Koh Rong, Cambodia: One of the Best Places to Relax in Southeast Asia
A Journey to Koh Rong
I’d like to think I’m a pretty good traveller. I haven’t been ripped off too badly and am usually switched on, but on my journey to Koh Rong, Cambodia, my form deserted me. My brain had already switched to island time, but unfortunately I hadn’t remembered to change my IPod to Cambodia time. Arriving at 4 pm, I knew I had an hour and a half to get from Phnom Penh airport to the bus station in order to catch the last bus to Sihanoukville, the gateway to Koh Rong. I got through immigration quicker than usual and checked my IPod. The time read 5.15pm. “How could that be?” I thought, but obviously not hard enough. I grumpily caught a tuk-tuk into town, found a guesthouse and booked my bus ticket for the morning. I’m not sure when I finally realised my mistake, but knowing I had wasted valuable relaxation time for such a stupid mistake put me in a terrible mood.
I’m not sure why, but I chose not to book the first bus in the morning, opting instead for a slightly more civilized wake-up time. Of course the bus was delayed, and I ended up in Sihnoukville about half an hour too late for the last ferry. I even lost my bus ticket (luckily no one checked it) and by the time I was finally on the ferry to Koh Rong I was regretting my choice of holiday destination.
All that ill-feeling quickly faded as we pulled into port. A surprisingly small main town (it’s not the main town as far as locals are concerned, but almost all tourists are based there), clear blue water and a peaceful ambience await the few visitors who make it here. It won’t be like this for long. Surely the equal of any South East Asian island, Koh Rong is what comes to mind when people go on (often pretentiously) about how great Thailand’s islands used to be.
The main street in Koh Rong’s tourist centre
Walking from one end of town to the other takes about five minutes. I say town, but it’s really just a few guesthouses, restaurants, bars, fruit shops, dive shops and small convenience stores. The locals seem pretty laid back and friendly, although they could keep the place a bit cleaner. This is a young tourist town, so I guess it’s wrong to demand the level of cleanliness people have come to expect on other island paradises, but it is pretty shocking in some areas.
FURTHER READING: Check out my post on Koh Rong’s neighbour, Koh Rong Samloem
Things to do on Koh Rong
I did very little during my week-long stay on Koh Rong. I’ve heard there is some good diving and island-hopping but I was there to relax and this place fit the bill perfectly. I did go on a walk over to Long Beach, which took about an hour and was mostly a light stroll, until the part where I had to scramble down a rocky hill. It was all worth it when the bright white beach came into view, and the water wasn’t bad either. I haven’t visited too many islands yet, but it’s going to be hard to beat the scene at Long Beach. There is actually one guesthouse there and if I return I’ll stay for at least a few days.
Getting to Koh Rong
Koh Rong is located off the coast of Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s premier coastal holiday destination. It’s a not a bad place in its own right and I stayed at Otres beach, the furthest beach from town, for a week in late 2011. Sihanoukville is around 4 hours from Phnom Pehn but delays are common. From there it’s a 2 hour boat ride to Koh Rong.
My home for the week was the local Italian restaurant/guesthouse. I’d heard there was a bit of a rat infestation going on in Koh Rong, so I did my research and chose a place which claimed to have a small army of cats to keep me safe. They proved a good deterrent; I didn’t see one rat the whole time I was there. This small guesthouse is located on a pier, so I was literally sleeping over the ocean, which I found pretty peaceful. The whole town runs on generators so power is only available for a few hours in the evenings. This isn’t the most up-market of islands and those looking for a bit of luxury should go elsewhere. The beach-front bungalows could also be a good option, as long as you don’t mind rats climbing over you while you sleep.
FURTHER READING: 10 of the Best Beaches in Southeast Asia
Koh Rong isn’t for everyone: It’s dirtier than the other islands I’ve been to and the accommodation standards aren’t great, but if you moan about the overcrowded Thai islands and want somewhere a bit more raw, you should definitely check it out. Keep a look out for other great places to relax in Southeast Asia, including Lake Toba in Indonesia and Don Det in Laos.