Granted, Koh Kong might at first sound like another rural destination that you’ve never heard of but you may or may not find it more recognisable as the home of the Cardamom mountains. To be honest we knew very little except that we miss the mountains and we both like cardamom. Especially in steaming hot chai straight from the pot at 7 rupees a hit, and as I mentioned in earlier posts we felt it was time to head towards the seaside. As no one seemed to want to take us directly over the mountains we had to travel overnight to the capital Phnom Penh, arriving at a delightful 3AM to wait 5 hours for the bus to Koh Kong province. Which is a bit like travelling from Cardiff to London via Newcastle. Thank god they played King Kong on full blast in badly dubbed Cambodian for the duration of the journey, because I may have fell asleep where it not for games such as: what is Jack Black saying now? And how much longer can this film possibly last? I long for the quiet comfortable overnight trains of India on journeys such as this.
So despite us arriving at Koh Kong in the late afternoon, we did very little the first day besides grabbing some street food, exploring the local area, and acquiring some peculiar potato cake puddings that really aren’t the best. Happy to settle down early in our nice clean room at 99 Guesthouse. The following day we rented a motorbike and headed to the nearby waterfall where I got hopelessly burnt and Sarah completely stacked it into a large pool of water. I missed the fall but caught Sarah fully submerged clothes and all, with her little arms and legs flapping around, looking slightly abashed. Needless to say following on from initial concern me and the other couple nearby almost slipped over ourselves in fits of hysterics. It was a beautiful spot, the waterfall being of the wide sprawling kind rather than a dramatic fall, which added to the air of tranquility as we bathed in the small pools at the bottom of each drop. We left in search of a nearby mangrove forest but got completely lost and ended up giving in and heading for home to grab a disappointing meal back at Koh Kong City.
There isn’t a great deal to do in the area at night, save for a couple of small bars, and i am attempting to abstain from beer for at least two weeks after the glut of Thailand (rather annoyingly beers are 50 cent US here which makes it considerably more difficult) instead we have fallen into the clutches of a much more addictive substance. We simply call it.. Carnation. Technically labelled non dairy sweetened cream we initially bought it to go with our strange potato cakes the night previously but quickly fell into the habit of eating spoonfuls straight out of the tub, and we are now onto our second tub. It’s a good job it’s not as popular in the UK or I’d be ten feet wide by now.
Waking up feeling rather bloated from carnation we set off to search for the beach. Travelling towards the Thai border over a beautiful bridge that spans from the mainland to the Koh Kong peninsula and finding ourselves right at the tip of the peninsula on an almost deserted beach. Lined with trees and beach shacks with hammocks we had certainly found the nicest beach since leaving Indian shores. We set up camp for the day in two hammocks and wiled the day away in between the beach, the hammocks and the sea. We left just as the sun was setting and caught the beautiful reflection of the sun in the mangrove waters as we were driving back towards town to sort out our trek into the Cardamoms the following day.
To say we were both a little excited to be heading back into the mountains was an understatement, the week we spent trekking in the Himalayas was for both of us the highlight of our trip so far, there is something about the mountains that contains just the right mixture of wildlife, adventure and stunning scenery that delivers every time. The day started with a two hour journey up river in a long-tail boat which ended up being a rather hair raising morning. It was a windy start and the river, which opened up extremely wide in places acted more like a sea, buffeting our small little boat and comprehensively soaking everyone, thankfully we had our towel in the bag but Sarah definitely caught the worst of the waves. Tick for adventure. We were able to enjoy the latter part of the ride as the river calmed and narrowed as we left the mangroves behind and headed up into the remote jungle rising up either side of us, caching glimpses of some beautiful water birds.
We came to a point where a waterfall blocked our passage up river marking the point for our trek to begin. It was dense jungle the entire time, hearing the constant whine of insects and the occasional rustle of monkeys up above, it wasn’t too tough going and the views, once we stopped for a breather were beautiful. We could see the river meandering off into the distance confined to its bed by the dense jungle either side, we continued trekking for another hour before reaching a stunning waterfall where we lunched. After a refreshing dip I went off with our Cambodian guide for a spot of bouldering up river while Sarah stayed back at camp for a spot of sunbathing. I returned to find our other guide fishing for lunch, finding the speed at which he had caught, gutted and prepared the fish, fascinating. He would be the guy I’d want around if we found ourselves stranded out here for any length of time. Fish and rice polished off we heading back into the jungle for the trek down hill back to the river and the comfort of our boat, stopping for an hour for another swim In the river. Thankfully the return journey was peaceful in comparison with the morning and gave us the opportunity to enjoy the scenery and reflect on a thoroughly enjoyable day.
The next day didn’t quite go to plan, we were preparing to venture out to our planned visit to the nearby island for a spot of snorkelling when the tour manager knocked on our door and explained the other people we had planned to take the boat with had cancelled due to illness and the trip was cancelled. We tried our best to convince him to recall the boat but it was too late apparently, in our desperation we asked him to translate our wish to visit the island to the local fisherman but they were unwilling to take us on such a choppy morning in their comparatively small boats. We settled for free motorbike hire for the day and set out instead to finally visit the mangrove forests we had failed to reach the previous day. It turned out to be a brilliant way to spend the morning, the small walkway that has been constructed through the mangrove forest makes for an eery but memorable journey, culminating in a tall viewing platform. It struck us as a crying shame that Cambodia’s neighbours have neglected their mangrove forests in favour of development as they are not only amazing places to be but offer a unique watery habitat for a number of rare species, not too mention their tsunami halting capabilities. At a bit of a loose end for the rest of the day, we did the only respectable thing left to do, head back to the beach and relax in our favourite hammocks. We ended our stay in Koh Kong with a meal in Wood House restaurant which treated us to some lovely food but even better the French owner had the bonobo discography playing all night which I thanked him for very much. It’s a real treat to hear home favourites played on such distant shores.
So we now head to Sihanoukville, home to Cambodia’s islands and I’m sure a completely different side to the country we’ve seen so far.
Lia suhn hao-y
Photos here: https://www.flickr.com/gp/127744759@N08/pHh36M