Island Life | Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia

We woke up the next morning ready for our next destination, Koh Rong Sanloem, the island life. To get from Kampot to Koh Rong Sanloem, there is quite the mixture of transportation modes. We knew we didn’t want to waste a day traveling, and after a small amount of research we knew we wanted a goal of the 11:30 am ferry. In order for that to happen, we had to leave Kampot by local bus at 7am and make the 3 hour journey to a town called Sihanoukville.

Getting There and ATMs

local bus

Ferry times from Sihanoukville to the Cambodian islands, Koh Rong Samloem and Koh Rong are limited, running between 8am and approximately 4 p.m. We didn’t want to count solely on the last ferry at and risking getting stuck in Sihanoukville. (rumor is there might be a later ferry, but in April 2019 the last ferry was at 4pm)

Everything worked out in our favor, though I’m still not sure exactly how we managed. You see, we went from a local bus to ANOTHER bus, then had to walk down a hill/road to arrive at the ferry dock. Why? It’s still a mystery to me, but it all worked out. It did provide us with several opportunities to get to an ATM, which are located along that main road.

THIS IS A MUST, because the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem are cash only with ZERO, NILCH, NADA ATMs located on them. Oh, did I also forget to mention that much of the island of Koh Rong Sanloem is cellular data limited. This means, you’ll be disconnecting from everything for a few days!

While in Phnom Penh, we had decided in advanced to stay at the Mad Monkey hostel on Koh Rong Sanloem. Mad Monkey KRS is located on a private beach only accessible by long boat. They have courtesy pick-up and drop-off at Saracen Beach at select time. They partner with ferry company, Speed Ferry, so those select times are in correlation to Speed Ferry. We managed to take the 11:30 a.m. boat as planned and arrived at Saracen Beach about an hour later. It was a pretty simple ferry ride and the Mad Monkey long boat was waiting for our arrival.

Mad Monkey KRS

Mad Monkey KRS is a large hostel located on a private beach/cove with several options for small to big dorms. There are several options from hillside view dorms, private ensuite beachfront villas, and sea view dorms from 4-12 beds.

We pre-booked our accommodations via the Mad Monkey’s website directly and received a 10% discount. None of us really knew the set up a head of time, so initially booked the 6-bed mixed dorm room. After arriving and noticing the large 12-bed dorms open air, beach front location, we requested to move dorms on our second night.

Each bed comes with their own mosquito net, as bugs are ruthless here (NOTE: BRING BUG SPRAY AND LOTS OF IT). There is a lock box for each bed and plenty of space for luggage. I never felt like I was walking on top of my dorm-mates.

Mad Monkey has a large common-dining-bar area with a beautiful view of the bay. This area is where most of the action happens. There were even bean bags available for some light reading or sun bathing.

MMKRS dock

Mad Monkey is a cashless property, which means keep your money in the room. During my visit in March, they were in the process of making the switch from paper tabs to an electronic tab system. Upon arrival, you will get a bracelet that will be used to track your room cost and purchase food, trips, and beverages. When you check out to leave, you will get a final bill. Again, make sure you bring enough cash to cover all possibilities for the amount of time you stay.

fire dancers

Mad Monkey offers a variety of events and excursions. Several days have nightly themes like “pizza night” with their stone oven. Some nights have shows like fire dancing on the beach. During the day, there is an option for a $10 boating/fishing excursion, which takes you on a 4 hour long boat adventure.

This adventure includes friends, music, drinks, snorkeling, and learning how to fish using the traditional Cambodian method. I HIGHLY recommend adding this to your list because it was such a great time. Even though, I was awful at the fishing part.

Everyday between the hours of 3-6 p.m. is happy hour on the pier. This is a large wooden area in the middle of the bay with a large bar and covered area, a swing and rope swing, plenty of bean bags, and platforms to jump off.

Basically, this hostel has everything you could ask for while enjoying the Island Life. My friends and I participated in basically everything, but because it was service-limited and Wi-Fi free, I rarely had my cell phone. Meaning, I took little to no photos during my 4 days at Mad Monkey. Oops.

(I need to check out my footage from my GoPro since I have no idea what I actually captured)

A Little Something Extra

To me, Island Life means one thing…Scuba Diving. I hadn’t heard much about the diving in Cambodia. I was itching to get back into the water as at this point, it had been close to 8 months since my last dive. I was going crazy not being in the water.

