Paradise in Flames




What time is it? 5:45 am!? The village is never so loud at this hour.

I shuffle around under my mosquito net in the dark, still feeling the effects of last nights khmer whiskey celebration. Suddenly, our door bursts open. “JESSE, ALANAH, GET UP! GET UP! THERE’S A FIRE DOWN THE BEACH!”

I rise up to face Jo, an Australian woman whom has become like a mother to all of us on the island. I immediately disregard any emergency for exaggerated panic, and slowly make my way out of bed, down the hall, and out onto the beach. At first, Alanah and I see nothing at all. A few people scattered around, and a sun starting to peak over the horizon.

I decide to make my way out onto the pier to get a better view of the village. Then, I see it, Frank’s Burgers, a small bamboo and wooden shack bar/burger joint with rooms upstairs tightly nestled between other guesthouses and restaurants has become a towering inferno rising out into the sky.

My mind starts racing, but all that comes out is “Oh, shit.”

Everything on this island is made of wood and dried grass. All of the businesses are right next to each other. The kitchens all use propane tanks, there is boat fuel and many scuba cylinders in the pier. There is barely enough water to drink and shower with here, there definitely isn’t enough to fight this fire. The entire village could go in two hours…


The next ten minutes are a blur of grabbing clothing, phone chargers, and shoving everything into bags and backpacks as quickly as possible. In the background I hear the others banging on the guests doors, BOOM! BOOM! “WAKE UP, WAKE UP!”. By the time I had made my way to the beach, everyone was up, and the locals had already moved the gas cylinders and other important items to the beach. Dave came up next to me with 3 tents, which he told me to guard with my life. “In a few hours, these may become invaluable.” he said.

It’s easy to imagine what you’d do during a fully adrenaline rushed moment of emergency. How you’d spring into action like a super hero, or an actor you admire from a Hollywood movie. In reality, most people just freeze, locked into a state of fear, or self doubt, or more commonly, both.

As we were standing on the beach next to our bags, gleaming at the flames reaching into the sky, no one really knew how to react. The beach around the fire was already full of people. “I’m not trained for this, I’d just get in the way.” I told myself. Just then, Ly, the owner of White Rose Guesthouse came up to address the people standing on the beach. “WHY ARE YOU STANDING THERE!? YOUR THINGS CAN BE REPLACED! IF YOU CARE ABOUT THIS ISLAND, PLEASE HELP!”

He was right, we were standing around like jackasses. I do care about this island! Dave and I abandoned our belongings and made our way down the beach. Locals were on the roof of Coco’s, tearing the entire place apart to stop the fuel source in case the fire made it that far. I started picking up the fallen thatching and boards, and throwing them into a pile on the beach.

The smoke, the heat, was everywhere, sand was flying all over the place, into my eyes, my nose, and my mouth. Dave must have gone to help further down the beach. I was pretty much running on auto pilot now, grabbing, moving, throwing, and occasionally looking up in a semi state of confusion for something else to do. At one point, Dave appeared, and we decided that there were plenty of people taking part in this endeavor at Coco’s so we decided to make our way closer to the fire. Perhaps I could do more to help over there.


At this point, the flames had consumed two more businesses, the blind massage parlor, and “The rising sun, Koh Rong’s best little market. Getting close enough to help with fighting the fire, was impossible. There were people everywhere, kicking sand and pushing ocean water through hoses via centrifugal force pumps. There was nothing we could do more. However, luck was on our side that morning.

First, there was no wind that early in the morning, despite gusty evenings being relatively common. The fire defaulted to drifting in a lefthanded direction. Secondly, all of the businesses on this section of the beach are pretty much connected to each other, except on the lefthand side of Rising Sun, where there is a very large gap before the next business.

This gap ultimately provided what was needed to stop the fire in its tracks, approximately 3 hours after it’s initial spark.

Almost immediately, the quiet, lazy vibe of the island returned as locals and tourists made their way back to their homes and bungalows. Many backpackers lined the pier and crammed themselves onto the first ferry departing the island. Many more, waited on the pier for the next one.

Mr. Run decided to be the only person to open his noodle shack restaurant, an hour before the fire was even out, mind you. It is because of this forward thinking, that he was completely full of customers the entire time.

Upon returning down the beach to White Rose, we carried our belongs, as well as the gas canisters and other valuable Items back into the guesthouse. At this point, we did the only thing left that could be done.

We ate noodle soup, of course.


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Posted in Travel
One comment on “Paradise in Flames
  1. Jess says:

    Wow Jesse, amazing blog! Love it 🙂

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