Spiralling Down the Rabbit Hole


I cross the border from Thailand into Cambodia, and after a sleeper bus shared with Canadians popping Valiums as if they were jelly beans, I am on a speed boat headed to the island of Koh Rong.

Ominous Skies over Koh Rong via Flickr

I cross the border from Thailand into Cambodia, and after a sleeper bus shared with Canadians popping Valiums as if they were jelly beans, I am on a speed boat headed to the island of Koh Rong.

The boat docks. All the passengers are herded to X bungalows, where we are shortly briefed on a few fun facts about Koh Rong, like the presence of snakes, and the hours at which the generators stop running, cutting electricity on the island. Then I hunt for a room. I go cheap, a tad too cheap, so I spend my first night sleeping in a shack overlooking the garbage dump. The bed sheets stink of someone else’s tropical sweat.

I wake up the next day, change room, and start getting my bearings. I find out that Bar X. is a drug bar, where you can get your choice of psychotropic substances, and that most businesses on the island hire backpackers as staff in exchange for food, board and free booze. Some even throw in a space cookie and a bag of weed every quarter.

Koh Rong is street drugs paradise, and as soon as the sun starts setting, dilated pupils take over.

Koh Rong at Night via Flickr

I stroll down the beach and some people trying to chew on their own faces invite me to sit at their table. We attempt conversation, but I am sober and I am throwing off their vibe. They all shutdown and repeat incessantly that they are high on MDMA. I take my leave and move on.

I drink a few cocktails to get with it and speak to the western bartender. He helps me figure out the place while taking care of his munchies, wolfing a bar of chocolate. His teeth are brown, his head shaved on the sides, perky, short dreadlocks growing on the top.

“On this island, you are either high, drunk, sleeping, fucking or on your way to do one of those things…I love chocolate, I love cheese too. I love to take bites from a cheese block and put it back in the fridge, my mum always gets mad at me when I do that at home…”

The group that invited me to sit at the table is now inside a Cambodian owned minimarket, they are touching the fabric of some t-shirts. I walk in and greet them, but they do not recognise me.

“We should all buy presents for each other and wear them now!”

“You are a genius C. I love you!”

I get out of the mini market with a shoulder of whisky and I swig avidly from it, trying to get in tune with all the madness around me. I stop at a bonfire and stare at the jugglers. In the audience, there is a cute French girl and we start talking, she is a tattoo artist and the dude spinning his balls on fire is her boyfriend. I tell her that I have been travelling for over a year and that I am a little tired. I tell her that I thought I could stop on the remote island for a month and chill while working in one of the bars for food and board.

“My boyfriend leased a bar on the island three years ago from some locals, but I live in Sihanoukville, on the mainland. Here it would be impossible to get sterile needles and there is no pharmacy. In Koh Rong is also impossible to chill, you need to go to Sihanoukville for that, on this island it is impossible not to get lost.”

I move on and get to a club. I order a beer from a bare-chested Cambodian bartender that is wearing a thick chain and a padlock around his neck. A white ray ban frame with no lenses hangs on his nose, completing the ensemble. Before serving me, he shuffles behind the bar to a song I hate

“One dollar.”

I get to the floor and dance with a Finnish girl for a while, she is attractive, but the void in her eyes is quite depressing. We get off the dance floor to talk, and she tells me that back in Finland she used to date an Albanian Muslim. He used to beat her out of jealousy. She broke free and went travelling.

“I am disappointed. Here in Koh Rong, nobody buys me drinks. In Finland, when I go out, I never have to buy my own drinks, but it is ok, here it is so cheap…”

I do not buy her a drink and leave her to the pack of wolves circling her as she dances.

I climb a hundred steps to bar Y and I am treated to a view of the whole bay. I order another beer

“One dollar.”

I drink it and stumble down the steps again. On a small terrace, there is a Swedish guy snorting Ketamine with a Polish girl. We were on the same speedboat so he recognises me and invites me to join. We talk for a while until he stands up. The horse tranquilizer claimed his limbs, so he crawls down the steps like a ketamine spider, disappearing into the darkness.

I meet the Finnish girl again, we sit down on the beach and talk some more. I try to kiss her, but she points at two men standing a few meters behind us.

“I cannot kiss you, it would be awkward. You see those guys? I kissed them both and now they are following me. They are off their heads on drugs. Also, you are too nice, I am into bad boys.”

I decide to go for a stroll down the white sand beach to get away from all the madness. I walk as far as possible and I find a small group of people laughing, I join them and introduce myself.

“Those space cookies from Bar X are fucking powerful man, they just kicked in and we are all losing our shit. Eat only half if you buy one.”

We are loud. They cannot control their laughter while shouting bullshit at each other. We go for a night swim.

A Cambodian night watchman emerges from the darkness. We are inside a resort, keeping the guests awake. He shouts

“You are no good to me if you stay here! You loud! Go away!”

We gather our things while the man keeps on shouting at us. He is aggressive. From behind the tree line, two more Cambodians emerge, their faces covered by a balaclava. They have teasers and they are making them crackle. In the night, we can see the blue sparks. One of them is holding a machete, reminding us that Cambodia was a conflict zone until the early nineties and that most people past their thirties have witnessed a genocide.

We leave in a hurry, apologise, and go our separate ways.

I am hungry so I stop at a dive bar that has a grill right outside of it. I order a cheese toast and speak with the American at the grill as he shows me his prison tattoos.

“I have been to a few different jails in the States, now that I have moved over here, life is pretty good, but flipping toasties for a year and a half is soul draining. Up until a few months ago, if you looked on the Interpol website you could still find my picture on it.”

I finally make it to my bed. I sleep.

The morning after I meet the Swedish ketamine spider at the bar, I ask him if he has plans for the day, surprised to see him in top shape.

“For the next couple of days I am going to take it easy and meditate, I have two very powerful tabs of LSD and I want to go to the other side of the island and try to experience Ego Death.”

In the meanwhile, I spot two Cambodian kids playing with the waves, they are smiling and they feel comfortable with the sea, like true islanders.

I think about how their families must feel about the constant western fuck fest raping their island. How much more of this nonsense they are willing to take in exchange for a few dollars?

Foreigners own most bars and bungalows on the island, and I doubt that since the arrival of the first raver the quality of their children’s lives has improved.

Kids on Koh Rong via Flickr

Shortly after leaving the island in 2015, I heard about a local gang splitting a backpacker’s head open with a machete on the island of Koh Rong, Cambodia.

The news did not take me by surprise, violence was bound to erupt. While I was there I encountered the worst class of backpackers roaming Southeast Asia. Hell-bent on self-destruction, and never missing a chance to spite local customs, these idiots seemed to forget that in recent history the country was theatre to a bloodbath the shook the world.

Also, I haven’t been back to Koh Rong since 2015. Things might have changed on the island.

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