Category: South East Asia

Baring Is Caring

The End, For Now

As soon as Songkran was over, Pai began to fill up with backpackers once again. In some ways, it sprang to life, even if it lost a bit of its charm with each incoming busload of tourists.

Most activities started running again and I went on a zipline of the forest canopy with two guys from Melbourne. My first impression upon viewing the zipline was that it was too small, though once I was up there I was a little scared and glad I wasn’t any higher.

Afterwards, we went for a swim at a waterfall where a third guy, Jack, also from Melbourne, approached us. He immediately struck me as annoying but because it had been a month since I’d last met people from Melbourne, it was nice to talk about home.

Later that evening, I was sitting in a restaurant with two Canadian girls when I spotted Jack at the entrance. I waved when he looked in my direction and asked if he and his brother wanted to sit with us. I didn’t particularly want them to but the restaurant was full and there weren’t any vacant tables.

We talked while we ate dinner and I noticed that Tess, one of the Canadians, had fallen silent. Exchanging looks with her, I assumed she found Jack just as annoying as I did and felt a twinge of guilt about inviting him to have dinner with us.

Afterwards, the Canadians and I went for a stroll and browsed the night market. I discovered that contrary to what I’d assumed, Tess was very taken with Jack, which was why she hadn’t been her usual self at dinner. She told me it was obvious that Jack had a thing for me but I dismissed this, eagerly telling her I would make sure the two of them got together that night.

Given Pai’s size, it was inevitable that we ran into Jack and his brother several times on the way back to our hostel. Each time I was careful to flash him a big encouraging smile, thinking he would surely look for us that night if I appeared friendly enough. When the topic had come up at dinner, I’d mentioned to him where we were going for drinks – not that it was really necessary because there were very few bars that were open late in the town.

I was confident that I would be able to broker something between Tess and Jack but after a few drinks at the hostel, Tess decided to go to bed so she could be up early the next day.

Although I’d denied it to Tess, Jack had come across as a bit too interested in me at dinner – and it was likely that he had interpreted my strategic friendliness as reciprocal interest. The problem was that I no longer had anyone to foist upon him so I started hoping that we simply not cross paths that night.

When he did approach me a few hours later, I wasn’t fazed but I remember finding our conversation a little tedious. He offered to buy me a drink and I refused several times. I don’t like to accept drinks from guys, regardless of whether I like them or not. But he insisted so I let him.

Having just received some bad news from home, Kaitlin, the other girl from Canada, had been drinking steadily that night and was becoming progressively drunk. The whole time I was talking to Jack, I kept an eye on her, worried she might get herself into trouble. After some convincing on my part, she finally agreed to return to the hostel.

By now Jack had disappeared and I felt a little disappointed. I had to admit he was good looking, even if he was a little obnoxious. On our way out, I ran into him again and asked him if he wanted to accompany us.

We put Kaitlin to bed and walked back into town. He put his arm around me and once we were over the bridge, we stopped and kissed. Hearing the approaching voices of people who were most likely from my hostel, I told him we should keep on walking and agreed when he suggested going to his bungalow.

We sat out the front and to my disappointment, he got out his guitar. Earlier that night, I’d listened with interest as he talked about his band but I hoped I wasn’t in for a long acoustic session. Not wanting to appear rude, I hid my disappointment but fortunately, he put it away after playing a few cords and asked me if I wanted a drink. I said no and figuring we might as well get straight to it, suggested going into his room where we had very mediocre drawn-out sex.

I woke up the next morning and walked back to my hostel. With only four days of my trip left, I had to be up early so I could get a bus to Chiang Mai.

I packed up my things and said my goodbyes. I was especially sad to say goodbye to Annie; she was a lovely woman and it made me sad seeing how deeply unhappy she was in her marriage. Since returning from Mae Hong Son, I’d helped her make beds and clean rooms whenever I had a spare hour and got to know her pretty well in that time. In a way, she was like a much nicer version of my mum.

I left, hoping things would work out for her.

