Koh Rong, Cambodia
We scramble and slip down steep boulders covered with moss and rainforest mildew. The mixture of sweat and sunscreen stings my eyes. The wrist I had fallen on, minutes before, ached, but still I climb down. This was still better than the equally steep uphill earlier in the hike. We pass two groups of fellow day hikers taking their time. It’s possible we’re moving too fast. Then again, there are only so many hours in a day, and we desperately want to know what lies on the uninhabited part of this tourist island.
As we emerge from the forest canopy we are blinded. Blinded by the turquoise sea and the sand as white as our skin had been just a week earlier. Here, on Long beach, the sand seems to stretch on forever. It’s soft and squeaky under our feet. We walk to find a spot far from anyone else. For the next 3 hours we galavant in the waves trying to body surf; throwing ourselves around in the bright blue surf. We look and feel like children again. I have been to beaches all over the world, and I decide, in this moment, this is the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen.
Our parched skin stings with the combination of salt water and sunburn. We gather at a small shack with about 20 other beach-goers. Carrying our backpacks and flip flops on top of our heads, we are herded through the waves by the Cambodian boat driver. We climb up a rickety ladder onto a small wooden boat as the waves continue to rock it violently. Once in our seats, the engine roars behind us, and we are leaving the beach behind. European cigarette smoke blows back into our faces and the sun beats down mercilessly without any cover. We decide it’s good we didn’t stay any longer. I suppose we had some idea of the situation that would turn out to be one of the worst sunburns of my life.
Back on the main beach of Koh Rong we make our way back to our bungalow along the only “road” on the island…made of sand. In fact there are no roads. Things are brought here by boat, then unloaded and transported by hand. This island is made primarily of foreigners working in guest houses biding their time by chain smoking, partying, and occasionally serving us delicious food. The Cambodian population is few and extremely impoverished. Like much of the worlds indigenous populations, these villagers have had their land bought up and they have been kicked out. The ones that stay are pushed farther and farther into a jungle that can’t support their fishing livelihood. This island changes drastically year to year. The development is unsustainable and harmful to the local culture and environment. Thus, if you go to see the beaches of Koh Rong, I ask that you are humble and mindful. This is my only request.