Koh Rong, But So Right – Island Paradise in Cambodia

This probably sounds bad, but I only went to Cambodia to kill time until my broken camera was fixed. While I was in Bangkok, Canon told me they’d likely complete the repair in 1-2 weeks, so I figured it made the most sense to hop over to Cambodia, loop through Siem Reap – Phnom Penh – Sihanoukville, and then back around through Thailand and into Bangkok.

Right around the one-week mark, I was in Sihanoukville when I got the dreaded e-mail from Canon telling me they’d found ANOTHER problem with my camera, and that it’d take an additional 3 weeks to repair. OH GREAT! Why couldn’t they have told me this from the start?!

Near tears and without a clue as to how to proceed with my trip, I made a most-excellent decision: F*** it, I’m going to an island! And that is how I unexpectedly came to find my ultimate island paradise on Koh Rong, Cambodia.

koh rong
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Koh Rong: Best Island in Southeast Asia

I’m gonna go ahead and state my claim that Koh Rong is the best island in Southeast Asia. It’s also one of the most underrated islands – but maybe that’s part of the reason why I loved it so much. There’s something immensely satisfying about feeling like you’re one of the lucky few who have discovered a slice of heaven.

Koh Rong Beaches

The beaches on Koh Rong are absolutely stunning. I’m talking, they should have a place in the dictionary when you look up the word ‘paradise’. You could stay on the main beach and be perfectly content there, but there are other beaches connected via a footpath northward that are also worthy of exploration.

koh rong cambodia

The next beach up is small and, unlike its neighbors, has golden sand. It’s also home to the Tree Top Bungalows, so odds are you’ll encounter those folks hanging out here.

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If you continue up the path a bit further, you’ll come to a very long white sand beach. There likely won’t be many others here – and even if there are, the beach is so big that you can easily escape them. Towards the northern end of the beach is another resort with pricey food and drinks.

koh rong cambodia

A word of caution: the sand flies are absolute bitches on Koh Rong. I would highly advise against laying in the sand at all, even on a towel – those buggers will get you! There are some rickety beach loungers you can lay on near some of the resorts.

Hiking on Koh Rong

There is an oft-talked about jungle trek from the main beach on the eastern side of Koh Rong to Long Beach on the western side. We were advised to follow the splotches of red paint and mounted sandals as trail markers. It’s a fairly straight-forward hike, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a walk in the park. First: IT’S HOT. I had literal streams of sweat dripping off my body – and I was just in my bathing suit! And second: the last segment is a steep downhill rock scramble. I would not advise doing it in sandals.

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But oh, is it worth it. Long Beach is simply gorgeous. There is nothing there other than a low key resort and a couple of long tail boats. You can frolic in the warm shallow waters, lay in a hammock, or stroll down the expansive beach. And as it faces westward, Long Beach is primed for sunset viewing. A few long tail boats scooped all of us up just before sunset and slowly took us back to the other side of the island. We watched as the sky exploded on our journey back:

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Kayaking at Koh Rong

You can rent a single or double kayak on Koh Rong and paddle around the island, though the current can make for an exhausting paddle at times. We paddled out to a little island nearby, then to another beach before heading back. To be honest, kayaking is not a must-do as you can access other beaches on foot, but it makes for a great workout if nothing else.

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Hanging out on Koh Rong

When I wasn’t on the beach, I was escaping the sun and/or grabbing a drink with new friends at Coco’s. Coco’s was one of the few spots on the island with wifi, with an added bonus of comfy seating and good happy hour specials. Hanging out at Coco’s became a part of my daily routine on Koh Rong.

koh rong cambodia

Phosphorescent Plankton at Koh Rong

Like at Maya Bay, you can also see phosphorescent plankton on Koh Rong. For maximum plankton viewing, head out to the darkest part of the beach at night and go into the water til you’re about 4 feet deep in it. Then kick, punch, and twirl in the water to see the plankton glow.

koh rong plankton

I’m still not over this scene. Picture being submerged in warm water with glowing plankton, looking up at the most star-studded sky imagineable, and being able to see a crazy thunderstorm happening back on the mainland. I think this might have been the most beautiful thing I saw on my entire 2013 Asia trip.

Koh Rong Accommodation Tips

Don’t book accommodation in advance!

