Our approach to the island was plain sailing. Bright sunshine brought out an emerald colour in the sea, and slowly the coast came into sight, making way for the white-sand beach and the long pier. Setting down on the beach we took a moment to appreciate our surroundings. The bay provided total shelter from the tide, and palms provided a little shelter from the intense heat. In each direction there were just a few bamboo huts and cottages, and the sound of surf filled in for any hint of civilisation.
We took a quick look at our map and then waved down a local to check we were headed in the right direction. Our map showed a rough track through the centre of the island which was heavy with jungle. On the other side lay our accommodation and hopefully a beach to be had all to ourselves.
We were headed to a cove set around the Robinson Bungalows, and a helpful native pointed to an obscure path just behind some nearby huts. Securing our heavy bags we began our trek, and were soon headed away from the sound of the waves and deep into the stilted cacophony of frogs and crickets, the frantic buzz-saw of the cicadas and the occasional horny shout of a gecko.
The further along the jungle path we moved, the more humid it became, until I called out to celebrate the heavy drops of rain falling all around me. To my dismay I realised that the rain was actually sweat dripping off my nose and face.
Deeper yet we travelled, and soon the path turned upwards onto a high ridge. We used trees for support and pulled ourselves along, the gloom ever increasing as we became more absorbed in the jungle. Soon mosquitos and large flies surrounded us, and we absently swiped as we stalked forwards. Up and up we climbed, stopping occasionally for a draw on our water reserves before continuing on.
At one point a Khmer man came up behind us. I tried to engage him in conversation, but speaking no English he quickly overtook and was lost in the foliage. Eventually, just as we were draining the last of our water, we made it to the top of the rise, and saw a long climb down ahead of us. The path was cut deep into the surrounding earth, but we thought little of it, keen to get to our destination.,
Finally we broke out of the jungle and emerged on a savage coast, waves beat against a rocky shore, and we paused in disbelief. We had been told that this side of the island was both much more unspoilt and much more enjoyable. The beach however was subject to vast amounts of detritus that had washed ashore, and the water was open to the elements and brutal to say the least. Slightly taken aback, we dragged ourselves up the beach and into the home of a Swiss couple who owned a set of rustic huts set just offshore, peeking out of the jungle.
Our lodgings were sparse, yet functional. A basic hut on stilts faced onto the rough sea, its roof starting a foot above the wall. As we settled in, we began to take stock of just how wild the area really was. Spiders with huge black bodies and long dangling legs sat across webs that dominated the doorways. Lizards darted around in the peripheries of our vision, and the house cats stalked the giant jungle rats which came down to try their luck in the kitchen.
Near our room an active termite nest rose up to my chest and issued forth legions of black ant-like creatures. They moved in columns five-abreast and made for a nearby fence panel which was slowly being metamorphosed into mulch to add to their already huge volcano base.
Taking a midnight stroll down the beach we were intrigued to find an unusual track. We assumed a snake had left it on the sand, as it looked a little like a bicycle tire, but swooshing to the left and then right. Following it for some time we came across the culprit- a hermit crab. As we shone our torch on it, the creature retreated into its shell, but after a few moment came out and continued its pilgrimage down the sand.
It was around this time that the monsoon really started for us. A large peal of thunder would mark the arrival of some heavy rain drops- fair warning to get inside, and then moments later the sky would open and torrential rain started pouring down.
For several days we sat in the bungalow’s common room, playing chess and looking out at the rough sea and soaked beach. Our hosts seemed happy with the onslaught, assuring us that it was better to have water than none- as is often the case on the island, but we disagreed, longing for the sun.
When the rain broke one morning, we packed our bags and set-off for the sheltered side of the island, hoping that the journey across the jungle stretch would be easier a second time around. The previous paths that had been cut deep into the earth turned out to be rivers at this point, so we had to drag ourselves back up the ridge, this time against the flow of water!
The other side of the island was much less severe, and as the rains cleared up a little, we enjoyed another few days before heading back to the mainland. Koh Rong marked the closest we had come to real nature in our travels so far, and although we were stoic in the face of insect adversity, I don’t think either one of us in in a rush to get back into the jungle.