Best/Worst

I wasn’t around for most of it but there was a bit of a stir in the hostel my first night in Pai when a group of Brits trashed their room, left used condoms lying around and fled without paying. The room was left in a filthy state and the Thai woman who owned the hostel, Annie, was understandably upset.

In many ways, this incident felt like the beginning of a very odd chain of events. As I mentioned before, the town quickly cleared out during Songkran; it was a time of year that locals travelled home to be with their families and most foreigners chose to spend the festival in Chiang Mai.

pai

A little town in the mountains, Pai was very peaceful, as long as you avoided the main street during the day, which was where most of the water festivities occurred. My hostel was located just out of town and had a great view of the paddy fields. If it hadn’t been for some eccentric people at the hostel, my stay would have been very tranquil.

Apart from me, there were four Brits, a Dane and an elderly Dutch hippie at the hostel for the duration of Songkran. I spent most of my time with Clara and Harry, both from England, and a couple of days into the festival, we were joined by an American guy, JJ.

As soon as he arrived, I felt sorry for Clara, who was sharing a dorm with him. Although he was in his late thirties, JJ was incredibly immature and boastful. We didn’t realise it at the time but he was already drunk when he met us and most of the things he told us were completely false.

Accepting our polite invitation to come out with us for some drinks, JJ was quick to exchange some angry words with the Dutch hippie on our way out of the hostel. To be fair, the Dutch guy’s anti-Americanism was obvious the moment he started talking to JJ and it was pretty funny listening to the two men insult one another.

I’d pegged JJ as your typical obnoxious older male traveller but it was soon clear that he was a very odd person. I’d never seen anyone get so drunk in such a short period of time. Not caring whether he was insulted, I told him he was the spitting image of Pablo Escobar and his nonchalant response to this was that this had been his nickname when he was younger because he used to deal cocaine.

Convinced his story about being a self-funded retiree was a cover up, we then found out that he had come to Pai after being arrested in Chiang Mai. By now he could barely form coherent words and was increasingly lewd with Clara. I got a great deal of amusement when I successfully convinced him to approach a group of young girls and attempt to pick them up but watching him stumble around the bar, we had to agree that the kindest thing would be to take him back to the hostel.

It was a long walk back and when we were finally there, JJ seemed barely aware of what was happening around him. Clara moved her things to my bungalow and Harry walked him up to his room.

Meeting us at the foot of the hill, Harry said he was confident JJ would go to bed. At this precise moment, JJ began screaming at the top of his voice, “Where did everyone go? … Where is everyone? …. WHERE AMMMMM I?” There was no way everyone in the immediate vicinity couldn’t have heard.

Crouching behind some bushes, I did feel bad for him. He genuinely sounded anguished. But after spending a good portion of the night trying to get rid of him, we didn’t want to risk him latching onto us again and quietly slunk away.

Having decided that I would ignore him from then on, I thought it would be easy enough to have nothing more to do with him. Our hostel was a huge sprawling jumble of buildings and bungalows so it wasn’t like we were living on top of one another.

However, this resolve was short lived. I was in the middle of chatting to Annie the following evening while she was making beds and at first, it seemed to be a normal conversation. She was complaining about how her husband seldom helped her but by now I was used to it as this was something she often did.

She was particularly aggravated by JJ’s dorm; in his drunken stupor he must have rolled around in a few of the beds because most of them were unmade. Upon entering, she resumed expressing her grievances with renewed vigour which escalated into a hysterical fit. Startled, I realised she was screaming that she’d had enough and JJ had to leave. After the trouble she’d had with the Brits trashing their room, I figured this relatively minor nuisance had tipped her over the edge and tried to console her.

Although it wasn’t my natural instinct to do so, I hugged her which calmed her down somewhat for a few moments. But she continued crying and pulling away, she forged downstairs, shouting that JJ had to get out.

I ran after her and found JJ sitting in the downstairs common area drinking beer and wearing a very puzzled look on his face. I blurted out that he had to leave. I had no idea how he would react and wasn’t sure where Annie had gone but I figured she was in no state to talk to deal with him and that the sooner he left, the better.

