our lecturer starts advising us on which restaurants to eat at, we silently slip out and go to meet Sigrid. Ain’t nobody got time for that when there’s a beautiful island to be explored!
Luckily, the pier is about 10 feet away from our guesthouse, so even though us being so late wasn’t cool, Sisi didn’t have to walk too far or waste money on a tuk tuk or anything to come meet us. Koh Rong is even smaller than I imagined. There isn’t a road in sight; just a beach lined with modest guesthouses and bars. Nothing fancy, just bare minimum, bamboo, closest we’ve come to untouched, tropical beauty. Crystal clear tael water lies just steps from the doors of each building, making any lodging along the beach an ideal beach front property. You can’t lose. Sisi shows us to our $12 guesthouse. It’s just one queen and one single bed with a small table and two bug nets protected by four flimsy wooden walls. That’s all we need anyway. It’s perfect. We drop our stuff, leaving everything behind except for our towels, and head down to the beach. We walk 10 minutes down the shore just so we’re not so close to the “central” area, next to Coco’s bar and the pier.
We lay in the sun and take in our surroundings. It truly is a paradise; the most beautiful island I’ve ever been to. A few long tail boats are anchored just off the beach, and a couple even smaller islands are visible on the horizon.
A few hours later, Devin arrives. He’s earlier than the last boat is due to arrive from Sihanoukville, but definitely too late to have come in on the morning boat. He tells us he tried to save a few bucks by opting for the $9 slow boat, instead of paying $15 for the regular ferry which took us an hour. He was told the slow boat would take 2 hours. 6 hours later, after picking up and dropping off fruit at other neighbouring islands on a boat filled to the brim with people, he arrived in Koh Rong. He says it wasn’t worth saving $6.
We have a lazy day, playing frisbee in the crystal clear ocean water and laying in the sand. The sand flies are pretty relentless, but a few bites on my legs here and there is a minor sacrifice to make for this island paradise.
When dusk rolls around we head down to the other end of the beach past our guesthouse. Before we even arrived in Koh Rong people were raving about Sigi’s; a food stall owned by a Thai chef who once lived in Manhattan, but left that busy world behind to live a humble life on Koh Rong, selling delicious Thai dishes for $2 to hungry visitors. I order something called “drunken noodles” which I’d never seen before while visiting Thailand. It’s mildly spicy and entirely scrumptious. Definitely worth $2. We get there early enough that we can sit down and chat with Sigi a bit while he cooks. He’s only about 50, but exudes wisdom and inner peace. He lives in a simple tent on the beach just behind his food stand, and I’ve never met someone so happy. I foresee more meals here in my future.
We all sit outside Coco’s bar with some new found friends from all over. Chile, Denmark, Germany, the USA, and some fellow Canadians. We order round after round of the ever-cheap 2000 riel (50 cent) Klang beer and sit chatting in papasan chairs along the beach. I’m not sure exactly how this comes about, but Devin and the other Canadian guy, who’s name happens to be Kevin, manage to convince the German guy, Levin (I’m not making this up) that they are brothers. Devin’s from Calgary and Kevin is from Halifax, literally opposite ends of the country, but Levin doesn’t need to know that. At some point the joke escalates and they manage to slip in that their “fathers” name is Evan. It takes everything I’ve got to keep myself from bursting into a fit of laughter, but I don’t want to ruin the joke.
When the power goes out, and there’s nothing to light the sky but the bright white face of the moon, we go on an adventure. Phosphorous plankton surround the island, and someone has heard that they are best seen on Four Kilometre Beach; a 15 minute walk through the forest from where we sit now. I swam with phosphorous plankton in Thailand for the first time, and still value that night as one of my fondest travel memories. Regular swimming has never been the same since. I can’t wait to go and have my body movements lit up by the tiny little glowing blue plankton.
I grab my phone as a light for pathway to the beach before we leave. We can’t exactly be walking through the forest in the pitch black, with the natural moonlight blocked by the tree canopy, or we’ll never find the place. There’s a faint pathway to follow that has no doubt been created by the footsteps of other plankton chasers of the past.
At the end of the trail, we arrive at a short rocky beach. This isn’t what I had in mind, but it must be the place. We strip down and wade into the calm, dark night’s water. I can’t understand the hype about this beach; it’s million little rocks digging into the soles of my feet as I try to walk deep enough to swim. The tiny blue plankton glow beneath the surface, illuminating nothing but my legs as I struggle to find a way to swim. That’s when I hear Tamara, who has made it slightly further than I, shout back to me that her foot is burning. She quickly makes it back to shore, and I pull out my phone to inspect her foot with some light. She has at least three or four black sea urchin needles lodged in the bottom of her foot like splinters. We panic a little bit. Aren’t these things poisonous? We’re at least 15 minutes from the main beach, and I’m sure that the one single doctor on the island is asleep.
Shortly after we start looking at the splinters under the light of my iPhone, Tamara’s burning sensation goes down. Devin comes back to the beach with similar needles on his knees, but doesn’t seem too concerned, so we just carry on. No one seems like they’re dying.
We head back to the main beach anyway, in search of a more comfortable and less rocky swimming area where no one has to worry about being poisoned with sharp black urchin needles.
I put my phone in Devin’s bag and dive off the dock into the sparkly plankton-full water. Doing my best to soak up my incredible surroundings to be sure this moment never leaves my memory. Cambodia, and Koh Rong in particular, is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I love it here. Going home in three weeks is going to feel painful.
When the beer haze and our infatuation with the plankton start to fade, we call it a night and climb back up to the dock. Devin reaches his bag first, and blankly states that it’s been ransacked. I laugh, assuming he’s making some weird joke, but then I see some of his things scattered around the ground.
My phone was in there. Please dear god tell me it wasn’t taken!! I NEED that! I look around, panicked, and looking for any possible culprit, but there’s nothing but an empty beach and darkness around me. Devin loses an iPod full of music and a camera with 11 months of travel photos, I lose my precious iPhone, and our two Chilean friends both have their wallets stolen. I feel like an idiot for even bringing the phone out with me tonight, but we needed a flashlight! There’s no electricity at this hour, so I can’t even use someone else’s wifi to track it down. It’s gone.
I go back to the guesthouse and fall asleep feeling foolish, angry, and grieving the loss of my phone. It will surely be an adjustment… I don’t even have an alarm clock to wake myself up tomorrow.