Koh Rong: A peaceful place to enjoy beautiful beaches
Koh Rong is an island off the southern coast of Cambodia. Interestingly, there is no history or record of settlement prior to 2000. Now, there are four villages and the tourism industry appears to be growing at an astonishing rate. The allure of island life is difficult to resist, especially considering Koh Rong is only 45 minutes from Sihanoukville by speed ferry.
There is an incredible amount of development occurring and it won’t be long before the island has been irreversibly changed. Comparisons have been drawn between Koh Rong and the ‘Samui’ islands in southern Thailand; only Koh Rong is 15 years behind. At that time, the islands in southern Thailand were only frequented by backpackers travelling off the beaten track. Now, it is a common destination for holidaymakers. I think Koh Rong is starting to make the transition. While there are no roads, no power (generators run to provide power to the island), no ATMs, and a limited number of small guesthouses, it won’t be long before development takes over. As it is, foreigners run majority of the guesthouses and there is an enormous amount of renovations currently underway. A ring road is also being developed, which will allow access to other parts of the island that were previously only accessible by boat or by hiking across the island.
Currently, the island remains a place mainly visited by backpackers; however, there are a few more swanky lodgings that attract a more affluent crowd. As majority of the travellers are young, the island has earned a name for being a party island. By day, the island is peaceful place to enjoy the beautiful beaches, but as the sun set the party animals come out.
We spent two nights at Koh Rong; the first was at Island Boys. Fresh off the boat I went off to have a look for somewhere to stay. A bit hot and flustered, I panicked and made the fatal error of booking us into Island Boys. I should have backed out when they told me you get 4 free drinks at the bar each night as a guest. Stupidly, I agreed and we settled it. While the room was ok, if you stay here you have to be prepared for outrageously loud music all night. The walls are really ¾ partitions that don’t do much at all except give a little extra privacy. When we checked in, they had obviously just cleaned and the bathrooms seemed all right, however, after a night of being used by everyone from the bar the shared bathrooms are disgusting.
Needless to say, we moved to the Green Ocean Guesthouse for the second night. We still had ¾ partitions as walls, however it was much quieter and the private bathroom made a big difference. A lesson was learnt here; I think we fall into a more mature, ‘flash packer’ demographic, where we appreciate things like cleanliness and a decent nights sleep.
Koh Rong is infamous for the high rates of food poisoning. After visiting the island it isn’t difficult to see why. The generators provide an unreliable power source and people seem to use large cool bins rather than fridges. This lack of refrigeration is combined with the transportation from the mainland to the island, another period without proper cooling. With this knowledge, we opted to eat vegetarian for the duration of our trip. We actually found it was quite difficult, with most restaurants offering only 1-2 vegetarian dishes, and it was often fried rice or something equally basic. One place did offer to pick the chicken out of the pre-cooked curry (which I politely declined). We found Coco’s Bar had the best budget friendly options. The vegetarian curry was particularly nice; while there weren’t a huge variety of vegetables the flavour was really enjoyable.
As with Sihanoukville and Otres, there isn’t too much to do aside from lounging on the beach and wandering the endless white sand. Certainly not the worst traits an island can have. Both days we went for long walks to explore the island. Once you get away from the main area with the guesthouses the island is beautiful. Quiet and secluded, it is a truly beautiful place. We hiked through the jungle to Long Beach to watch the sunset. It was incredible. As with the rest of Cambodia, the sun turns a bright orange colour as it sets, casting amazing colours as far as the eye can see. We enjoyed the taxi boat ride back to the guesthouse after watching the sun disappear beneath the horizon.
We also spent a day at Koh Rong Sanloem. After catching an early ferry and ordering an overpriced Spanish omelette (which was a disappointing combination of plain eggs and a few slices of potato), it dawned on us we had arrived at the resort section of the island. While we had initially planned to stay here for a few days, after a quick team meeting we opted to instead spend the day enjoying the beach before returning to Sihanoukville. In hindsight we realise we should have gone to M’Pai Bay, which I believe is a better option for the budget conscious. Koh Rong Sanloem is absolutely beautiful, and we really enjoyed our day there.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
It was difficult to gain any exposure to any culture of the local people on the island. They seemed to be working behind the scenes, cooking, cleaning and running the more fundamental parts of the island. What is easily visible are the dozens of hungover tourists who bake themselves under the sun during the day and drink the night away. We were a bit antisocial on Koh Rong, opting to explore the deserted stretches of beach and the peace and tranquillity that come with it; consequently avoiding the masses along the main stretch of beach.
We have two days to spend in Sihanoukville before we can travel to Vietnam. We will cross the boarder in the south and head to Ha Tien before catching the ferry to Phu Quoc. It will be interesting to compare Koh Rong to Phu Quoc, especially considering they are so close geographically.
WHAT WE LEARNT
For me it was about the food here. It was the first time since we have been travelling in Asia that we have made the conscious decision to avoid eating a certain food, in this case, meat and seafood. While I had read and heard many horror stories about the food poisoning on the island, we had no issues on our vegetarian diet.
The other thing I learnt was how much I value a good night sleep. For me, the poor sleep really affected my ability to enjoy the island, which is a shame because it is a beautiful place and relatively untouched at the moment. I’m glad we had the opportunity to go to Koh Rong and explore the island, however, I would maybe consider splashing out for somewhere a bit more secluded if we were to return.
As with the rest of Cambodia, we payed more than we initially expected for our accommodation. It is all a bit of a learning experience. In reflection after writing this blog post I think we definitely fall into the flash packer category. A shared bathroom and dorm are tolerable in the right environment, but we have been paying a bit more for the added privacy and convenience of a private bathroom. We are hopeful that Vietnam will be a bit better for us budget wise.
PLEASE LEAVE US A COMMENT…
I am interested to hear of other people’s experiences at Koh Rong or Koh Rong Sanloem. Was M’Pai Bay a good place to stay? Also, we are about to start our travel in Vietnam so please let us know any of your travel tips.