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Backpacking Cambodia: Day 07 (18-Feb-2019)
After another short night, I woke up early and ordered some delicious breakfast at the hostel. I sat by the pool and planned my next two days. There are two main islands that I could visit - Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem. The first one is a larger island and is more commercial. Sanloem, on the other hand, is quieter and popular among backpackers. Mad monkey seemed like an interesting hostel. They had a private beach away from the pier and their boat would take us there at three pick times during the day (10:00am, 12:30pm and 5pm). I decided to be there by 12:30pm. I checked out and walked to the pier. At tourist centre, I booked a return journey on a ferry for $21. I could decide the return date later and take that journey from either of the two islands.
As the ferry moved away from the beach, I noticed the effect of urbanisation that was taking control of this beach town. The ferry ride was pleasant. I was spell bound by the beauty of the island Koh Rong Sanloem as we approached the pier. Clear blue water, white sands; all that one could ask for. Within some time, my boat to the hostel arrived.
Two of the staffs were British nationals and one of them was a local, to pilot the boat. One of the British, perhaps in his mid twenties, was training the young boy. Before beginning the process, the boy (Liam) emotionally, with moist eyes, bid farewell to a young couple who seemed equally sad to part from him. It was clear that he was staying back and beginning to work there while the couple continued with their travel. The boy was almost at the verge of breaking into tears as the boat drifted away. Among the backpackers arriving there was a French lady who had a lot of questions to the staff, A quiet Swiss girl, three French boys who had internal jokes to laugh at, a group of four jovial German girls, a serious looking young German man and a British girl who was also an employee at a sales office of Mad monkey in Phnom Penh. She was accompanying a male friend and an older lady. She was a total extrovert. As soon as she got into the boat she was chatting, laughing and cracking jokes at how the boat toppled because she was shifting sides.
All identities were verified and everyone was given a wrist band. As I had booked that same morning, my name was not on the list that they had prepared but the staff ensured that he would fix that when we would reach the hostel. A ten minute ride took us to a private beach on one side of the island. As we approached the beach, I saw other inhabitants swimming in the beach or relaxing in a hammock. To be honest, it appeared like I was going to this secret beach featured in the movie "The Beach". Ever since I had watched that movie, I had wanted to backpack and desired to be in such a place.
We had to get off the boat where the water was about knee deep and walk to the shore. We walked into the island, crossing an array of trees to reach a hut that is the central meeting point or common area of the hostel and it contains a café. We were offered a can of beer as welcome drink and briefed about the hostel policy. We had to sign some document with a long list of do’s and dont’s. Then, we were all allotted dorms. The staff walked us to our shelters - A hut built in the forest. Among the people who had arrived that day in the same boat as mine, only the French lady was in my 12 bed dorm.
I got ready and headed to the beach. I relaxed there for several hours. I felt relaxed and this was much needed. Days had been so hectic that I wanted to take a break and do nothing. Thats what this place is for! Though the hostel tries to arrange some fun events, it involves only drinking and partying. I chose to stay back in the beach and enjoy the waves.
At dusk, all gathered at the common area. My table had people from different countries and various topics were discussed. An 18 year old Canadian girl wanted to know what was the weirdest experience we had had in hostels. For her it was a crazy guy who chose to walk around naked and always left the bathroom door unlatched. Later she realised that he had lost his mind. Then there was this German boy who recollected his experience in a hostel where an Asian lady suddenly, in the middle of the night, decided to organise her stuff. For hours, all he heard was bags being zipped and unzipped. He also believed that when we meet people during our travels, we get very close to some of them and really become thick of friends as though we have known them all our lives. The French lady wanted to know if my French history lessons displayed Napoleon as a hero because in France, he is not considered as a Hero because there are a lot of miseries attached to his regime. Then there was this Canadian man, who was in his mid forties and worked for the Government but hated politics. He brought up some political issues on the table to discuss. Mostly, Canadian politics but this topic always has a universal feel. We discussed Indian politics as well. He was traveling with two of his American traveller friends whom he had met a couple of years ago, while backpacking in Nicaragua. We also discussed the difference between backpackers (who have a fixed daily budget) and flashpackers (The affluent backpackers who could afford to spend while traveling). I think I am somewhere in between. I do not have a fixed budget but I try to keep it to a minimum. All in all, we had a great conversation.
And of course, there was 18 year old Liam who had successfully survived the first day at work. We all gathered around him to ask him how his experience had been. He told us that since he had not got into a desired university, he had chosen to take a gap year and travel in SE Asia. He first went to Philippines and then reached Vietnam. It is there that he had met the young couple (Whom he had bid farewell to, that afternoon at the pier) and traveled along with them. Eventually, he got very attached to them. They had spent a week here and by the end of the week, the staff had shown interest in hiring him as, one of their employees was leaving soon. He chose to stay back at Koh Rong Sanloem and work there for a while. The staff there consisted of British nationals and locals. Almost all of the foreign staff were travellers who would spend a few weeks or a month or two working. They get free accommodation and meals for sure and I think they also receive some salary. All of us were surprised to see that he was only 18 years old and here he was all alone, far away from home. And then, there was also this 18 year old Canadian girl traveling all by herself. It is very interesting to listen to their stories.
I had my dinner and took a walk by the beach. The sky was clear and there were a few stars shinning down. Full moon was approaching hence there was enough light at the beach. It was peaceful. I headed back and saw that the staff was arranging a limbo game for the hostellers. Everyone who flexed themselves to cross the barrier got a sip of some spirit. It was interesting for me to sit away from all of it and observe this. I noticed how this game that offered free sips of alcohol acted as an appetiser. People flocked towards the bar and ordered more drink. I thought that this was a neat idea to get people to drink. And anyways, there was nothing much to do here. Moreover, everything was so cheap that people did not mind spending a few dollars. However, young backpackers were cautious to not exceed their daily spending limit.
Some chose to head back to their dorms while others partied. Soon the music got louder and the travellers hit the dance floor. I thought this was the time to head back to my dorm and retire for the day. This day had been incredible. Completely disconnected from rest of the world, I felt like I was in a traveller's paradise. I felt good to be surrounded by likeminded people in this serene isolated island.