The views were breathtaking!

Koh Rong: Cambodia’s Island Paradise

Dec 3, 2014 - Julie

It wasn’t originally in our plans to visit any of Cambodia’s islands, but after arriving to Sihanoukville, we figured we might as well give the islands a few days since we were so close already. Having heard that there were some nice undeveloped beaches in the area, we were excited for our first beach paradise experience in SE Asia. The island of Koh Rong was $15 and 45 minutes away by speedboat (only 20 minutes if you pay more), and we’re so glad we took this detour.

The speed boat from Sihanoukville left around 8:30 am from Serendipity Pier, with a stop at the Koh Rong Samloem island before Koh Rong. Smaller than Koh Rong, Koh Rong Samloem looked so good from the boat that it made us question if we chose the right island to spend the night at.

Pier at Koh Rong Samloem
Pier at Koh Rong Samloem

We arrived in Koh Rong before 10am, but it was already mad sunny. Instead of booking a place to stay beforehand, we scouted out places the morning of. Rooms ranged from dorms in large shacks to private, secluded tree house bungalows. We opted for our usual private room in one of the many beach-front guesthouses near the pier (only $7!). None of the places offer AC or hot water; wifi is shaky or time-constrained (one man told us it was only “after 5pm”), and electricity is intermittent since everything runs on generators on the island. But such is the price you pay for an undeveloped and “unspoiled” beach. If all the amenities were here, it would be just like Sihanoukville, which would defeat the whole purpose of coming here.

Main and only road on the Koh Rong island
Main and only road on the Koh Rong island

After we got settled, had something to eat, we headed (where else?) to the beach! That makes it sound like we went far to get to the beach, but it was right there. We were never away from the beach our entire time in Koh Rong and never more than a few meters from the water. There were no roads on the island, so everything was right next to the beach. Speaking of the water… it was so clear. You could walk all the way into the water up to your neck, and still see your entire body in the water. It was an absolute paradise!

Idyllic beach
Idyllic beach

The whole place was incredibly idyllic. Unlike the strong and sandy waves of Nha Trang, this was much more calm. The small, gentle waves were barely waves at all. No strong winds, just a cool breeze. The sand on the beach and in the water were small white grains that felt soft to my feet. The beach slowly sloped into the water, creating a easy slope to enter. Tui beach was really the perfect beach for those who want to lounge, suntan, and occasionally dip in.

Relaxing beach
Relaxing beach

The one moment of sadness: a bunch of garbage began washing to shore at one point, literally out of nowhere. Styrofoam containers and bottles floated around the water where there was nothing when we first got in. Maybe someone dropped a bunch of garbage, or these have been slowly washing to shore for a long time from somewhere far away. What was once so clear and beautiful suddenly turned really nasty. We got out immediately. It was heartbreaking to see the exact same place that was such a paradise with trash. Times like this, I wish there were stronger environmental laws here, because places like this deserve to be preserved.

Trekking along the beach
Trekking along the beach

We walked further down the beach to an area with rocks and corals. This part of the beach, even though right next to Tui Beach, was still clean and unaffected by the garbage that has been floating around. It was equally beautiful as the beach we were at before, except it was even smaller and more secluded. For a while, we were the only ones on the entire beach and it couldn’t have been more relaxing. The rocks nearby did present some threat from time to time, as we had to watch out where we were stepping, but after we moved to a clearer area without rocks, everything was perfect. We spent a few hours here and while Carlos was lying down in the water, I was lying down on the sand and even took a nap! After a while, we headed back to Tui Beach and all the garbage was on the sand, with a few people collecting it.

Garbage on the beach
Garbage on the beach

The most populous part of the beach by the pier is filled with bars and restaurants that offer beach BBQ (what else?) at night. This time we tried some grilled barracuda and snapper with the usual sides. They were good! The best part was sitting and eating on the beach itself, right by the water, as the sun was setting on the horizon.

Restaurants in Koh Rong
Restaurants in Koh Rong

People said that it was possible to see glowing phytoplankton on the beaches of Koh Rong. We were a bit skeptical about this, but thought we would give it a shot. Just the possibility excited us, because we have seen pictures of this phenomenon in the Maldives, which looks incredible. Luckily, we happened to be in Koh Rong on the night of the new moon, the darkest night of the month. However, even though we walked to a dark part of the beach at night, we couldn’t really see any glowing lights from planktons. We tried everything – kicking the water, moving the sand, diving in, to no avail. Maybe we were looking at the wrong area or weren’t doing things right. It was disappointing yet expected.

Sunset on Koh Rong
Sunset on Koh Rong

The next day, we were at the beach again, sitting in the water, just admiring the view and how perfect it looked. The whole island was pretty open and we could see things from afar, including storms that were passing by. It looked somewhat scary from time to time, but everything was still calm on the island. So calm that we never had to get out of the water!

Relaxed atmosphere in Koh Rong
Relaxed atmosphere in Koh Rong

Being used to living in big cities, we learned that exploring and developing areas is good for the economy. It brings more wealth for the area and the people who live there; however, in Koh Rong, we were faced with an opposite point of view. If the island was developed, with big hotel chains, roads filled with cars and tourists everywhere, it wouldn’t be the same idyllic place that it is. Sadly, now that Koh Rong has been featured as the best beach spot in Cambodia in a few backpacker’s magazines, it won’t take long for big hotel chains and other investors to come to the island and “develop” it, ruining the amazing natural untouched paradise it is. All we can hope for is that the government and the people in Koh Rong will protect what they have and not let it be ruined.

Carlos relaxing in the water
Carlos relaxing in the water

We took our boat back to Sihanoukville by the end of the second day. It was not hard to see why some people come here with the intention of staying a few days, but end up staying for years. It was a hard goodbye and we will miss the time we spent in this little treasure island.

Leaving the Koh Rong island
Leaving the Koh Rong island

For more pictures of the paradise island of Koh Rong, please visit the gallery!