Dec 11 2012
In short, yes, yes it is. Most backpackers who don’t come to Sihanoukville from Phnom Penh come from Bangkok via Koh Kong. A bus load of them rolled up to the Apex Hotel in downtown Koh Kong just as we were getting into a tuk tuk for a look around. Already weary looking from the ride from Bangkok, they all headed straight to the restaurant. According to our tuk tuk driver, most of them would board the bus again and continue on to Sihanoukville. As I discovered that afternoon and the next day, that’s a bad idea. Hang around for awhile and you can experience a slice of unspoiled Cambodian magic before moving on.
I did exactly what the majority of other backpackers do back in 2007, and regretted my decision as soon as I crossed over the Tatai River, about half an hour’s drive outside of town towards Sihanoukville. As I looked out my window, I had a burning desire to make the driver stop so I could flag down a longtail boat and hitch a ride up river. I didn’t, but the thought stuck and when the opportunity to go to Koh Kong came up recently, I jumped at the chance to made amends.
Whether organised tours were available or not in 2007, I can’t say, but it’s hard to miss all the signs around town advertising them today. Instead of taking them up on their offers, though, we opted to do it on own. Our tuk tuk driver reckoned it was a little late to make the most out of a boat trip that day, so he took us to the other side of the Kah Bpow River and down a dusty dirt road to Koh Yor Beach instead.
Calling itself a “shack” was overstating it a bit, but it didn’t matter; the Crab Shack on Koh Yor Beach was wonderful. Of course, we had to sample the crab, but the fish was the show stopper and the location couldn’t have been better. It was the only establishment of any kind as far as the eye could see and going for a walk on the long, empty beach was the perfect way to while away the time before and after our meal.
We arranged to have our tuk tuk driver pick us up at 10:00 the next morning to take us to the Tatai River, where he would make arrangements for our boat ride. That turned out to be a far better plan than making arrangements at the hotel; we got a better deal and as a bonus, the price included both downstream and upstream cruises.
On the downstream leg of our ride, we were able to see how the other half enjoys their Tatai River experience at the 4 Rivers Floating Lodge. It’s every bit as beautiful as it looks in pictures, but I wasn’t really envious. Of course, if I could afford to, I’d stay there in a heartbeat; but other than having deluxe tents to return to at the end of the day, the guests there were enjoying exactly the same magnificent river and jungle scenery we were enjoying, but at a much higher pricetag.
The upstream leg of the journey was only disappointing because of its brevity. Just as I was starting to feel like a Cardamom Mountains’ explorer, we were faced with an impassable obstacle; the waterfall that was our final destination. While the scramble over the rocks at the river’s edge was slightly challenging, it wasn’t exactly like hacking our way through the jungle and when we saw some guests from the 4 Rivers Lodge splashing around in the rock pool next to the waterfall, my explorer fantasies were dashed for good. It didn’t really matter, though. We had a wonderful time splashing around in the rock pool ourselves and our boat drivers were in no hurry to make us leave.
That night, we decided to lash out and dine at one of Koh Kong’s most upmarket restaurants, Cafe Laurent. Instead of fish and crab, this time we ordered fish and frog legs. The fish that arrived looked and tasted exactly like the fish we’d had the day before at the Crab Shack, but cost twice as much — just more proof that you don’t need a five-star budget to enjoy a five-star experience in Koh Kong.
When we arrived home in Sihanoukville the next day, we were tired — the good kind of tired you feel after having had a little too much sun and memorable experiences.
Remember this next time you’re travelling between Sihanoukville and Bangkok: stay a few days in Koh Kong and you won’t regret not staying there later.
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