We were squeezed into an overloaded minivan for the 2 or so hour journey from Kampot to Sihanoukville, affectionally known as ‘Snooky’. Having read only tragic reviews about the city, often described as the Benidorm of Cambodia (which clearly appeals to the middle aged, chubby, balding western men looking for a happy ending, and those after a lifeless resort, it far from appeals to me), alongside the majority of the accommodation in the centre having awful reviews and the mention of the dreaded bed bugs, we decided to stay slightly out of tow at a place called Don Bosco Hotel School.
The hotel is a working school with a variety of technology based areas alongside the hotel. The students are trained in each area for a number of months and those on hotel duty were so eager to please. The hotel, at $20 for a double room was slightly more expensive than we would normally go for, but for the biggest room of our trip, a shower cubicle (yes that’ right – no need to shower whilst sat on the toilet?!), air con, a lovely pool and a gym (which, naturally, I bypassed) we couldn’t complain at the price.
Originally booking just 1 night at Don Bosco in the hope of going straight to the Islands the following day, we ended up staying three nights as there was simply no accommodation on the islands. So, with three days to kill we spent time relaxing by the pool eating ice cream, and making the most of the free shuttle bus service the hotel offer. We bypassed the town and the main beaches completely, instead opting to spend the day on Otres Beach, a small stretch of white and and clear waters with just a handful of backpacker-esque wooden bungalows and restaurants littering the shores.
The cost of a bottle of water secured us with sunbeds for the day and I put myself straight to work maintaining (safely, of course) the ever so faint tan I had been picking up.
Free of much annoyance, give or take the odd seller here and there, we were left to our own devices and able to enjoy the beach, which though had some washed up rubbish, was surprisingly clean. The only hassle was the pesky little jelly fish, which made me make a mad dash out of the sea like a right tit.
As lovely as Otres was, the main reason we had headed to Sihanoukville was to leave it. We wanted to get to the island of Koh Rong Samloem. As I mentioned earlier though, accommodation on the island (and that of neighbouring but more backpackery and therefore less tranquil Koh Rong) was few and far between. Our next best option, in fact our only option aside from rock up and hope somewhere would have a no show or that a family would put us up for some dollars (which whilst may be entirely possible, the ‘1 boat a day’ situation/potential stranding was the deal breaker). There were a handful of chaps on Otres that were advertising day trips to the outlying islands, but at over 2 hours away on potentially choppy water the idea of going on their tiny fishing boat made me sea sick at the thought. Instead, we opted for for the more expensive but rather sea-worthy looking boat tour, and I can safely say it was fully worth it as we were whisked off to paradise.
Starting off in the morning, the heavens opened and I thought that our chance to see the beautiful island of Koh Rong Samloem in all its glory were well and truly stuffed. The skies were grey and the rain was relentless. We still stopped off a quick snorkel regardle of the weather, but being the wimp that I am the open water freaked me out abit so I had a quick splash in the rain and sea (being the token one in the life jacket of course) before scurrying back on board. We had lunch, and then, like magic, the rain completely stopped, the clouds buggered off and the blazing sunshine came out to greet us. There was hope again! We made our way to the shores of Koh Rong Samloem, were popped onto a little dinghy that was taking in plenty of water and deflating by the second, but got us close to the shore none the less. We waded the last 20 or so metres and were greeted with the most magnificent beach I have ever laid my eyes upon. Move over Thailand, Cambodia deserves some recognition for beach paradise.
If you want to see a stunning, beautiful, tropical beach with gorgeous white sand and the bluest, clearest water ever, without turning around and being faced with ugly resorts and drunk idiots, head to Koh Rong Samloem now. Who knows how long it will be before foreign developers see the money bags and sink their teeth into this slice of paradise. Walking along the beach for about 5 minutes, we were truly alone – most of the tourists on the boat were Russian, who went and sat at the only restaurant in site; a little eco-lodge get up, completely oblivious/ignorant to the bliss they were surrounded by. Classic Russians.
A few hours passed in a perfect haze of swimming with little fish, admiring the view and admiring it some more before it was time to return to our boat. Whilst desperately sad that we had to leave this beautiful place, we were so glad we were able to see it now, in its’ prime. If you are after complete tranquility and an idyllic island retreat, look no further than Southern Cambodia.