While Thailand is world-famous for its beautiful islands and beaches, Cambodia, it's neighbor to the east, is often overlooked. Cambodia may be known for its ancient temples in Siem Reap, but the "Kingdom of Wonder" has its own slice of still mostly untouched paradise: Koh Rong Island.
the village at Koh Rong
Koh Rong still has an innocence about it. There is no airport and no roads. The only way to get to the island or from one beach to the other is by boat.
Getting to Koh Rong
The only way to get to Koh Rong is by going through Sihanoukville, Cambodia's mainland beach resort town which has been described as "Pattaya fourty years ago"; what Thailand would have been without all the tourism and mega-resorts (though that may come to Cambodia sooner rather than later). Sihanoukville might be worth exploring for its casinos, party beaches, and luxury resort hotels, but if you want to "get away from it all", escape to Koh Rong on one of the several daily ferry runs.
Sihanoukville has its own airport, but is also connected to Phnom Penh by a six-hour bus ride or the newly-running direct train service.
arriving at Koh Rong
It takes all day from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, with a stop and change of bus in Phnom Penh around lunchtime. The bus service is relatively clean and comfortable, as long as you don't mind loud Hong Kong kung-fu movies dubbed over in Khmer. Any guesthouse or hotel can arrange tickets. The quality and safety record of the various bus companies varies widely, as does the price. Make sure you know what you are paying for before you buy.
Siem Reap - Sihanoukville: $15-$25 / about 12 hours
Phnom Penh - Sihanoukville $10-$15 / about 6 hours
You will probably have to spend the night in Sihanoukeville. The next morning, take the ferry to the island. Speed Ferry Cambodia (
) is a reputable company. You can book online or through your guesthouse.
9.00am, 11.30am, 3.00pm
10.00am, 12.30pm, 4.00pm
Sihanoukeville - Koh Rong - $10 / 45 minutes -1 hour
Arriving on Koh Rong
Arriving on Koh Rong, you will be greeted by a surprising number of foreigners, mostly European or Australia, trying to get you to stay at their guesthouses. They aren't pushy, and are in fact very helpful and friendly! The island seems to be popular with the hippy type, and you immediately feel relaxed and laid back as island life takes hold of you.
I was actually surprised at how helpful everyone was! Stepping off the boat, we were greeted with "do you need a guesthouse?" When I answered in the negative, I was given a warm greeting and directions to the bungalow I had already booked!
Khao Touch Village, Koh Rong, Cambodia
What to do on Koh Rong
Seriously. Koh Rong is a small island. The main village, Khao Touch, is situated on one end of a white sandy beach, with the majority of the bungalows just a five-minute walk down at the other end.
There are a number of other beaches on the island with their own exclusive bungalow resorts, but you have to arrange transportation through the hotel and a hire a longtail boat to get to any other part of the island.
Koh Rong exemplifies the adjective "
". There isn't much to do on the island, which is all part of its magic. In fact, you don't even really
to do anything, except read a good book on the beach, splash in the crystal water, or enjoy an ice-cold $0.50 beer and a walk along the white sand.
the beach at Koh Rong
2. Snorkeling Trips
If you are absolutely set on doing something, the clear waters off of Cambodia make for an excellent place for some snorkeling. You can arrange a day trip through any guesthouse, or just walk into town and talk with any of the numerous tour organizers set up on the beach. A 4-hour snorkeling trip and island tour will cost $10-$15.
Koh Rong Island
3. Sunset Cruise and Bio-Luminescent Plankton
For an unforgettable evening, you can sign up for a sunset cruise around the island and the chance to see bio-luminescent plankton just off the shore. Koh Rong is famous for the microscopic plankton that glow blue in the dark. A night cruise will cost around $10.
Where to Stay on Koh Rong
Unless you are prepared to go all out for one of the luxury resorts on Koh Rong's private beaches, your best bet is either a dorm in the village or a bungalow just off the beach.
Depending on the resort, a bungalow should run between $20-$50 per night, although can be a lot more expensive than that depending on the amenities provided.
We stayed at Paradise Bungalow for $21/night, and were quite happy with our stay, although it might be a little "rustic" for some.
inside the bungalow
Our bungalow was up a hill in the jungle just off the beach. There was no aircon, but the hut did have a fan and outlets, with electricity running between 6pm-6am each day. The beds were comfortable enough to sleep soundly after a day wearing yourself out swimming, and are covered in mosquito nets to protect you from the swarms of jungle insects that you can hear as you fall asleep.
The "bathroom" is open-air, but protected by a wall. The toilet, sink, and shower have running water, but it is not heated, although a cold shower after a hot day on the beach feels fine. Each bungalow has a hammock for relaxing on the patio. The truth is, when you are visiting Koh Rong, you won't spend much time at your bungalow anyway!
Paradise Bungalows has a restaurant lounge with comfortable pillows, fans, 24-hour electricity, wifi, and good drinks. We spent our evenings relaxing to soft jazz music and watching the sunset over the water.
WARNING: When the bungalows warn you not to bring any food into your hut, HEED THAT ADVICE! The jungles are populated with macaque monkeys who are very curious and would love to get their hand on any "people food" they can find! The hotel dogs ran through the property each morning chasing the monkeys back into the jungle, although we did wake up one morning to see a monkey in our hut!
it can't bet much better than this
We really do highly recommend Paradise Bungalows. The staff was great, the lounge was very comfortable (and the perfect place to sip a nice G&T at the end of a sunny day at the beach, and living in a bungalow on the beach is a perfect island adventure, monkeys and all!
Interested in Cambodia? Check out some photos from my first book, "The Long Road From Pub Street: A Cambodia Travelogue"!