Koh Rong and island life.
January 1, 1970
by Adrienne Vinkat
When I pictured my trip to Cambodia, I imagined lots of temples and ruins, and small villages where life was simple. Upon my arrival in Thailand, I began talking to some girls who had just come from Cambodia. They insisted that I should go to Koh Rong and the little sister island Koh Rong Samloem. Immediately after they left, I was on the internet, getting a feel for what Koh Rong was, and whether or not it would be my kind of adventure. The only problem was, there wasn’t a lot of information to go off of. I went ahead and booked the trip anyway and I now possess some information that I would have found useful.
Bus Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville
In order to get to Koh Rong, you must first find your way to Sihanoukville. Sihanoukville is a beach front town, with very few things to do. The beach there is crowded and had quite a bit of garbage laying around. I strongly suggest that you stay in Sihanoukville itself for one night, just to explore, but do not book and extended stay there. To get to Sihanoukville, you can fly into Sihanouk International Airport, in Preah or you can take a bus/mini van. When I was coming from Phnom Penh, I booked a local bus, because it was less expensive (8 USD instead of 12 USD). In hindsight, that four dollars would have saved me a lot of trouble. My bus, which was supposed to take five hours, ended up taking seven, because we stopped for lunch and stopped in every second town to pick up people and parcels. Essentially I was on the milk run of bus trips. For my return to Phnom Penh, I booked Giant Ibis, which is amazing! It was 11 USD and worth every penny. You get picked up at your hostel or one that is close by, they give you water and snacks and have wifi on board, and they actually arrive in 4.5 hours, rather than 7.
Boat from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong Islands
Once I arrived in Sihanoukville, I was supposed to catch a boat from Serendipity Pier, heading to Koh Rong Samloem. The issue was, that there were no more boats, as they stop running around 15:00. Now, anything is possible if you are desperate, and I ended up paying a hefty fee of 25 USD (regular ferry is 10 USD) to be transported with hotel grocery orders to Koh Rong Samloem. Koh Rong Samloem has 2 main areas that boats stop at, one is Sarcacean, the main part of the island and the other is M’Pay Bay. If the water is bad or it is late, you do not get to choose which pier you stop at. In my case, I was dropped at Sarcacean Pier, which was a 40 minute jungle trek to where I was camping. I later discovered that there is only one boat a day to Sunset Beach and it is at 9:00 a.m. My suggestion is that you phone your accommodation and ask them for boat times and the best way to get to them, so that you avoid dragging your baggage through the jungle, while you sweat your face off.
After Koh Rong Samloem, I caught a fishing boat for 10 USD to Koh Rong Island and was brought right to my bungalow’s pier. Be aware that the water is rough, and those little fishing boats can get thrown around quite a bit, so if you get sea sick, take some anti-nausea tablets before hopping on, or opt for the speed boat option.
The return from Koh Rong to Sihanoukville was the boat ride that had me praying for my life. I actually wanted to kiss the ground when I arrived. I booked a speed boat back for 10 USD, through Buva Sea Company and was told it takes about an hour. The boat was to pick me up at 12:00, but didn’t come around until 13:00. When it arrived, we loaded in about 25 people. There weren’t enough seats for everyone and people had to sit on the floor. When we took off, we were still in the protected bay, so I thought it would be a nice calm ride back. As we hit the open water, the boat became airborne on the whitecaps of the sea. We were slamming down hard, and people sitting near the outside of the boat were getting soaked. At one point, the waves rolled the boat so much that I thought for sure we were going to capsize. My eyes got wide and my mouth went dry. The boat crew started throwing life jackets at everyone and telling them to put them on immediately. Once the boat calmed a bit, we sped off again, flying over the huge waves. I was the roughest journey I have ever been on. We were supposed to stop at 2 other piers, but didn’t because the water was too rough. So bear in mind that you could end up stuck on the island longer than you anticipated, due to rough seas. A gentleman sitting accross from me said that the sea is often like this in November, December and January and that it is best not to book a bus or flight out of Sihanoukville on the same day that you leave the island, just in case the boat is delayed or can’t make it at all.
