Paradise, A Place for Peace (and Pollution?)

It’s hard to believe we’ve been in Cambodia for a month already – time always slips away too quickly when you’re hard at work and hard at play – but the exit stamps of “March 6 2013” looming in our passports kept reminding us our first four weeks were up.

To extend our tourist visa we had to go to the country’s capital city, Phnom Penh, and wait 3 days for Immigration to process our request for another months stay. Having barely left the province of Siem Reap, Jeremy and I seized the opportunity of our visa run to indulge in an extended vacation from work.

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On Friday morning, as the city of Siem Reap sweltered in the stagnant, unair-conditioned heat (the entire city was without power for 5 days after a truck struck and knocked down 12 power lines on the main highway), Jeremy and I hopped a bus to the southern coastal town of Sihanoukville. Arriving late at night, it was a quick stopover before boarding the ferry that would carry us two hours out to into the Gulf of Thailand to the island known as Koh Rong.

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Koh Rong, and the islands that surround it, are unlike the islands in Thailand in that the hands of development haven’t yet touched their shores. It is likely that in 5-10 years time, Koh Rong will resemble the tourist-centric party scene of Koh Tao, but for now it remains partially deserted with only a handful of eco friendly sea view bungalows, beachside restaurants, and local residents. 

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Jumping at another opportunity to swim with the fishes, we joined the Koh Rong Diving Center for two lazy dives along the shallow reefs. The diving itself was pretty uneventful. No big life in those parts, just lots of puffer fish, nudibranchs, and turbidity, but when we surfaced Jeremy gave us all something to talk about. He, like so many novice divers before him (myself included), was unfortunate in forgetting how to properly equalize the air in his mask. He squinted at me through puffy, swollen eyes as we exited the water after our first dive asking, “is something wrong with my face?” I bit back my laughter, but couldn’t help smiling as I examined his eyelids and eye brows. “Ha ha! Yep! You’ve got mask squeeze!” I informed him, unable to control my giggles at the memory of when I gave myself a horrible case mask squeeze after my first deep dive in Cozumel ten years ago. Luckily for Jeremy, our dive had been shallow enough that the pressure wasn’t great enough to do any serious damage. He was able to see well enough to do the second dive and his blood-burst eyes returned to normal by the next day.

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Koh Rong is the ultimate relaxation spot. You really have no choice but to sit back and relax on one of the cushioned bamboo beach chairs, float in the warm sea, or walk the unmarked paths through the jungle connecting a string of white sand beaches. I wish I could say “pristine” white sand beaches, but unfortunately the lack of development on the island has also resulted in a lack of pollution control. We walked for hours along what could have been beautifully pristine white sand beaches with turquoise-green ocean if it hadn’t been for the grotesque amount of washed up trash. Without anyone laying claim to the land and caring for it, many of the beaches are sadly littered with debris washed ashore from the mainland. While we still found clean places to sit and relax, it was yet another reminder to the fact that waste management is one of the biggest problems plaguing the developing world. 

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Tan and healthy from our lackadaisical weekend of beach-walking and dining on freshly caught seafood, we headed back to the mainland. It was a five hour bus ride to Phnom Penh, the city with a grim history we’ve been waiting to discover.

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