A lot has changed since the last time I ran my fingers along the keys of my laptop and formed paragraphs consisting of the adventures I was having in South East Asia. I was caught up in feeling like I’d become introverted because of the exhaustion that comes hand in hand with unpacking, repacking, moving to another town/city and getting to know other travellers. That was back in February when I was situated in Laos.
After that I ventured down to Cambodia to meet my bestest human in the world, Spencer, who most of you have become familiar with in my entries. Our original plan was to spend 14 days together – 3 in Siem Reap, 2 in Battambang and 9 on Koh Rong Samloem island – before she’d go back to China and continue teaching after the Chinese New Year. However, as is now incredibly well known, COVID19 spread like wildfire through the country and left Spencer in the dark about when she was able to go back. Each day she was locked to her phone searching for information about government regulations and news from her school about what to do. She wasn’t the only one either, we met several other confused expats staying in Mad Monkey Siem Reap, who were teachers in China, all of them waiting on any bit of news about their pay.
Spencer and I unexpectedly spent 2 months in Cambodia – I ended up working for Mad Monkey Siem Reap for 6 weeks whilst Spencer went to and from Samloem volunteering in a Vegan restaurant called The Chai Tent and coming back to visit me. The 2 months I was travelling and working as a Hostel Rep was unreal, it was like someone has grabbed my depression, put duct tape over its gob, shoved it in the cupboard under the stairs and locked it up. I was completely free of waking up and feeling glum. I was happy. High off of the happiness and beautiful scenery around me (and other things too).
I didn’t start working for Mad Monkey until 2 weeks in but I was dead set on applying for it day 5 of being a guest at the place after many a energetic Every Time We Touch dances and DnB skanks later. Our days as guests were spent lazing around the pool drinking with several other fantastic people we met. I think it was the second day that Spencer and I had signed up for the Tailgate Tour (which i’d later lead myself) where we all piled into the back of a trailer, neck cambodian beer all day and drive around the countryside till the sun goes down. You always find your “group” in hostels after a shared experience together and this was ours. Emma, one of the hostel reps, was sat at one end with her signature blue squared sunnies cuddling the portable speaker, so that it wouldn’t fall off, as the remaining 15 of us keen piss heads lined the sides of the with cans in hand, singing our hearts out to whichever classic was queued. On the tailgate with us was Lukas, a curly haired blue eyed funky fashionista from the U.S; Elisha, a gorgeous sweetheart from the UK; Caroline, a beautiful singer with a crazy fucking heart and her boyfriend Johan; Kaya, a kind hearted soul from Manchester who has done a lot for me and many other beautiful souls.
From then on we became this close knit group of people (with James, a batty northerner, who describes himself as the male GC and Juici a bat shit loveable German soul) who monged out beside the pool with a bev in one hand and a cig in the other dragging ourselves to the bar every hour for free shots. We’d all roll out of our dorm rooms slathered in sun cream and rocking our cutest bikinis to catch up about the night before. Juici, Caroline and I getting to our feet to shake our booties whilst James and Kaya were in a pile on the floor giggling over absolutely nothing. They formed the sweetest friendship founded on alcohol and cheeky substances.
Our third full day in Siem Reap was the day Spencer and I took our arses to Angkor Wat, the landmark that defines Siem Reap, with Lukas and a really kind soul named Vincent. Vincent was perched next to me at the bar as we both munched on our breakfast when he asked me if he could tag along, of course I said yes. I imagine if i’d have said no his piercing blue eyes would’ve stared into my soul and turned me inside out. The four of us met by the pool around 1:20pm in attire that would deem us dignified inside reputable buddhist grounds; I was wearing my funky woodstock flares with a blue long-sleeved shirt; Spencer was wearing her long floral skirt and Lukas… Lukas was wearing QUITE the outfit, a red cartoon number that came as a matching shirt and short set… we looked like a school band that had formed in Year 9 and didn’t quite know what we wanted to be. We booked our tour with the hostel because it did a whistle stop tour of all the best temples. The first temple we visited takes its claim to fame for featuring in Tomb Raider many years ago, and it’s the second temple people are so desperate to see. Not just for the stench of celebrity that lingers as you explore it but for how the trees have grown on top, through, and between the muddy brown bricks that take shape of the temple. Trees quite literally push bricks apart as it seeks refuge in the earth, its branches like tentacles slithering through weeds under the sea.
It was this temple that “LARA CROFT” was born. A spur of the moment act, inspired by “SILLY SALMON” that had me rolling along the dusty floor, jumping through doorways and kart wheeling in the middle of these breathtaking buildings. Finger guns out and all. It became a running gag that anytime someone shouted it I dropped my shit and embraced the role of Lara Croft, making sure that my 1st in theatre played a part to convince other tourists that I really was a Tomb Raider.
The four of us had a blast of a day whizzing around in the tuk tuk (which we lost for a good 45 minutes at the beginning of our adventure) and grabbing a can of Cambodia beer or two between each temple. Vincent and Lukas were angels the whole time, usually Spencer and I would take boss photos of each other before jaw-dropping landscapes but Vincent and Lukas were on it. They whipped out their phones and cameras at every opportunity they could and directed us into positions, making sure our chins were pointed and hands were poised… and we didn’t even ask.