Looking bewildered, JJ said he wasn’t leaving and asked what was going on. For some reason this only made me more furious and I told him he should leave now because he was about to be kicked out anyway. When he asked what he had done to upset everyone, I realised he was genuinely clueless about the previous night’s events and was at a loss for words.

I looked at Clara and Harry who were also in the room, hoping they would jump in but they were silent and I could tell the last thing they wanted was to get involved. JJ continued to press me so I told him he made everyone uncomfortable and told him he should stop drinking before it got out of hand again.

Although I’d assumed the Italian guy who was married to Annie would promptly kick him out, I wasn’t too surprised that JJ was allowed to stay. The Italian guy barely did anything to help out and I suppose he figured they couldn’t afford to lose JJ when there were already so few people staying at the hostel.

I was apprehensive for the rest of the evening and was glad to discover that night that my bungalow had a lock on the door. Even for a bungalow, it was a pretty basic structure so I’d assumed the door wouldn’t lock and hadn’t bothered to check when I’d first arrived.

In the days that followed, I began to realise that JJ was rather harmless. He was simply lonely and didn’t know how to properly interact with people. He drank heavily every day; one night he had to be carried home by some guys who’d found him passed out in a bar. Despite our tense exchange, he still tried to hang with us and after a few days had passed, we felt sorry for him and began to include him in our plans again.

I spent the last day of Songkran in Mae Hong Son, a town close to the Myanmar border. Harry decided to come so we got the bus together and arrived early in the afternoon.

There was a distinct Myanmar influence about the town and it felt different to the rest of Thailand. Walking around after lunch, we stumbled upon a group of long necked Karen girls throwing water in the street. Although we’d decided against going on a tour of a nearby Karen village, feeling it was exploitative, I was glad to see that the girls appeared normal and in high spirits.

We discovered that there was a huge festival on the waterfront; there was a parade, performances, row boat races and kids boxing on stilts suspended over the lake. I’m not sure how it is most of the year but there were very few tourists in Mae Hong Son. There were hundreds of people at the festival but I only saw ten other foreigners.

Harry and I spent the day on the waterfront, had street food for dinner, and only left once the festival had ended. On our way back to our guesthouse, we passed lots of drunk people celebrating in the streets. The highlight was watching a group of Thai men dance around a barrel; it was almost like a cheesy overchoreographed music video. All they had was a boom box, some beer, a hose and a barrel but I’d never seen anyone so happy before.

Being a small town, we felt that one day there was enough and got a local bus back to Pai the next day. But we had a brilliant time and agreed that it was definitely the best day of our respective trips.

Race Against Thai New Year

Songkran

Although its hippie vibe felt a little contrived, Tonsai was a welcome change of pace from Phi Phi. Following the recommendation of a guy on our boat, Katie and I found a really nice bungalow for the low price of $15. It was hands down the nicest accommodation I’d ever stayed in as a backpacker.

I would have been content just relaxing on our balcony but we also explored nearby Railay and spent a night hanging out in a couple of rasta bars.

As luck would have it, it was someone’s birthday that night and to celebrate, the bar provided free happy pancakes. Going against my better judgement, I ate a piece, thinking I’d stop at one, but I couldn’t help myself and scoffed down a few more.

I’m not sure why but I felt pleasantly high for the rest of the night. This was a first. On previous occasions, I’d become acutely paranoid on marijuana but maybe it helped that I felt comfortable around Katie.

We then moved on to a different bar where some rock climbers had congregated and even though there wasn’t anything funny about them, we started convulsing with laughter. It was fortunate the rock climbers didn’t notice because there wasn’t anything I could do to make myself stop.

After Tonsai, we travelled onwards to Koh Tao. Of all the places I’ve visited in Thailand, Koh Tao is probably my favourite. I liked its chilled out vibe and went snorkelling every second day.

I could have easily spent another week in Koh Tao but running out of time, I booked a flight to Chiang Mai. The New Year festival, Songkran, was fast approaching and very few buses ran during this period, meaning I had to be quick if I wanted to see the north.

