Koh Rong Samloem (Apr 11-16): Beaches, A Tattoo, and Khmer New Year

The trip to Koh Rong Samloem was so long, it was almost comical. I was told that it would take about 3-4 hours so I had mentally prepared myself for that, so when it took over double that time, I was not a happy camper. Cambodia has two main southern islands – Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. Koh Rong is known as the supercrazy party island, and Koh Rong Samloem is known as the chill island. So it should come as no surprise that I decided to go to Koh Rong Samloem. I had the choice to leave at 7:30am, or wait until about 11, and I’m so glad that I decided to go with the earlier option. However, the transportation for this trip cost way more than almost any other leg of my trip, at $26USD/$35.39AUD! A van came to pick me up from my hostel in Kampot and took me into town, where we had to get off, grab our stuff, and put it onto a new van. By the time we had picked up everyone and left town, it was 8:30. The van ride to Sihanoukville took three hours, as promised, and we arrived right after 11:30am. There, they dropped us off and said we had to wait for ANOTHER van to take us to the ferry. There was a lady sitting at a desk and she asked where everyone was staying. I sat down first and found my hostel reservation, which was at a part of the island called M’Pai Bay. “This company doesn’t go there,” she said. “I’m sorry, what?” “Yes, we only go to Saracen Bay. You will need to pay $5 USD ($6.84AUD) to get a return ticket to M’Pai Bay from Sihanoukville.” I started getting upset because I had already spent way too much on my ticket, and I felt like I was being scammed. However, I didn’t really have any other option. I paid the five dollars and asked when the van would come, and she replied 1pm. “1pm?! That’s in an hour and a half!” I was really starting to lose my cool, and it might have been because I hadn’t eaten yet (or had my morning coffee!) and I was definitely getting hangry. I decided to walk to a restaurant called Olive & Olive because at this point, I just wanted some pizza. The prices were pretty expensive in Sihanoukville, but I settled on a margarita pizza, a coffee, and a coke for $8.50USD/$11.63AUD. The chef was right beside me, and I got to watch him roll out the dough and make the pizzas. After about five minutes, the server brought me a big piece of naan and an appetizer platter of olives and sauces. “Umm.. is this for me?” “It’s complimentary,” she replied. Wow! I didn’t remember the last time I got something for free, with no strings attached! And honestly, the olive that I tasted was like it was from heaven – it was one of the best olives I’ve had! It MIGHT have been because I hadn’t eaten an olive in four months, or it might have just been THAT good. When they brought out my pizza, I was shocked. It was massive!

