It’s 11pm, you’re tired and want to go to bed. You’re sleeping inside a beach bungalow on an island tonight. It’s nice and spacious. There’s a bed, a fan, a hammock and an en-suite bathroom.
But what you don’t know yet, is that you’re going to have company for the night. And it’s not the hot-Aussie from-the-bar kind of company.
As soon as you turn off the lights, an army of oversized ants, furry spiders, diseased mosquitos and a giant gecko start to crawl in through the gaps in the walls, making themselves at home while you sleep.
The mosquito net is the only thing that stands between you and them and there are holes in it.
At midnight, the electric generator powering the whole village cuts off and it’s pitch black.
You can hear them, you can feel them, but you can’t see them.
Sometime around 4am, an unidentified bird/resurrected small dinosaur sits on the roof of your bungalow and makes a noise that makes your skin crawl.
The first thing you do when the sun rises is hope and pray that the giant gecko devoured all the insects and didn’t leave any leftovers.
You run for the bathroom. You’ve been holding in three pints of beer and a bottle of water all night.
Peeing in the middle of the night was never an option. You’d rather wet your bed twice than venture out of the mosquito net and endure the wrath of the furry spider waiting for you on the toilet seat.
You finally make it to the bathroom. No creepy crawlies in sight. Good. You thank the mighty Giant Gecko for doing a stellar job and beg him to stay over another night.
You’re desperate for a shower. You’ve been sweating like an animal, partly because sleeping without a fan was unbearable but mostly because you were scared shitless all night.
You turn on the water. It’s cold. You remember why. There’s no hot water on the island. You tell yourself it’s actually a good thing as it’ll make you shower quicker. The resident furry spider of the en-suite bathroom might not be dead after all.
You get dressed, scraping gecko poo off the clothes you picked off the floor and shut the door of the bungalow.
You turn around, and this is what you see:
Everything you endured last night is now worth it. Because as far as you’re concerned, you’ve just woken up in paradise.
There’s a small fisherman’s village in Koh Rong Samloem, an island off the coast of Cambodia. It’s called M’Pay Bay.
Nights on M’Pay Bay might be quite literally nightmare inducing, but the days – ah the days – are the stuff dreams are made of.
I’d planned on staying on M’Pay Bay for two nights but ended up staying five. Every other traveller I met on the island had a similar story.
Once you set foot on M’Pay Bay, you’ll never want to leave.
Lazy Days On a Lonely Beach
Unlike most beach towns in South East Asia, M’Pay Bay is almost deserted. The place is tiny – there’s a couple guesthouses, a handful of restaurants, one bar and not much else.
There’s a beach with shallow, turquoise water filled with multi-coloured fish and corals. There are dozens of bright fishing boats on the shore heading to the sea, on their way to capture the snapper you’ll be eating for dinner tonight.
In the distance you can see kids from the village jumping off the jetty and waving at you, daring you to come join them.
At midday, you escape the heat and lounge inside an open hut with a 360 degree view on the sea. It’s the perfect place to read a novel, drink beer and chat about how this is the 5th day you’ve done absolutely nothing and how amazing doing absolutely nothing feels.
Later on, you sit on the pier, watching the sun set over the horizon.
When the clock strikes seven, you eat that snapper with steamed rice and fresh green pepper. It tastes delicious. You enjoy a glass of white wine with your meal before making your way to the bar next door for a boozy evening with the handful of other travellers and locals staying on the bay tonight.
M’Pay Bay Is A Stoner’s Paradise
One thing you notice right away when you arrive on M’Pay Bay is the weed. There might not be any rastafarians or hippies in sight, but weed is as common as a pack of cigarettes.
There’s even a sign advertising chocolate and Haribo so you know where to go if you’ve got the munchies.
It turns out that Cambodians have a very relaxed approach towards weed. Apparently, they’ve been using it in cooking for centuries. Or something like that.
I’m told it’s still illegal to smoke it though. But the people of M’Pay Bay are giving zero fucks.
Special Kinds of People Come To M’Pay Bay
I met quite a few fascinating characters on M’Pay Bay. There was the Danish ex-zoo keeper who’s building his guesthouse on the beach. There was the 48-year old British diving instructor who came here eight years ago and never left.
And then there was Bob.
I met Bob at breakfast around 10 am at the beach. He was smoking a big fat spliff and ordering his second glass of wine of the day, reading a book on Angkor Wat through pink-framed glasses.
Bob is a 75-year old retired scientist and world traveller from Australia. He was staying in the bungalow next to ours, smoking spliff after spliff while telling us about the time he meditated on top of a pyramid in 1970 or trekked through West Africa on his own.
The way Bob has lived his life is quite incredible. He told us stories like these everyday before gazing into the distance at sunset with a warm smile on his face and saying ‘today has been a good day’.
This would be a good time to mention that Bob has a travel companion. It’s a small stuffed animal he’s brought everywhere on his travels for the past 25 years. He always thought it was a chicken, until someone recently pointed out that it was in fact a cock.
At the bar one night, Bob told everyone that his previously nameless travel companion has now been baptised ‘Bob’s Cock’.
Of course, hilarity ensues and we only talk about one thing for the next hour: ‘Can I touch Bob’s Cock?’, ‘Bob’s Cock’s been everywhere’, ‘Did you know that Bob’s Cock has only been washed once in 25 years?’.
One thing’s for sure: I’ll definitely never forget Bob (and his cock).
M’Pay Bay is a place like no other. There’s nothing to do, but doing nothing is the best thing you could do for yourself on M’Pay Bay.
I’ve never been much of an ‘island person’ (I am a nutcase, I am aware) until I arrived in M’Pay Bay and fell in love.
There’s something about this place that sucks you in. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the lonely beaches, or the relaxed afternoons spent staring at the sea. Maybe it’s the eccentric people and the long conversations you have about nothing and everything while you watch the sunset from the pier.
All I know is that I want to go back to M’Pay Bay one day. When the time comes, I can only hope that it will welcome me back with open arms, like it has done now.
I might not look forward to the giant geckos, furry spiders or cold showers but I’ll certainly look forward to everything else.
Have you ever been somewhere like M’Pay Bay? Leave a comment below to let me know!
WANT TO GO TO M’PAY BAY? HERE’S SOME TRAVEL INFO:
How long should I stay? Forever. If that’s not possible, stay at least 3-4 nights.
What should I do? Drink beer by the beach. Chat to people. You could go snorkelling or diving or fishing, if that’s your thing. You could also do nothing all day and have the time of your life.
How much money do I need? About $30/£20 per day – everything is a bit more expensive as it needs to be brought on the island but prices are still very reasonable. A beer costs $1.25.
How do I get there? Get a ferry from Sihanoukville. It takes about 45 minutes and costs $20/£13 return.
Any other tips? Bring strong mosquito repellant, a good book & enjoy life.