Chiang Mai is reputed to hold one of the best celebrations for Songkran but my plan was to spend the festival in Pai, a small town north of the city. I did consider remaining in Chiang Mai; I’m sure I would have found accommodation if I looked hard enough, but the idea of crowds wasn’t very appealing to me.

I spent a few days in Chiang Mai, before catching the bus to Pai. Arriving a couple of days before Songkran, I discovered that most people at my hostel were about to travel in the opposite direction. This didn’t surprise me but I’d underestimated the pull of Chiang Mai and hadn’t expected the exodus to occur on such a grand scale.

But I didn’t regret my decision to spend Songkran in a less popular place. The water festival was a lot of fun but it was also low key enough that you could avoid it if you didn’t want to participate.

Coinciding with the hottest temperatures of the year, Songkran is classically Thai in its lack of regard for safety. People throw water at other pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles; anyone is fair game. Unsurprisingly, fatalities are quite common in the larger cities.

It’s not the sort of thing I could have done for days on end but I bought buckets and water guns with some people from my hostel and got really into it for a couple of days. There was something deeply satisfying about ducking behind cars and getting people when they least expected it.

It was almost like a street party. Undeterred by the water assault, people set up sound systems in the street and stood around drinking beer. Best of all was the infectious energy of the kids; it was hard not to feel cheerful watching them have so much fun.

Brits (Australians?) Behaving Badly

Frenetic, overdeveloped and overrun with tourists, Koh Phi Phi was the complete opposite of Koh Rong. Because my stamina for staying up isn’t what it once was, it wasn’t really my kind of place but once there, I found myself enjoying it for what it was.

Being a party island, I’d anticipated Koh Phi Phi to be teeming with drunken Australians; much like the parts of Thailand I’d visited three years ago. But strangely enough, I encountered very few Australians over the course of that month. Presumably most had returned home at the start of the month to go to university.

The tourist contingent in Thailand was predominantly comprised of people from England – some of whom could only be described as chavs – but this I didn’t mind. It’s not that I don’t like Australians but I can’t help but feel that there is something very boring about constantly running into your own country people when you are travelling.

I mostly hung out with a cool English girl, Katie, in Phi Phi and at night, we hung out with a group of guys from our hostel. Some of them were pretty chavvy, but they were easy going and even if not always intentionally so, pretty funny.

One guy was particularly memorable for spending his entire time on Phi Phi drinking to excess, which culminated in an unfortunate penis tattoo on his thigh one night. Some of the drunken things he used to say before falling asleep were priceless. Returning to our dorm late one night, I remember sitting on my bed, trying to shut the door with a broom and his response to this, naturally, was to start slurring, “Wingardium Leviosa!” at a volume loud enough to wake everyone in the room.

The only other non-English person in the group was an Australian guy, Dean, who I found attractive. This might sound hypocritical given my well documented dislike of Australian tourists. But I liked him – he was easy to talk to and laid back. Going by some of the disparaging comments he made about bogans in Phuket, I think it’s fair to say he was even more anti-Australian than me. Which, I suppose, makes it all the more strange that on an island full of Brits, the two of us got together.

As far as these things go, it was a pretty natural progression of events. I think we both realised there was a mutual attraction early on but it never felt like either one of us actively pursued the other. I had one last night on the island and stayed up to talk with him after everyone else had gone to bed. We kissed and he then asked me if I wanted to go into his dorm. I wasn’t so keen on this idea and suggested using the shower instead. It was a little uncomfortable lying down in the cubicle; I would have preferred to have stood up, but the sex was alright.

The next day, Katie and I left for Tonsai, a small town on the mainland which is only accessible by ferry. As we soon discovered, getting there was no easy feat. Because it was low tide, we were asked to wade about fifty metres into the sea. I’m not sure why they couldn’t have timed it better because we then waited for what seemed like a very long time for them to bring the boat to us. Like everyone else, I was a bit paranoid that my backpack would get wet.

But standing mid-thigh in the sea against the dark backdrop of the sky, I almost felt like it could have been a scene out of The Beach. I had to admit it was pretty cool.

