Saturday, 17 May 2014

Koh Rong - Cambodia's Paradise Island

After saying goodbye to wonderful Kampot, Angela and I took a bus to Sihanoukville before ferrying over to the island of Koh Rong. So many travellers we'd met had told us to go there, as it has dozens of pristine white beaches and azure bays, and is relatively quiet compared to the more well-known island hotspots in Southeast Asia. In fact, it only started opening up to tourists in the last decade, and has been described as "like Thailand 20 years ago." There are no roads, cars or cash machines, and electricity only runs for five hours a day, so once again we had to say goodbye to air conditioned rooms and embrace the humidity, sweat and bugs just like we did at Ganesha.

Speaking of bugs, one of the first warnings we received as we arrived on the island was to watch out for sandflies. Neither of us were familiar with these tiny, midge-like insects, but after some careful reading online we soon became terrified. Also known as sandfleas, sandgnats and no-see-ums, they are known to discreetly feed on your blood while you sunbathe, leaving dozens of sore, red bite marks across your skin, sometimes itching severely for days on end. What makes it even worse is that sandflies like to pee on you after they bite you, which can turn those bite marks into huge, infected, pus-filled lesions that don't disappear for days or even weeks. These little fuckers make mosquitos seem positively delightful, don't they? Thank god we were warned in advance. For most of our stay we lathered ourselves in DEET, mosquito repellant, coconut oil and anything else we could get our hands on, and tried to stay in the sea instead of bathing in the sand. In the end, apart from a minor encounter with these sandflies on one of the island's more secluded beaches, we escaped unharmed. Still, the constant fear of being bitten was definitely a huge drawback to our visit.

Fortunately, in most other respects the island lived up to our expectations. The beaches were some of the prettiest either of us had been to, really as though straight out of a postcard, and we got to enjoy some snorkelling and jungle trekking while we were there. It was very much like Thailand's Phi Phi Islands, only much more clean and quiet. Here are some photos we took:

Our route by bus from Kampot to Sihanouville, then by ferry to Koh Rong.
On the way to Sihanoukville, we passed the sprawling hills of Bokor National Park.
After a short ride, we arrived at Sihanoukville, the popular beach town named after King Sihanouk, who ruled Cambodia from 1953 to 1970.

Angela discovered this engraving dedicated to her.
Sihanoukville has its own share of gorgeous, golden beaches, but we didn't stay long enough to see many of them.
Before long we were on a ferry bound for the nearby island of Koh Rong.
Arriving at the small stretch of bungalows and bars that are the closest thing to a town on the island.

Our accommodation was located a fifteen-minute walk along the beach. With our heavy backpacks and the deep sand it was a somewhat tiresome walk, but we got to see some lovely views of the sea as we went along.
In Kampot we stayed in yurts overlooking a river. Here on Koh Rong, we stayed in a treehouse overlooking the ocean!
Inside our treehouse, with the much-needed mosquito net.
Hard to feel sad about bugs when you have a view like this from your room.

The treehouses have their own private beach separated from the main beach and town.

We went out to swim in these waters several times, and on our second day we did some snorkelling around the rocks in the area, spotting dozens of fish, corals and sea urchins.
Yep, we found it.

Walking along the main stretch of beach.

Angela took this awesome shot of the nearby jungle with sunlight pouring through.
Evening setting in.
That night we went to a quiz night at a local bar and teamed up with some fellow travellers. We won by a long shot, and were awarded a bottle of whiskey, which helped turned the rest of the night into a hazy, drunken mess.
On our second day I was pretty hungover, so we just relaxed by the beach, ate mangos and did some snorkelling. On the third day, in much better health, we went for a trek through the jungles in the heart of the island.

A water buffalo. Apparently, not too long ago one drunken traveller was hospitalised after trying to ride one of these.

The path was fairly clear at first, but became much thicker and jungley as we went along.

Then we had to descend via some treacherous rocks!

We followed flip-flops and sandals turned into makeshift signposts...
...which eventually led us to the secluded Long Beach on the other side of the island.

Couldn't resist a hammock in a place like this.
The waters here were perfectly clear and teeming with tiny fish. Absolutely the most idyllic beach we've been to.

Because of the sandflies, we only stayed for an hour or two before getting a taxi-boat back to the other side of the island.

I didn't catch the Khmer name for this, but for dinner that evening I had delicious pineapple, chicken and rice.
The next day we departed Koh Rong and returned briefly to Sihanoukville. While waiting for a bus back to Kampot, we went to a cinema. We had our own private, air-conditioned room where we watched Game of Thrones and drank some beers. The perfect way to pass a few hours!

Along with Kampot, Koh Rong helped secure Cambodia as one of our favourite countries. The beaches were so ridiculously perfect, and the atmosphere so relaxed, that we really could have stayed for much longer if it weren't for those damn sandflies. It was great getting to see this beautiful, secluded place before it inevitably falls prey to expansion and tourist development over the next decade or so.

From Kampot we headed to Vietnam, which we'll be exploring in my next post. For now, we have to say goodbye to Cambodia, a place that grew on us a lot during our stay. It's a dusty, impoverished country with a sad history, but it has so much to offer visitors, with its cultural treasures, beautiful landscapes, and its laid back, friendly people. I hope that it finds more fortune in the future than it has in the past, and regardless of its current flaws, I highly recommend you visit the place if you haven't already.


  1. The tree house accommodation looks fantastic! And this view..... Is there any way you could link to their website or mail me some address/price?

    Cheers from Sweden!

    Ellvira @

    1. Of course, here's the link:

      It's 35 dollars per night for the treehouse. Lovely view, but be prepared for bugs and no air-con. It's worth it for one night though. Happy travels!

  2. Hello. Thank you so much for writing about our island paradise Koh Rong – We need all the help we can get to keep spreading the good word! We are a non-profit, independent organisation created to help keep the Koh Rong Islands clean and help the local fishing communities. Would you mind sharing the link to our new guide to help our project? Your help would be very much appreciated! You can find our guide on Koh Rong here:

    Thank you!