Apart from the pepper farm we had arranged a second workaway. This time we would go to a beautiful tropical island with the name Koh Rong, just off the coast of Sihanoukville. The location was Lonely Beach eco resort with it’s own beach, at the quiet north end of the island. Most tourists and backpackers go to the south end where almost all the hotels are. At the north end there are only three and only Lonely Beach on the west side. Getting there is only possible with their own boat running from Sihanoukville’s Royal Pier.
After four hours on board and talking to the other visitors we were tendered ashore and greeted by one of the owners and the other volunteers. After an introduction to the ins and out of the resort (while sipping on a yummy iced tea) we got the volunteer brief. We got beds in the dormitory behind the restaurant which was simple but had comfy beds and mosquito nets. The staff and volunteer bathrooms were simple but clean enough with bucket showers.
Zoë was assigned service duty in the restaurant with a five hour shift for breakfast, lunch or dinner with two days off after six days work. Matthias was to help with any type of other job around the resort. The good thing with this was that he was free to do them at whatever time suited him (most of the time).We spent the evening getting to know the other volunteers, the place and the owners.
Zoë’s first shift the next day was lunch service from 12 to 5pm while Matthias had to dig out some wooden sunbeds which had been more or less swallowed by the sand over the past few weeks on the beach. We decided to also put our time on the island to good use and catch up on our getting-fit-resolution. The roughly 600m long beach was a very nice running track which we promptly tested on our first morning. It felt good to run barefoot on sand but it was somewhat hard work for our calf muscles. Being all warmed up we followed up with a spartan full body work out which we had not done since we left Japan. Working out in this warm and humid climate got us sweating buckets in no time, which made us enjoy a quick dip in the sea and the bucket shower even more.
Lunch service was always the quietest time in the restaurant and a good opportunity for Zoë to start her waiting career as well as learning the special ways of tab-keeping and ordering plus making milkshakes. Matthias was so keen on digging, that he ended up working some extra hours before enjoying the sun on the beach.
Our working deal included a breakfast (mostly pancakes, fried eggs or omlette), lunch and dinner. The food was the same for all volunteers. We could ask the kitchen team to cook us any main of the menu and we would mostly get it unless they had already started on something else or needed to use something up. If we wanted something else it was half the menu price. Water, tea and coffee were free while other drinks were half price like the meals. The chefs were good and cooked yummy food. There was always plenty and we never had to worry about not getting any.
The next day Zoë had most of the day to herself since she was on dinner service while Matthias dug out the remaining sunbeds. This was great for her since it was a sunny and hot day and great to enjoy and be lazy. This changed dramatically at 5pm. Dinner was busy and the owners, who would normally help out if things got hot, decided to only check every half an hour if things were fine. Zoë was super stressed for over two hours and then had to wait until almost eleven for one of the owners to come and show her how to close the restaurant for the night before she could shower and collapse into bed. Needless to say the next morning was exercise free for her. Instead we had a bit of a discussion with one of the owner couples about how they were not supportive enough to Zoë which created a lot of unnecessary stress. Despite this big let-down she managed her following lunch shift well.
After six days od work it was time for our two days off. For the first of them we had arranged to do a cooking class in the village on the other side of the island. It was a lovely and scenic walk to get there but it was also quite hot. 45 minutes of walking and a short talk later we got to the market just before it started to tip it down. Thankfully the kitchen was inside so we didn’t get too wet. Mr Hun taught us how to make khmer curry and showed us how to make coconut milk from a coconut. He had worked in the kitchen of a 5 star private island resort in the past and was a very good cook. The resulting food was super tasty and he gave it beautifully decorating touch. While eating, we talked about his efforts in promoting ecotourism and building up local homestays as well as educating people about reducing plastic waste.Afterwards we went for a walk around the village and to the local beach which we found to be quite small and full of rubbish so we headed back to Lonely Beach fairly soon.