Koh Rong Samloem
On Koh Rong Samloem, I booked with Sleeping Trees. They offer a variety of stays, including tipis, bungalows and suspended tents in the trees. I opted for the suspended tent. At first I was nervous about it falling, but when I saw it and felt it, I was reassured. The tent itself can be left open to get the nice sea breeze, or can be covered to keep out the rain. The floor is made of a material that feels similar to a trampoline, and is quite sturdy and comfortable to sleep on. There are also a variety of guest houses and hostels to be found around the island if camping is not your thing. Sleeping trees is in a more secluded area and even has hammocks set up to hang over the sea as you lounge or read a book after a swim in the clearest, warmest water I had ever seen. If you are looking to disconnect, this is the place for you. Remember that you are on an island, in a camping setting, so bathrooms facilities are basic and there is little to no electricity (my phone died the first night, resulting in no photos of this beautiful place).
On Koh Rong Island, I booked into a bungalow on Sakson Beach. Sakson Beach is on the opposite side of the island from the main pier, Koh Touch. Koh Touch is where you will find the bar scene, hostels and tons of backpackers. If you are looking for a more peaceful stay, I highly recommend the trip to Sakson Beach instead. The first night, I stayed at Sakson New Beach Bungalows, not to be confused with the more expensive and much nicer Sakson Beach Bungalows. When I arrived, there were mouse droppings on my pillow and spiders everywhere. I was a little freaked out, but too tired to care, so I stayed one night. The next morning, I walked about 100 meters down the road and found a much nicer, much cleaner bungalow for the same price. Beware, that most accommodations on the islands have electricity only five or six hours a night, and all of them have cold showers, but come fully equipped with a mosquito net (which is a lifesaver out there). Do not be afraid to look for accommodation upon your arrival, as there were lots of vacancies and the price can be bargained down with the owner.
Once you arrive and are settled into your new beach front bungalow, bear in mind that both Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem are quiet, less tourist heavy islands. I had no cell phone service on Koh Rong Samloem and very rare service on Koh Rong. However, if you are desperate for wifi, you can walk to the high end resorts and buy a drink to sip on while you browse the internet. I highly recommend you don’t do this though, and that instead you go on some adventures. You can catch a local fishing boat tour with a family, where they take you snorkeling and fishing and then barbecue the fish you caught on the beach while watching the sun set. After the sun goes down, they drive you out to sea again to swim with the bio-luminescent plankton. I truly felt like a mermaid, because every time you kick your legs or swirl your arms in the water, your whole body becomes illuminated by the tiny, glowing organisms. It was an amazing experience and my mind was totally blown. The entire tour cost me 10 USD, which is ridiculously cheap. Both islands also have lots of jungle to trek through and waterfalls to discover. Koh Rong is 7 kms from one side to the other and Koh Rong Samloem is a little less than that. Go explore, lose track of time and don’t be scared of getting lost, just remember your water and sunscreen!! The smiling Cambodian’s who live there can point you in the right direction if you do get turned around. Of course, if you aren’t into trekking, you can soak up the sun and enjoy the beautiful crystal waters that surround the islands. For the 5 days I was out there, I didn’t put on real clothes at all, I just lived in my swimsuit and sarong. It was truly a glorious experience.
Now is the right time to visit this little slice of paradise. While I was there, I came across many sites where trees are being destroyed to make way for huge roads. I also spoke with a man who said that a 20 million dollar company is going to be building a resort out there in the next five years and the 10 year plan is to expand the entire island of Koh Rong into a travelers oasis, much like the Thai islands. I strongly suggest that you go check out this majestic beauty, before backpackers and tourists overrun it’s natural beauty and crowd the beaches.