Many guesthouses don’t even take bookings, so you can literally just step off the ferry and check out the various places with signs advertising rooms available. You’ll find a few hostels, many restaurants and bars doubling as guesthouses, and some bungalow resorts. Guesthouses are far and away the best value for money here.

koh rong sunrise

Skip the hostels

There is only one hostel on Koh Rong with an online presence, though there are a few others on the island with beds for $8/night. The problem I kept running into with these hostels was a lack of security. None of them had lockers available, nor were you able to lock your dorm room, so you’d have to leave any valuables with the staff. When you’re traveling with a whole backpack full of valuable electronics, there’s clearly no way it’s all going to fit in a tiny safe at reception. I wasn’t about to leave my valuables in an unlocked room, which meant my only option was to look for a single room at some other guesthouse. For just $2 more a night, I had my own room with a balcony and hammock to enjoy. Totally worth it!

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You will not sleep well

This is a sweeping generalization (as I obviously haven’t experienced all accommodation options on Koh Rong), but should ring true if you’re staying in the main cluster of accommodation on the island.

  • It’s hot. Most rooms do not have fans, so you’re reliant on the sea breeze to cool you off at night (and FYI – it doesn’t).
  • It’s noisy. You will hear music and chatter from nearby bars at night, and construction work by locals early in the morning.
  • It’s buggy. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a mosquito net around your bed. If you’re unlucky, you’ll have rats scurrying around your room.

But hey, what does it matter when you’re just going to fall asleep on the beach the next day anyway? Might as well just sleep in your underwear and earplugs and get whatever sleep you can manage!

Koh Rong Samloem

Koh Rong has a lesser known sister island called Koh Rong Samloem, accessible by ferry from Koh Rong. I was more than content to spend all of my time on Koh Rong, but I also didn’t mind venturing to what others say is actually the more paradisal of the two islands.

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The ferry from Koh Rong dropped us off at the fishing village on Koh Rong Samloem, and as we walked through it, the locals directed us toward some accommodation (possibly THE only accommodation around these parts). While it wasn’t quite paradise, it was a really nice escape for a couple days. (After the fact, we learned that the ‘nicer’ part of the island was a long tail boat trip away from where we had stayed).

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Where we were was quite woodsy and the beach felt more like a lake than the ocean, but I found it a welcome change from typical island paradise. We were in close proximity to the locals as they worked and lazed in the village nearby. Little kids bathed in the middle of the street while older folks worked outside their huts. We hung out on our bungalow porch reading by day and drinking wine by evening, and went to bed by 9pm both nights. It was GLORIOUS.

koh rong cambodia

koh rong cambodia

Frugal Facts

As of May 2013 —

Single room at Bamboo guesthouse on Koh Rong: $10
Bungalow at Coco’s on Koh Rong: $25
Bungalow on Koh Rong Samloem: $15
Ferry to/from Sihanoukville: $5 return during low season, $20 return during high season
Ferry to/from Koh Rong Samloem: $5 return
Long tail boat from Long Beach to Koh Rong ferry dock: $3
Kayak rental: $10 for a double kayak for a half-day

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Koh Rong Cambodia - Island Paradise

Lindsay Buckley is the photographer and travel blogger behind Frugal Frolicker. She's a New Yorker currently based in Sydney, Australia, documenting outdoor travel experiences Down Under and beyond. Follow along with Lindsay's travel photography on Facebook and Instagram, and be sure to sign up for the monthly Frugal Frolicker newsletter!

Where in the World is This?

  • Charis

    Hi Lindsay, what a great report with amazing photos! I will be traveling to Cambodia next month and I am now so tempted about Koh Rong!! Hopefully the weather will behave well!! I am trying to find Bamboo guesthouse online but nothing comes up. Do you have a contact number for them?

    • lindsaypunk

      Thank you, Charis! You should DEFINITELY go to Koh Rong! It’ll be the offseason when you’re there, so it should be easy to find a room somewhere. Most places don’t take bookings in advance (unless you stay at one of the few resorts there).

      You can literally just hop off the ferry and start walking down the beach looking for rooms being advertised – most restaurants/bars will offer rooms. To find Bamboo, hang a right off the ferry pier and go down the beach past Coco’s. A few minutes further on the left you should see it – I believe it’s right next to a backpacker bar. You’ll see Koh Rong Backpackers on the pier just a tad further (do NOT stay with them, whatever you do!).

      Let me know if you have more questions! Happy to talk up one of my favorite spots in all of Southeast Asia :D

  • Ed

    Wow Lindsay, beautiful photos. Did your camera finally get fixed? We will be in Cambodia next June/July and hope to go to Koh Rong. Is that considered off season? We are hoping to find accommodations after we arrive instead of booking ahead. Keep travelling Ed

    • lindsaypunk

      Thanks, Ed! YES, 6 weeks and $560 later I picked it up in Bangkok (end of May). I still have no idea what killed it.

