Number 6: Swimming amongst phytoplankton on the island of Koh Rong
The inspiration for my Cambodia trip in February came from an article I read about the country’s tropical islands, of which I had not even been aware. The author described an island escape where electricity was only available from 6-10pm. I couldn’t think of a more perfect place to detox from the technological world and disconnect from the frenzied pace of modern life.
So, after my group tour ended, I made my way to the island of Koh Rong. That was an experience in itself and as I disembarked off the ferry from Sihanoukville onto the main shore of the island, I was quite shocked to see how quickly the claws of commercialism are making their mark here. I suspect this once unspoilt paradise will eventually become just another cheap tourist party island. I know I cannot begrudge a developing country the opportunity to tap into tourism as a source of revenue but it always makes me feel sad when it leads to nature being destroyed in the process.
Luckily for me, I was not staying on the main shore of Koh Rong but rather on the eastern side. I felt far more comfortable when, after a further 40 minute boat ride, I stepped onto white sand and saw nothing but a handful of wooden bungalows peeking out from amongst palm trees swaying lazily in the breeze.
My accommodation for my three night stay was a tent on the shore of the beach. The same chorus of waves welcomed me when I woke in the morning and provided a soothing lullaby as I drifted off to sleep each night. I switched off from ‘time’ in between and lived a simple life of eat, swim, sleep, repeat. (Do not repeat falling asleep in a hammock and waking up with tiger legs though. It makes for a most unfortunate tan.)
One of the things I was most excited about was the bioluminescent phytoplankton in the area. I’d seen incredible pictures of midnight seas aglow with electric blue water- a direct result of some pretty amazing chemical reactions occurring within these microscopic marine plants.
On my second night on the island, I had my first experience with phytoplankton but it was not quite what I was hoping for. For starters, the water was pitch black as we made our way to the beach for a late night swim, which made me wonder whether the photos I’d seen hadn’t been a bit generous in their adjustment of saturation levels. This was no big deal though, because when we entered the water, the phytoplankton were certainly there- however, I couldn’t really focus on their quiet beauty as I had to convince the somewhat inebriated owner of the bungalows that I was not interested in being anymore than his friend that evening, thank you very much.
I decided to try viewing the phytoplankton again on my last night. Around midnight, I walked the short distance to the beach with high hopes that this time, my experience would be better. The shore was deserted. Perfect. The night air was balmy and the water warm and inviting.
What can I say? This time, the experience was mesmerising! A real magic show produced by some of nature’s tiniest creatures. I was simply transfixed each time I twirled my hands through the water, to see hundreds of tiny sparks of liquid light shooting past my fingertips. I don’t know how long I swam in that water but afterwards, I noticed even my skin was glowing!
It’s safe to say I will never forget the memory of this midnight swim. After all, it’s not every day that the sea becomes a galaxy of fallen stars, allowing you to dance in the light of the universe itself.