It’s a tiny island off of Sihanoukville, Cambodia that many have said Thailand was like 10 years ago before it became as big of a tourist spot. On the island there is no fire department, no police, no doctor; only a small pharmacy with a nurse, and there is very little accommodation for the tourists.
Koh Rong is the place to go if you want to be out of touch for a little while. It doesn’t have constant power and getting any sort of cell signal is impossible because it’s so far from the mainland. The island is powered by generators, with power cuts between 0200-0600 and again at 1100-1300. However, most bars do have their own generators because “if you’re buying beer, we’re still here”.
If you go to Koh Rong, make sure you bring a flashlight, ponchos and bug spray with a high concentration of DEET.
Koh Rong was bought by the Chinese and is destined to be the next tourist attraction in 5 or 10 years time. It’s obvious that the island is going to explode due to the amount of construction going on. Everything on the beach has already been developed, and everything in the village is quickly being built up. Even the places we stayed at had constant construction—whether it be laying concrete to replace a rubble path or putting in sinks, nothing on the island is near being finished.
Watching the Cambodians work puts into perspective how fortunate it is to be born in a developed country. All the hard work we have to do is stand at a machine and make sure nothing goes wrong; Cambodians have a few power tools but rely mostly on hand tools, skill and sheer man power.
We hiked through the village and up to the forest to get to Long Beach. The hike was about 40 minutes; going uphill wasn’t bad, just like any trail in Colorado or Missouri. Once we reached the peak and started to descend, however, it was a whole different story. It was like hiking at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. There were a few places where if you would’ve fallen, you could’ve easily died or at least seriously injured yourself. So naturally that meant we went in flip flops, and not having a phone, we were determined to make it to Long Beach. After scaling down some crazy boulders, hopping off the last rock and hearing another friendly voice was victory for us. We had made it to Long Beach! We all grabbed some water and headed to the beach, where the sand is so fine it makes a squeaking noise when you walk on it.
It all started with sharing water. Everyone needed to stay hydrated, so there was at least one, if not two bottles of water with the group that got passed around without much thought as to who had what. Charlotte was the first to fall ill and couldn’t join us on the Long Beach excursion, which meant Charlie stayed to tend to his girlfriend.
What we weren’t aware of before we got to Long Beach was how bad the sand mosquito population was. Sand mosquitoes are these nasty little shits that are so small, you can’t tell if it’s just a speck or just a new mole, and they wreak havoc on your skin. A tiny bite leads to an allergic reaction that can range from just a few spots to rashes and spots all over your body. The worst part about the whole thing is that you can’t scratch them because you risk spreading it and having them get infected and scarring up.
With spots and rashes all down her leg, Annina by far had the worst reaction of us all. Coupled with a stomach bug and checking symptoms online, Annina jumped to worst-case scenario and landed on Malaria. She was about to rush off to the mainland for the hospital, but we were able to talk some sense into her, as Shukri was falling ill too but without the same skin reaction to the sand mosquitoes.
I was playing doctor for the munchkins, getting them whatever they needed. While they stayed in bed, I was hamming it up in my ENO. At the same time, I was counting down the minutes until I would start to get sick. After a few days of sleeping all day and drinking Lipton and water, they were recharged; not quite 100%, but they were up walking and talking which was good news, though I also knew I was in for a rough ride.
It happened the fateful day that we met Juuso and Jake, a Finnish lad and a Canadian. I knew I should’ve been sleeping and resting, but I opted to be hardheaded. So I drank lots of water and had to choose when I ate because it would run right through me, if you know what I mean. Shukri and I went down to Island Boys where we started a game of beer pong in an empty bar. That’s when we bumped into Juuso and started talking about where we were from. After I figured out he was a Fin, I told him I was there with one of his kind. His first words to Shukri were, “I know we’re from Finland, but we’re in Cambodia so we’re speaking English.” I knew that dude was gonna be cool so we scrapped our game, re-racked and played teams. Canada & Finland vs. USA & Finland. Not to brag or anything, but team FINUSA won.
Having the loud-mouthed American and two Fins who couldn’t play beer pong very well, it was really down to Jake and I. I was yelling all the rules and making sure no one violated the elbow rule. We started to make a scene, and people began to gather around our table, eager to play. We were all tired of playing and people around us were really into the game, so we left the Island Boys—everyone in the group wasn’t taking a fancy to the grunge/alt-rock music anyway.
I had to call it and spend the next day recovering because I felt miserable—I could hardly keep water down. That didn’t keep Shukri and Annina from having a day at the beach. When I finally did arise from my comatose state, we went back to Ashîa to hang in the hammocks, drink rum & cokes and have some hummus (which I didn’t eat). As we were hanging, Juuso and Jake spotted us, popped a squat and ordered drinks. We started trying to figure out what to do for the night, but we all knew the best plan was no plan. Jake and Juuso did want to meet up with some other friends but weren’t bothered to actually go look for them since we knew we would run into them at one point or another.
Annina ditched us for some guy at Ashîa, but we were totally fine with that because it meant a boys night out for us.
The four of us strolled into Island Boys that night, and the bartenders started banging on a pan while yelling “SHOTS!” That got everybody’s attention, including ours. They knew we were a rowdy crowd and would crush anyone in beer pong, so they challenged us to get people to buy drinks and we’d get free drinks in return. That was a deal we were all willing to make, so we huddled around the beer pong table and started making some noise. More people started to trickle in so we had a whole crowd watching for the entertainment and friendly banter between teams. Once we had one game down we were going for a partner trade, but Jake and Shukri ran off, leaving it to me and Juuso to hold the table. The first rule of beer pong is if you’re not playing, you’re leaving.
It was 1v1, Finland VS USA and I was down to three cups when Jake and Shukri returned. I had given up on this game, so Shukri took over and started handing out Celebrity shots until he found the right partner. I played referee, yelling out to both teams and making up completely false rules to see if either team would catch me (they didn’t). After our group had grown to a solid 12 people, we decided that we’d all had enough of beer pong and started the barhopping routine.
The formula for the island seemed to work like this: One bar would play a dance/EDM/house/etc. song, and then a non-dance song. So it’d go from tech-house to rock and when the song switched, people would walk over to the bar that was playing a dance song. Then when the song would change again, people would again change bars. I don’t know if it was intentional, but if it was, it’s a perfect plan since every bar benefits from it.
There was one exception: the Mango Lounge. I met Skya one of the first nights we were there because he was playing Koan Sound when I was walking by. I immediately recognized the song and darted for the bar to give props to whoever picked the music. If we ever found ourselves without good music, the Mango Lounge was the place to go for good vibes from Skya and the crew.