Nestled about 15 miles off the coast of Cambodia in the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Thailand is a beautiful unspoiled island of treasure just waiting to be explored. That island, with the sparkling white sand beaches and views to die for, is Koh Rong.
The second largest island in Cambodia and only recently developed in 2000, Koh Rong is just a short one hour trip from Sihanoukville, the popular tourist destination on the mainland of southern Cambodia. The island is pretty small, not even six miles at its widest and just nine miles long, but boasts almost 40 miles of coastline.
Because the island is so recently developed, there are no high buildings, shopping centers or surprisingly, even 7-Elevens. So if you’re looking to get a high-end gel manicure, this is not the place.
Koh Rong caters both to backpackers and families. You can find a room in a guesthouse for as little as $5 per night or a bungalow on the beach with air-con for around $40 per night. Even in high season, you can find a room pretty easily, and since many of the guesthouses and hostels aren’t registered online (Wi-Fi is spotty at best), it’s much easier to just find a place once you’re on the island. That way you can have a look around and decide what’s best for you. For families, the nicer accommodations are usually available to browse on booking sites.
Things to Do
Most of Koh Rong’s coastline is graced by beautiful white sand beaches, while the interior is almost completely covered in lush forest. If you like to hike, there are trails throughout the island, leading to rushing waterfalls hidden deep in the thicket. If you’d rather relax, there are 28 beaches on the island that offer stunning views of the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Thailand and absolutely spectacular sunsets. Most beaches are just a short (and cheap) longtail boat ride away.
Boat tours go out every day to different beaches around the island. There are many companies running tours, which are more or less the same, and will run you about $8 for a full day of snorkeling, fishing, free barbeque lunch and drinks and a guaranteed stunning seaside sunset. Yes, $8.
Most tours stay out past sunset to allow swimming with bioluminescent plankton, a natural phenomenon that causes little sparkles of bright blue light in the dark ocean water. You can also see the plankton when swimming off the beach at night but it’s more intense in the deep ocean after sundown.
There are a surprising number of shopping opportunities on the island, selling handcrafted products made right on the island, like little Buddha bracelets and hand painted t-shirts. Lace crop tops, silver earrings and denim cutoffs make appearances as well.
Depending on weather, you might feel like just hanging out in a hammock all day long and that’s okay too. The vibe on the island is very chilled out during the day, with most people lounging around, sunbathing, reading books and sipping cocktails. Check out CoCo’s on the main beach for comfy circle chairs and a cold draught beer.
Koh Rong parties. If you’re traveling with a family, you’ll probably want to stay off the main beach as it’s lined with bars and hostels that go full throttle every night. There are hippie bars, local bars and even a reggae club with a dance floor that gets down around 10pm.
Everywhere on the main beach starts to shut down at midnight, after which the party moves to Police Beach. A 15-minute walk from the pier, Police Beach is deserted during the day but hosts a huge party with live music that goes late into the night every night. The locals are friendly, the drinks are strong and the scenery is beautiful.
There is no hospital on the island and if you get injured, you’ll need to take a private boat back to the mainland which will set you back around $250. Keep that in mind when you’re walking around barefoot at night, or in the sea with sharp coral.
Like most islands in South East Asia, Koh Rong attracts a young crowd looking to have some fun. Always watch your drinks and leave your valuables at home. Swimming after a few drinks is also not a great idea, no matter how beautiful the bioluminescent plankton is.
Sand flies are an issue on Koh Rong. They’re tiny little insects that you don’t notice biting you until after you’ve acquired a very red and itchy rash. It’s not pretty. Coconut oil keeps them away so be sure to slather yourself when going to beaches without a lot of foot traffic.
As is to be expected, the sun is quite strong on the island and sunscreen is a daily necessity. Always drink plenty of water and go easy on the alcohol if you start to feel sun poisoning coming on.
Getting sick on Koh Rong is not an unusual occurrence and sometimes there’s nothing you can do to avoid it. Only drink bottled water, stay away from food that has been sitting out for too long and be careful when consuming fruit shakes, as the ice isn’t always safe.
Your experience on Koh Rong will be what you make it. There’s potential to have an absolutely beautiful vacation on an underdeveloped island rich with gorgeous beaches, lush forest, friendly locals and stunning sunsets.
The island is admittedly less accommodating to those used to a more glamorous style of traveling, but if you can just accept the fact that you’ll probably be without Wi-Fi, hot water and possibly even power while you’re there, you’ll have a great time. Those looking for an authentically South East Asian island experience with access to some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world will find it in Koh Rong, Cambodia.