Our adventures traveling, relaxing, and sailing in Cambodia have been fantastic, just like the rest of our trip throughout South East Asia. But, every once in a while travel plans can hit a snag, just as they did when we were getting ready to leave the island of Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia. We had our tickets in hand as we approached the crowded dock, ready for our 2 hour ferry back to Sihanoukville. We begin to take stock of the number of people on the dock versus the apparent size of the boat. This, as they say, won’t fit into that. As they cram and cajole people into seats, on decks, and along floorboards, it becomes very apparent that we won’t be getting on this boat. Not if it’s to remain upright and afloat at any rate. As we watch the lady controlling boarding, we begin to wonder when they’ll send another ferry to come pick us up. I suppose a few more hours on the island won’t be the worst thing, right?
Wrong we were. As the gate closed and the gang plank was raised, we were duly informed that the next boat would be tomorrow morning. “I am very sorry for any inconvenience, but the boat is full. You can go back to shore now,” announced the lady to our collectively astonished faces. “So what now?” We wondered. We quickly saw that our inconvenience was dwarfed by a Parisian couple who had a flight booked out of Phnom Penh for the following day, and without this ferry there would be no way they could make it. Adding to the calamity, their flight linked up with connecting flights so there was really no way to reschedule without cancelling their whole chain of travel. Their problem became our problem as we vowed to help them find a way back to the mainland. The lady from the ferry was stone faced in disinterest.
We asked every available fisherman and islander if they had a way to get across. The channel is treacherous and windswept, so it’s not a passage for the faint of heart or the small of boat. Our luck was fading with the light.
“We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Finally a Cambodian gentleman also hoping to get back across managed to contact a friend with a fishing boat that he claimed could take us. The dozen or so of us left behind on the dock looked out across the bay and saw a large vessel that raised our hopes. Unfortunately, that vessel was blocking our sight of the tiny Gilligan’s Island boat that began bobbing up and down in the waves as it made its way toward us.
The boat pulled up and we began to pile on. We say “on” quite explicitly because this was not a boat that you could go in, only on. There was space in the small cabin for the captain and his friend, but the rest of us (all twelve of us) would be cramped up on the deck with our baggage. As we boarded, the boat lurched and swayed. I locked eyes with a fellow traveler at the other end of the boat and we both saw fear of a watery abyss in our future. I said, “This is a terrible idea” which was met with mutters of agreement from those around, yet we still piled on.
As more and more of us got on and waves began to splash up over the bow. We all took a moment to contemplate our futures as we set sail. The boat pitched forward and swayed on the waves, and we all got soaked as the rolling seas breached the bow with regularity. Finally, after one particularly precipitous pitch, a pile of luggage slid from one side of the boat to the other, throwing off our balance and making it clear that this was a journey we should not be attempting. We were still only minutes from shore, with the full channel and high winds for hours ahead of us. “This is a terrible idea,” I reiterated. As I said this, another passenger was quick to express his vociferous agreement, “WE NEED TO TURN AROUND!!” He yelled to the captain, the seas, and the heavens. The captain nodded in agreement and looked relieved at this turn of events. We got the distinct impression he too thought this was a terrible idea, and probably feared losing his boat let alone dealing with the fallout of a dozen drowned travelers. At least he had a life jacket.
Almost as soon as our voice was raised, the captain adjusted course and attempted to catch a larger vessel heading back toward Sihanoukville. Unfortunately, our small craft, heavily laden as it was, could not catch the other ship, so we turned around and headed back to the pier, barely 800 meters away.
Safe and Sound
As we docked and began to unload our belongings, a palpable sigh of relief came over the crowd. I think we all knew deep down that this adventure would have ended in loss of some sort, either baggage or a passenger swept overboard, or a complete capsize of the boat. For now, we were happy to be back on solid ground. However, this still left us with the problem of how to get back. Our French friends appeared despondent.
After a few minutes, we remembered that we had commissioned a boat to take us around from one side of Koh Rong Samloem to the other. We raced to the restaurant to ask if they could contact the boat owner to see what he could offer. Of course, as is the way on small tropical islands, the power was off. We had to wait, and it was now dark.
Eventually the restaurant owner managed to contact a tour boat operator who was willing to take us across for an exorbitant price. The Parisians had little choice, so they said they would pay it and that we were welcome to come along if we wanted a ride back with them. Not feeling right about sticking them with the entire bill for the travel, we rounded up about half of the other passengers from our ill fated escape attempt, and together we split the cost and got home safe and sound.
The trip back was a lot more relaxing and a lot less eventful than it could have been, but sometimes that’s a relief. Not all of life needs to be excitement and adrenaline. Plus, we got to see some bio luminescence streaming out in our boat’s wake. That was pretty cool. And we’re alive, which is even cooler. Live life; love life.
Written By Magda and Brent
Magda is an Oxford Seminars graduate with an honors degree in biological sciences. She loves traveling and has been to nearly twenty countries, with plans to see them all! She spent a year and a half teaching English and Science in Incheon, South Korea, and is looking forward to many more opportunities to teach ESL and travel abroad on the horizon.
Brent has been involved in ESL as a teacher, Oxford Seminars TESOL/TESL/TEFL instructor, and writer for much of the past decade. His teaching exploits have taken him to South Korea, the Czech Republic, and most recently to Taiwan. As both a teacher and avid traveler, he looks forward to every opportunity to explore new cultures, sample new cuisines, and meet new people. There’s no better way to see the world!