As we jump off the boat and my feet feel the silky sand for the first time in ages, Chris welcomes his newly arriving load of guests – today counting 7 souls – with a genuine smile. I have already forgiven him the “where are you from?” question – after all I don’t walk around with a sign on my forehead “I’m an expat, get me out of here”. Having spent good 2 years on the other side of the bar I swore at the end of my stint that I would be a happy woman to die never hearing the question in question again. The runner up is “how long have you been here?” and “so, do you like it?”….
Lazy Beach has been on the “to do” list for some time and finally the circumstances were right that I could go. Not having any time constraints as such I decided to brave the journey to Koh Rong Samleon by road and boat. As crow flies it’s couple of wings’ flaps but thanks to Cambodia’s limited road infrastructure everybody knows that all roads lead to Phnom Penh. Siem Reap and the country’s capital are mere 315 km apart but the Pride of the Nation – National Road #6, closely resembling the surface of the moon with all appropriate craters, potholes and truckloads of dust – turns this journey to ride from hell. The Giant Ibis may well leave on time and have Wi-Fi and plug sockets on board but nothing changes the fact that the journey still takes 7 hours – IF conditions are good.
Fast forward and erase those nightmarish memories.
It’s 2:30 PM and the sand is hot, tide low. As our bags are taken care of we proceed to the beach bar / restaurant / lounge/ communal area – all in one. It’s a traditional wooden structure with thatched roof, tables and chairs some of which are of the swinging kind (mine!) and comfortable bar seats (ehrm, also mine). Check-in procedures are swift and the refreshing welcome drink goes down a treat. What was once 5 bungalows is now a mini-village of 19 scattered across the whole length of the private beach. There is a sense of tranquility, however, and I meet more wildlife than neighbours on my many trips to the bar and back.
The huts are simple, made entirely of wood with thatched roof in the same style as the main building. Each bungalow has two large double beds with mosquito nets, sky-blue bedding, shelving for your clothes, tiled bathroom with cold water which is never too cold and a bucket flush western style toilet. Some bungalows come with their permanent residents – I was being spied on by a beautiful Tokay Gecko who lived just behind the shower post. I really appreciated the mini shower for feet just outside the hut – this way there was only half a Sahara in my bed each night.
Brace yourselves, you addicted to your mobile devices – there is no Wi-Fi and very limited (Metfone?) network on the island, electricity supplied by generator only from 6pm to roughly midnight, so it’s at least possible to charge your toys and reading devices for several hours a day. I was worried that the hottest month of the year would be hard to survive without a/c or fan (which is certainly the case here on the parched plains of Siem Reap) but the sea breeze and open windows keep the hut cool enough at night. In the afternoon, when things get seriously lazy it is a hard choice between swinging in your hammock on the porch or heading to the bar for a cool can and the ever so comfortable swing chairs.
For the more active souls there are several walks on the island, all on well-marked paths through shady jungle and occasional openings where buffaloes roam. These creatures are reportedly semi-wild, left behind by folks from mainland who brought them here to help with building some other settlements on the island. Don’t get me wrong, Cambodian buffaloes are not so skilled with the hammer and nail but they are handy with pulling heavy loads and such. Other encountered wildlife included several cute horn bills nibbling on fruits high in the trees, eagles cruising the warm currents, variable squirrels – black with bushy tail dipped in white paint – nimble on jungle branches and hard to spot, long tail macaques, lizards, and the most gorgeous thing you could lay your eye upon – the leaf insect. Mimicking the surrounding bushes so perfectly that they blend in flawlessly and anything with a taste for leaf insect will have a very hard time to find their dinner. Underwater gardens of coral featured plenty of life – some small tuna family fish, some sergeant fish, clams, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and countless crabs of the hermit and own-shell variety.
Chris and the staff (mixture of locals and expats) are efficient, friendly and fast. The menu is extensive and definitely not expensive. The British legacy is responsible for tasty fish and chips - both crumbed and battered fish is available. But not only western dishes are featured to tickle your palate; the selection of Asian specialties is wide and everything I tried was yummy and portions generous.
By charging more that the average hostel in Cambodia for lodging (US$50 per hut, maximum 4 people) but keeping the food and drinks prices low they managed to filter the low end of the market avoiding the place to look like a party central – which is fine by me. The other side of the island apparently sees more action in terms of night life and several levels of accommodation are available – including tents! What has existed in Thailand for decades is now finally arriving in Cambodia. Full moon party anyone?
Due to travel time involved getting to the island I deem three nights to be the absolute minimum of stay and make the trip worth your while. At the same time three nights is sufficiently enough to unwind, relax and enjoy the atmosphere of the place.
And what was the highlight of my stay? Swimming in the sea right after sunrise, snorkeling, having a blast with my camera, walking in the jungle, leaving my footprints in the sand, and at night, lit only by the stars I slipped into the sea unnoticed and completely butt naked and played a mermaid among millions of bio luminescent plankton creatures. Magical.
So go and do yourself a favour, get away from it all and visit Lazy Beach, I promise you will love it.
anna bella betts
Never still, always on the move, looking for the perfect capture... Cambodia is currently my home, presenting endless opportunities....
In this blog you will find no profound wisdom.
Just accounts of daily life, sometimes about photography, often about wine, occasionally about travel adventures and sometimes about nothing at all.