You know that one magical place you always picture? Where the sunshine warms your bones, soft sand crunches beneath your feet and where the smell of freshly caught fish with a side of fresh sweet coconut water beckons. The place where time is but a mere concept and the hammocks are always empty.
Well, I went looking for this idyllic island on my travels through Cambodia…and I found it.
Koh Russei (or Bamboo Island as it’s commonly known) like most things in life, was just meant to be. I was in a speedboat en route to Ao Nang national park in Thailand, where I got talking to an English girl about my age. I was told how a certain Bamboo Island in Cambodia had been bought by the French on a 99-year lease and that they were soon going to flatten the island and build a resort. Therefore, I was informed, I must see it in all its natural splendor and glory before it became Palm Jumeirah II. The conversation stayed in my mind and I made a mental note of googling Bamboo Island (since I was heading to Cambodia anyway).
|A getaway in every sense of the word. Photo Credit: Colin Grubbs|
Are we there yet??
|The Koh Ru Cottages. Photo Credit: MekongMonkey, Flikr|
I was not expecting much, and maybe it was for that reason alone that Bamboo Island had me astounded. Nothing had prepared me for calm and beauty of this magnitude. Most people visit the island as part of a package snorkeling trip and depart the island by mid-afternoon, which leaves behind just the ones staying on the island and that number is very small. After the maddening crowds and full moon parties of Thailand, this was a welcome change. Koh Russei is divided into two parts both connected by a brief 15- minute walk through the forest. One side had two shack style hotels with restaurants, while the other (more beautiful in my opinion) beach has only one hotel: Koh Ruh. For an easily-spooked individual like me, the walk was a little scary but I needn’t have worried because I later learnt that the island is also a military base.
|Walking through the forests in Koh Ru from one beach to another. Photo Credit: Florian Eckert, Flikr|
|Approaching Koh Russei on the snorkelling boat. Photo Credit: Epidemiks, Flikr|
For 4$ you can get a bed in the dorm bungalow in Koh Russei, also with hammocks hanging in the balcony. I tend to give a lot of importance to hammocks; they’re just such an integral part of bumming by the beach. Watching the sun sink slowly behind the mountains, gazing at the sea trying to comprehend the pink, blue and orange of the skies and all the solitude and calm you need to lose (or find) yourself is was what made Koh Russei so special. The only place to eat on the Koh Ruh side of the beach is to eat at their in-house restaurant, which serves delicious Khmer or Cambodian food amongst other things; give the Amok Curry a shot. Keep in mind the helpings here are enormous! The electricity on the island is only between 6 pm to midnight and each hotel on the island has its own generator. At night, the restaurant plays from its eclectic collection of music that blends in perfectly with the surroundings. Once the lights are out at all you’re left with is the moonlight, the stars and the sound of the waves clashing against the midnight-black rocks. What was supposed to be a night on the island ended up becoming more than a week, and I didn’t even realize.
|The blissfully isolated beaches of Koh Russei were straight out of my imagination. Photo Credit: Travelfishery, Flikr|
Update: It appears that Koh Ru has recently closed down but you can still stay on the other side of the island. However, the corporates seem to be winning the battle of Koh Russei because the island has been sold and this idyllic lifestyle is soon going to be extinct. Imagining a big Sharm El Sheikh style resort where I once lay in a lone cottage makes me very sad. Get there as soon as you can, while you have the chance.