We were eager to board the boat to Koh Rong and leave the seedy shores of Sihanoukville, believing we were in for three days of unadulterated tropical paradise; wooden shacks, white sands and clear waters. I whiled the two hour boat trip away trying to kill the world with a mutated virus on Plague; the world was lucky, I suck at the game.
We pulled up to a rickety pier jutting out of a small sandy beach hemmed in by the edges of the islands forested interior. Shoes off, the tickle of sand welcome between my toes as I stepped off the splintered planks after a few weeks inland. Mapsme doesn’t cover tropical islands that well so we wandered lazily in the island humidity looking for Paradise Bungalows. Down the beach and through a muddy jungled path we emerged onto a longer stretch of beach and a stretch of beach huts in various states of luxury, at the curve of the coast about half a kilometre away we could see a spattering of wooden buildings; the bars and restaurants of the debauched side of the island we were yet to discover. Our beautiful huts backed straight onto the jungle, a palm canopy reached over the open air bathrooms, and the rustically assembled walls had plenty of gaps to let in a cooling… breeze.
‘Don’t go too hard on your first night, save it till I get there’ had been the requested of a friend joining us a day later. Heading down towards the bars I kept this in mind and fully intended on having just a cocktail or two. Island Boys looked like our kind of bar, however the mullet haired barman had entirely different intentions for our night, never have I had stronger cocktails! One sex on the beach, 50% vodka, and an amaretto flavoured concoction later and I was way past the giggly stage of drunk and very malleable to suggestions.
At this point I was something like 12 hours into a bet that I couldn’t mention my beloved Koh Tao, wear Koh Tao related clothes or spot any anecdotes of island life. Surrounded by sand and sea and reverting back to my island attire of bikini, possibly some sort of top and salty hair anecdotes were scratching to come out of my throat and in my drunk exasperation I gave up, shouting ‘Koh Tao, Koh Tao, Koh Tao’. My forfeit until that point had been undecided, but the bar was famous for Hurricane Shots, and there lay the decision. With the lure of a T-shirt trophy I allowed the barman to line up 10 shots of whiskey and 10 glasses of water in front of me as a crowd gathered and my supposed friend Jasmine positioned herself perfectly to slap me. Cameras were prepared and the cry came to start, each shot was followed by a glass of water to the face and a slap from Jasmine; after I’d set a record for the bar, 1 minute 20, Jasmine excused herself as she would have had to take my place if she’d not slapped hard enough! The excellently advised tactical I will spare you the details of, but 5 minutes later I had taken a seat of some description on the sand demanding, and being denied, the rest of my Sex on the Beach. Instead I was lead back to my bungalow, spectacularly unable to pursue the rest of the nights festivities with the group.
Half way up the slope of a beach is a very exposed place to be in a storm, and those breeze allowing gaps in our hut let in more than just a cooling breeze in the storm that night. Groggy as I was when the howling of the wind woke me up around 4am itching with sand fly bites and sand that had encroached into ever crease of my body, I’d sobered up enough to be scared. The door had blown open and was whacking against its frame, exposing the gaping darkness of an island with minimal electricity. I was shivering, stranded amid the tangle of my mosquito net when Izzy stumbled in through the door, surprised to see me so awake. Darting over to her bed, the immobility of my fear washed clean by the presence of another person. We both fell straight to sleep with the closed door shielding us from the brunt of the wind whose tendrils still reached through the cracks in the walls.
That nights unpleasantries were dwarfed by the boat ride to shore two days later. Two nights on the threshold of the jungle had left our bodies ravaged with bites from mosquitoes, sand flies and who knows what else. For someone who rarely ever had to used mosquito cream I had around 50 bites on each arm and leg that kept me in a writhing, scratching frenzy all night. Jas and Izzy, who both need copious amounts of bug spray, had bites covering every inch of skin, red swellings appearing even on their faces, like some horrible disease. None of us could stop itching until the wheals bled, the oozing red liquid giving some relief, and I spent the next two days in bed in Phnom Penh, not leaving the dorm room. This was our demoralised state as we boarded the escape vessel from what should have been three days in paradise. Spirits lifted as the island grew smaller behind the boat, even more so as we saw a black cloud crawl over the islands peak, hurling rain down on the despised island. That black cloud didn’t pause over the island though and chased our boat, catching us up and pulling in its wake huge waves that threw the boat about and threatened to crash onto the deck. There wasn’t a dry spot as we threw our bags under deck and shivered together, laughing to prevent tears mingling with the rain that streaked our faces. Two hours later we clambered soggily into a freezingly airconned mini bus to Phnom Penh, thus ending our Koh Rong experience. Why had I ever left Koh Tao?!