Our Big, Fat, Bioluminescent FAIL on Koh Rong

koh rong cambodia sunset

We’ve all seen the stock photo for bioluminescent plankton. You know the one – a tropical beach be-speckled by thousands of tiny, blue, glowing dots. Magical. Like something off of Avatar. It’s on almost everyone’s bucket list as a must-see, and I’ll admit, I pinned said stock photo to my Pinterest board once upon a time thinking “one day…”. Well when I reached the small, Cambodian island of Koh Rong, that “one day” had arrived – and it wasn’t at all like I imagined.

As anyone who knows me knows, I hate paying for something I can just do myself. So when I arrived on the island and saw signs for “boat tours” that take you out to a secluded beach for optimal plankton-viewing, I thought to myself, “Psh, we’ll just walk it”. It can’t be that bad, right? A nice, long beach walk with the wind at our backs and the setting sun on the horizon. That sounds much better than cramming into some boat with total strangers.

So we set out, on foot – our sights set on a secluded spot called “Vietnamese Beach”. Our hopes were quickly dashed when we came across a deep and wide ravine between beaches, connecting the ocean to a large mangrove. With a bag full of electronics and other valuables, we weren’t exactly up for a swim. But, lo! I had read, during my extensive research, that you can find the magical glowing phytoplankton on any beach that has little to no light pollution, and the only structure in sight was a tin roof propped up on 2 logs. No electricity emanating from there.

So, with the sun gone, we waded into the water. We splashed, kicked, swam, flailed, and what did we see? No bioluminescent plankton. Just a whole lot of nothing. So I’m just going to go ahead and call BS on that “any beach is fine” theory.

Feeling defeated, we decided to walk back. Along the way, we tested a few different spots and still – nothing. Where WERE these illusive plankton!?

To add to the misery, we had somehow forgotten our headlamps, and with the mixture of the pitch-blackness, uneven terrain, random unidentifiable garbage and thick jungle that we had to walk through, it made for a semi-treacherous hike on which I stubbed my toe. (Boo-hoo).

To keep myself motivated, I made a promise to myself that I would find the bioluminescent plankton…if it was the last thing I did!

And so, I did the unthinkable. I spent the money on the boat tour, which again, was not at all what I imagined.

I thought they were going to take us to a nice, private beach where we could wade out, splash around and see some pretty lights – all with our feet in the sand where they belong. So, naturally, when our rickety, wooden boat stopped in the middle of the ocean and the driver yelled, “OK, go now”, I thought I was going to pee my pants. You want me to jump out…here? Where the heck are we? How deep is this water? You do know most sharks hunt at night, right? With all of us flailing around like drowning seagulls we’re basically serving ourselves up on a silver platter.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I have a somewhat irrational fear of sharks. And while I swam with reef sharks in Thailand, this was different. In this water, I was blind prey.

But I knew if I wimped out, I would hate myself forever. So I jumped.

Instantly, my fear started to dissolve. My entire body was outlined in shimmering, white flecks. Nothing like the pictures I had seen. Every move I made – kicking my feet, swirling my fingers – resulted in trails of glowing fairy dust. It was like we were making snow angels in the black water. It was indescribably beautiful. Swimming in bioluminescent water was like nothing I had ever experienced before.

Sadly, our attempt at taking pictures of the phenomenon failed miserably, but regardless, I have serious doubt that I will forget that moment and that feeling anytime soon.

No regrets. Especially since I was able to keep all 4 limbs.

Moral of the story: Always do what you are afraid to do. It will make for some unforgettable experiences or, at the very least, a funny story to tell your friends.

Keep wandering, y’all!

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