Pizza, Puppers, Paradise
Updated: Mar 5, 2019
Koh Rong Samloem is essentially the epitome of paradise. It’s a small, crescent shaped island, a satellite of the larger, marginally more populated Koh Rong. Covered in white sand beaches full of mild, non-testicle-shriveling water, where white and black fish swim playfully at your ankles in the shallows, and the calm, flat water is only disturbed by the occasional ferry. Nearby, colorful reefs teeming with fish and urchins are roused from their slumber by the calamity of kicking flippers. Small lizards scurry by your feet when you walk on the narrow barely cultivated paths in the jungle. At night the bay is awash in a dermal layer of bioluminescent plankton that sparkles upon touch. The beaches remain mostly uncluttered by large resorts, something that is quickly changing due to Chinese investment.
I’m was volunteering at a small ecolodge. A series of treehouses and bungalows focused on reducing its ecological footprint. I slept on a wooden platform with a futon and a mosquito net, shirtless relying on the light breeze brought from the bay as my ceiling fan, which even in the middle of “winter” is completely sufficient. At night my surroundings become a real life “rainforest sounds” tape, as I listen to the distant interactions of monkeys as well as the more concerning unknown rustling and slithering. More than anything, Koh Rong Samloem is a calm, quiet place that lets me lie in a hammock and think about all kinds of stupid bullshit like Crazy Rich Asians (essay incoming).
I took a crowded, 40 minute ferry from the mainland city of Sinhanoukville, a dirty, trash filled, not... great... place. I went to the island somewhat blind due to a slew of unhelpful messages from the hosts. After wandering for 20 or 30 minutes I eventually found the bungalows.
When I arrived I was almost instantly asked,
“Are you the chef?”
To which I answered,
“No, but I have worked in the food industry for a while.”
Which was met with,
“You’re the chef.”
So I guess I’m the chef.
Which was not as simple a task as I would like. Breakfast was a simple enough task with a static menu of crepes with fruit or eggs with bread. Dinner was a little more complex as I had to make the menu, a meat option and a vegetarian option (I’ve never cooked veggie on purpose) for anywhere from 15 to 25 people. The real problem is that for most of my stay there was only 2 burners on the stove, no oven and no spices save salt, pepper and an unknown plastic bottle that looked vaguely of oregano. Ingredient selection was also extremely limited, no milk, no cheese, no butter. It was quite a challenge and it stretched my culinary creativity to its limit.
Luckily I enlisted some creative help, shouts out to my dad and Aunt Sarah. My menus ended up being quite interesting leading to such results as: lentil croquettes, mango pasta and handmade gnocchi in a pork, mustard and beer sauce. It was rewarding even if I ended up banging my head against the wall trying to stew up creativity for dinner.
I lied about not having an oven. There was one around 10 meters away from the kitchen that was effectively just a clay dome with a chimney. This was our attempt at pizza night with one person dedicated to keeping the oven ripping hot because we could only fire one pizza at a time. It ended up being a tedious night, but the flavor of the pizzas was great, hard to beat a wood fired oven. We're all trying our best here.
The resort is pretty much exclusively volunteer run. The rest of the team consisted of initially 3 Belgians and a Maltese dude and later we were joined by 2 French couples which left me in the awkward position of being the only person outside of the small Khmer staff that didn’t speak any French. They all spoke English as well except for one of the Belgian guys, which left the rest with the choice of excluding him or excluding me.
We arrived more or less at the same time to which we were all met with a startling lack of organization. The previous volunteers had just winged it day by day leading to a frantic and stressful environment. It was mind boggling, I can’t imagine what would happen if you got bad or lazy volunteers. As someone who has seen first hand the nature of high turnover environments, I know that it’s only a matter of time before you get some real fuckin’ goons.
The first thing we did was institute sweet, sweet bureaucracy and it began to run like clockwork, I’ll be morbidly curious to know if future volunteers maintain the system. All the volunteers and many of the guests I met there are fantastic and I enjoyed their company immensely. I hope to see many of them traveling around South East Asia in the future, we were like a little family despite my inability to speak French at all.
I also can’t help but mention that the two dogs had little incest puppies and they were so cute. I could say something more poetic, but holy shit, so cute.
While I was there I found my Dad. He was in another coastal town in the west called Koh Kong, attempting to inner-tube into the jungle "Heart of Darkness" style. But his trip was cut short by a motorcycle accident that robbed him of a good chunk of arm and a perfectly good pair of shorts.
I stayed on the island for a little over two weeks, it wasn’t a bad life to live. Days were largely spent swimming, exploring the local areas, petting puppies, telling blagues (the french word for joke, which in my opinion is a far superior word), lounging, writing and planning the next move. A nice getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city, but now it’s a return to the races.