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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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