Cambodia always was for me something special, like a rough diamond in South-East Asia’s treasure chest. I was deeply interested in its history, the sorrowful life of the people there and I am sure it is a bit platitudinous, but stills of the movie Beyond borders touched me, when I was a child. I simply decided: I have to see this remote, but enchanting part of the world.
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries of South-East Asia. The marks of the French colonization and the Khmer Rouge can still be seen. The „dream” of the brutal regime was to create a communist state removing everything what is in connection with the intellectuals, the knowledge. Everybody, who was educated in any way, was an intellectual or weared glasses, was transported to special centres – death camps – and forced to do unhuman work. Most of them were tortured and executed.
But then why did I use the term of „paradise”?
I wanted to plan my trip with less touristy places, so I decided to catch the beach-life feeling of the khmer islands, which can be defined as paradise for backpackers.
The best way to reach the islands is taking ferry or speedboat from the small town of Sihanoukville. If you take the smaller boat, you can start praying for a journey with no engine problems. Otherwise you can chill floating on the turquoise water hours on end. Most of the islands are easily accessible by boat from this port. About the possible itineraries and tips you can read here.
As I mentioned, it took us a bit longer to reach the magical island of Koh Rong, but to be honest, the incredible view made me up for everything. Here I have to share some infos with you: if you do not want to stay at the central point of the island, you have to continue your boat ride, which is mostly provided by the owner of the choosen accommodation. We wanted to sleep in tent, so we were on one of the most remoter, emptier part of this kingdom of coconut trees and luring beaches. Exactly in this hides the true charm of the island: it is not spoilt by sky-high hotels, tourist-luring shops and high infrastructure. Simply some tents, restaurants and bungalows serve the convenience and „luxury” – or the biggest nightmare – of the visitors.
Koh Rong is the right place for hiding from the world, from the „money is everything” thinking and the selfishness. Perfect for those, who want to experience, how it is to spend the days poor, but yet rich. The endless ocean, the palm trees and the rainbow color painted sky was our best company. Nothing else. The flip flops or my lovely Converse lost their function: who would not love walking in a powdered sugar-like, twittery beach sand?
From Koh Rong several other islands can be visited. Some of them are so extremely uninhabitated, that the prints of the human destruction do not exist. Here I have good news for the adventurers: there is possibility for staying in a tent for 1-2 nights in order to get a dash of Robinson Crusoe-feeling.
I was lucky to get this feeling on the „secret” beach of Koh Rong, which can be reached through the jungle. Here I could see it, feel it and taste it. We met four foreigners living here, like the biggest king in his golden palace. The „furniture” was very rich, in paradise way: snow white, powdered sugar-like sand under our feet, in thousand shades of gold playing sunset, a small wooden hause, fireplace for romantic dinner and the autenthic khmer beer. The four guys left for years ago their home: the rushing, selfish western world. For one of them was even Thailand too materialistic. They just did not want to live in this way anymore: with hate and being shallow.
„At this place the money counts nothing, it does not matter, that we spend the whole day barefoot.”
It makes me wonder: we started for more than 1000 years ago from here, we needed only, what is necessary. Nothing else, nothing more. But today we want everything and even more. The lack of „luxury”, the lack of a pillow makes us totally disgusted.
In a better case we wake up, like the Sleeping Beauty from her dreams, and we go back to the basics. We start loving the nature, valuing the very simple things.
But what does hide behind this adorable paradise? What do not we see… or rather we do not want to see?
The reality behind the curtain is often ignored in order to not spoil the wonderful holiday.
The first thing, what I was terrified of, was the problem with the canalisation, in other world the small, dubious colour rivulets and ponds running out from the secret world of toilettes. The only thing I can advice: please do not even dip your toe close to these „this-is-no-Spa” creeks!
The second thing can be seen, if you wake up very early. The mesmerising turquoise water and the shore looks like a colourful plastic blanket, but not in a good meaning. I have to mention the outstanding positive attitude of the locals, which means, that they work really hard every morning in order to see the ocean and the beach in its natural beauty again.
If you are traveling with open eyes, you can see in several bars or restaurants of Koh Rong, that you will be asked by one person and served by another one. The reason is for it the brutality of the Khmer Rouge. There are still many people, who can not write and/or read. As we drunk our favourite, perfect roasted coffee at the beach – brewed coffee is very rare on the island – my friend asked the waitress and owner for translating and writing down one word in Khmer. She answered with a sad smile:
„My brother is the only one, who can read and write, but he comes later in the afternoon. I am very sorry.”
On the hidden islands, in tiny villages of Cambodia the knowledge is something special, a really rare treasure.
The marks of colonization can be found on every corner, too. It is common, that the owners of the restaurants, hotels and bars are expats, mostly French and English. I think, it is no problem, our world became nowadays so „small” without distance. But sometimes I was ashamed, that I am european. I was ashamed as I saw the exploitation of the locals. I was almost crying, as I walked down the pier to my room and saw those guys sleeping on the floor, who prepared my coffee every morning with a gorgeous smile and happiness.
The chance of the local people for something better, for way out is minimal. The things, which are for us so trivial, like reading, writing, just learning something about our amazing world, is for them the biggest gift. Still, their smile, their bright shining eyes enchanted me. Teached me.
The time spent here was not only a paradise, it was a lesson at the same time.