Choose Your Own Adventure

After a pleasant couple of days in Kep, the Irish guys and I left for the capital. With the exception of the cities I visited in Ecuador, Phnom Penh is the only place in the world where I haven’t felt completely safe and wouldn’t walk around alone at night.

It’s strange how revisiting a place can trigger long forgotten memories. That night we joined a group of people who were adamant about finding a place with $1 beer and promising them I knew where to go, I surprised myself by successfully leading them to a bar I’d visited three years ago.

The next morning, I said goodbye to the Irish guys before leaving for my bus to Battambang. I felt a little sad that we were parting ways but after spending the past fortnight in the constant company of other people, I was looking forward to having some time to myself. I spent the next two days exploring the city on foot and rode the bamboo train, which was very cool.

This brought me to the end of my second week in Cambodia. I’d tentatively planned this first part of my trip but it was now time to decide where to go next. After giving some thought to a second visit to Siam Reap, I made up my mind to cross into Thailand.

Discovering buses to the border only ran late in the afternoon, I opted for a share taxi instead. I immediately regretted this decision the moment three Cambodian men squashed into the back seat with me. It was only a small Toyota Camry but they somehow managed to cram four people in the front as well. It seemed entirely possible that they might try to add a ninth person and I swore to myself that this is where I drew the line but fortunately it never came to this.

It was close to noon when I arrived at the Poipet and Aranyapathet border, the most popular border crossing between Cambodia and Thailand. I braced myself for a long wait but it was relatively painless. I was over the other side an hour later.

Although I knew it was ambitious, I hoped to make it to Phi Phi the next morning. I took a long haul bus to the northern bus terminal in Bangkok, followed by a shuttle service to the southern bus terminal.

I then got a taxi after getting off the shuttle too early. I had just under an hour to make the night bus to Krabi – a goal which seemed increasingly unlikely the longer we were stuck in traffic.

I’d just about resigned myself to spending the night in Bangkok when we pulled up at the bus terminal. Thanking the taxi driver, I got out, dashed into the station and located the office that sold the bus and ferry combination for Phi Phi. I bought the ticket with about twenty minutes to spare.

It was now seven in the evening. I’d spent the whole day travelling and hadn’t showered or eaten anything since lunch. But none of this mattered to me at that moment. Getting on that bus, I felt a great sense of exhilaration. I’d made it.

Not As Free As I Thought

I spent another three days on the island before returning to the mainland. Having arranged to meet the two Irish guys and the English guy who had caught an earlier ferry, I located an internet café as soon as I arrived in Sihanoukville to find out where they were staying.

After spending some time trying to decipher a vaguely worded email, I was frustrated to discover that they had decided to spend an extra day in Sihanoukville and hadn’t bought the bus tickets to Kep for the following day like we discussed.

To be honest, I wasn’t all that keen on joining them. I’d enjoyed hanging out with them as part of a larger group and genuinely liked two of them but I found the third guy, Patrick, a bit grating. It was very clear that he had a thing for me and hopeless with money, he often complained about being broke.

Over the past couple of days, I’d made subtle hints that we travel separately and leave it up to chance whether or not we saw each other in Kep. But failing to pick up on my reluctance, Patrick continued to suggest that that I join them. Then it turned out we all planned to leave Koh Rong the same day – I’d made the decision to remain on the island an extra day, meaning our travel plans synced up perfectly.

Patrick was apologetic in his email, writing that if I wanted to, I could move onto Kep the next day and he would pay me the money he owed me that night. But this seemed like more trouble than it was worth. It was now late and neither one of us had credit to text each other. I told him we’d sort it out the next day and found my own hotel room for the night.

As much as I wanted to be laidback about it, I couldn’t help but feel annoyed. I was moody the following day when I saw him and didn’t try very hard to hide my annoyance. In fact, I don’t think I really snapped out of it until we were on the bus to Kep.

In retrospect, I probably needed the extra day to rest – my back was sunburnt and my legs were still sore from the jungle trek – but I guess I chose to direct all of my frustrations at him, which wasn’t fair.

