South East Asia is a region with many small majestic islands. From the many off to beaten track islands around Indonesia or Myanmar to the more popular islands in front of the coasts of Thailand, or more east the paradise ones of the Philippines. As we all can imagine, even if you haven’t had the experience of living on one of them, is that life on this little autonomous places on their own, is completely different from the one we carry on in the cities. Commodities, supplies or even the day by day activities are reduced in these little spaces of heaven. Due to this your imagination will take a big role during your time there. I found there is something magical on the effect that the living on an island did in my head. You suddenly get in contact with the most primitive way of thinking, hand by hand with your pure survival instinct you’ll find any resource that you need to overcome any situation, and no I am not Robinson Crusoe here. I would say it was only 5% of the time I felt that way.
Experiencing The New
Imagine arriving to a complete different continent, to a country with a beautiful but an unusual culture to your eyes, different language and even different way of living. Well, now picture that you only have 200 dollars in your pocket and absolutely no idea what to do. Welcome to my life, I have fun changing in my plans, I am not asking why or when or what to whatever situation I am thrown in to? I have learned to love the drifting on my trips. It made me realise how strong unexpected events can make me. So there I was, on my first day in Phnom Penh Cambodia. Living by the sea is something that I never had the luck to experience before, so my days back in this big city were clearly counted, even though I fell in love with the madness and its culture the minute I got out of the plane into those crazy streets. With the little money that I was carrying with me, it made it clear to me what I was looking for.
With my experience in tourism it made my choices easy, so two days later I made my way to the coasts of the south, to the very well-known province of Sihanoukville. My stress for finding job and money clearly got into my head the first days. At the same time I was looking always for perfection, such as the perfect place to be, it play a huge role against my search and patience. To be fair, finding a job around here is not hard, but I was expecting something more, something crazy, something strange that I’ve never experienced before. Lucky for me I found it in the bar of a dive centre on the island Koh Rong Samloem, the quiet sister of the big and party island of Koh Rong. Three days later after arriving to the coast, I was on a slow but wonderful boat towards the most amazing months of my life. Don’t get confused, not everything was happy moments, but there is something about this way of living that made me found myself again after a year in which I forgot who I was.
Lost with a little bit of anger and mixed thoughts inside of me, I arrived on a sunny morning on this island. The angelic view upon me was simply too much for the simplicity of the human eyes. The clear water underneath the boat enough to see the hundreds of fishes welcoming us, the majestic broken pier at my left, an imposing jungle at my front which went all the way up the hills to the other side covering the complete island. On the beach there were a total of five guest houses with their workers which would become my family for the months. I felt blessed that I was trapped on this beauty. Everyone who lived in a small piece of land with the same people over and over again, knows that the human component is something extremely important. Even more when, as in this case, Wi-Fi or technology are off the table. Koh Rong Samloem has only 300 inhabitants but it is growing quickly. Well lucky for me, not only the guests were the best quality of people I could expect but also the employees won a place in my heart and memories.
Adaptation to this kind of life is an interesting starting point. The first week on an island, especially when you have no contact with the outside world can be taken in different ways according to the different personalities. In my case it was just perfect, just what I have needed for a long time. But there’s always some ugly truths in some appealing moments as this one. Mine was that I was losing my head, and I wasn’t even realising it in between so much happiness. You may wonder why would we call losing our heads if you are smiling so much? Truth to be told, happiness is shared and weather I don’t like it sometimes, I still need to have contact with my mainland roots and values and this is something I realised after the first time I went to continent again for making a visa-run and crashing into civilisation again. For me it became useful from time to time to go back to mainland and bring my head back for at least one day and have contact to all what it was known to my eyes.
The day by day on the island can become a routine from time to time, but a weird routine, one that you like and embrace. My first months on the island, I shared my sleeping nights in between my tent and the hammocks distributed all around the guesthouse I was working for. The days started early in the morning, around 7:00 am, as the sun reached a considerable height to make me want to go for a swim in the ocean and get out of the heat. After the coffee my group splits up with each one doing their own tasks, some kind of a feudal community in which every member has their own assignment. Some went diving, some kayaking, some worked at the bars during the day, some worked at reception and some did hard manual work.