There was no way that I’d be able to finish it, especially after already filling myself up on appetizers. I got through as much of the pizza as I could and took a tuktuk back to the bus office for 4000 riel ($1.42AUD) – Note: the tuktuks seem to be one of the only things in Cambodia that use local currency (riel), everything else is priced in American dollars. I got back to the office RIGHT before 1pm and waited with a French family. And we waited and waited and waited. “Doesn’t the ferry leave at 1pm?” “No, it’ll leave at 1:30pm. You have time.” But we started wondering if we WOULD have enough time. Finally a van pulled up at 1:22pm and told us to hurry because the ferry would be leaving soon (which I was kind of annoyed about, because why wouldn’t he come earlier?). He drove for less than five minutes, stopped at the top of a hill, and told us that we had to walk five minutes down to the pier (he wasn’t going to drive any further). We literally could have walked there from the office in less than 15 minutes… By that point, it was 1:28pm so we all walked as fast as we could down to the pier. I gave one of the people my ticket and they asked when my ferry was to leave, so I replied 1:30pm. She gave me a card that said “23” to put around my neck (which is the nickname for M’Pai Bay), and she said I’d have to take the 2pm – I was too late. I went to the dock and kept asking around, but no one gave me clear instructions as to what boat I had to take. Finally at about 2:15pm, they called everyone for M’Pai Bay and directed us towards a smaller boat. However, all of a sudden they said that we would join the big ferry to Koh Rong Island instead and THEN another boat would come pick us up to take us to Koh Rong Samloem. At this point, I almost laughed because it was so ridiculous that this trip had already taken 7 hours and would still require an hour JUST to get to Koh Rong Island. I went and found a seat on the ferry and opened a window. Immediately after I opened it, one of the workers came, closed it, and told me to follow him. He took me to the VIP part of the boat, which had couches, TVs, AND air-conditioning (Thank goodness, cause I was sweating in this 39-degree heat!). There were only about 9 other people in the room, so I don’t know why I was one of the lucky “chosen ones.” We finally got to Koh Rong at about 3:30pm and then all had to wait on the dock for about 5-10 minutes until another boat came to take us to Koh Rong Samloem. The boat was tiny and some people had to stand in the middle, but luckily it was less than 10 minutes away. I was staying in a hostel called Bonsai and it cost me $5.33USD/$7.31AUD per night to stay in an 8-bed mixed dorm. As soon as I got there, I met two French girls who were planning to get smoothies and then go to the beach, so I quickly changed and joined them. I immediately loved the feel of M’Pai Bay because it was more like a village and was very quaint, whereas the other part of the island (Saracen Bay) had a more resort-like feel to it, so it just seemed more touristy. We each got a smoothie for $1USD and enjoyed sitting on the beach. After hanging out by the restaurant for awhile, we decided to walk towards one of the main beaches, which was less than 10 minutes through a forest trail. We were all looking forward to having a refreshing swim in the water, after sweating all day, but were surprised when the water was actually warmer than the air! So much for refreshing…

However, once the sun started to go down, it cooled down quite a bit. We went back to the hostel to shower and change, and then we all went out for dinner to a place where I went at least once a day called M’Pay Bay Guest House. I decided to try one of the local dishes called lok lak, which was really good!

On Friday morning, I got up and joined the French girls for breakfast. We decided that we were going to walk to one of the further beaches (called Clearwater Bay), which would take about an hour. I read that we’d need hiking shoes, and I’m so glad that we brought them because we were climbing up and down to get there. However, the beach was absolutely gorgeous!

And there were only about six other people on the entire beach. Once again, we were looking forward to a refreshing dip and once again, we were disappointed by warm water. It actually made going OUT of the water refreshing! I get bored on beaches so I only stayed for a couple hours and then decided to head back at around 2pm to get some food. I had seen a sign with a Canada flag on it when I arrived on the island, and I was determined to get some poutine! Once I got back to M’Pai Bay (after another 45 minute walk), I walked down the street in search of the Canadian restaurant called YUL (the letters for the Montreal airport). On my way, I passed a tattoo parlour called “Sorry Mum,” which for some reason caught my eye. I had a tattoo idea in mind and I had already written a tattoo parlour in Siem Reap AND a tattoo parlour in Bangkok, but this parlour intrigued me. I continued on my walk, found the restaurant, and ordered a poutine with a coke for $4USD/$5.48AUD. While I was waiting, I searched up the tattoo parlour online and loved all of the tattoos that were posted. I decided that I’d stop by after eating. The poutine wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it was nice to have! I hung around for a bit, and then walked towards the tattoo parlour. I told the tattoo artist (Maria) my tattoo idea, showed her my (horrible) sketch of it, and she asked if I would come in the next day at 4pm to get it done. I had to pay a $10 deposit, and she quoted me between $180 and $220, and said it would take about 3 or 4 hours. My heart was beating and I was freaking out – I couldn’t believe how fast that happened! I went back to my hostel and decided to plan how I’d get to my next destination, which would be Siem Reap. I’ve heard horror stories about the night buses to Siem Reap because they don’t offer single beds (only doubles), so a lot of people will have strangers climb up right next to them. I did some research and found out that Giant Ibis offered some single beds, but the day that I was planning to leave (the 14th) was completely booked up. Then, there weren’t any buses running on the 15th because it was Khmer New Year. So my only option was the 16th. I was completely fine with this because I was loving Koh Rong Samloem, and staying two extra days definitely wouldn’t be the end of the world. However, if I was going to stay for longer, I realized that I should try to postpone my tattoo since I wouldn’t be able to go in the sun or the water. I messaged and asked if I could come in on the 15th or the 16th (the day I leave), and they wrote back and said that we could do a later day and they would let me know when works best. That night, I joined the girls again for dinner, which ended up being a burger (I was definitely enjoying my Western food at this point because my stomach still felt sensitive with eating Asian foods).

