The Secret of Monkey Island

Imagine an island with no infrastructure, no roads, no motorbikes, no electricity grid, no concrete buildings, no stuff and no garbage. Just one sleepy fishing village, a couple of pretty resorts, pristine beaches, fine white sand, clear turquoise water and impenetrable jungle. This is Koh Rong. Only a two hours boat ride from Sihounakville and you find yourself in the paradise island utopia. The island is sometimes dubbed Monkey Island (after the most popular resort there), but it is a made-up name. It is very clean and very undeveloped, just as the nature indented. There are several empty beaches that have absolutely nothing on them. A rare treat in these days of mass tourism. There is not much to do in terms of entertainment, but time flies fast. Days get filled with swimming, spear fishing, jungle hiking, watching sunrise, sunset and moon rise. Moon rise is particularly beautiful – the moment moon rises over the horizon it appears reddish and oversized. My personal adventure for Koh Rong involved swimming to the next island and back. It took me one hour each way and after making it back an unthinkable thing happened: I did not want to go near the sea for the next several days.

The proximity of the island to Sihonoukville leaves its imprint on the contingent of visitors. Namely too many British and too many men. The vibe is very laid-back and relaxed though, apart from one night that involved drunken Brits partying in the next bungalow. This incident and other signs pointed to the fact that I had to leave after three nights on the island. I would have loved to stay longer, but at this point of my travels I tend to follow my instinct.

All is not well in this little utopia, though. The island was sold to private investors several years ago and big plans are destined for the island. Apparently construction of an airport is in the works and a clearing in the jungle is already there. Mass-development will undoubtedly follow. While I was on the island a group of elite soldier troops (equipped machine guns and everything) landed on the island. The official explanation they are there to make sure no illegal logging took place. The less official, but more plausible explanation is to protect the interests of the owners and to keep villagers in check. It all looks like investors want villagers out from the island. On the other hand, considering this is Cambodia, it might be a long time before the change occurs. For example, Snake Island near Sihanoukville was bought by a Russian investor in 2007 and plans for constructing a 300 million dollars resorts were made. Shortly after the deal was sealed, the guy got charged with pedophilia, the deal was off, the whole case was swept under the rug and money was probably pocketed by the government. The whole drama sounds very fishy and makes you think if a guy has got money to buy an island, surely he has got money to bribe the courts in such a corrupted country as Cambodia. This little incident postponed the fate of the island by a couple of years and for the time being there is still nothing on Snake Island (apart from a spectacular bridge). So who knows, Koh Rong might get a similar treatment. Nonetheless it will most certainly eventually succumb to rampant development at some point, so if you want to experience a semi-deserted island with unspoiled nature, the time to visit is NOW.

PS: Neither Le Chuck nor Guybrush Threepwood were spotted on the island.

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