After googling and surfing trip advisor, I settled on a company in Mpai Bay, another bay on Koh Rong Samloem. They did not offer pick up from Mad Monkey, but they did offer it from Saracen Bay. At the time of booking, I did not realize that Mad Monkey partners with a dive shop in Koh Rong which included pick up. Hindsight. I wish I would have used this other company strictly for the convenience.

The company I used for was a decent shop with good equipment and my particular dive master was amazing, but customer service was a bit “eh”. The dives themselves were nothing special and I was told that visibility was always very poor in Cambodia’s waters. I wish I would have known this prior to diving, as I probably would have saved my money. I did see an octopus on the second dive so BONUS, but in the process, I did lose my dive master because of visibility.

Regardless of the poor visibility and “eh” customer service, I still thoroughly enjoyed being back underwater. It always gives me such a peaceful mind and spirit. I still wouldn’t recommend diving in Cambodia (especially after diving the Thai Islands), but if it’s your only opportunity while in S.E. Asia, then go for it!

Four days came and went very quickly and I really wish I could have stayed longer, but it was time to continue on my solo backpacking adventure. I left the boys and many friends on the island and ventured back to Phnom Penh to catch my next flight. Stay tuned to find out where…

A Peck of Peppers | Kampot, Cambodia

After two days of Phnom Penh and a couple good nights out, my friends and I decided to keep moving through Cambodia. We’d talked to several other travelers who recommended visiting the town of Kampot; a quite town along the coast of Cambodia, and it’s exactly where we headed.

We were able to find a bus leaving mid-day arriving into Kampot just past dinner time. We thought it was the perfect timing for a bus, however, like most things in Southeast Asia, it took WAY LONGER than expected.

What we encountered was a completely tore up highway, packed with traffic, and a ridiculously bumpy ride. Reason: a huge freeway (actually a few) is being build throughout Southeast Asia connect China to the coastline. It wasn’t the most fun bus ride but we made it safely to our quiet hostel located in the center of town.

Accomodations

Although Mad Monkey does have a location in Kampot, the guys and I decided to branch out and try another hostel, a non-party but social hostel, called Monkey Republic. This hostel is located pretty centrally and very easy to walk to from the bus depot. The staff was super friendly, breakfast was delicious (extra cost but located onsight), and the cost was reasonable. It was approximately $6-7 USD per night, which is ideal on a backpackers budget.

It should also be noted that one of the hotspots to stay for backpackers is called Arcadia Backpackers Kampot. Located on the outskirts of town along the river, Arcadia offers backpackers more than just accomodation. They have a variety of water activities including a waterslide, blog, tubes, rope swing, and so much more.

We were pretty intrigued by this hostel, but made the ultimate decision to use Kampot as a “chill spot” before the islands. Plus, Arcadia is located quite far from the main city center and would require a tuk-tuk ride to and from the location. It was something we didn’t want to hassle with at that moment.

Tourist Attractions

One of the main “must see” is going to visit a pepper farm. Apparently Kampot is known for its pepper and as someone who had never been to a pepper farm before, I was very intrigued.

Through the help of our hostel, we were able to gather some information about how to visit one of these farms. The front desk told us many of the tuk-tuk drivers have different types of “packages” of touristy places we could visit, with prices varying. We ventured outside to the main road and easily found a tuk-tuk. As a group (we had another hostel mate join us), we decided on a package that included a visit a local lake, a salt field, and the farm.

The first pit-stop was to a salt field, which was nothing but a field. It was dry season so I wasn’t expecting much, but our driver did provide a little explanation of how salt…grew? Was made? (not sure the correct verbiage for salt)

The lake wasn’t anything unique, since at this moment it was dry season, but there were a few small huts surrounded by rice fields that made it quite beautiful. It was quite bumpy to get too, but the route took us through local villages and rice fields. Unfortunately, the downside was the amount of plastic we saw on the ground and in the rivers/water. There were many moments that were hindered by the sight of garbage.

Kampot Pepper Farm

After the lake, we continued to La Plantation, a certified organic Kampot pepper farm located roughly 22km in Kon Sat; a particular area with the perfect temperament and climate for pepper to thrive. I read something to do with the combination of the salt water/salty air, the air, and the amount of rainfall.

