The Cambodian Islands are undeveloped compared to neighboring Thai Islands. Looking for pristine coral reefs, dense jungle and gorgeous white beaches then Kohn Rong, Cambodia is the place to go.
This month guest blogger Thomas Godinsky shares his 2 week adventure with the happiest people on the planet. Tom is a recent graduate of Ohio University in Athens who decided his first trip outside of the United States would be on a volunteer adventure to Cambodia.
Although I only had the opportunity to stay in the city for a night when I got there and a night when I got back from the island, I found the city to be a very enjoyable as well as being a very cheap place. Yes, temperatures got up to 105 degrees in the city; but the experience was well worth it and so were the prices. A full meal at a local restaurant topped me out at about 4 dollars and beers ranged anywhere from 50 cents to a dollar. An hour-long Thai massage topped off my first night in Phnom Pehn at only the cost of ten dollars.
In the city of Phnom Penh there is a huge central market. An average Tuk Tuk ride across the entire city was around two to three dollars; just about everything that involved money could be bartered on. Five American dollars was the equivalent to about 20,000 Cambodia Riel. You could pay in American dollars and either received back American dollars or Riel, however they do not have a coinage system so they only trade with bills. It was pretty cool to walk around with a couple 25,000-dollar bills in my pocket.
I never came across my desired spiders but I did settle for giant fried crickets. I offered one dollar to just try one giant cricket, however the lady proceeded to give me a bag of 25 crickets. We attracted some attention as the Americans with me gather around and got their cameras out. This brought by local bystanders who found an Americans first cricket a hilarious site. I picked out the biggest cricket and tossed it in my mouth. Outside of a few legs getting stuck in my teeth, they weren’t half bad, tasted a lot like BBQ potato chip.
After getting lost for a while we eventually made it to the pier and met our ferry driver and our scuba instructor. The ride over was beautiful and as the sun was setting over the water we approached a group of islands and docked into Koh Rong Island, our new home for the next two weeks. This was the most beautiful place I have ever seen with the happiest people in the world. The locals live in wooden, one room bungalows with almost next to nothing. No running water, limited electricity and clothing and no trash or recycle facilities. For as beautiful as the island and the village were, there was trash everywhere, literally everywhere. The main problem is that the locals did not seem to mind at all. All they had was an incinerator for all of their trash but no one there cared to actually use it until we arrived. All of the water they needed for cleaning themselves and their clothes and utilities was gathered from the rooftops.
To make this experience even better, I looked up. Out in the middle of the Gulf on a tropical island there is next to no light pollution, thus illuminating every single star in the sky. On top of the most amazing starlit sky I have every seen, the Milky Way was clearly visible across the entire sky and planets were clearly visible. Floating in the glowing water staring up at the galaxy, planets and thousands of stars I look up to spot shooting stars flying across the Milky Way. This was the most amazing life experience! Glowing water, the Milky Way, engulfed in stars and planets and now add multiple shooting stars, I was in paradise.
As far as it living goes on the island, it was an eye opening experience. We stayed in a three bedroom, wooden bungalow that only really protected us from the rain. With the doors open all the time, and only shutters on the windows and a tin roof, we quickly became associated with living with a various amount of creatures. Geckos from two inches long to a foot long lined the walls of the bungalow, giant millipedes crawled around at their leisure and a family of bats hung from the ceiling of my room. You quickly got used to living surrounded by bugs, dogs, cats and chickens.
One of the more excited experiences was being able to sit in on adult and children’s English classes. We had the opportunity to teach the students in the village some important English words in order for them to trade with the western influence. The Khmer people were so happy to learn English because it is becoming a necessity for them as more and more tourists’ visit and fish on the surrounding islands. The children on the island were so amazing. They were more than willing to try and help us out with our work on the mainland or hop in our carriage full of sandbags just to snag a ride down a hill. The majority did not wear shoes around the island and the younger children always preferred not to wear pants or in fact anything at all. I don’t blame them for it was about 100 degree everyday with humidity that makes Cleveland sound appealing. We quickly adapted and after about the third day, we did not wear shoes except to do our work in.
On the mainland, we helped build a water reservoir for the village to collect water and established an effective piping system to pump the water down a hill to the village and into wells. We also, took out and began to replace bathroom doors on the two-room schoolhouse. We picked up rubbish all around the village and built and cemented a wall around the playground outside of the schoolhouse.
As far was the weather goes, it was hot! However, I would take it more than any day in Cleveland. It was a tropical paradise, filled with palm trees, fresh coconuts, fresh fish, and the whitest beaches I have ever seen. It was the end of the dry season and the beginning of the rainy season when I was there. We did not get any rainfall for the first five or six days of the trip, so our water supply was low. We were limited to two pails full of larvae infested water to shower with; at the end of the day and when it eventually ran out, we just didn’t shower. All a part of the experience! It was a relief when the rainfall did come and filled up all of the tubs from the rooftops, however the rain did not want to stop for the last few days of the trip. It was crazy to experience the heat of the dry season and the rain of the monsoons. Even got to see a water cyclone out over the gulf!
On the beach there was a strip of small bars and restaurants that had daily room rentals above them. We spent the entire afternoon hopping around these bars and meeting people from all over the world. We came along one place call “The Shotgun Bar” where a German guy who welcomed us in off the beach to “shotgun a brew.” Here they had a giant chalkboard full of people who have came to this bar from all over the world to “shotgun” a can of beer. When we got there The United States was fourth on the list with 993 people on the board and when all of our group did one we made it two 999. I had the pleasure of shot gunning another brew and writing in the 1000 mark on the board.
When we finally returned to Phnom Penn we had a few hours out before our flights left the next day. We ate dinner at a Chinese restaurant and then hit the city to explore the night market. This was a market right on a river when live performances and shops everywhere. With one more ten-dollar hour long Thai massage and a few drinks, the trip was coming to an end.
This was definitely a life changing experience and something I will remember for the rest of my life. I was able to see how people on a tropical island live and was able to become part of their lives for a short time. The opportunity to give back by helping people provide for their village by preserving the fishing waters and building a water reservoir was such a great feeling. The Cambodia Islands are so beautiful and filled with the greatest and happiest people on earth. I can truly recommend an experience through Reach Out Volunteers to anyone who wants to contribute change , as well as see the world.
I had the opportunity to pick up and use some Chinese and Khmer and had the time of my life on the other side of the world. I had the chance to eat some extraordinary foods and live the island life. This was an amazing experience and I am glad the first time I had the chance to travel was across the world to an island paradise and all for a great cause!