On Saturday, I decided to take a boat taxi to the other part of the island, Saracen Beach. It cost $5 each way, and I would have to leave at 10:30am. I decided to have a quick breakfast, and then walked back to the office to wait for my boat.

It was only me and another couple, and we were led by a boy who seemed about 9 years old. He brought us to the dock, where there was a man and a younger boy (who I assume was his dad and brother). Then the boy hopped into another boat and tried to get the motor running. We had to wait for quite awhile for them to finally get the boat going, so by the time we left it was closer to 11am. Little did I know that it was this boy who would be taking us on the 30-minute journey to Saracen Beach. The boat had two motors, and the boy sat between them, and had ropes so he could pull on either rope to turn the boat.

We got to Saracen Bay at 11:30am and we were told to come back to the same pier at 4:30pm to go back. I walked down the beach for a bit and then decided to sit down at one of the restaurants to enjoy a smoothie. The beaches were nice with extremely white sand, but it still seemed more touristy compared to my area of the island.

After my smoothie, I walked to another restaurant that was tucked away off the beach and was owned by a local family who spoke little to no English. I ordered a noodle dish, and then decided to walk to Lazy Beach, which was written in National Geographic’s Top 21 Beaches in the World. It was about a 30-minute walk through the forest and it was an extremely hot walk (the 39-degree weather is something I don’t think I’d ever get acclimatized to), so it was nice to finally get to the beach and go for a swim, where the water was a bit cooler.

The beach was nice, but I honestly didn’t see why it would be one of the top 21 beaches in the world because I’ve definitely been to nicer ones. I stayed for about an hour and a half and then I had to head back to the pier in order to get there for 4:30pm. I got there right on time and walked out onto the dock when I saw a boat that looked similar, which showed up about 15 minutes later. I asked the man if he was going to M’Pai Bay and he said yes, so the couple and I got on his boat, along with three other people. The man made a phonecall and then all of a sudden said that the three of us had to get back off because another boat was on its way for us. We were confused because there was more than enough room for everyone, but we got off and decided to wait. He said that they were having boat issues, but the boat would be there soon. We went back to the beach and waited for about a half hour, and suddenly a man walked by yelling M’Pai Bay. We ran to the boat and tried to give him our tickets, but he said that he couldn’t take them. We’d have to pay $5 if we wanted to go with him. Luckily, the man was nice and called the phone number on our tickets, and said that the boat was on its way (which we had heard before). We waited another ten minutes and finally the boat arrived with our little driver! The nice thing about the boat being late was that we got to watch the colours of the sky change while the sun was setting behind the island. And it was absolutely beautiful!

The tattoo studio had written back and asked if I could come in the following day at noon to get my tattoo done, because I think everyone would be going on holiday for Khmer New Year (which lasts for three days). I asked if it would be possible for me to see the design that evening, and they said I could come in. I ran to the studio and Maria showed me the design. It was exactly what I had imagined in my head, and I couldn’t have been more excited about it. I was stoked! I went out for a later dinner that night, and enjoyed my time on the beach.

On Sunday, I went to a restaurant that’s known for its toasties (grilled cheese sandwiches). They were SO busy because a lot of the restaurants had closed for Khmer New Year, so it took over an hour to get my meal, which was fine because I had a few hours to kill before my tattoo. I met another Canadian girl because we were sharing a table, so we talked for quite awhile until we had gotten our meals. I hung out for awhile longer to work on my blog, and then I headed for the tattoo parlour (gulp!). This was now my second tattoo, but it was bigger, and I made a last-minute decision to not get it done on my other shoulder, and instead get it done on my back/ribs, which would be quite a lot more painful. Maria double-checked that I was happy with the design, and then made the stencil. She put the stencil on and asked if I was happy with the placement (which in all honesty, I would have liked it lower and this is where I need to learn how to take the opportunity to speak up, and I didn’t, but it’s fine!). We then had to wait ten minutes for the stencil to dry on, so by the time we got started, it was about 12:30pm.

