Paradise in Cambodia? Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem
Before I went travelling I didn’t know much about Cambodia and if I’m entirely honest, it wasn’t somewhere I was super excited about visiting. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt whilst travelling, it’s that you should never ever judge a place before you visit. So many places have completely surprised me and a few that I was least excited for have actually been some of the most enjoyable. Cambodia was one of those places. It’s a country bursting with history, unbelievable and heartbreaking history that everyone should know about, some of the friendliest people we met on all of our travels throughout Asia and the location of one of the most beautiful temples in the whole world but did you know that just off the Southern coast of Cambodia sits two islands, dubbed as tropical paradises?
Another thing I’ve learnt from travelling is to never get your hopes up. When travelling, the word ‘paradise’ gets thrown about so much to the point that it kind of loses its meaning. Paradise to me is crystal clear turquoise waters mimicking swimming pools and pristine white sandy beaches lined with palm trees and uninterrupted blue skies towering above. Paradise to other people may have a totally different meaning however and some of the places we were told were ‘paradise’ have been far from it so as you can probably imagine, we were a little sceptical after the word was used to describe Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem.
The biggest of the two islands, Koh Rong is approximately an hour’s boat ride from the coastal city of Sihanoukville, a place I personally wouldn’t recommend visiting unless you want to sunbathe on some pretty disappointing and dirty beaches littered with waste. A coffee whilst you wait for your boat right back out of there is my best advice for visiting Sihanoukville. Despite the recent influx of tourists to Koh Rong and a large number of the cafes and guesthouses being run by Westerners, the island still manages to feel relatively untouched say compared to a Thai island. By no means is this ‘real’ Cambodia though and if you’re looking for traditional culture, it’s probably not your best bet. Instead, you’ll find a completely chilled out place with long stretches of white sand beaches.
The island is home to one main village which goes by the name of Koh Touch, a ‘strip’ of several cafes, restaurants, bars and guesthouses that will take you a measly few minutes to walk up and down. Some of these bars stay open relatively late pumping loud music down the street which is where Koh Rong gets it’s party reputation. When it comes to accommodation here, basic is probably an understatement and it’s a slight downfall if you care about cleanliness, bugs and cold showers. On the plus side, accommodation is cheap but there’s certainly no frills if you’re staying in Koh Touch. My main bit of advice when it comes to accommodation in the village is to stay off the main street unless you’re happy to sacrifice a good night’s sleep as some of the bars that stay open late, really let you know that they’re open with their incredibly loud music that almost makes you feel like you’re partying with them despite being tucked up in bed.
One of the main selling points of Koh Rong is it’s beaches, most notably 4K beach which sits an approximate 45 minute walk away from Koh Touch village. There you’ll find a long beautiful white sand beach with clear seas and for such a gorgeous beach, it’s surprisingly quiet and untouristy which adds to it’s appeal. We spent our days sunbathing here and drinking cocktails from the wooden beach shacks, perfectly situated along the sea. The beach on the main tourist hub of Koh Touch is okay but the nicest beaches on the island are either a long walk or a boat ride away and a trip well worth making.
I loved Koh Rong and I can imagine 5 to 10 years ago that it was even more untouched and beautiful. Unfortunately I can also imagine that in 5 to 10 years time, it might lose that unspoiled feel that it’s still gripping onto. It’s hard when you want to keep something a secret so it doesn’t get ruined by tourism but you also want to talk about it because it’s such a cool place and everyone should be able to experience it. I’ll admit, it wasn’t quite paradise to me but nevertheless it’s home to some beautiful beaches and the perfect place to chill out during the day and have fun on an evening.
With no Wifi and just a few hours of electricity a day, Koh Rong Samloem is even more untouched and undeveloped than it’s neighbour. When we arrived, the boat dropped us off at M’Pay Bay, the local fishing village which is lined with a few guesthouses, restaurants and cafes. If I’m honest, as soon as I stepped onto the island and took in my surroundings I would have left right there and then. I came face to face with one of the dirtiest beaches I’ve ever seen and a street piled high with litter. SO much litter. Paradise? This was far from it.
I was shocked and disappointed. We had booked a hostel at the end of M’Pay Bay called Yellow Moon Hostel. Like I said, the accommodation on Koh Rong is basic but on Koh Rong Samloem it’s on a whole other level. Staying in a wooden hut with no air con, no room to move, no electricity and the only thing protecting us from the bugs and lizards whilst we slept was a mosquito net with large holes in it…yep, it’s 3 nights of accommodation I would rather forget.
However, when we eventually saw what Koh Rong Samloem had to offer, the accommodation actually became bearable.
An hours trek through the sea and through jungle and getting bitten every step of the way led us to one of the most, if not the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. Clear Water Bay. Now this was paradise. Stunning clear shallow waters with the most inviting hammocks positioned in the sea and the whitest of sands that your feet sank so nicely into.
Lying on the beach with no wifi, just blue skies above and the warmth of the sun running across our bodies was bliss. As someone who finds it hard to switch off and forget about everything, Clear Water Bay let me do just that and spending the day there in that secluded paradise was one of my favourite days ever.
It was seriously hard to believe that this was on the same island as M’Pay Bay. The two beaches were literally worlds apart but Clear Water Bay finally made me realise why we were told this island was paradise. It was simply beautiful and if you’re ever visiting Koh Rong Samloem, this is an absolute must.
Unfortunately, the huge problem on Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, the latter especially, is the disposal of waste. When something that could be seriously stunning is ruined by a build up of rubbish it’s sad. The islands seem to have no way of getting rid of all the waste that is being created daily and it desperately needs addressing before they get ruined.
Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem gave me a taste of a different side of Cambodia that I had no idea existed and one that should be added to your itinerary so you can experience the beauty of the islands yourself whilst they still feel relatively untouched.