I felt like we’d been dropped in paradise. I had actually had a very certain, specific image of what the shore of paradise would be like in my head and as the boat pulled up on Bamboo Island that was exactly what I saw.
We’d woken really rather earlier than we might have liked and headed down the dusty street, packed with open shop fronts, in the direction of the beach in Sihanoukville. There are many popular islands within reach of this slightly shabby, very cute seaside town with its own party strip adorning the seafront. In high season the beach here must be crazy at night, packed full of tourists and the yells of bar-reps competing for the free-est shots and the most eventful Beer Pong. But right now it’s relatively peaceful. We spent the previous afternoon cooling off, playing in the water, grabbing barbecued shrimp or squid from the little lady crouched on path, merrily grilling seafood on sticks. Then we headed back down to the seafront in the evening to have dinner on the beach, where we spent much of the evening cowering in fear for our lives, while mostly Chinese tourists handed out fireworks to their children. The fireworks are launched from a stick in your hand, which the tourists flail around with while they take selfies, frequently pointing them right at our table, it was utter chaos. The food by the water was beautiful though – I don’t know where else I’d have had a candlelit mixed fish BBQ on the beach for £4.
Now we were grabbing breakfast from a disgruntled man at a family restaurant who had eggs and toast and was much vexed if you asked about anything else. Then we piled onto a boat and bounced our way away from Sihanoukville beach towards a cluster of islands on the horizon. On our way to our destination we stopped to snorkel; the first time I’d ever tired. By general consensus it wasn’t the best snorkelling ever but I did see plenty of tiny fish, most of which I don’t have a name for, and lots of zebra fish. There were also see urchins, which scared me about as much as an inanimate object ever has, with long black spines protruding ominously upwards towards my legs, of course magnified by my mask and the water and this was the first time I’d seen proper coral too, so I realised it has a mouth! This was a shock.
We chuntered on towards our island destination which has recently been bought by either someone French or ‘ The French’, I couldn’t quite work out which, which means we can no longer hike across the middle of it. The shallow water is the most precise blend of blue and green, the most perfect turquoise I’ve ever seen. It’s very warm too but blissfully cold compared to the now midday sun which is beating down onto the white beach. The sand is soft and virtually empty; at first we’re the only people here and eventually we’re part of a party, still probably less than thirty and mostly local, which occupies the paradise. There are a few deck chairs for rent, to peg out in the uninterruptable sun, a volleyball net and some toilets. And that is all. It’s a near-deserted, peaceful haven of shallow water, soft sand and baking sun. With baking being the operative word – we were, sort of, abandoned here, with not a lot of shade available, until 5pm. It was great fun but we all ended up very red in spite of the continuous sun cream application. The centre of the island is covered in growth though, with some of it spilling onto the beach, dangling its tendrils into the salty surroundings. At lunch some of the locals start to barbeque for us and we are treated to fish, rice, prawns (probably other things too which I have now forgotten) and plenty of fresh fruit; the fruit was one of the best things in all the Asian countries I visited.
We didn’t do very much at all. Perfect. We spent several blissful hours with the sun at its fullest and the sea at its calmest before heading back on the boat. At this stage the sea was not quite at its calmest, drenching most of us completely before we made it back. Our little fishing boat was fine for most people except me and my new travel-buddy Charlotte, who are both prone to bad seasickness; we spent much of the return to Sihanoukville’s shore lying as horizontal as possible, trying to also avoid being drenched.
P.s. if you’re feeling too seasick from your boat trip or you just need a break from rice, I can fully recommend Olive & Olive in Sihanoukville, where we ate that night. It’s great Mediterranean food and the pizzas are large! http://www.sihanoukville-cambodia.com/sihanoukville-businesses/2013/olive-and-olive-restaurant.html