Cambodian island life
January 1, 1970
Cambodia’s tourism has increased considerably in the past years, with scores of backpackers and tour groups flocking to see what is undoubtedly it’s most famous attraction: Angkor Wat. And although it is indeed an awe-inspiring sight to behold, Cambodia has so much more to offer, including pristine beaches on it’s two most popular islands, Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem.
Koh Rong, which is Cambodia’s biggest island, has built up a reputation as the “party island” and is, therefore more popular with the young backpackers. However if that’s not your scene , or you just need a break from the constant partying, then head on over to it’s smaller, less populated neighbor, Koh Rong Samloem. We spent a week here in a small fishing village called M’Pai Bay.
Getting to M’Pai Bay
When booking our accommodation via Booking.com, we were immediately contacted by the property and instructed that the best way to get to the island was via the speed ferry and that we should go to a specific dive center in Sihanoukville to purchase the tickets, which we duly did, but you can basically buy them from most hotels and travel agencies in Sihanoukville. Just take a walk down Independence Road and you’ll see all the advertisements for the speed ferry.
The ferry takes all passengers headed to Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, and there are different drop off points depending on which side of the island you stay on, so once you’ve boarded the ferry, make sure to tell them that you are going to M’Pai Bay. It’s about 1 hour on the ferry to get to your drop off.
You might be asked to get off at one of the stops either on Koh Rong or Koh Rong Samloem’s Saracen bay and to wait for a supply boat to take you to M’Pai Bay, don’t worry, this is pretty normal.
M’Pai Bay is quite a small community and consists mainly of locals with a handful of expats who live on the island, who own/manage the accommodation.
We stayed at Sunset Bungalows, which was at the end of the fishing village, in a more secluded area with all their bungalows facing the ocean and boasting pretty spectacular sunsets. However during low season there are plenty options and you could very easily chance just showing up without any reservation and you’d be likely to have your pick of decent,well-priced accommodation, whether you are looking for dorm rooms, private rooms or bungalows.
Dragonfly Guesthouse has a really cool sunset viewing deck, order a beer and settle in the hammock or one of their comfy chairs and wait for the sun to set on another day of island life.
Easy Tiger was a popular choice with backpackers and a very cool vibe.
Chill Inn, right next to Sunset Bungalows has a nice beach bar, and if you just can’t miss that football match, a massive flatscreen TV.
Most of the accommodation in M’Pai Bay serve food, and you’ll have your choice of western dishes, and local food, and you might even find some vegetarian options, but we found that the 2 restaurants in the main part of the village, serve great local dishes, for really good prices, and big portions, big enough to share.
Word of warning though: if you fancy a late lunch, you’ll most likely be turned away from most places, we tried getting lunch at 2:30pm one day, some places were just completely deserted , others just flat out told us they couldn’t serve us, and in one place the owner was actually asleep, right in the dining area. The luxuries of island life…siestas!
When this happens, head on over to Sunset Bungalows, as they were always willing to serve food.
- Laundry: Most accommodation on the island offers a laundry service, otherwise you can just take your laundry into the village where you will see plenty of signs offering laundry service for $1 per/kg
- Shops: There are a few small shops owned by locals selling all types of nick nacks but there is one right in the center of the village that seems to cater specifically to the tourists, where you can find almost everything, from mosquito repellant to a bathing suit.
- ATM: There is no ATM on the island, so make sure you have enough cash before leaving Sihanoukville, as no one has card facilities and only accept cash payments.
- Power: There is limited electricity on the island and you’ll find a lot of places have limited/no power during certain times of the day or night unless they specify that they have a generator. If you’re the type of person that absolutely needs an AC/fan blasting the entire night, then best you visit the island in the cooler seasons.(November to January)
Things to do
As I’ve mentioned, people generally come to Koh Rong Samloem to relax, and the island lives up to its reputation for sure.
- Scuba Diving & Snorkeling: There are two dive centers in the village, and one just on the other side of the bay, still within walking distance of the village.Here you can sign up for a diving course, do some fun dives, or if that’s not for you, just go on a snorkeling trip. All of these water-based activities will be weather dependent of course.There will also be a few locals who offer snorkeling trips, ask around with the local expats to make sure you’re not getting swindled. Or if you have your own snorkel gear just ask someone to point you to the best spot and dive in!
- Swimming: The bay area directly in front of the fishing village has some rubbish on the beach, not as bad as most other beaches in SE Asia, and the water is pretty clear and warm, but you’ll just be swimming in between some of the docked fishing boats. Otherwise walk for about 5 minutes outside the village towards EcoSea Dive center & bungalows, where there is a massive stretch of beach and no boats, you can spend the whole day here just baking in the sun or floating aimlessly around in the warm water.
- Hiking: There are a few trails leading out from the village, but the most rewarding hike is the one to Clearwater Bay, which currently has only one accommodation established there. So it’s still pretty unspoiled, the beach is clean and the water is crystal clear(hence the name).
- Slow down: Find a hammock, sip on a cocktail, read a book, or simply just stare into space and appreciate the peace and quiet of this secluded corner of the world and you’ll almost seem like a local yourself! That’s what island life is about after all.