A Little Life: Koh Rong Island
January 1, 1970
“How long have you been on the island?”
My story is unoriginal and told before by every other enamoured foreigner who has come to visit and subsequently settle on Koh Rong Island, Cambodia. I was only supposed to stay here for a few days …
In the nine months that I spent travelling Asia, the idyllic white beaches and energetic nightlife of Koh Rong Island were a dreamy little holiday in my extended time of holidaying, and I imagined cruising out after a few days, rejuvenated and pleasantly salty, ready for my next adventure. But true to the nature of travelling in general, everything that I had planned for myself was altered – as it always is when you wander into a world that you were unaware was waiting for you. In a matter of days I was embraced by an island life well suited to my south and east coast upbringing in Australia. I was presented with a job and a place to live, and any concept of moving on was quickly erased by a month of offered stillness; oceanic days and relaxed hospitality nights. A sunset it was impossible to get used to. I met so many travellers during my time there, and without fail at the end of their time on the island each person expressed the same departing regret: that unlike me they could not stay.
WHERE IS KOH RONG ISLAND?
Koh Rong Island is 63 kilometres of jungle-fringed coastline (not to be confused with the neighbouring island Koh Rong Samloem). Predictably, the island is gorgeous on an off day, and resplendent on every other. Deceptively large (actually the size of Hong Kong if it were to be flattened out), the 28 beaches are broken up by village strips and piers, where daily ferries bring the seasonal batches of romantics, free-running partiers and expats who have washed their hands of the western world. Especially in recent years, the development of Koh Rong Island means it is catered towards every tourist on the spectrum of opportunity seizing adventure.
After months of movement, I discovered my perfect equilibrium there – that balance between being alone in an hour of wandering up the coastline to discover a divine beach completely empty, and the opposite joy of being immersed in social bliss, surrounded by people both completely different and unfathomably similar. My serendipitous wanderings lead me to Rising Sun Guesthouse and Restaurant, where I began waitressing. Offering a glorious vegetarian menu that can sometimes be frustrating to find in Cambodia (including vegan temptations such as homemade hummus, falafel and cous cous salad) the restaurant is situated perfectly between the two piers of Koh Rong’s main strip, overlooking a view so idyllic I found myself in the habit of pausing during shifts to attempt to adequately absorb it’s beauty.
THINGS TO DO
As one of South East Asia’s more well known and developed islands, Koh Rong offers plenty suggestions for activity and adventure. It is abundant with various tour companies offering incredible explorations of all the endless natural beauty that the island has to offer.
Kayaking and Paddle Boarding
Various guesthouses and tour companies all over Koh Rong offer kayaks and paddle boards to rent hourly, half-daily or for a full day. This is a beautiful way to see a little more of what the stunning island has to offer. Giving you access to the more exclusive and untouched parts of the island, kayaks and paddle boards allow you to explore the mangrove forests, lagoons, secluded beaches and coral reefs surrounding the island. If you’re short on time, there is a small island visible and easily accessible from Tiu Beach (the main beach) called Kaoh Toch. You can rent a kayak from any one of the hiring places on the main strip and make the trip to the beautiful little island in around twenty minutes.
Adventure Adam Boat Tour
I was lucky enough to spend a day on the Adventure Adam Tour boat. A phenomenal must on the island activity list, the Adventure Adam boat tour is a day of effortless, yet beautifully organised island amazement; a happy medium between structured activities and luxurious sightseeing. An all over Trip Adviser dream. Plus, you can book private or group tours depending on your personal preferences. The boat tour is a variety of excitements, including the highly advertised plankton swim. For as long as I have been aware of the existence of bioluminescent plankton, I have felt passionately within me the urge to see it. Without properly knowing the myriad of other delights included in the boat tour, I was immediate in dedicating my free time to the day-long adventure. My experience with the plankton swim was an instance of adequately anticipated joy. With all lights on the boat extinguished after sunset to cover us in darkness, we were offered our snorkels and safety information, then permitted to regress to the kind of exclamations of glee reserved for awe-inspired children. As I recall, I likened the event to having my body dusted with aquatic fairies.
Hours absorbed by wandering through the local village, Prek Sway (meaning Mango River Village in Khmer), snorkelling, eating and fishing, the tour is abundant in those grin-inducing moments where you can look down at your feet, or across at the person beside you and remember (if it is ever possible to forget) why it is that you are travelling. Legs dangling over the side of the boat, leaning into an unpredicted rain storm and laughing because once again life has passed you something sweet under the table and winked at you.
With genuine efforts to support and further the longevity of the traditional Cambodian culture, Adventure Adam uses western accessibility to support and uphold the traditions and values of local life without bowing to the negative aspects of western influence that can sometimes harm the collective Cambodian psyche and customs. What is perhaps most inspiring is how Adventure Adam Tours operate with an immense respect and appreciation for the allowances afforded by Cambodian government and locals to accommodate foreign adorers of Koh Rong.
Perhaps because my intention was to only stay a few days, it felt like such a cheeky, blissful surrender to allow myself the time to live there. I was content in being a fairly even split of half tourist, half local. Where I had mere weeks experience living on island, others I met hadn’t left since their arrival years before. But folding into the Koh Rong way of life is easy and wonderful, and can be achieved by anyone. I spilled over with adoration watching the supply boats rest in stillness on the water at sunset. Every single time. I knew to walk the twenty minutes or more up the beach to avoid the polluted ocean water (an upsetting side effect of Koh Rong’s continuing development) and I fell madly in love with all the local dogs and puppies that call the island home.
Privileged by low season living, the island was peaceful – relatively – during my time there, with well-timed high intensity moments. It was whatever you wanted. A tight knit community, perhaps existing unrecognised by the fleeting foreigner; a bare-foot bubble where the months that had melted away were only evident by how many times you were stopped by friends/adopted family along the walk back home. The everyday moments arrived so normally, but were naturally later coated in that same sweet nostalgic sheen that all of my memories of the months gone by wear. It was a sweet blend of sunshine living, of movement and hazy stillness all in one. I spent days wondering where the time went, somehow stolen by three swims a day and café lazing. I spent others immersed in easy inspiration, active in every moment of observing and wondering internally how it could ever be possible to leave a life like that when it belonged on a postcard.