When it finally came time for Dave and I to drag ourselves away from Otres Beach, we needed a break. Though living on the beach had been wonderful and relaxing, we had still spent the majority of our time chained to our laptops. Dave and I have managed to carve out a wonderful life for ourselves, one where we can have our office located on a beach with our lunch breaks spent swimming in the sea, but we still end up spending close to 70 hours a week working. Although from the outside it may appear as if we are on a permanent vacation, the reality is actually far different.
It was because of this that we decided to spend a few days taking a vacation from our vacation!
Koh Rong, located a couple of hours from Sihanoukville by ferry sounded like the perfect place to do so. The island has very few accommodation options — less than ten over 80 square kilometres, it has electricity for only four hours a day and it was doubtful that it would have wifi.
It was just what we needed.
We chose to stay at Paradise Bungalows purely because it seemed to be more relaxing and less party-party than neighbouring backpacker haunt Monkey Island. For $20 a night we had a bungalow located slightly up on a hill with a balcony overlooking the beach. We had an incredible bathroom, partly outdoors with pretty pink pebbles inlaid into the floor.
We also had a pretty amazing view…
Koh Rong is the stereotypical deserted island paradise.
The sand is ridiculously white, pristine and so soft it feels like powder; the sea is calm, as warm as a bath and a clear, vibrant turquoise colour. Koh Rong is quiet and peaceful, a twenty minute walk away from the few guesthouses next to Paradise Guesthouse will find you on a completely deserted beach with not a single person in sight.
And that is exactly what we did on our very first day.
There are no roads on the island, so much of our walk was spending paddling through the sea with our bags held over our heads, climbing over rocks and trampling through the jungle. Fortunately, I was not aware at that point that the jungle of Koh Rong is home to a lot of poisonous snakes. An untreated bite from a King Cobra (one of the inhabitants of the island), for instance will leave you with just five hours to live!
Though there were no snakes lurking in wait for us, our string of bad luck on Koh Rong began on this walk.
We came to what looked like a shallow stream separating us from the island we wanted to get to. Dave attempted to cross it first, carrying our bags above his head. Let’s just say the water wasn’t quite as shallow as we initially thought and he ended up underwater with just a pair of hands and a bag poking up in the air. My concerns that he was drowning and that we’d lose our stuff wasn’t enough to stop me giggling at the ridiculous sight… something I felt extremely guilty about when he finally emerged with the bottom of his feet cut up from the jagged rocks on the seabed.
Despite Dave’s bloody foot, we still managed to have a pretty amazing day. We spent our afternoon on the beach pictured below and didn’t see another person for the entire time we were there.
Koh Rong was absolutely the definition of paradise and I’d never been on a beach so perfect.
As we packed up our stuff and trekked back to our guesthouse, I had no idea how bad my day was about to become…
It happened after dinner.
We’d just finished up an amazing plate of bangers and mash (very Cambodian!), when I felt a strange burning, itching sensation creeping over my body. I tried to ignore it, assuming that too much sun was the cause.
By the time Dave and I headed to bed, I was tearing at my skin, scratching and rubbing all over. Nothing could help the itchiness and I was still in denial that something was wrong. I took an antihistamine and tried to get some sleep.
At 3am, after no sleep, I could take it no more.
I turned over and shook Dave awake, asking him to turn on the lights, forgetting that we no longer had electricity. As he shone his phone’s flashlight over me, I knew it wasn’t good when he gasped “holy shit!” upon seeing my back. My entire back was covered in sandfly bites. I looked like I had acne and I can’t even begin to describe how insanely itchy they were.
The sleepless night continued, with Dave rubbing Tiger Balm over my entire body while I covered up and tried not to scratch.
Little did I know, it was about to get a lot worse…
I then had an allergic reaction to the bites.
By the time morning rolled around, the small red bites from a few hours earlier had swelled up into huge pus-filled blisters. Over the next 12 hours they grew in size until I looked like a sheet of bubble wrap.
I have never felt so hideous.
My entire body was covered and it was taking everything I had not to rip my skin to shreds.
My paradise island had been tainted, I felt terrible and I couldn’t wait to get back to the mainland.
My remaining time on Koh Rong was spent with every square inch of my body covered in Tiger Balm, afraid to leave the room incase further sandflies attacked. The one time I did venture onto the beach, I noticed the sandflies swarming around my legs within seconds. I left after ten minutes and that night, my legs were almost as bad as my back.
After much research, we learnt that the reason some people have such a bad reaction to sandfly bites is because after they bite you, they like to pee on your skin to celebrate. Apparently people from Australia and New Zealand usually have a natural immunity, which explains why Dave was barely affected.
After three days on Koh Rong it was time to leave. Dave could barely walk with his messed up feet and I needed to get away from the sandflies so I could begin to heal…
Koh Rong is an incredible, beautiful island and had it not been for the sand flies and my terrible allergic reaction, it would have been my highlight from my time in Cambodia.
If you’re looking for a tropical island paradise with gorgeous scenery, little development and hardly any people then Koh Rong is the place for you. Just be sure to bathe in DEET every few minutes while you’re there!
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