      Yup, June/July should be offseason – some expats living there said it rains frequently during this time, but it’s always short-lived and a welcome break from the heat. You should have no problem finding a place to stay upon arrival. Have so much fun!

  • Sheila

    Hi Lindsay. thanks for posting this. My friends and I will head to Koh Rong because one of my friend said Sihanoukville is pretty lame, then I found an article about Koh Rong and decided will head to this island. What a gem to know about the phosporesence plankton, I’m so excited now. You did great on taking the pics. Amazing collection! Cheers

  • lindsaypunk

    I’d heard mixed things before I got to Sihanoukville – I hear Otres Beach is pretty chill, but the rest of it… not really my scene. Koh Rong is AMAAAAAZING though! I couldn’t even believe I was still in Cambodia. Definitely try to see the plankton when you’re there – it’s one of those other-worldly experiences. Have so much fun there!

  • Jesse

    Hi Lindsay.This is the best article on Koh Rong i have come across so far.The photos are amazing.I am planning of going there sometime around the 2-3 week of June.Will it be raining all the time or will there be some sunny days in between? Thanks again for this very informative post.

    • lindsaypunk

      Hey there, thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed! :)

      Ah, mid-June is smack in the middle of the wet season so you’ll likely see some rain. I was on the island in early May and it didn’t rain much at all, though while I was on the mainland it rained most every day. BUT, the nice thing is that it’s always short bursts of rain, so it’s not likely that your days will be completely rained out.

      Fingers crossed for fun and sun! :D

  • Anne

    I LOVE KOH RONG! Best island in SE Asia FOR SURE. This post is amazing!!!

    • lindsaypunk

      YES!! So excited that someone else shares my love for Koh Rong! Most have never even heard of it – hell, I hadn’t til I was in Sihanoukville. Assuming you gushed about this island as well, I’m about to go stalk your blog! :P

  • Sebastien G Dit Beaver

    dear lindsay, thanks for this article, amazing one. I was wondering which of the island you did prefer, koh rong and partygoers or Koh rong samloem and it peacefulness ?

  • lindsaypunk

    Aw thank you! You know, that’s a good question – I didn’t go to the nicer part of Koh Rong Samloem, but if I had it may have been my favorite. You really can’t go wrong with Koh Rong (wrong, rong, hah!) – it wasn’t so much a party scene, definitely nowhere near how Sihanoukville or some of the Thai islands are. You should definitely make a trip out there!

  • lindsaypunk

    Great question! I basically just didn’t lie on the beach much. I found this one big rock on the end of the main beach which I was able to sit on without being bothered by them. Other than that, I’d recommend sitting on a towel in the sand rather than laying on it. Kinda sucks, but worth it to live in paradise!

  • oneworld

    Do you know if it’s still really rainy in mid-September to mid-October? I can’t figure out if the rain peaks or starts to peter out during this time…

    • lindsaypunk

      I can’t say for certain, but would think it tapers off by then. When I was there in May, sporadic heavy rains were common in Cambodia but they wouldn’t last long at all, so even if it did rain I don’t think it would hinder your travel plans!

  • Pasha Nikolaeff

    Great review! Thanx for the tips, going there in two weeks!

  • Filippo Ftm Martin

    Hello guys, great post, koh rong samloem is really amazing island! you can look now at the official website http://www.kohrongsamloem.guide ;-)

  • Thanks for the tips. We are heading to Koh Rong this week and I can’t wait! It looks like paradise.

  • KohRong Guide

    Hello. Thank you so much for writing about our island paradise Koh Rong – We need all the help we can get to keep spreading the good word! We are a non-profit, independent organisation created to help keep the Koh Rong Islands clean and help the local fishing communities. Would you mind sharing the link to our new guide to help our project? Your help would be very much appreciated! You can find our guide on Koh Rong here: http://kohrong.guide/

    Thank you!

  • Pau

    Hi Lindsay! Your blog is very helpful on our upcoming indochina trip! but I think id like to disagree on koh rong as the best island in SEA. You gotta go here in the Philippines. I’d suggest Coron, El Nido, Siargao and Cebu! :)

    • I’m glad you say that because I’m heading there next month and ALL those places are on my list! :D

  • stephaniestraveldiary

    I stayed at Koh Rong for five days last year and really enjoyed it.
    Long Beach is probably the best beach ive seen in Southeast Asia.

    I totally forgot about the sandflies, but you are totally right! :) thanks for making me remember that LOL!
    I remember even buying coconut oil or something because that would help (not the case).

    • Hahaha, there’s not much that can save you from sandflies! :P I remember perching on a rock on the beach and refusing to sit in the sand! You’re absolutely right about Long Beach being a stunner :)