When we first arrive to the farm, we were greeted with a beautiful walkway surrounded by plants of different shapes and sizes. This walkway lead us to the main building, where we joined in on a FREE walking tour (with pepper tasting at the end.)

The tour walked us throughout the pepper and spice plants teaching us about the 22 hectares farm. From how the plants are grown, to how they harvest the pepper berries, and finally, about the different types of pepper.

Prior to my visit, I couldn’t tell you anything about pepper. Now, I can tell you that pepper plants grown upwards on wooden poles. The different berries all grown on the same stalk and have to be hand picked and hand sorted, as flavors from the different berries wouldn’t blend well with the others. There are four different pepper berries: green, black, red and white; each with their own tastes and purpose. And there’s a unique difficulty to collecting the white and red pepper berries, which apparently are rare.

Plus, La Plantation is more than just pepper. Their array of plants also include a variety of spices like turmeric and chili and other peppers like long peppers, which are all grown throughout the farm.

One of the perks of visiting this particular farm is the pepper tasting that comes at the end of the walking tour. It provides an insight into the various flavors of each pepper. A chance to taste before deciding to purchase a product. Plus, it’s just fun. I never fully understood that extent of pepper but I have a new found appreciation for pepper thanks to this tour.

The Rest of Kampot

After we returned home from the farm tour, we didn’t really have a plan. Thankfully, when this happens it usually means food is in the near future. There was one place we were told is a good area for food, the river side.

We found a little restaurant located near the river and indulged in local Cambodian cuisine. Afterwards, we walked along the riverside admiring the boats lined up. We were told they offer boat cruises at sunset but we were more interested in just having a beer. That is exactly what happened when we ran into several other hostel mates. It was a pretty tame evening as we were leaving for another location in the morning.

No affiliation with any of the hostels listed.

For more information regarding La Plantation, please visit their website at https://kampotpepper.com

Travel occurred in March 2019

Party in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Following my relaxing day in Siem Reap, my friends, Dean and Edwin, and I decided it was time for a change of scenery. We talked it over and choose our next location, Phnom Penh, which is the capital of Cambodia.

One thing that I love about staying at hostels is how easy it is to make a change of scenery. You simply walk up to the reception desk, ask them about transportation to a location, and they will help you book it. That being said, there are limitations. I’m not totally sure they can book flights, but I know they can help with buses, taxis, and trains.

Mad Monkey Siem Reap did just that for us. We simply asked about buses to Phnom Penh and before we knew it, we were booked on an afternoon bus.

Let’s talk about this bus journey. According to the website, 12go.asia, the drive should only take about 6 hours. Well, welcome to Southeast Asia. Our drive ended up taking about 7-8 hours. It included making EXTRA stops, turning off the A/C and rolling down the windows because our van kept OVER HEATING. In addition, a lady had been car sick the ENTIRE ride and was making very nasty noises. Let’s just say, we couldn’t stop laughing. It was quite entertaining but also extremely gross.

If you thought that was enough entertainment for the ride, it’s not over. When we were less than 3 km away from our final destination, our van COMPLETELY DIED. Seriously, right in the middle of a major round-a-bout. It was just another adventurous component to our journey across Cambodia.

After we exited our van and hailed down a tuk-tuk, we made it Mad Monkey Hostel Phnom Penh. That’s right, we decided to stay at another Mad Monkey hostel.

Mad Monkey Phnom Penh

Mad Monkey Hostels would be what you could call a chain hostel. In fact, their are several hostels, Mad Monkey included, that have locations throughout Southeast Asia. One benefit is that when you stay at these chains, you learned a lot about how the company is ran and the expectations of the hostels. It was a pretty easy decision to make, to be honest. I know what I’m getting whenever I stay at a Mad Monkey Hostel.

Once we arrived at Mad Monkey, we did the normal routine of checking in. Except we couldn’t stop laughing and talking about our bus journey adventure. At the time of check-in, there was another traveler checking in at the same time. He just happened to be in the bus directly behind us when our van completely blocked traffic. The four of us couldn’t stop laughing and talking about our very eventful journey. The party started right here and then, in the lobby of Mad Monkey Phnom Penh.

We headed up to our 12-bed dorm, and immediately upon entering, the three of us just felt at home. We walked into our dorm to our fellow dormmates having a mini-party! Within 5 minutes upon entering, the guy from the lobby, Dean, walked into our room. It was fait. We becaming one giant group of friends almost immediately! It was the absolutely greatest dorm room I have ever stayed in during all of my travels.