Upon arriving in Kep, we found a guesthouse near the beach. We checked into our rooms and I checked my email. I discovered my sister had sent me a message a day ago. Because it had been a while since she last contacted me, I’d had a feeling that something was up and my suspicion proved to be correct. Our mother had had a serious fall, the email said, and was having trouble walking.

Rereading the email a few times, I composed myself enough to tell the guys to go for a walk around town without me. Then I tried to ring my sister several times without success.

After what seemed like an eternity, my sister texted me to let me know that they had just returned from the hospital. Our mother was fine. She was given some painkillers and the doctor said she would make a full recovery.

Gradually, I felt my panic subside. I was relieved that my mum was going to be okay and on a more selfish level, I was relieved that I could continue with my trip. But I also felt guilty about my strained relationship with my mum and decided to call her that afternoon. It was the first time I’d ever contacted her while overseas. Because my mum isn’t very supportive of my irresponsible lifestyle (as she sees it), it wasn’t an easy conversation but it was good to hear her voice.

Having convinced myself that I would have to fly home immediately to be with my family, I began to look at my trip in a different light. I realised that I’d spent the past few days getting irritated by small things when really, every day I got to do exactly what I wanted. I was completely free from most responsibilities and obligations – I never had to think more than a day ahead. My family was fine, I was fine. I couldn’t ask for more than that.

Are You A Free Bird?

Toupou(1)

I’ve met a lot of creepy guys in Asia and most of them are not worth mentioning. But there was one who particularly stood out – I guess because he was the only one who truly made me feel uneasy.

I met him out the front of my hostel the night following St Patrick’s Day; it was close to midnight and we were both sitting in beach chairs, waiting for the loud music to end. Several times I caught him staring at me and although I pretended to be absorbed in my phone, it wasn’t long before he struck up a conversation.

He was Polish and had arrived on the island that day. Sensing his sleaziness, I was initially standoffish but I began to take an interest in what he was saying when he told me he had swum in phosphorescent plankton earlier that night.

He offered to take me to the spot and I agreed, thinking Eli who was standing in the distance would surely want to come. I beckoned him over but he was on the phone and shook his head.

I should have turned down the Polish guy at this point but because he’d told me that the spot was nearby, I decided not to say anything. We started walking.

As soon as we passed the strip, we were plunged into darkness and the Polish guy suggested sitting down to enjoy the stars. I guess I should have realised that it was stupid of me to venture to a semi-secluded spot with a guy I had just met but I was more annoyed than anything else; it was all I could do to not to roll my eyes at how cheesy he was. Trying to keep the impatience out of my voice, I suggested we continue walking.

It wasn’t until we had walked the length of the beach and were standing at the head of a dirt path which led into the forest that I began to feel scared. I had assumed that the spot he had spoken of would be around here. My first impression of him was that he seemed harmless enough but now I wasn’t so sure. Once again, I asked him if we were nearly there and when he replied that it was, I felt I had no choice but to continue down the dirt path.

We followed the path to the other beach. Aside from some bungalows next to the forest, this beach was completely uninhabited.

To my immense relief, the Polish guy announced that we were here. Ignoring his suggestions that we go for a swim, I stood ankle deep in the sea and watched the water light up as I moved my feet. I was glad I had come; now that I knew where it was, I could return the following night.

I was no longer scared but all the same, I didn’t want to spend any more time with him than what I had to. I thanked him for showing me the spot and we walked back to our hostel.

The loud music was still playing when we returned so we sat out the front again. By now I was even more bored with his company but with nothing else to do, I pretended to listen to him and half-heartedly answered his questions.

“Are you a free bird?” he asked, stroking my swallow tattoo. Whether this was intended as a genuine question or sexual innuendo I honestly couldn’t tell.

In any case, I figured it was as good a time as any to wrap up the conversation. Feigning sleepiness, I said goodnight and went to bed.

A Romantic St. Patrick’s Day in Cambodia

That day on the beach, we met an English guy, two Irish guys and a Finnish girl who invited us to drink with them that night for St Patrick’s Day. They were staying in bungalows on the more expensive side of the island but in saying that, it only took us ten minutes to walk to their end.

