Escape on Cambodian Castaway Island | Koh Rong Samloem
The Cambodian Spirit
So what is it about Cambodia that draws me back time and time again? I first visited over 10 years ago when the roads were dirt tracks and the infrastructure poor, but I was amazed by the warmth, friendliness and resilience of the people. It is a country steeped in history both awe-inspiring and harrowing, seen in everything from a visit to the majestic Angkor Wat which leaves you in wonderment – how was such a thing built so long ago?! – to paying your respects at the killing fields and learning of the devastation the country and its people suffered under the Khmer Rouge. Most people think of Cambodia as a 5 night tag-on to a Vietnam or Laos trip but it is a destination in its own right – worthy of your entire 2 week break!
The friendliness and spirit of the Cambodian people never changes, but what has changed is…well, just about everything else! This trip I stayed in the magnificent White Mansion in Phnom Penh, once home of the American Embassy; the high ceiling rooms are stunning and service and food impeccable.
We dined around the corner in a funky Khmer/ French fusion restaurant – one of the best meals I’ve ever had. We visited boutique art galleries next to hundreds of years old temples and of course walked along the river front and had a sundowner for old times’ sake in the world famous Foreign Correspondents Club – a beautiful colonial building rich with history.
To the island…
It was time to leave Phnom Penh and take the four-hour drive to the coast. Because of the boat times to the island, a night is required on the mainland at Sihanoukville. This once sleepy beach resort is now bustling with shops, hotels, bars and restaurants – for me one night was enough, I found the beach a little disappointing. Chatting to a local hotel owner he reassured us “don’t worry, where you are going is nothing like this.” My curiosity and excitement mounted…
After a two-hour boat ride (stopping off for a snorkel en route, as you do) we saw an island in the distance with a crescent of brilliant white sand, as we got closer the sea became bluer, the sand whiter, the trees greener and by the time we were at the jetty the scene in front of me was one I had been searching for since my travelling days in Thailand ( 20 years ago!): Saracen Bay, complete with shallow clear water, local fishing boats, cabins dotted along the bay and the whitest sand I have ever seen.
Castaway in paradise
We were collected from the jetty and our luggage taken up to our chalet at Saracen Bay Resort as we took in the surroundings and made the 2 minute walk along the beach to the resort – the chalets are on the beach, very clean tiled floors and comfortable with a en suite bathroom and veranda to watch the amazing sun rises from. My biggest concern was there was no electricity from 6am to 6pm and the chalets weren’t air conditioned – it’s been a while since I’d stayed anywhere without luxuries like air- con or a mini bar!
I need not have been concerned as it really didn’t matter, the sea is 5 steps across the beach to cool down in, or pop up to the restaurant in the heat of the day for a cool drink and a lovely breeze. Things to do on the island? Relax, read a book, swim, drink a cold beer, take a walk through the jungle to the aptly named ‘Lazy Beach’, snorkel, dive – I used Freedom Divers behind the resort run by a great Irish guy, Tom who took us to some amazing snorkel sites as well as lunch with some locals in a little fishing village – a fantastic experience! And did I mention relax? I stayed 4 nights on Koh Rong Samloem and didn’t want to leave. If you want your own piece of paradise without the frills, jet skis and the beach hawkers then go now… it won’t stay like this forever!