A weekly ode to the joys of moaning about your holiday.

"What are you doing here? Nobody comes here!"

Not quite what you hope to hear on a tropical island. It was Cambodia in the year 2010 and though every backpacker knew about Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, the islands off the country's southern coast were something of an unknown quantity.

Like many tourist traps in Southeast Asia at the turn of the decade, the beach town of Sihanoukville was littered with internet cafes, reggae bars and shops dealing in pirated CDs. Some of the latter had started offering a service where you could drop off your iPod and have it returned to you the next day (for an extremely non-legit fee) loaded with new albums of your choosing from a laminated catalogue. It all felt very modern.


Modern in a digital sense but, unlike other quite beguiling Cambodian seaside settlements, such as Kampot and Kep, my friends and I found Sihanoukville in 2010 tough to love.

So when we passed a travel agency showcasing the unspoilt white sand beaches and swanky resorts of the nearby island Koh Rong, we couldn't say no.

Money paid and with blue skies before us, we set forth on an old fishing boat. I was so excited I whipped out the iPod and speakers, crafting a playlist from the albums I'd bought by the roadside.

About an hour in and the seas started getting up. At the 90-minute mark, the iPod was packed away for fear of breaching waves, not to mention the fact we were sometimes at such an angle the speakers were sliding across the deck. The blue skies had given way to dark clouds and we'd gone from tropical relaxation to something reminiscent of the most dire Cook Strait crossings. I started to pray.

As Koh Rong loomed into sight — just a few hundred metres away — the boat was heaving with every building wave. I was both ill and filled with fear.

Closer to the island, word got through to the locals that the seas were too high for us to dock at the jetty. A call was made and a man clad in nothing but his Y-fronts came to meet us on a much smaller boat, successfully lassoing the boats together on about his 10th attempt. With the rope finally catching, a massive wall of water forced Undies Man to jump into the sea between the two boats less than a second before the force of the waves and the tightening of the rope would've crushed him between the opposing port
and starboard.

Emerging from the sea, he pulled himself aboard and proceeded — with the help of our skipper — to throw our bags from one vessel to the other in time with the waves. Next it was our turn to jump and though certain we'd at the very least lose our belongings, thanks to the guidance of Undies Man we finally found our seasick selves ashore and with gear unscathed.

Arriving at a village of not more than 100 souls where dogs almost certainly outnumbered humans, the main attraction appeared to be a septic body of wastewater. There was no stunning beach, no power, no dream-like resort and as we'd soon learn, not much sunshine forecast for the next five or so months.


Yes indeed, we'd hit the start of the monsoon. It wouldn't have mattered if we'd landed on the right Koh Rong, but we were on Koh Rong Samloem. Or as I like to call it, "Koh Wrong". We'd been duped!

Research tells me that in 2019 it doesn't matter which Koh Rong you choose as both now look legitimately amazing, but in 2010, only one was equipped for visitors. Stranded on an island with pounding waves on one side, dogs in the middle and effluent on the other, it's fair to say 'twas not a hoot.

After sharing a hut that was at best "rustic", the three of us left the next day as soon as the seas quietened just enough for it to be deemed vaguely safe. As we waited for our boat, a local asked, essentially, what on earth we were doing there.

"Doing research for my future column!"

• Tim Roxborogh hosts Newstalk ZB's Weekend Collective and blogs at RoxboroghReport.com.