Koh Rong attracted a lot of dishevelled looking hippies and for a small island, its nightlife was lively. We had drinks at the restaurant bar for happy hour before continuing on to the main strip of bars. The bar we ended up in was quite amusing; nearly everyone was on drugs and danced enthusiastically to techno as though their lives depended on it.

After a few hours, Paul, the Norwegian guy, told me he was planning on going to bed soon; he hadn’t been drinking much because he had to get up early the next day to get a ferry to the mainland. I wasn’t sure how I felt about him exactly but sensing his boredom, I asked him if he wanted to go for a walk.

We walked along the beach until I suggested sitting down in the sand. We had a clear view of the sky and he was in the middle of pointing out some stars to me when we saw a shooting star. By now, we were lying side by side; he had laid down first and I had followed suit.

It must have been obvious why I’d suggested leaving the bar together but I grew impatient with waiting for him to make a move so I leaned in and kissed him. He kissed back, pulling me on top of him. Then just as quickly, he pulled away and told me he couldn’t because there was a girl he was sort of seeing.

Immediately I felt relieved, as though I had been let off the hook. I suppose I liked the idea of being with him; he was good looking and had just finished a year in the army, but I hadn’t felt any chemistry when we kissed.

We walked back to the hostel, passing a circle of people who were singing Kumbaya (not making this up). He was quite affectionate and it wasn’t too awkward. But we were sharing a dorm and I felt weird about going to bed at the same time as him so I went back to the bar. I found the others and sat with them for another hour before I went to sleep.

My Infatuation With The Beach

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Not knowing what to expect from Koh Rong, I only decided to go at the last minute but I’m glad I did because it was one of the best places I have ever visited. In many ways it fit my fantasy of a remote island; although only two hours from Sihanoukville, it was undeveloped in the extreme and very few tourists visited. By my estimate, there could not have been more than two hundred foreigners when I was there.

There were no roads, ATMs, hot water or medical facilities on the island; though strangely enough, wifi was widely available. Electricity was limited to the night when the generator was turned on. Chickens and young children roamed freely on the main beach where the strip of bars and budget accommodations was located. I even saw an ox wandering around on occasion.

Like most backpackers on the Southeast Asia circuit, I read The Beach a few years ago and I have to admit I am a little obsessed with it. But it wasn’t on my mind the night that a Norwegian guy and a French guy invited me to trek with them to a secluded beach on the other side of the island. I was sceptical when Eli, the French guy, described it as a beautiful beach that we would have to ourselves but I thought it’d be nice to trek through the jungle and told them I wanted to come.

We started the trek the following morning. It wasn’t long before I realised why so few people attempted it; not only was it very strenuous but there was no clear path. The only way to know that you were going the right way was to keep an eye out for trees and stones that had been painted red but these only appeared very occasionally. But Eli assured us he knew the way from doing the trek the day before and when we met two Dutch girls who had spent the past hour wandering the jungle after taking a wrong turn, he told them the same thing.

After half an hour, we reached a cliff. There was no way around it and Eli continued to assure us that this was the right way. It was a six or seven metre drop but the others climbed down with relative ease. Watching them sort of reminded me of Richard jumping off the waterfall in The Beach but I didn’t want to risk spraining my ankle if I took a fall so when it was my turn, I gripped onto some branches to lower myself down.

I’d had my suspicions early on that Eli was bluffing but it was abundantly clear that we had gone the wrong way once we were over the cliff. Now there was no path at all; instead we had to pick our way down some rocks which were covered in slippery leaves.

Clearly pissed off, the Dutch girls picked up their pace and disappeared as soon as we cleared the steep incline. Funnily enough, I felt strangely calm; I guess I was just relieved that we had reached flat land. But I could see why the girls would be annoyed considering they had already been lost for an hour when they met us.

We continued to walk in the same direction for another half hour until we got to the beach. It was exactly how Eli had described it – it was the most beautiful, pristine beach I’ve ever seen. Although there was some bungalow accommodation nearby, we only saw twenty-five other people. We spent the afternoon there and paid a local to take us back in a longtail boat when it got dark. It was perfect.