For the two nights we stayed in Phnom Penh, we didn’t really do much sightseeing. I had done quite a bit of online research, I didn’t really find many points of interest to me. So, I choose to just veg out for a couple of days.

My routine was pretty simple. During the day, I’d hangout near the pool and talk with hostel friends. At night, I would hangout with my dormmates and go out with the hostel. I can say this. Phnom Penh has a pretty decent party scene. It wasn’t the BEST I’ve been to in the few countries I’ve been to in SEA, but it was still good. I couldn’t even tell you where we went, but it was walking distance from Mad Monkey. It’s always a perk having the hostel close by to where you go out.

The Killing Fields

It’s not like I did NOTHING i. One of the thing Phnom Penh is known for is the genocide center or killing fields.

Before traveling to Cambodia, I could not have told you anything about these fields. I truly didn’t have ANY clue about Cambodia as a whole, except for Angkor Wat. Thankfully, staying in hostels mean you get opportunities to talk with fellow travelers who have traveled to where you are staying. Many of which recommend the killing fields when in Phnom Penh.

Another friend, who I meet in Siem Reap, happened to be overlapping with me in Phnom Penh before we depart in different directions. We both decided to venture to the Choeung Ek Genocide Center together.

Choeung Ek is the location of a former Killing Field, which is one of many sites the Khmer Rouge used to execute over one million people. It is also mass grave of the victims killed during this regime between 1975 and 1979. Four years is what it took for this horror story of over 1 million Cambodians and foreigners killed by this regime.

It was an extremely somber morning listening to the history of the Khmer Rouge and the terror they instilled on Cambodians. It is still extremely hard to put into words, the feeling I felt wandering this sight of nearly 9,000 humans.

This dark moment in Cambodia’s history still haunts them today. It was only 40 years ago that many were in fear of their life. Throughout the country, landmines are still being located and people are still dying from them. My thoughts are that any traveler, who plans to spend time in and around Cambodia, should learn about this block of time in their history and should try to make a trip to Phnom Penh to visit Choeung Ek.

To the Next City

After the morning at the killing field, I met back up with my two guys friends and together, we ventured further south via bus to the city of Kampot. Stay tuned as my Cambodian Adventure continues…

***7 Months Later I realized I barely took ANY photos during my time here. oops***

Things to Do in Siem Reap, Cambodia

After two days of super early mornings and temples, I knew I needed a break. I wasn’t done exploring Angkor Wat (Day 1 /day 2), but I didn’t take a break, the history and temples would have been lost on me.

If you know me, then you know I love being active. Whether it’s playing volleyball, hiking, kayaking, or bicycling, I want to be outside, enjoying nature and sightseeing.

When researching “Things to Do in Siem Reap,” I was looking for something non-temple related. Thanks to the knowledge from a travel facebook group I am in, South East Asia Backpacker Community, I found a bicycle tour. Not just any bicycle tour though. This particular company is the pride and joy of one young man struggling to survive. Through hard work and perseverance, this young man created a business plan and developed “Butterfly Tours.”

Butterfly Tours

In seven years, Butterfly Tours expanded covering three cities in Cambodia and is now jointly owned by more than 10 Cambodian. It is a locally-run company whose primary focus is to support Cambodians and led by Cambodian students. Butterfly Tours is the type of company I try to find and support when I travel. I am a firm believer in “supporting local and small businesses,” and upon further research, I was able to find the perfect tour to fit into my schedule.

I decided on the half-day “Off the Beaten Track” bicycle tour through the back roads of Siem Reap. But don’t stress if bicycling isn’t your thing. They also offer scooter tours and Asura Journey tours (car/van), so you have options.

This particular tour offers both morning and afternoon start times and costs around 27-30 USD. I chose the morning session strictly because it was the dry season (March). Dry season equals sunshine and hot temperatures, and the last thing I wanted to do was spend another afternoon in the heat.

By 7:30 am, I was in the tuk-tuk on my way to the Butterfly Tours office to meet my guide. This tour will run whether or not you are the only person signed up. On the particular day that I booked, I ended up being the only one. Meaning, I got a personalized one-on-one experience through the backroads of Siem Reap.

