One of the places I was most looking forward to visiting in Cambodia was Koh Rong. I’d heard it was an idyllic, beautiful island still relatively untouched by tourists, yet getting much busier, with plans for resorts being built and the word of the Islands beauty getting out. I’d heard that now was the time to go, or it would be too late. In a few years, the island would be ruined, it’s tranquility lost. It would become the new Koh Samui.
On the way through Vietnam and Cambodia, so many people were talking about Koh Rong. Clearly, it was no longer a hidden, secret gem. A few years back, this island was not really on the backpacker route. The only boat to the island took two and a half hours. Now fast 40 minute boats depart from Serenity Beach in Sihinoukville 4 times a day. I still had high hopes for the island though, loving the idea of it’s chilled out vibe, crystal clear waters, and lush white sandy beaches. Many people said it was the ultimate contrast from sleazy Sihinoukville, with it’s littered beaches, exploited children, and it’s many prostitutes filling the beachside bars. I couldn’t wait. After one messy night in Sihinoukville and experiencing its nature, we hopped on the ferry to Koh Rong.
It’s true that the island is a complete contrast from Sihinoukville. I’m not sure the two can be compared. On Koh Rong, the sand was gorgeous white and the sea a deep blue. There were lots of happy, smiling Cambodian children, playing in the sea. None of them begging or selling bracelets. Yet, despite it’s lovely nature, Koh Rong disappointed me, and was not what I expected. As I mentioned above, people said to go now before it was too late, but I felt that it was already too late. The island had way more infrastructure on the beachfront than I expected, and building work awoke me every morning, while pumping beats from the bar were my lullaby at night.
Don’t get me wrong, I did like Koh Rong and I enjoyed my time there, and my first impressions were good. As we stepped off the pier we got a bungalow in the first guesthouse we encountered, Coco’s. It cost us $10 a night in total, split between three of us. The bungalow was simple yet did the trick, with a balcony and a hammock. The beach front had many guesthouses, bars and restaurants. Fresh fish was caught every day, so you could guarantee decent seafood available for dinner every evening. And the bars were fun. Bunnahs Place offered cheap cocktails and a great place to dance, Mango was chilled out and stayed open super late, and Coco was always buzzing. Despite the fact there was way more partying than I expected, the atmosphere still felt pretty chilled out. And after the intensity of Vietnam, doing nothing with my day except lying on a beach was pure bliss. But even so, I was taken aback by the party vibe. Seeing as generators only run for certain times in the day, I thought this would be a place people came to chill and have a casual beer, not a full on party. It seems bars have sprung up in order to please the backpacker masses who have found Koh Rong. Many people I met stayed for a long time on Koh Rong, a couple of weeks, or even found jobs in the bars there. Some of these people described it as bliss, but for me the constant pressure to party and inability to escape is not bliss.
There were certain elements of Koh Rong that I adored. On one evening, we got a boat out to a nearby island so we could see the luminous plankton. It was honestly the most beautiful display of nature I’ve ever witnessed. I saw plankton in Halong Bay but nothing like this. Everywhere we moved, glittering stars moved with us. We went underwater and it was like being in space.
The sunset in Koh Rong was also spectacular. To see the sunset, you have to go to the other part of the island. You can do a trek through the forest within the centre, or get a boat around. We got a boat. We sat in the gorgeous sea, which was so much clearer and warmer than on the other side of the island, drank some beer, and watched the sun set on the horizon.
Koh Rong is a nice place and it is worth visiting. There’s plenty to do, or not do, depending on how you feel. It’s also apparently great for diving. Yet, don’t expect a hidden gem. Don’t expect to be alone. This island is developing fast. It will be just like one of the busier Thai Islands before you know it. That I am sure of. It’s a fun place and is way better than Sihinoukville, but the development of backpacker-centric buildings is swallowing it up. The beach was not clean until you walked right to the end of the strip. If you want to get away from the crowds, that is an impossibility on Koh Rong. Every man and his dog is here. The word is out.
However, after Koh Rong I discovered Kampot, and there, I found just what I was looking for.