The next stop in Cambodia with my Mum was Koh Rong Samloem, which is a small island off the coast. Although the country is not known for its beaches, we decided to take a chance, and fortunately it paid off. Koh Rong Samloem, which can be spelled a number of different ways, is a relaxed little white-sand haven. We didn’t wear shoes once in the four days that we were there. All of the ferry companies advertise a 30-minute journey from the ferry terminal at Sihanoukville, but ours took more like 90 minutes and it was a pretty bumpy ride, to say the least. However, once you arrive, everything on the island is just…easy. All of the restaurants and places to stay are lined up along one beach, Saracen Bay, and there are no roads or cars.
On our first day on the island, I was eating a nice Asian curry for lunch on the beach and thinking to myself how lucky I was to be there, when I swallowed a bay leaf and it got jammed in my throat. For those of you who have never had a bay leaf stuck in your throat (I’m going to hazard a guess that that’s probably 99.999% of the population), it is far more uncomfortable than it sounds. There was a case in 1983 when someone had to go under general anaesthetic after swallowing a bay leaf. Just saying. It took a painful 24 hours and about ten cans of soda water (apparently fizzy drinks help) for it to become dislodged. Who knew bay leaves could be so hazardous? However, things improved from there and we spent rest of our time on Koh Rong Samloem reading, eating and swimming in the sea. Ideal.
Eventually, managing to drag ourselves away from the island paradise, we visited Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s lively capital. We visited the country’s most famous killing field, Choeung Ek, and did the audio guide tour. Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge soldiers were responsible for the deaths of an estimated three million Cambodian people from 1975-1979 and Choeung Ek highlights just how horrifically people were treated during this time. For example, to save money on bullets, the soldiers would bludgeon or hack people to death. At one of the sites, known as the Killing Tree, babies were smashed against the trunk. It is horrendous to think that this didn’t happen that long ago. The whole experience was harrowing, but important in helping understand what the people of the country have been through.
We spent our last night in Cambodia at Le Moon Rooftop Bar, overlooking the Mekong River. We missed the sunset, but it had great night city views and was the perfect way to end an incredible two weeks. It was so lovely to have spent it with my Mum, particularly as we both have a similarly relaxed approach to travelling. What really stood out for me about Cambodia was how friendly, respectful and warm the Cambodian people are, despite the country’s recent anguished history. I’d love to return to Cambodia in the future, to both explore new places and to revisit temples of Siem Reap.