My sole reason for going to Sihanoukville was as a jumping off point for Koh Rong, and after a short but scenic ferry trip, I was dropped at the main beach, Koh Touch. From there it was only a short uphill walk to my bungalow, perched in a serene, jungle-like setting. I grabbed a very ordinary lunch, explored the tiny village that was filled with mostly beachy shops and tour agents, then whiled away some time in the hammock in front of my room. The menacing grey clouds never eventuated into anything, so I threw on my hiking gear and hit the trails.
My aim that afternoon was to trek over to the next beach along, Long Set Beach. I followed the road up and over a short but rocky hill, the type that would twist ankles or send your motorbike flying (somehow the locals managed the terrain; the foreigners that I observed had a lot more difficulty). It was a 4 km hike to Long Set, and at 3.9 km I hit a flooded section of road. I stared at this conundrum for several minutes before a motorbike passed and offered me a lift over. Even with my feet up they got drenched.
In a nutshell, Long Set Beach was quiet. Crazy quiet. There were only a handful of resorts, no shops or tour agents, maybe 10 guests, and nothing to do but swim or sit on the sand. It was much prettier than Koh Touch, but I could see myself getting bored here fairly quickly.
The next day I was all set for a hike through the middle of Koh Rong across to another beach, Sok San, on the west coast. I started out on the same bumpy road as yesterday before veering off on a narrow trail through the forest. At the beginning it was exactly what I wanted: the path was clear, I was surrounded by trees, and I loved being out in nature. That feeling lasted 20 minutes. Somehow, I lost the trail. I don't know if it was hidden underneath the river I jumped over or overgrown by thick shrubs, but it completely disappeared. I attempted bush-bashing in various directions without luck. Defeated, I turned around to head back, only to discover that I had no idea where I had come from. I had gone so far off course that the original trail was nowhere in sight. Panic started to set in as I wondered how long I would be lost in the Koh Rong jungle.
Several tense minutes passed, where multiple attempts resulted in failure. I then remembered I had to get back across the river, so I followed the sound of rushing water, leapt over, and miraculously found a narrow track leading in the right direction. I emerged on the main road scratched, bruised and bleeding. The relief was palpable.
With that plan out the window, I returned to where I had started and followed the coastal path, a much longer and flatter way to my destination. Most of the road was paved, water views were rare for the first 5 km, and there was zero shade on this bright, sunny day. I passed many abandoned houses, guesthouses and resorts, but there was no one around who could offer me a cool drink. It was torturous.
I eventually hit the start of Sok San Beach (also called Long Beach, not to be confused with Long Set Beach of yesterday). It was absolutely incredible. Powdery white sand, the clearest water I have ever seen and almost no development along the coast. It would have been perfect except for the amount of rubbish lining the high tide mark. If I faced the water, I could pretend there wasn’t an endless stream of discarded plastic bottles behind me.
About 1 km later, I found myself out the front of a very upscale resort, which I immediately entered. I walked straight up to the outdoor reception desk and asked if there was anywhere I could buy a beverage. Sure, the woman said, jump in the golf cart. I didn't think that was necessary, but I followed her instructions. The 400 m drive to the restaurant changed my mind, and I greatly appreciated the lift. The giant, ice-cold, fresh coconut went down a treat and reinvigorated me for the rest of the hike.
Continuing along the beach, I could just barely make out Sok San Village in the distance. The sun was burning down and the thought of turning back now was tempting. But it was still early in the day, I had nothing better to do and I was keen to eat lunch soon, so I continued on.
The stunningly beautiful beach ended in the not-so-stunning village of Sok San. It was a quieter, smaller version of Koh Touch, with less tourists and shopkeepers. Supposedly there was a waterfall nearby, but all I could find was a collection of large rocks with a trickle of water flowing between them.
I stopped at a shack of a restaurant over the water and managed to convey that I wanted to order their vegetarian amok, the Cambodian national dish. A lovely old woman cooked me a delicious curry, full of lemongrass, garlic and coconut milk, with a side of rice that could have fed a family of four. It was huge and, along with almost a litre of a fresh fruit shake, kept my stomach distended for the next few hours.
The weather report said there would be thunderstorms around 12 or 1 p.m. I finished lunch at 12.30 p.m. and there was nothing but blue skies above. Secretly, I had hoped the storms would bring shade for the return hike, but I was not in luck. It was brutally hot, and even the sight of the picture-perfect beach could not relieve my exhaustion. By the time I reached my accommodation, I had hiked 26 km and was sure there was not a drop of sweat left in me. I headed straight for the shower, then chilled out in my hammock with a well-earned drink or two.