The lead-up to it was hard, and I was trying to distract myself as much as possible – I was nervous and excited, but my heart was just racing! The tattoo took about three hours, and after about an hour and a half, we took a break. By that point, I was feeling great! Thanks to my high pain threshold, I wasn’t feeling too uncomfortable, and I actually just wanted to keep going. After that break though, it was the most pain that I had felt – I almost thought I wasn’t going to make it through. Luckily, it didn’t last for TOO long until I went back to just closing my eyes and thinking about life (and what my tattoo was going to look like!). We finished at about 3pm and then she said $250. I said that she had said between 180 and 220, so then she said 220 (although now that I think about it, maybe she said between 180 and 250 haha finally used some bartering skills). This is still pretty pricey for a tattoo in Asia, but I was really happy with the design so for me, it was worth it. The theme of the tattoo is “Travel is in my DNA,” and this idea came to me while I was lying in bed in Luang Prabang, Laos, so I’ve been obsessing about it ever since.

So the most important things were to stay out of the sun and water for at least two weeks, and get some Bepanthen from the pharmacy, which would need to be applied three times per day (after washing). I honestly did NOT think this through, and I instantly had regrets about my stupid idea to get a tattoo on an island during a holiday within about two minutes, when I walked to the pharmacy and it was closed. I asked the hostel next door if it would be open the following day and they said that it was closed for Khmer New Year for the next three days! I instantly started to panic because I was stuck on an island without antiseptic, in an environment that wasn’t the cleanest. I walked to the beach area to find one of the minimarts, only to arrive just in time for the first part of the Songkran festivities, which consists of people throwing water and powder at each other. I tried to avoid the water guns and the people squirting baby powder out of the containers, and shield my tattoo away from it all. At that moment, I ran into a British couple that I had seen multiple times before (they were briefly written in a blog post when I had eaten dinner with them in Sapa). We had also run into each other on the bus from Sapa to Hanoi, and then saw each other again in Ninh Binh. They actually said that they were wondering why they hadn’t bumped into me again. These two had a great energy about them, and we instantly got on, but we hadn’t even introduced ourselves. I later found out that their names were Rob and Amy, and we made plans to meet up at 6:30 to go for cocktails, since there were 2-for-1 cocktails for New Year’s. This was my third New Year’s Eve for 2019 (one in Koh Lanta, Thailand for regular New Year’s Eve, one in Taipei, Taiwan for Chinese New Year, and now one here) so it was cool to be a part of so many different holidays! For the next few hours, I searched for Bepanthen. I walked into multiple minimarts, and none of them had any. I then went to the other tattoo parlour, and the guy said that he had some of his own and would give me some in a ziploc bag if I needed, but he told me to go back to my tattoo parlour to see if they had any extra. Meanwhile, it was also my checkout day from my hostel because it was full for the next two nights, so I had to move my stuff to my new hostel, called The Twisted Gecko. This one cost $5.50USD/$7.53AUD per night to stay in a 6-bed dorm. I asked people at my old hostel and at my new hostel for advice, but everyone gave such mixed reviews. Some people said to use coconut oil, while others said you needed more of a gel such as Vaseline, but then I’ve heard that Vaseline doesn’t let it breathe, and neither of these have antiseptic properties. I went back to my tattoo parlour and she said that she’d check in the back to see if they had any spares, but they didn’t. The thing that bothered me the most was that she said that the pharmacy often closes whenever it wants to, so I don’t understand why they wouldn’t have spare antiseptic for those cases. I then literally started walking into bars and walking up to people with tattoos to ask them for advice, but once again, I continued to get mixed reviews. I was starting to think that I would die of a tattoo infection on an island in Cambodia (I also tend to jump to conclusions when under stress…). I decided to head back to my hostel to wash my tattoo since it had