Tag Archives: Island

This is how paradise should look like…

Not sure what sort of paradise could wait us on the other side (if any!) but, if it looks anything like this, I truly hope to get a place with a good view!

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Saracen Bay, Koh Rong Samloem

Koh Rong Samloem is a small island, 45 minutes by speed ferry (or 1,5/2 hr with the slower ones) from the coast of Sihanoukville in Cambodia. When we visited Cambodia back in February 2014, we noted that the majority of people in the area were choosing to stay on its sister island Koh Rong, just 4 km away, bigger and with definitely more services, including a more active party scene (I suppose I was already getting old at that time by choosing a much more isolated beach….no regret!). At the beginning of 2014, accommodation on Koh Rong Samloem was pretty scarce to the point that we had been told that you could not board the ferry without a valid room reservation. In the last couple of years though, plenty of new accommodation options have opened making it more reachable to more people but, at the same time, inevitably spoiling it to some degree. Also Internet – which was nonexistent when we visited – seems to have landed too.

Most tourists choose to visit the tiny island as a day trip from the mainland, on the so called party boat: for $25 round trip the boat leaves Sihanoukville harbour around 9.30 AM, arrives at Saracen Bay on Koh Rong Samloem in the late morning, stay for a few hours and then gets everyone back to mainland by 5 PM. When I was staying on Koh Rong Samloem I was just waiting for the party boat to go to be fair since the beach peacefulness was finally restored and only a handful of people remained on the beach 🙂 Bear in mind that there are some other more secluded beaches on the island so if you truly want to get away you can opt for somewhere else, where not even the party boat will reach you 🙂 Lazy Beach or Sunset Beach for example (both offer accommodation and they are both connected through a jungle path to Saracen bay); they are worth a visit but – I have to be fair in this – I still prefer the sand and the water in Saracen Bay.

I still haven’t seen a better beach than this: white powdery sand, crystal shallow warm water, affordable accommodation right on the beach and above all: PEACEFULNESS. We had initially booked only 3 nights but as soon as we got off the ferry it took us less than 5 minutes to understand that we wanted to extend our stay. I am sure there are plenty of stunning beaches all over the world but if you want to sleep right on the beach and you are on a certain budget, unfortunately plenty of them are off limits.

We stayed at the BEACH ISLAND RESORT and for the price you pay it was great value. They have several sleeping options (dormitory, small bungalow, standard bungalow, deluxe bungalow, VIP bungalow) but they do sell out pretty quickly, particularly in peak season. Accommodation started at $12 for a double bed in a dormitory up to $40 for a VIP bungalow. We spent 3 nights in a deluxe bungalow (with private bathroom) at $35/night and 3 nights in a standard bungalow with shared bathroom at $25/night. In both cases you are just a few steps from the beach; on the plus sides, the deluxe bungalow has got a great view, an outside area and private sunbeds.

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Deluxe bungalow, interior
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Deluxe bungalow, bathroom
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This is how busy the beach was!
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Standard bungalow with shared bathroom

As far as the beach goes, I suppose pictures speak better than words in this case but imagine a pristine bay where you could walk for a long while without meeting a single soul except a couple of harmless stray dogs, a couple of water buffalo with their herder and hundreds of tiny crabs digging the sand and creating amazing natural shapes on the shore, which I could spend hours watching. I suppose now with more accommodation options there will also be more people but I am sure it’s still pretty quiet.

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A tiny crab working hard

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Making friends…
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Missing that beach!

The resort has a restaurant, a bar and plenty of outdoor seating and chill out areas that are perfect if you don’t fancy spending all day in the blazing sunshine, including a lovely chill out area with hammocks up in the trees with a good book and gorgeous views over the bay.

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Tough life!

Now, the “less positive” side of the accommodation option that I suppose justify some of the poor reviews that this place gets on TA and Booking.com: management was nonexistent so when guests had any issues or questions it was a struggle, the restaurant area was always quite a mess, never properly cleaned and unfortunately tables were always covered in flies that made the whole eating experience a bit frustrating. To top it all, staff were always busy in doing something else except working. In my opinion, the beauty of the place makes up for absolutely everything so if you are prepared to enjoy the experience for what it is (an unforgettable corner of paradise on earth and I personally don’t need much else to be happy), I would definitely recommend you to stay at the Beach Island Resort. If not, taking into account the new options that have opened in recent years, have a look at Trip Advisor suggestions to find some other good alternatives – the rule is always the same: book in advance. The whole beach is lovely but my favourite spot was the central and southern part, let’s say from Beach Island Resort looking out to the sea to the right (no rocks, just flat shallow sea and amazing white powdery sand) but that would be being very picky….you can’t really find many faults on a beach like this!

Just some advice before boarding the ferry…

  1. Book your accommodation well in advance in order to avoid disappointment.
  2. Bring  DEET with you, not so much for mosquitos but for the infamous sand-flies. We barely saw any (it depends from the season) so it wasn’t an issue but if you are bite-prone, better safe than sorry!
  3. On the island there are no ATMs so bring an adequate amount of cash to survive for a while.
  4. There are a couple of shops but they are of course a bit more expensive than usual since almost everything needs to come from Sihanoukville. If you are on a budget, you always have the option to bring some food and drinks from the mainland.
  5. A small and basic medical kit (which should be in any backpack, as one of my good travel friends taught me from day 1!) is always a good thing on a place like this. I cut my foot badly (and fainted too…always like a bit of drama! 🙂 ) on the bay during a morning walk and I was pleased to have everything available in my bungalow, it saved me (and my boyfriend) time and hassle 🙂

Other than this, bikini, shorts and sarong are all you need…Looks like this chair is waiting for you 🙂

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HAPPY TRAVELS!