Later that night we got kitted out in legendary red Mad Monkey vests that granted you access to the pub crawl that was designed to get you absolutely ruined. Emma and the bar staff pumped us up with some Cascada, Cotton Eyed Joe and Tour by Macky G accompanied sweetly with a bucket of alcohol. That night was incredible, as the pub crawls almost always were. We stumbled from bar to bar with sweat dripping down our foreheads and shit mix, that Emma strategically pours, slopping down our chins. We danced till our feet hurt on the stage in Yolo bar and wrapped our arms around each others necks smiling without a care in the world. It was that night that another guest said “where are we going next?” enthusiastically to which I replied “I’ve no idea” and then “are you not a rep?” which really blew up my ego. Perhaps it was the insane dancing at the rooftop bar, or the ability to chat to absolutely anyone I was surrounded b, that made it seem as if I was a rep. She planted the idea in my head. The idea that would lead to two of the best months I’ve ever lived through.
A day off from drinking was absolutely necessary for the both of us… and an early night is exactly what we took. That was until about 12:30am when a tall stocky Irishman named Aaron barged open the door chatting some shit about “Ross’ flip flops”. Let me tell you about Ross. He’s another Irish lad who enjoys drinking a shit load of bevs to the point where he sways into walls and stumbles over sand and eventually ends up on the floor, face down being dragged by his arms to the corner of the sandy rooftop bar. He was a state (the following day they dragged him to the temples still steaming and propped him against anything they could see, he got back and belly flopped fully-clothed into the pool). Close behind Aaron was his friend Jack, a smaller lad, who came to realise that Spencer and I were all wrapped up ready for bed. They were clearly horrified by this sight and because they completely abandoned their mission to find Ross’ flip flops and began a new one of trying to convince us to go out. They begged and pleaded for a good 15 minutes before Jack climbed my bunk ladder and asked me if I liked pancakes. I said they were alright and another shock ridden face appeared. “You’d love my pancakes”… is a classic line he uses to chat up and flirt with girls because, as is paraphrased, he has to make up for the height thing. He began scrolling through an album of all these gourmet fucking pancakes lathered in chocolate, maple syrup and other sweet delights. I’ve no idea what he was trying to do but it wasn’t working no matter how hard the graft. He is an absolute sweetheart though. I sat up when Aaron invited me to take a few drags of his “melts you to the ground” vape and was told my dress looked like a curtain his gran has in her house. Cheers pal. Didn’t bother him 20 minutes later when we agreed that he could wear it to pub street on the condition that he doesn’t fuck it up.
He didn’t, thank fuck, but Jack got himself into a bit of bother. He told us the next morning that his vest caught on fire a couple of days before. Bullshit, we thought, Even if it wasn’t it’s probably only a little hole. Nope, his shirt had SEVERAL massive holes in it because he flicked a cig out of the tuk tuk and it came straight back in and set him on fire. What a fucking idiot.
The numbers of our group began to dwindle towards the end of our 6 days, we had been extending every day just to float in this blissful vibe of pure togetherness and it got hella emotional when one of the group had to leave. Everyone was heading down to Koh Rong or Koh Rong Samloem and we were lucky enough to spend a few extra days with Caroline and Johan on the beach playing cards and soaking up the sun – although Caroline was covered up because the poor love had gotten blisters from getting so burnt. We left Emma the day before her birthday, which she was gutted about, but we promised we’d make up for it when we came back a week later.
Our days at M’Pai bay on the north of Koh Rong Samloem were a peaceful retreat from the week before. The sand was as white as the few clouds in the sky and the sea an inviting, crystal clear blue. We were at rest. The bay is incredibly small, walkable in about 3 minutes, buzzing with the laughter of local children attending the school next to our hostel and full of barking doggos and clucking chickens. The beachfront is parallel to the strip of feel good food restaurants like Lost & Found, My Way and The Chai Tent. Our mission was to eat at as many different places as we could but we couldn’t resist visiting The Chai Tent every single day to get our fix of the Chai Chick Sandwich. I shit you not it’s one of the best thick crust seasoned sandwiches I’ve ever eaten… I still dream about it now. Completely vegan too. Even Spencer, a meat-eater, couldn’t fault the lack of meat in what she ordered. The owners, Meg and Bee, are two Australian souls with the most relaxed layback attitude to their island life, so much so that it rubbed off on their 8 month old baby Cora. In all our 7 days there I don’t think we heard her wail once. Her big beautiful blue eyes was enough to convince any traveller to stop by and dine inside, either that or their two Alsatians that would do laps around the beach before coming over for some loving.
Aside from filling our stomach with smoothie bowls and grilled tofu or lazing on the beach to bronze our skin there isn’t much else to do on the island, that is until the sun goes down and stars come out. Signs for bio-luminous plankton boat trips were dotted all around the island and was an activity Spencer hadn’t brought herself to do the previous year. Our desire to keep our islands days peaceful continued by choosing not to socialise or mingle with people on a boozy boat trip instead we took snorkels from the hostel and wandered down to long beach on our lonesome. The two of us were little skeptical about whether we’d be able to see anything because we weren’t going to be in deep waters but we had an open mind and absolutely no swimming attire on either which was liberating. We waded through the water clutching our snorkels as the sand under the water swirled around our toes and as Spencer and I got to about waist depth we both let out an elated “oh my god what the fuck” cry at the same time and stared at each other gobsmacked. I looked back down through the water and began frantically kicking my feet and out of the invisible hundreds of little glowing dots whirled, as if caught in a tornado, around my legs. The further out we swam the clearer it was to see them. On our bellies we swam, with our goggles submerged and snorkel feeding us salty sea air, until we couldn’t touch the sea bed no more. Each stroke with an arm or a leg invites the plankton to ballroom dance gracefully around you. It was just incredible. It was as if our bodies were floating in a galaxy far far away, we were nocturnal mermaids swimming through the stars. The ocean held us above water as we tipped our heads back and lifted our feet, we stared at the twinkling lights above our heads whilst the noise of underwater nothingness filled our ears.
I couldn’t wait to get back to Siem Reap but, this, this was just divine.