There is a certain beauty in wilderness, it is all-consuming, brazen and unapologetic. And for me, no place embodies this spirit better than Koh Rong – a beautiful Cambodian island in the Gulf of Thailand, this place overwhelmed me in more ways than one.
When I was planning my itinerary for Cambodia, this island particularly stood out – it seemed so far off, so secluded, so beautiful in pictures and still fairly undiscovered, I just knew that I couldn’t go back without a stop here. The fact that just getting to this place would be fairly time consuming on a 10 day trip wasn’t a deterrent. So I landed in Sihanoukville and an hour’s ferry ride later, I was in Koh Rong.
And in spite of all my online research, I just wasn’t prepared for what I saw 🙂 . Clear crystal waters in various shades of blue, an open expanse of a limitless sunny sky, powdery white sands, and that feeling of discovering something that not many have access to.
We got off at Tui beach, which is the most popular one (the island has about 28 beaches). All I could see from the pier was a row of huts and cafes in a line and I soon realized that that is all there is. YES. All that you see in your first eyeful is all there is. Beyond that is thick jungle, nothing more. There are no roads, no vehicles (Except your legs to carry you around). You will feel like you have literally reached the end of the world!
As you move from one end of the beach to the other, you will feel the change of pace. While one side is the backpacker party side, the other is quieter and more relaxed. I stayed in both, but preferred the latter, since it was more secluded, quiet and calming. And the seclusion bought its own share of challenges – sandflies. Basically, the more untouched the island, the more the sandflies. We were warned by everyone to cover ourselves in coconut oil as it repels the bugs. Which I did follow very religiously – but alas, they found and attacked me, and the severity of the bites increased after 10 days, when they filled with pus and I had to take medicines to subside the hysterical itch. Almost everyone on the island had severe bites and marks from sand flies on their legs, backs and arms. Don’t be discouraged, they probably didn’t oil themselves enough 😉
The accommodation is pretty basic – which in my definition means to forget your bed tea, coffee, blow dryer, hot shower or full time electricity. In CoCo bungalows, our attached bathroom didn’t have a flush, you had to throw a bucket of water to wash down your remains. We also stayed at the quieter end in White Beach Bungalows, which was much nicer with a bigger bathroom (and a flush!).
Moving accommodation was also quite an adventure, since we had big suitcases which were impossible to drag in the sand. So we had to hire a small boat to take them through the water, while we were on foot. I think we were probably the only two people on the island with suitcases, everyone else had back packs. This experience was a first of sorts for me, and I just wasn’t prepared well enough.
But were some of these challenges a spoiler for me? Not really and here is why –
My day looked like this – Get up. Have Breakfast. Sunbathe. Swim. Sunbathe some more. Read. Eat. Day dream. Sleep (in my own hammock). Eat. Repeat. I wondered as I lay on the sand if there was a world beyond this, if I had another life. I remember feeling that this was it. Life was this simple. And what more did one need. Koh Rong has that effect. It really does.
The island is fairly primitive right now, so Koh Rong is definitely not for you if you can’t handle being in the middle of nowhere. But if you love nature and a bit of adventure, then you should totally visit this place before it become more commercial. (Which I heard is not too far into the future. Apparently a multinational has bought the island lease for 99 years, and a number of big hotels will be coming up soon).
Things you should know about Koh Rong
- There is no doctor on the island, only a makeshift pharmacy with basic facilities for cuts, insect bites etc. So this is not a place where one can afford to be reckless– if you run into a serious problem which can’t be treated at the pharmacy, you will need to get a boat ride to the mainland, which can cost precious time and money.
- The island is infested with rats, so you need to ensure that there is not even a tiny morsel of food in your room. We made the mistake of leaving a sealed pack of biscuits in our bag, only to find it ripped open, eaten and thrown all around our room by the rodents.
- I really liked the White Beach bungalows where we stayed. Paradise bungalows and Monkey Island are also supposed to be great but were full when we went.
- Do not forget to eat the best wood fired pizzas on the island at the Tree House Resort – this is the last resort on the beach, beyond this is just water on one side and jungle on the other. And if you want more activity than just lazing around all day, you can try to snorkel, kayak, trek at the island and if you dare, swim with the Planktons at night.
- The island runs only on generator and solar power, so one can expect power supply depending on where one is staying. CoCo had electricity from 8 am – 11 am and then from 1 pm – 2 am. White Beach had power only from 5:30 pm – 11:00 pm, during which times I went into a frenzy to charge my phone, laptop, camera et al.
When I went
- Christmas time which is peak season and it was extremely tough to get a spot to stay. So my advice would be to book in advance
How to reach
- We booked ferry tickets at Koh Rong Dive Center in Sihanoukville, for $20 per person for a return trip. You can also buy them at Serendipity pier
- There are two ferries- the regular one takes 2 hours while the high speed ferry takes an hour (we took this)
Have you been to Koh Rong yet and if yes, what were your impressions?