Lucky for me at those times of unsolved troubles in my head, I was part of this last beautiful group. Packed with machetes, shovels and bags, I was cleaning or moving whatever was needed to keep improving the place we were living in. Our houses were actually quiet complete. Lucky for the ones in charge of the hard work as we were, we had access to all kind of tools that we needed to build our own space… And that’s what we did. With a French carpenter friend, we managed to clean an area in the jungle, carried around 60 sandbags and build our own camp. Our space was filled with hammocks, tents, and a fire place and we even managed to build a tree house.. That was the first time I’ve ever build something and clearly something I will call home, and believe me friends, it was the most remarkable thing I’ve ever made.
Something to take into account living on a remote island are the injuries. I was really exposed to them, but to be honest, everyone around there, even if you stay a couple of days has the risk of getting an injury. I don’t mean that if you live anywhere else you don’t, but in this case an island would be a beautiful bitch toward a problem like this, such as pharmacies, doctors and hospitals will become more difficult to reach. It’s good to have for your own stash of first aid products, to avoid any big problems. Bring some necessary elements for taking care of any kind of cuts, such as Betadine, antibiotic creams, band aid and some pain killers which can avoid swollen parts. This will help or buy you time to reach a good pharmacy or hospital.
Activities on the island can be diverse. Snorkeling and diving are the most common activities on Koh Rong Samloem. divers or future divers are fascinated by the sea life around the clear waters of Gulf of Thailand. In my case, not being a certified diver, I had to compose myself with snorkeling through the wonderful beach side places close to where I lived. Jungle and hills trekking is also a routine among island buddies looking to enjoy the sheer beauty of the island. Sea sports such as kayaking on the quiet open seas is also something you must add to your list of things to do, especially during the night where you’ll find yourself floating above the extraordinary phosphorescent plankton of the sea. If you are not an active sports kind of person, well do not worry, generally small islands including Koh Rong Samloem offer yoga or meditations classes to get in touch with their inner selves. Even the most active person in the world will be fine to enjoy themselves into the peacefulness of a yoga class beneath the breath taking sunsets.
One of the most common activities but not the healthiest one, will be drinking. This is not about partying, but there is something magical about sharing moments around the bar with travellers from all over the world. Sharing stories, fantasies and dreams make this activity one of the most difficult ones to skip.
My working day started early in the morning and the mid-afternoon was meant to relax. In between the resting and some occasional nap, I gave my body some rest from the morning work and preparing myself for the night shift at the bar. As I lived in an island, and more important, in Asia, weekdays and weekends were exactly the same. I just had to work every day. But believe me, I got used to it as soon as I started and I learned to love it.
The wonders of being out of the world for some time, inside your own world, make you question the way you see the most common things in our regular lives. Such as how to manage or go through the normal aspects of our society. I personally realised, working every single day, that it wasn’t the job causing my mind fatigue back in my country, but it was the unnecessary charge of wasted hours doing something that never made me truly happy.
I guess the lack of commodities and that strange feeling of “doing it yourself because no one else will do it for you” that an island gives you, was the drive to keep me going day by day with my tasks without any complaint. I was smiling from ear to ear for feeling that I became a pillar in the community I was living in.
Every island around the world is different from each other, but at the same time they share many similarities. Especially the ones based on rustic ways of living. You’ll find them in many sizes, more developed or less developed, quiet or party islands. But the truth is in that piece of water that separates were you are from where you were, lays all what you were meant to believe before you arrived to this completely different adventure. My story of this piece of heaven I found on the coasts of Cambodia, is just a humble opinion based on the most outstanding memories I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I think inc life everyone should switch of and reflect and get out of the world and see it from the outside, were judgments or legacies are no longer part of your view. As a famous phrase say, “sometimes you need to get lost in order to find yourself”.