 

 

 

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Off to the island without traffic lights.

I am currently in Tuscany, where I thought that by this time of the year the weather would be definitely better than in the UK but – apparently – it’s not! I’ve been here for a week and the first 5 days it rained every day, with no exception. In the last couple of days (after a lot of swearing) weather got a bit better and we have finally be able to see some blue sky and sunshine. Still, while I patiently wait for the weather to settle and get reasonably warmer, I can’t help thinking about sunshine, crystal water and powdery white beaches….!

Can’t go anywhere at the moment (just been back from Sri Lanka and still desperately trying to make my tan last a few days more before going back to greenish) but – if I could – I would probably book now a reasonable flight to one of my favourite island in Europe: Formentera (actually, since the island hasn’t got an airport, you will have to fly to Ibiza first and then take a ferry to reach it).

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The smallest of the Balearic Islands, Formentera is only 20 km long and it’s just 6 km from Ibiza. It is – with no doubt – the best crystal shallow sea I’ve ever seen in Europe and since my first time in 2008 I went back a couple of times (always for maximum 4-5 nights), including one of them on my own. It didn’t use to be particularly expensive (except in July and August) but for a few years prices have unjustifiable sky-rocketed and sometimes you end up paying ridiculous money for a far too overcrowded place, which is a real shame but I suppose everyone wants to enjoy it and word spread pretty quickly. Just to give you an idea of how bad it gets: in summertime Formentera population goes from 11.000 to 35.000. That is: 35.000 people, roughly 12.000 cars and not a single traffic light. But, if you have not been yet, it’s absolutely worth a trip – with a bit of advance planning.

Let’s assume that you are (wisely) planning to visit before or after the peak season. As soon as you get off the ferry from Ibiza, you get the feeling that you’ve arrived in a magical place: the sea breeze, the emerald and blue water and the powdery sand scream just peace and relax. Leave back the real world for a few days.

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In the 1960s Formentera was a worldwide recognized hippie destination (with real hippies back then…) and still is considered more chilled and natural than its big sister Ibiza. Now, in peak season, Formentera is basically Italian’s land and a large number of restaurants and cafes are Italian owned and operated (which basically means that beaches get over populated with men in skimpy slips and speedos that should be forbidden anywhere and women wearing all the same bikini, same hair style and same selfie-ready pose). Nothing wrong with it but I think it has undoubtedly lost a bit of its original soul (and that has been confirmed by people living there for many years). Anyway, the good thing is that Italians generally go on holiday between the second half of June until the second half of September so, if you can avoid this period, you will almost be “safe” (though you will miss a bit of the Italian…charm! :-)) and enjoy the island a lot more. I am Italian, nothing wrong with my compatriots…I just can’t stand large loud groups of Italians on holiday 🙂

I would say that 4-5 nights is an excellent beach break; Formentera is small and in a few days you can visit some amazing beaches and calas (small bays) without getting bored. Here is a list of my favorite ones but there are plenty more to discover on your own:

  • Playa Ses Illetes. I have been an early bird all my life, even on holiday and I still remember driving like a lunatic with my little red Panda 4×4 to enter Ses Illetes Park before 8:30 AM (when the park guardians charge the entrance fee). Not so much for not paying the entrance but to enjoy the beach on my own. Stunning. If you get there early enough you can walk a long way before meeting anyone. From the north end of Ses Illetes, you will see Espalmador, a tiny paradisiac island just off the mainland. You can either walk there during low tide (with precaution) or get on a ferry from La Savina port. No services here, so get plenty of water and food if you plan to spend the day.
  • Cala Saona: breathtaking. In peak season, it gets very busy and, as you will see, it’s not particularly big so get here early and then move onto a wider beach in the afternoon.
  • Playa del Arenal: possibly my favourite beach. Beautiful sandy and flat beach with crystal water.
  • Es Migjorn: perfect for long walks. Some areas are still quite natural and wild and less spoiled than other beaches.

Remember to always check the wind before settling on a beach: since Formentera is such a small island, it literally takes minutes to drive over to a more sheltered side, in case it’s too windy.

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Formentera at its narrowest point.

Some tips if you are planning a trip here:

  • I may sound repetitive but visit out of the peak season (mainly avoid between mid-June and mid-September) to enjoy this island at its best, unless you are prepared to pay top prices for accommodation and car rental, having to fight for a space for your towel.
  • It does get very hot during the day and it can be quite cool and breezy in the evening, so be prepared.
  • Many beaches haven’t got any service (sunbeds, shower, toilets, food…) so pack sun cream, hats, water, food. It’s worth spending a few Euros on a cheap umbrella to protect you from the sun rather than getting burnt, unless of course you’re a Brit and prefer to get burned from day 1! 🙂
  • Book well in advance, particularly accommodation. The island is small and everyone wants to get a good spot at a good price.
  • Rent a small car or even a moped, if you are confident. Leave the big cars for the city; no need to show off with fancy big cars since parking can be an issue and some roads are quite narrow.
  • Ferry from Ibiza to Formentera. There are a few options: the fastest one takes 30 min (around EUR 27 one way), the slowest one (Aquabus) takes around 45 minutes but it is exactly half price plus is not such a bad thing to sail in these waters enjoying the sunshine.
  • Formentera is world renowned for being a top nudist destination. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to wander around with your bits and pieces in the air… but it does mean that there might be a few around you doing it, so… just be prepared! It’s not (always) a bad thing!! 😉
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House with a view near Cala Baster
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Discover the most secluded “calas”
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Sunset