By 7:45 am, my guide and I were on our bikes, heading to a small village market for some food tasting. One thing I tried was a palm fruit-coconut milk dessert. If you don’t know what palm fruit it, I’ll try to describe it in 3 words: jelly, flavorless, and slimy. Sounds appetizing, huh?

We continued with a short ride to a food cart where we grab a local style of sandwich for breakfast. We took our breakfast-to-go and rode our bikes through rice paddy fields. Well, sort-of rice paddies. I mentioned it was the dry season, so rethe wasn’t much of paddies as there were tumbleweeds and cows. By the way, the sandwich was DELICIOUS, though I still don’t know what I ate HA.

things to do Siem Reap visit a rice paddy

We rode along a dirt road for about 20 minutes before arriving at our next destination, wicker basket weaving. This excursion took place at a family home with several ladies who were working on their front porch and rapidly, I might add; it was difficult to follow. This was probably my favorite experience on this tour. I don’t think I ever paid attention to the extensive details and patience that went into basket weaving. But watching these ladies work was fascinating. They even gave me the chance to try my hand out basket weaving. I was slow, but overall not that bad, if I do say so myself.

things to do Siem Reap visit a rice wine distillery

From basket weaving, we rode another 20 minutes to a family-run rice wine distillery. Here, I learned a lot about how this family makes their wine using large mental boilers, clay pots, and a large cement cistern-style filtration container. Their daughter explained to me, in English, how much rice is needed per batch, how long each batch takes to distill, and how much each jug is worth. She mentioned that nothing gets left behind. The leftover rice is what she uses as feed for the pigs she and her brother raise to sell at the market.

clay pots

The sun was starting to get hot at this point, but the tour wasn’t over yet. After the rice wine distillery, we rode to our last location, a piggy bank factory. Here, I learned about the entire process of piggy bank making; the gathering of the clay, the making of the models, the kiln for baking, and the decorating phase. This factory had a variety of styles of banks, including turtles, pumpkins, and __ to name a few. It was eye-opening at how much time and effort went into each of these piggy banks.

It was closing in on 11:00 am, and the sun was in full effect. I could tell that the ride home from the factory was going to be a toasty one. During the ride home, he made a pitstop at a local sugar cane drink cart, where we both drank the sweet beverage. It was refreshing and satisfying drink. A perfect finale to an amazing morning.

My day didn’t end here. My third installment of my rabies shot vaccination was due. The staff at Onederz Hostel were beyond helpful, and provided me with several possibly locations. You see, at this point, the rabies vaccination was in short supply, so not every clinic had them available. Thankfully, one of the locations had it available for 60 USD and it was a quick and painless experience. The doctor even spoke perfect English.

Asana Old Wooden House Cocktail Class

The remaining portion of my afternoon was uneventful. I spent most of it lounging in the hostel, organizing photos, taking notes/journaling (I’m the worst), and socializing. At about 6 o’clock, I set out to another non-Angkor adventure, a Khmer Cocktail Class at Asana Old Wooden House.

When I travel, I occasionally look for non-active type activities. Upon several google searches (I originally thought maybe a cooking class), I stumbled across this 1.5 hour cocktail class for 15 USD and knew I just had to do it.

I arrive a little early for the class, which allowed me a few minutes to wander the old wooden house and watch my bartender/teacher set up. I was the only one signed up for the class. This gave me another one-on-one personalized experience.

The class started off with a little learning session about the ingredients used for several of the cocktails and a tasting of Sombais’ infused rice spirit. Following the learning session, my bartender slowly walked me through the process of creating three different Khmer style cocktails.

The first cocktail created was the Ginger Mojito, made with white and dark rum, freshly crushed ginger, lime, and fresh mint tea leaves. Tamarind Sauce was the second cocktail on the menu. It was made with white rum, fresh tamarind juice, rice paddy leaves, and kaffir lime leaves. The third cocktail was my choice and I chose a cocktail called Little Sweet. This cocktail is made with gin, wild ginger, sugarcane juice and turmeric, garnished with tamarind root and lime. This activity was worth every dollar and it was so peaceful being alone learning about the Khmer cocktails.

I ended my night with a one hour food massage, MUCH NEEDED, and ice cream rolls. Laura and I had plans for the next morning with one final sunrise Angkor adventure with Morl. Stay tuned to read about how we spent a third day at Angkor.