Diving off Koh Koun

What are you looking at?

What are you looking at?

We didn’t get a chance to grab breakfast as Simon was already waiting for us when we rose at 8:00. We hopped onto the awaiting tuk-tuk and sped off towards the dock on the far side of town.

Well, when I say “sped” I mean “crawled”. Simon reckoned he’d got the only slow driver in all of Sihanoukville. The 15-minute journey took us close to 25, but we munched oranges and waved at schoolchildren as we ambled past them. Or they ambled past us.

The dock’s in a much poorer part of town than where we’re staying. All of the houses are wooden, the streets dirty, the people… smiling, happy and busy with life. The streets here pretty much sum up what I love about areas like this in Asia. People are happier with what they have than many westerners who have consumer goods flowing out of their ears.

At the dock, we hopped on board the Aqua Age and set off on the two-hour journey to Koh Rung Samleom where Simon now lives. The journey wasn’t too bad as the sea was calm and the boat not too fast. We had some breakfast (more fresh fruit, a cuppa and – for Claire – some fresh boiled eggs) then settled down on the roof to catch up on sleep. I don’t think I slept as such, just dozed on and off as I was too tired to read. The sun wasn’t too strong so I don’t think I managed to add to my existing sunburn.

I'm outta here...

I'm outta here...

The only real thing of note we passed on the way was a small island crowded with what looked like Thai buildings. It (and two other as yet undeveloped islands nearby) have been bought by Russians and are used as “holiday homes”. At $800 per night. At the cheap up. The top rooms are $3000. Bear in mind there are no beaches or anything on these islands and you have to wonder why anyone would pay those sums to stay in a country known for being cheap. Can anyone say “money laundering“?

We pulled into the crystal clear waters of the jetty at the other end of our journey. The rickety wooden walkway took us onto the beach where children were being washed by a water pump. A short walk away was the House That Simon (and Martin) Built. One of the locals (imaginatively christened “One-Hand” by Simon – I’ll let you guess why) gave us a hand… erm… helped us with the stuff we had to carry. At the house we were introduced to “Cook” who… look, you can guess.

It’s an impressive building. The open forecourt is destined to be a restaurant but currently just houses a few hammocks and a basic chair/table setup. There’s a bar built, but which doesn’t have any beer at it as yet. Instead, the air compressor is situated there until they find a better home for it. The dive kit is stored in the outdoor loo as it’s the only lockable structure they currently have! Nice loo, though. Western style but with a manual flush (i.e. you throw a pan of water down it).

We were also introduced to the two kittens – Tiger and TigerTwo. Neither had realised that Tiger was a boy cat… they thought they’d inherited two sisters. Both are cute as buttons, though, and really well behaved.

Blue and yellow

Blue and yellow

Martin was to be my guide for the day. He’s from Holland, but has been here for several weeks on his second visit. He’s helped Simon build the bungalows they rent out and the restaurant we were stood in. I’d not be able to help. As they have no working freezer or fridge, they can’t keep food fresh for long so they have to eat what’s local – which means fish five nights out of seven. Ick.

Talking of fish, time to go and see some. As ever, excuse my naff descriptions as I still need to learn how to identify more species. Both dives were to be off the coast of the nearby Koh Koun island. Much smaller than the main one and completely uninhabited. We swam out, fully kitted, to the boat and climbed aboard then set out for the first dive site. This was to be a drift dive – as it happened with a nice slow current.

There were plenty of fish on this dive, including a large group of oversized zebra-patterned angel fish. Very thin, but about the size of your head and not at all shy. We encountered around a dozen of them shortly after entering the water and despite traveling some distance in the hour we were under, still had one hovering near us until the point when we surfaced.

Martin pointed out many nudibranches and interesting coral formations as we drifted along. After an hour, we surfaced as we had to fit in lunch and a second dive before heading back to the mainland before dark. I’d taken my new underwater housing down with me (sans camera) and I’m glad to say it didn’t leak at all.

A view of the island

A view of the island

Lunch was a healthy pork and stir-fried veg (and fish for those who wanted it). The cats happily accepted anything they were offered, including rice. Claire staggered up to the house overjoyed at having dived for the first time. She didn’t think she’d be able to manage it, but it seems that Simon can be rather persuasive. She only went down to about 3m, but was more than happy with this achievement.

We left them to go on to our second dive, this one at a shallower depth within a bay to look at smaller things. Again, a short ride out and into the water. The visibility here wasn’t so good, but this wasn’t an issue as we were looking for small things fairly close up. With Martin’s help, I managed to spot a few more nudibranches (nothing to top the beautiful near-white one we’d seen in the morning though – a shame I didn’t have the camera then), some sea-horses, a crab, some huge starfish and the best of the lot… a small octopus hiding inside a discarded shell.

It took all the strength in Martin’s hands to prise the shell open so I could take some photos of the octopus. Eventually, it gave up, released the shell and jetted off leaving three “clouds” of ink in its wake. I was expecting the ink to be… well… inky. The image you get when someone describes it is of pen ink forming a cloud. It’s not. It’s stringy and clumpy. Regardless, I was very lucky to be pressing the shutter just as the octopus began its run for freedom and caught it just as it “inflated” its head. The picture should be around here somewhere.

I hasten to add that we didn’t damage anything down there. We found some beautiful smooth shells – which were placed back where we found them. Anything we lifted so we could see around or under it was replaced. And the octopus will find another shell, I’m sure.

After the hour mark, we again surfaced and our captain picked us up. Enough time for a quick kit wash at the house, and back on the boat for our journey home. Martin accompanied us – his first trip to the mainland for over a week. He had to run back to get shoes as he forgot he’d need them!

Look at those colours

Look at those colours

I got some cracking shots of the sunset and we tuk-tuk’d back to the guest house for shortly before 19:00. I ran round to Scuba Nation to cancel my dives for tomorrow (and lost my deposit – hey-ho), had a shower and then we tootled off for dinner. Diving does give me an appetite and we decided to go for Monkey Republic again. After their promising show with the excellent breakfast, we reckoned their dinners would be OK. We weren’t wrong.

I had to finish Claire’s enormous chicken burger on top of my chicken strips and chips. And banana and chocolate shake. We each spent a paltry $5 including drinks on some ace grub. Two meals each, two full stomachs and two sets of taste buds saying “go to Monkey Republic if you’re in Sihanoukville and want superb food at a fantastic price”.

After some internet checkage, we went back to Thida’s where I checked on bus times. Think I’ll go direct to Phnom Penh tomorrow. If I’m really lucky I might make it there in time to get my Burmese visa application in early. Sooner the better. I’ve done Phnom Penh twice before so there’s not a lot there for me to see and do.

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