The white sand, lush vegetation and impossibly blue, clear water make Koh Rong the island of your dreams. This sliceof unspoiled paradise is still in the beginning stages of development, where a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere makes you feel miles away from everything. It’s quickly becoming a must-visit destination of Southeast Asia.
Located a short boat ride from seedy Sihanoukville, once on the island you may never want to leave. Many tourists find jobs working in bars and restaurants on Koh Rong in exchange for room and board and stay for months. There are no roads on Koh Rong, only sandy pathways leading from one end of the beach to another. Some describe it as a more affordable, less developed version of the now-bustling islands in southern Thailand.
Electricity, produced from gas generators, is shut off almost everywhere on the island in the afternoon and again from 2am – 8am. The only exceptions are a few businesses, such as Dreamcatcher Café and Seahouse Inn, which use solar electricity during those times. Reliable wifi is scarce and there are no ATMs on the island.
While maintaining a castaway feel, there are also options for partying on Koh Rong. Alcohol is affordable, especially during happy hour. Some guesthouses even give away free beer to guests. A few bars play music until 2am and fire shows are put on regularly. The wildest, all-night events are the Full Moon Parties, which happen on a secluded part of the island, accessible by a special ferry that runs only for these parties.
Eating and drinking in Koh Rong
There is a wide variety of western food available, but the locally-owned Khmer restaurants are more affordable. The only hot food available after 9pm are $2 toasties from Vagabonds Restaurant.
Here is a list of places to eat:
- White Rose Café: The service is slow, but the food is worth the wait at locally-owned White Rose. They have a mix of Khmer and western staff, a friendly atmosphere and an extensive menu of Khmer and western food for mid-range prices. There is comfortable seating upstairs, on the ground level and outside on the sand.
- La Mami: At this Italian restaurant and guesthouse on the pier, you can sample savoury handmade pasta prepared by the Italian owners. It’s a bit pricey for Koh Rong, but a great choice if you want to splurge.
- Nice Foods: This locally-run restaurant is hidden up a muddy alleyway, behind White Rose Café. They have a large menu of affordable Khmer and western food.
- Monkey Island Restaurant: Monkey Island is a laid-back retreat in the trees and was one of the first businesses on Koh Rong. They have a large menu of Thai and Khmer food, a barbecue and a beautiful view of the beach.
Accommodation in Koh Rong
The island has 43 km of beaches, but most tourists stay in one of the many bungalows and guesthouses that line the beach where the ferry docks. For cheaper accommodation, turn left from the pier. Turn right for nicer, more expensive rooms and bungalows. Most accommodations have a 9 am or 10 am check-out time so the rooms will be ready for the next batch of travellers arriving on the morning ferry.
Here is a list of places to stay:
- Vana’s Guesthouse: Turn left when you get off the pier, and then right, down an alley called the ‘Khmer Village’, where you will find Vana’s Guesthouse and several other affordable guesthouses owned by local people. Rooms at Vana’s have only the basics: a bed, a bug net and a shelf. There are shared bathrooms, two common areas and free water, tea and instant coffee.
- Dreamcatcher Café: Nicer, but still affordable rooms at the Dreamcatcher Inn have the special perk of free wifi. There is a patio for guests and a popular café/bar below the rooms. The young, western owners will make you feel at home.
- Ty Ty Guesthouse: This affordable, locally-run guesthouse, to the left of the pier, has basic rooms, shared bathrooms and a nice wraparound patio on the second floor. There is a little store and fruit stand conveniently located right below the rooms.
- Happy Bungalows: To the right from the pier, located beachfront, behind palm trees with about a dozen hammocks strung between them, you will find Happy Bungalows. Here are bungalows for two people, or as many as eight.
- Treehouse Bungalows: If you’re looking for the most unique accommodation on the island and don’t mind paying a little more, this option is for you. Located far to the right of the pier, on the secluded end of the beach, are Treehouse Bungalows, where guests sleep in idyllic bungalows as high as 6 metres above the sandy beach.
There are also a couple bungalows and a restaurant on the much quieter Long Beach, which is about a 45-minute hike from where the ferry docks.
Things to do in Koh Rong
You may feel satisfied reading a book in a hammock all day on Koh Rong, but if you feel like being more active, there are plenty of things to do.
- Boat trip: A local guide can take you with a group of travellers on a boat in the afternoon to Long Beach, on another part of Koh Rong. You can swim, snorkel and fish, and the guide will barbecue what you catch. After taking in the sunset, you can jump off the boat to swim and witness bioluminescence, thousands of tiny flashes of light created by marine microorganisms in the water.
- Kayak: You can rent a kayak for the day and explore Koh Rong and nearby islands.
- Snorkel: You can rent snorkel gear to see fish, crabs and other marine life around the rocks.
- Volleyball: There are volleyball nets set up on Police Beach, about a 10-minute walk from the main beach.
- A sparkly, late night swim: If you wait until after the electricity is shut off on the islandat 2am, or walk to a dark beach, you can swim and splash around in the ocean and see the bioluminescence.
- Butterfly Farm: Down the path towards Police Beach is a small butterfly farm, where you can see hundreds of colourful butterflies.
- High Point Adventure Park: Adrenaline seekers will find, on the same path as the butterfly farm, a park featuring climbing, rope-walking and two zip lines, high in the trees. Admission is $25-$35, depending on the season.
- Volunteering: An organization called Friends of Koh Rong has long-term and short-term volunteer opportunities for travellers. You can work with local kids, reduce the environmental impact of tourism on Koh Rong and educate travellers about responsible tourism, among other things.
- Diving: Koh Rong Diver Centre offers all kinds of diving experiences including PADI certification courses, kids programs and night dives. Koh Rong isn’t the best place for diving, however, because of poor underwater visibility.
There are many buses from Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, and other tourist destinations to Sihanoukville, in the south of Cambodia, where there are several ferries to Koh Rong.
There is a super fast ferry, which takes under half an hour, a fast ferry, which takes about 45 minutes, and a slow boat, which takes about 90 minutes. The faster the boat, the pricier the ticket. The guesthouses on Serendipity Beach sell ferry tickets for higher prices than hostels and travel agencies on Serendipity Road.
This guide was written by Natalie Bocking, who also writes fun, personal travel stories on her blog, Drifting in Asia. Photos by Chase Tucker.