The highlight of our second day off was our kayak trip to coral island. This is a small private island at the far end of the bay that is great for snorkelling. We had some difficulties getting there because the kayak always wanted to turn left or right but not go in a straight line so it took us quite a bit longer then it should have. The snorkelling definitelly made up for the troubles. We saw a lot of corals, clams and many different fish in the shallow waters. On the way back we managed to stick to the ideal course a lot better and therefore get back faster.
Matthias’ second working week started like the first one ended: in the garden clearing roots and other obstacles from the paths. The next day he was tasked with clearing out a new patch to be converted into a garden. After digging out a few small plants and some roots we decided to go straight in for the biggest task: taking out a roughly 1.7m tall palm tree remnant. Unlike normal trees, coconut palms have a huge ball-shaped network of thousands of small (4-10mm) roots. Taking out the old stump meant digging a trench around it cutting through all the roots. This was hard work having only a spade available. This was hard work and it took Matthias two days (4-5h each) to dig a half circle down to 30-40cm.
Zoë had been freed from restaurant duty by another volunteer and was enjoyed the physical work of digging over and spreading out two heaps of compost in two days. After finishing them she joined Matthias, and together we managed to complete the circle in one day but the tree did not move. We then took to machetes and spades to reduce the root ball and to get to the roots underneath the tree. It took us another day of root cutting before we managed to knock it over. The remining area of roots holding it to the ground was a circle 25cm across. After we got the stump out the hole and filled it we decided that this was a good time to finish and take the last two days off.
We had wanted to extend our stay by another week but the owners had already found some other volunteers to come. We were not unhappy to leave. We had a good time on the island but (social) activities there were limited. Four or five out of seven days we went to the beach early for some workout so became quite fit. We spent most of our free time lying around reading or going swimming or snorkelling. Volunteer work was normally done as individuals rather than teams and even during their free time each seemed to do their own thing. The only common activities were breakfast and dinner as well as drinking and smoking (weed). We still had good times talking to people (volunteers and guests) but we sadly we did not make really good friends. We did our work, but did not really learn anything new from it.
Also even though Lonely Beach is an eco resort, they could do quite a bit more. Everyday they filled three to four big sacks with rubbish including the recycling which then had to go back to Sihanoukville by boat. Most of the food waste ended up on the compost. They wanted to get pigs to take care of some of that, but this seemed to be difficult (even though there was a pig farm on the island). Rainwater from the restaurant (the biggest building) did not get collected for some strange reason. Instead they had to run a pump every other day to pump water from a well up the hill to a reservoir. At least all the power came from solar panels and was stored in big batteries.
The most annoying and upsetting thing were the biting insects. There were many mosquitos around the toilet blocks so you could not go to the loo or brush your teeth without dancing around or getting bitten. This was due to the big water basins in the rooms which were all uncovered and full of water all the time. Questions about why they were not covered were answered with comments on the amount of other open water in the area and that covering the few surfaces would not make any difference. The other area were we had to be on our guard was the beach. Around sunset and sunrise there were mosquitos and tiny sandflies were around most of the day. One of the khmer staff was tasked with raking the beach to prevent the eggs from hatching but with his typical work moral he didn’t do it often enough to stop them. Whenever the sand had been left alone for a few days we could see the holes out of which the new bloodsuckers had emerged during the night. The problem with sandflies was that they were tiny and did not care about insect repellent. Only wind or rain could keep them at bay. This was a real shame because the sunsets were stunning but enjoying them always included fighting insects.
The other great thing to see was blue bioluminescant plankton. When we arrived we were lucky for there was no moon so we could go into the water and experience the show straight after dinner. It was exciting to plunge around in the water and watch them light up. It looked like something straight out of Avatar. They would also sometimes stick to your skin and continue glowing when out of the water. To enjoy this show at its finest, it needs to be as dark as possible. By the time we left it was full moon and so bright at night that we could see colours and could have read a book just by the moonlight. People had to get up in the middle of the night after moonset to be able to see this natural spectacle.
Overall we enjoyed our time on the island but considering that we both enjoy being active and doing things we found it hard to relax for our for entire afternoons just lying around not doing anything. This made us look forward to our next more active stop of hiking in the jungle.