Paradise Found

by Bryce Hollweg
501st Signal Company

Your definition of paradise might be a week-long vacation in a luxurious hotel on the beach, five star amenities and pampering service. Mine is not. Mine has no hot water. Mine has no reliable Wi-Fi. My idea of paradise is Koh Rong, Cambodia.

When you think of Cambodia, the first thing that comes to mind, perhaps the only thing, is Angkor Wat. Most people probably can’t even point Cambodia out on a map let alone name its capital or bordering countries. It is this relative unfamiliarity amongst the global tourist herd that makes Cambodia so appealing to the backpacking traveler.

I’m not going to lie, prior to planning a recent trip to Cambodia, I didn’t know much about it either. Although Angkor Wat was an obvious destination on my travel wish list, it wasn’t until I heard about an  “off the beaten path” backpacker island off the coast that Cambodia jumped to the top of my must-visit destinations. And off I was.

Following the obligatory stop in Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat and an overnight in Phnom Penh, I made the 4 hour bus ride down to Sihanoukville – the coastal launch pad to Koh Rong – only to find out that ferries to the island hadn’t been running for three days due to rocky seas.

Like many others, I was temporarily laid-over in Sihanoukville, the port town which boasts about its pristine beaches, but in actuality was buried in litter, full of relentless beggars and prone to rowdy, seedy nightlife. Making the best of it, I spent the day drinking 50 cent beers on the beach and bar hopped throughout the night on Serendipity Beach, enjoying the fire dancers and tolerating the visiting pub-crawlers, hopeful that the ferries would be running in the morning.

For some reason, it seems like a lot of the vacation crowd gets stuck in Sihanoukville and never makes their way to Koh Rong, perhaps lured in by the partying and (supposed) beaches.

But for me, the 45 minute ferry ride landed me on one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen: no cars, few inhabitants, minimal amenities, truly unspoiled paradise.

I imagine it’s what Phi Phi Island and Koh Phang Nga in Thailand used to be before they became party islands, infested with early-twenty-something-year-olds.

The days on Koh Rong were some of the most enjoyable I’ve had anywhere. Waking up and gazing out of my $25 beachfront bungalow at paradise. It doesn’t get any better unless you’re a person who needs a hot shower or Wi-Fi in order to post a Facebook status about how “blessed” they are before they roll out of bed. Secluded on an island with like-minded travelers who, like me, only hope that Koh Rong remains the quiet gem it is, undiscovered by mainstreamt travelers.

Sadly, everything this good will come to an end. If only the ocean was ornery enough to strand me in my paradise for a few more days…

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