So far, it looks like McKayla has picked another winner here in the middle of nowhere. We’re sitting on a Bungalow/bar/lounge that’s overlooking the ocean.
We unpacked and went down to the secluded beach for a swim and a little look around.We only had two nights booked here at the Monkey Maya but after only a half an hour, we were considering staying longer.
Our dorm was about eight sets of bunkbeds ($6 a night/bed) and is currently only occupied by ourselves and a friendly British girl named Elli who, crazily enough, we had met at the Mad Monkey in Siem Reap. This place reminds me of the movie “The Beach” with less dictatorship, no pot fields and, sadly, no Leo. Okay, the only thing in common is the rotating community of travelers on a secluded beach. Good thing the food and drinks are good because there’s not another place for at least 5 miles and we have no form of transportation. We’re trapped but in a good way.
We’d been hearing a lot about good jungle walks nearby (we are in a national park, after all), sea kayaking in man groves and swimming with shiny plankton, all while being surrounded by the beach and one of the greatest chill spots I’ve ever had the pleasure of resting my ass. A walk on the beach after dinner was probably our biggest accomplishment of our first day there.
On day 2, we did a little of everything. We woke up with a hike. It was nice until we got turned around by the combination of hammering rain and the near miss of a giant spider. This thing is bigger than my hand and McKayla’s face got within 6 inches of its web.
Rain or spider we probably would’ve continued but the two together were enough to turn us around and head for brunch. Brunch was followed by bit of lazing around and judging the sky to see if we wanted to commit to four hours of kayaking. The breeze was steady and the sky had more than a few ominous patches. We pulled the trigger, packed our flashpack and headed for the sea. By the way, our flashback is a small day pack with a water bladder and enough room for essentials. We’ve used it nearly every day of this trip (thank you, Britney, great gift). The sea kayak was the open air variety; pretty much a big piece of plastic with two dips for seats. On the way out, McKayla took the steering seat in the back, as per usual with our canoe routine. I’ll admit she’s a better driver of watercraft. That, and we tend to bicker a whole lot less when I’m in front and she’s steering. We travelled parallel to the beach about a mile before entering a river drainage and going upstream to a forest of mangroves. The mangroves were eerily quiet. Each time we heard the trees rustling, we’d stop, wait and hope for monkeys. We paddled up until the mangroves got really narrow then we floated back out to the ocean. McKayla gave me the back seat on the way back so we could bust ass and beat the storm. No monkeys today.
Above the bar there’s a sign that says ‘beware the shiny plankton’. Turns out, you don’t need to beware, but there are shiny plankton. The darker the night, the brighter they glow and tonight was a very dark night – pitch black (except for the fishing boats in the distance). McKayla has a thing for shiny things, I guess all women do, but her fascination extends to fireflies, glow worms and, now, shiny plankton. Unfortunately we weren’t able to capture a picture of the tiny fluorescent lights against the pitch black water, but believe me when I tell you, it was very cool. Thousands of tiny glowing specks would light up if you moved your hand through the water. It was creepy being in the ocean at night but the glow that these guys put off distracted us from thoughts of creatures lurking in this black sea. We brought our goggles along so we could dive down and see them rise to the surface on our air bubbles. It was a really neat and unique experience. We enjoyed our swim for about 20 minutes or so, then something touched my leg and we were both good to call it a night.
The next two days and nights were fairly similar: good food, relaxing, swimming in the ocean, taking a few jungle walks and enjoying the company of the staff and other guests. One of our walks was to a small traditional Khmer village fairly deep in the jungle. Again, very friendly people greeted us with ‘hello’s’ and ‘bye-bye’s’. Not sure how they live way out here. There were about a dozen small houses on stilts about 4 or 5 miles to the closest town, oh, and they’re in the middle of the jungle.
Our other walk was to a nearby island that has a small bridge out to it and a walkway wrapping around it. We were warned by Ben (the Monkey Maya owner) that there may be some ill-tempered Chinese men at the bridge demanding money to get across. Sure enough, the world’s smallest bridge troll was there to demand 4 dollars from each of us. We hadn’t brought any cash and weren’t planning on paying or putting up a fight, so that little fart can keep his tiny bridge and tiny island. I guess through some shaky, back alley deals, the Chinese are allowed to build and toll roads here in a Cambodia National Park, allegedly. On a brighter side of things, on both our walks we found monkeys swinging in trees.
The night life here has been pretty entertaining. Each night at 5:30, a few things happen: the electricity gets turned on (yes, there’s only electricity here from 530 to midnight) and music gets turned on so, at least, a few of the staff start dancing behind the bar while they get ready to make happy hour drinks from 530 to 630. It’s pretty easy to get into the rhythm of having a cocktail while playing a game of cribbage and watching the sunset, then moving up to the bar to socialize.
The staff, made up of about four Cambodian guys and Ben, would tell jokes, dance, play grab ass and drink super whisky (that wasn’t a misspelling. It is a Cambodian whiskey and on the bottle it’s whisky). The stuff really isn’t that bad.
Most guests kept to themselves but we got to know a guy named Max fairly well. He’s a Brit teaching at a boarding school in Malaysia who thought all the food was ‘lovely’ and who had completed 3 of the 7, with plans to get to the highest points of the other 4 continents. It was pretty entertaining watching him repeatedly lose Chess to San (one of the staff members). In addition to being the chess champ, San is apparently a very good mechanic and an excellant crabber. He was nice enough to share a few of his fresh caught crabs, cooked up with a pepper sauce. It was a nice treat.
There was another staffmember who saw my Packer PJ’s and said through broken English, “from Green Bay Wisconsin.”
“Uh…. yeah, how do you know about….”
“Go Pack Go!”.
There you have it folks – we made it full circle. We found a Cambodian Packer fan. All my pants have on them is the ‘G’ and the word ‘Packers’. Turns out this guy’s friend had lived in Wisconsin and had gotten him into American football.
Lastly, there was Supier, the party animal. He really,really enjoyed his super whisky. He would get hammered, take off his shirt and dance around almost all night. We even got a show from him doing a Ray Charles impression with a fedora, sunglasses, his cigarette tucked below his lower lip and chin, and was using the bar as his keyboard. It was truly inspirational. I almost forgot, Supier somehow managed to have, at most, 10 strands of 3 inch chin hairs (no other facial hair).
Ben, the owner, couldn’t have been a nicer guy. He answered all our questions, told some stories and was just a fun person to be around.
All in all, we had a pretty great time at the Monkey Maya. It’s a pretty magical place where the jungle meets the beach and you can’t help but relax and smile.