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 going to flatten the island and build a resort. Therefore, it was a must to 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).
Are we there yet??
Once I was in Cambodia and was mapping out my travel plan, Bamboo Island kept nagging my subconscious. No one gives better travel advice than fellow travellers you meet along the way; however, in Bamboo Island’s case this philosophy wasn’t helping. Most people had either not heard of it or had skipped it because they hadn’t heard much about it. I reached the coastal town of Sinhoukville, and from there Koh Russei or Bamboo Island was only a 4$ (Rs. 200) boat ride away. It is easy to buy the ticket at one of the hundreds of travel agencies in Sinhoukville, or just ask your hotel/hostel. I bought a one-way ticket to the island with no other information about it other than the fact that it was about to be flattened by the French.
‘Huts and sea shores’
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–the number is small indeed. 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.
Koh Ruh: The hotel/shack on the other side of Bamboo Island is perhaps as uncomplicated, no-nonsense and beautiful as the beach and island itself. If you hear that booking in Sinhoukville is mandatory then that’s incorrect. Though if you’re the sort who’s more comfortable booking in advance then there is no harm because the prices are the same. The best thing about Koh Ruh is that it caters to all budgets. For 15$ (Rs. 750) you can get a lovely little bungalow right in front of the beach with a tiny balcony and brightly-colored hammocks in each balcony. There are two double beds in each bungalow and up to 4 individuals can be comfortably accommodated.
‘Koh Russei from the boat; Photo Credits- Epidemiks_Flickr’
Travelling solo and on a budget?
For 4$ (Rs. 200) you can get a bed in the dorm bungalow, 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 multitude of unfathomable hues, and most importantly the solitude and calm to lose (or find) yourself in was what made Koh Russei so special. The only place to eat on this beach is the Koh Ruh restaurant, which serves delicious Khmer or Cambodian food amongst other things. Dotry the Amok Curry. 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 rhythmically 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 sand beauty; Photo Credits- Two Roses_Flickr’
Koh Ruh, Koh Russei and all of its gazillion charms as clichéd as it may sound, stole my heart completely. I would recommend it without a doubt to anyone heading to Cambodia. Most people start and finish their Cambodian adventure at the Angkor Wat but do yourself a favor: get off the beaten track and get lost in the timelessness of Bamboo Island.
Rumour Has it:
I did google Bamboo Island to find out whether it’s really going to succumb to the modern standards of luxury but my search didn’t yield any results. Whether it’s really going to be flattened or not, I do not know. Maybe it was a figment of a very overactive and convincing imagination or maybe googling is just not research enough. What I do know is that I made one of my best decisions the day I decided to buy that one-way ticket.
‘By the seaside; Photo Credits- Travelfishery_Flickr’
The official currency of Cambodia is Cambodian rials but US dollars are widely used. You pay mostly in dollars and get your change back in rials.
The trip to Cambodia and Koh Russei is perfect for a budget international holiday.
There are international airports in both Phnom Penh and Siam Reap. The coastal city of Sinhoukville can be reached by bus from both these cities, though Phnom Penh is closer. Bamboo Island is a 40-60 minute boat ride from Sinhoukville.
Written by: Ankita Mahabir
Photo Credits are given in photo captions