been over two hours and I needed to take off the saran wrap. Just as I got to my hostel, there was a lady walking down the street COVERED in tattoos from her chin down, so I walked up to her and asked if I could get some advice. Turns out she owns the other tattoo studio, so she said that if I come by, she could give me enough gel to last me for the next two days. I think she could tell that I was freaking out, and I was so extremely grateful! Before that, I was even contemplating whether I should take a boat to the mainland the next day in order to get to a pharmacy (which might be closed anyway). I was told to wash my tattoo with bottled water (since the island tap water might be iffy – another confirmation that getting my tattoo on an island in Asia was a bad idea. The other confirmation was that you’re not supposed to bath or soak your tattoo in water, but I was basically soaking in my own sweat (literally) until I left Asia ten days later. I also realized that I should be putting on clean clothes with my tattoo, but there weren’t any laundry places open for the next three days). Anyway, I walked to the tattoo parlour and all of the people there weren’t surprised when they were told that I got a tattoo at Sorry Mum and they didn’t do anything for aftercare. They said that someone else had come to them that day as well. They gave me the gel and told me that since I had already washed my tattoo, I’d have to go back to the hostel, re-wash it, and put the gel on directly after. I was meant to meet Rob and Amy in less than 15 minutes, so I ran back and did what I was told. I met up with Rob and Amy just in time, and we headed to the bar to get 2-for-1 cocktails. We each got two drinks, but the bartenders were already drunk, and the alcohol-to-sprite ratio was very high! Therefore, we were already feeling it after one drink. It was funny because Rob and Amy said that they haven’t had a crazy night during their three months of travel, and I said the same. I knew that they were my kind of people, and I think that made us trust each other a lot more easily. So, it was all of our first crazy nights while travelling, and it was one of the best nights! We had a couple more cocktails and then decided to get some dinner because it was 9pm and the last time any of us had eaten was at 11am. However, all of the restaurants were closed for New Year’s (there were only two bars open without food) so we were stuck with going to the minimart and eating Pringles, which probably didn’t help with our night out. The bar on the beach had a huge dance party, and they were handing out free beer to everyone, which was 6% per can! We danced until midnight, and then decided to walk to the beach to check out the bioluminescence of the plankton. I had to be extremely careful with my tattoo and couldn’t actually go swimming, so I sat on the beach most of the time, and then sometimes waded through the water. The plankton was SO cool!! Any time you moved in the water, they would light up and glow all over – I’ve never seen anything like it! I looked at the time and it was 2:45 so I told the other two that we should head back. We had to walk back through the forest and then I walked back towards my hostel. I swear that I was the only person left awake, as everything was dead quiet.

On Monday, I got up and had plans to meet with Rob and Amy at 12pm for lunch. I started getting hungry at about 11:30 so I walked towards the beach and they were already there. We were all feeling pretty rough, and they assured me that they don’t normally do that, and I assured them that neither do I. But we all agreed that it was a great night! After having lunch, Rob and Amy went to the beach and I decided to sit down in a restaurant and work on my blog since I couldn’t really enjoy the beach anyway. I took it easy that day, and just enjoyed my last full day on the island.

On Tuesday, I had to leave the island. My boat wasn’t until 4pm so I was still able to enjoy a few more hours next to the beach. I worked on my blog again that day, and said goodbye to Rob and Amy, who left at noon. At about 2:30, I went to a restaurant on the pier which served Turkish food.

I ordered a kebab while a cat kept me company, and then I caught my boat to take me back to the mainland. Love always

2 thoughts on “Koh Rong Samloem (Apr 11-16): Beaches, A Tattoo, and Khmer New Year

  1. Omg! The tattoo is awesome and those beaches look amazing! You are definitely living the life Nellers!

    Like

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