A 5 hour bus ride from Phnom Penh lies Sihanoukville. Hot on the backpacker trail, this place is a future Patong beach; its islands – one of which I stayed at – are a future Koh Samui and Phangnan.
It was not as pretty as I expected, I didn’t even take a photo there. The way Sihanoukville gets talked about by fellow backpackers one can imagine a nice laid back beach town, with nice bars, restaurants and fresh seafood on the beach. In a way, this representation is correct. There are definitely bars aplenty, along with restaurants suited to the western backpacker. Along the beach, lies several seafood restaurants where $3.50 will buy you a seafood dinner plate.
However, the reality is that not only do hawkers offering fruit, massages, manicures and pedicures bother you, but children selling handmade bracelets, beggars with missing limbs, begging children and the like cant seem to leave you alone either. I have never seen such a concentration of beggars in any of my travels. Children are trapped by the tourist trade. Instead of school, they are taught English so as to speak to tourists, have conversations, try to sell them flowers, fireworks, bracelets, etc. etc. and then pass on their earnings to ‘pimps’ who don’t use it to benefit kids. I recall on Easter Sunday a western looking priest approached me on the beach with several children around him. He asked if I would like to donate to help the kids with education. It was a tough situation, but I refused, not sure weather his cause was 100% legitimate. To have to question a priest’s agenda really goes to show how much of an impact these beggars had on me, and the magnitude of the general issue in Sihanoukville.
Transport yourself about 25km west of Sihanoukville and you will find your self on Koh Rong.
“So now I find myself in an island paradise. White sandy beaches, a bungalow 20 metres from the water, sitting in a hammock on my cosy little balcony. What more could I ask for? Very romantic and very happy. Will write soon.”
I didn’t write anything else during my time at Koh Rong because I was just too busy. A total of one week was spent on Koh Rong. Relaxing, swimming, sleeping, reading and basically doing not much at all. It is such a beautiful place but it doesn’t have a happy ending.
In the next 5 to 10 years will turn into the new Koh Samui. An airport plus full beachfront resorts and bungalows are planned for Koh Rong. The neglected locals will be relocated to the mainland, with or without their consent, with brute force if required. What I experienced was an island paradise. This is the place you see in photos and want to visit. This is how all beach resort destinations started out. I cannot express how lucky I feel to have seen the true paradise before it gets destroyed and how sad I am that it has to face such a devastating reality.
It was really good to escape the real world for a while. No internet, no electricity, no hot water, no beggars, no hawkers. A real getaway. I didn’t really want to come back to reality. It was too easy not having to worry about packing or making decisions. But I also felt like I missed home a little bit more. Some days I just wished I had a phone to call my friends and family.
In hindsight, I think it’s funny that I needed to get away from ‘reality’, when my reality was never so burdensome at all. But when you are travelling to live, rather than travelling for a holiday, you still need some special R&R time.