Yes he was coming again back to the island where Kavita had saved his life. She had sat on the balcony with the badly wounded dog gently pressing her palms onto his broken thighs, soothing the fear and pain and easing the shock from his accident. The day he shat a foot long turd we knew there was hope. But a puppy’s memory is short lived, he growled ungraciously from his territory on the veranda of our hut when Kavita came to say hello. Now running on the beach with Manus, a full cure from when he’d lain prostate on the balcony.
Not really a recce for ICE (Indochine Exploration) more a premature Christmas holiday. We’re hoping to be too busy to get away in December. Whatever we do for ourselves now means we get better at doing it for our guests, starting with the taxi ride to the coast.
Shaken, stirred and thoroughly weary after 9 hours in the car (ICE customers will only have a 3 hour ride from Phnom Penh). The taxi driver’s son deposited us at Koh Chang, a fishing village rotting away in the middle of a swamp of mangroves and mud, where we waited for the boat to Koh-Thmei.
Hell? Rubbish, human waste, a large decomposing eel added to the stink of rotting fish. Long leech like creatures squirmed in the tepid bilge that swilled round the wooden pilings of the pier.
Or Heaven? Above us kites soared over the photogenic village, spying their catch a hundred meters below.
Like a jewel catching a beam of light a turquoise and orange kingfisher flashed by. Pure white egrets contrasted the thick dark green foliage of the mangroves as they poised on the mud ready to pierce their prey.
The stakes changed as we got closer to Koh Thmei, heaven up and hell down. The water cleared and started to bubble with life. The bow wave sent a spray of spume like a moisturizer across our faces while LokLak strained at his leash trying to catch the water. Ahead the dramatic silhouette of Bokor Mountain plunged a thousand metres into the sea then reared up the steep slopes of Phu Quoc, the Vietnamese island to the South. Manus spotted a dolphin, its dorsal fin and black back clearly visible as it surfaced to breath.
There’s a shangri la moment as the boat pulls up to the shore and Kavita and Michael wave from the beach. The engine stopped so I threw LokLak overboard, which he took as a green light to go crazy, spraying sand and woofs as we disembarked.
The sea was calm, the sun shining so we set off the next morning for our first kayaking adventure to the Southern end of Koh Say island a couple of kilometers opposite the resort. I have an unfair advantage in the form of a Feathercraft, which cuts through the waves like an ocean clipper made even more efficient by the rudder that keeps me in a straight line. Dean labored away in the very worthy but much slower inflatable Gumotex, while I watched a pair of sea eagles fishing in the channel between the 2 islands. We paddled parallel to a perfect beach, a crescent of white sand to where we knew of a submarine reef.
The sea had been calm for a few days so the visibility was clear enough to see the seabed even as we floated 6 meters above. Shoals of small fish swam past bulbous lumps of brown coral. I duck-dived to watch a massive hermit crab laboriously dragging his shell / home out of harm’s way. We saw no big fish but there was a lot of life in the myriad of shapes and colors. Back on the beach we opened Kavita’s cool box, slurped cold beer and munched on tomato cookies (AKA fish cakes). A big house had been built behind the beach by some speculative bong thom* securing his rights to the bay, a shrewd move given the stunning view over a thousand meter private beach.
*Bong Thom lit big brother, usually a high-ranking politician
The sea stayed flat so we headed out to sea and back across the channel to Koh Thmei and a South facing beach exposed to the ocean so off limits unless the water was still. Another perfect arc of sand, wilder than before, the vegetation was bent double by the prevailing wind. Dean pottered in the shallows, I paddled to the next headland where a freshwater stream emerged from the forest. Two fishermen cut wood beside their camp, a sheet of tarpaulin across a couple of poles, a boy in underpants posed on a rock.
As the sun sank behind us the horse’s back of Koh Say blackened against a pink and gold sunset, we swung our legs sitting on the pier sipping Pol Roger gazing into the sky while wavelets washed the coarse sand below.
Phu Quoc Island filled the horizon a few kilometers away once I rounded the next promontory from where we had lunch on the rocks. I could see a fishing village and paddled between Vietnamese squid boats illegally moored in the shelter of this Khmer Island. A fierce current ran between a rocky out-crop a few hundred meters out and the shore. Michael had said it was good for snorkeling and the view from my kayak looked promising but the flow was too strong without a pick up boat. So many places to be explored, who knows if they’ll be here the next time we can brave the 10 hour trial to Koh Thmei.
Koh Thmei is the last stop on the ICE South West Cambodia adventure and we think you’ll curse yourself if you don’t add an extension onto the 2 nights we’ve scheduled in our trip.