After Phnom Penh, the timing of our food poisoning is both a blessing and curse; it somewhat ruins our entire stay in Kampot, a place we felt sure we would love, but the chilled out vibes of the little riverside town makes it the perfect place to recover. Our hostel, Arcadia, sits on the edge of the river, with all sorts of things to do to have fun in the water (which we merrily watch other people doing from the comfort of some hammocks).
When we feel well enough to venture further afield and peel ourselves away from our hammocks (after 3 tragic days), we head down the road to the Bantreay Spa for some healthy vegan soup, ginger tea and a wonderfully relaxing massage.
We fall head over heels for Koh Rong the second we step off the boat, it is quite literally love at first sight. Whether this is influenced by the fact that our food poisoning has miraculously disappeared or not we do not care, either way it is fantastic on this island… Apart from our hostel, which we swiftly decide to leave and move to another – zero regrets (never stay at Dragon’s Den, it is grim). That evening we hop on a boat trip to swim with phosphorescent plankton: I am picturing the idyllic scene from The Beach with Pure Shores playing in the background; the reality of what actually happens is hilariously different.
Only one Amoretto down, we step
onto a small wooden boat full of people who have been drinking rum since 11am, there is a multicoloured disco ball in the middle of the boat and music blaring from the back. Our boat skates across the surface of the water to a pitch black expanse and suddenly the lights and the music have turned off and we can no longer tell where the sea ends and the sky begins. We jump off the side of the boat into a pool of darkness and the water sparkles to life as as we disturb the plankton around us.
For a few moments we are lost in the magic of it, but then the sea starts rising up and pulling us away from the boat, and we get back on just before the clouds erupt in rage. So it turns out it is too dangerous to drive back, which is always comforting when you’re sat in a rickety wooden boat in the middle of a dark expanse of water. So there we are, sitting and waiting for the storm to pass whilst somehow getting wetter than we did when we were actually in the sea. It was an ever so slightly different experience than good old Leo DiCaprio’s, but probably a bit more exciting and far more amusing.
The following day is deliciously storm-free and we spend hours lounging on the soft white sands of beach and swimming in the clear blue sea. The island is a perfect mix of chilled and slightly odd, with a cafe dedicated to hula hooping and glitter and my new favourite vegetarian/vegan restaurant called Rising Sun which served the best falafel I’ve ever eaten. Far from a dragon’s den, we are now staying in a wooden hut that is raised off the ground on stilts and looks out onto the beach. It has no wifi and no hot water but it is completely fantastic. Plus, it has mosquito nets and really, what more do you need?!
Apparently what we need is a gecko the size of my head to join us which tragically renders us trapped on the relative safety of the bed. Eventually, armed with a broom just in case (you never know), I make a dash for the door and the manager of the hostel comes and gets it out for us. I think we know who the winners are here. We celebrate this victory in the middle of the forest at the Police Beach party which really is an experience in itself – if you are ever on Koh Rong on a Wednesday or Saturday night you will know what I mean.
The boat back to Sihanoukville hungover is a struggle to say the absolute least, and after a very uncomfortable dinner in the most questionable restaurant I have ever eaten in, we finally board the night bus from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap. During the early hours of the morning our bus stops at a service station and we get off to stretch our legs and bump into some people we met in Halong Bay who are also heading to Siem Reap, which is both bizarre and lovely! After a predictably disjointed nights sleep we arrive at Funky Flash Packer (a GREAT hostel – would highly recommend) and then doze on some bean bags by the pool for the rest of the morning, dunking our weary limbs into the water to cool off every now and then. Later we head to Angkor Wat for sunset… only to realise last entry is 5:30pm (it is now 5:50pm) and it is a bit too cloudy for a sunset. Plan B: dinner on pub street followed by the night market, then off to bed before we head back to Angkor Wat for the sunrise.
The dust from the roads brushes against our cheeks as we bounce through the early morning darkness towards Angkor Wat, our tuktuk driver guiding the way as we shake the lethargy from our bodies. We pick our spot from across the river and wait. The light creeps up from behind the ancient stones, a wonderful rainbow of pinks and oranges mingling with the scattering of clouds floating overhead. As the sun stretches its arms further across the sky, its morning salute cradles the lily pads floating in the river below and the silhouette of Angkor Wat slowly becomes more detailed. Despite being surrounded by people, this is an exceedingly peaceful moment. I would 100% say that this is definitely the best way to see this magnificent temple.
After the sun has fully awoken, we explore inside the stone walls and listen to the monks’ morning prayer. I find a peaceful spot overlooking the forest at the back of the temple and try to take in the beauty around me. Because it is not just the temples themselves, it is also the entire surrounding area that is absolutely majestic; the miles of vibrant green with silver ribbon rivers meandering through the ancient trees. The entire place has an atmosphere that you cannot, and would not want to, escape from. And it is just really ridiculously good looking.
We visit two other sites, both entirely different from Angkor Wat and from each other, both exceedingly cool in their own way. We drive past several other temples, through archways and over bridges and finally we stop at Angkor Thom, “the great city”. In the centre of Angkor Thom lies the Bayon temple which is covered in serene faces which smile down on us as we enter. We find many similarly welcoming faces within its walls as we make our way through the multi-storied, maze-like structure.
Our final stop is Ta Prohm, also known as the Tomb Raider Temple because this is where the adventures of Lara Croft were filmed. Other than boasting a close friendship with Angelina Jolie, this temple is cool because it has all of these huge trees winding their way over the stone and rising out above it, becoming a part of, and an extension of, the temple itself.
Cambodia has been a fortnight of highs and lows; the sadness of Phnom Penh was followed by sickness in Kampot, then sparkling plankton in Koh Rong, silliness everywhere and the most sensational sunrise I’ve ever experienced; and overall it has been an absolute treat.