“Should I visit Koh Rong or Koh Rong Samloem?”
It was the fourth time I’d been asked the question since getting back from my latest trip to Cambodia’s most popular islands.
Having first visited in late 2015, and then again in early 2024, I’ve seen how the islands have changed over the years. Both visits had me staying for longer than intended, forcing me to move between various accommodation options based on where there was a spare bed! On both occasions, I was forced to leave due to my visa, rather than actually wanting to get on the boat. What can I say, tropical islands are a weakness of mine. 🤷♂️
So, what do I say when people ask me whether they should visit Koh Rong or Koh Rong Samloem?
My answer is always the same, “visit both, if you have the time. But if not, it depends what you’re looking for…”
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Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem Compared
The following checklist is just a summary – read on for more information!
|Koh Rong Island
|Koh Rong Samloem Island
|Party Vibes 🍾
|Laid Back Vibes 😎
|Easy To Get Around 🛺
|Easy To Get To 🚤
|Range Of Accommodation 🛏️
|Range Of Activities 🤿
|✔️ (even less occasional)
|Phone Signal 📶
|❌ (cashback is available in some places)
|❌ (cashback is available in some places)
|Card Payments 💳
|✔️ (in some places)
|✔️ (in fewer places)
|24 Hour Electricity ⚡️
|Air Conditioning ❄️
|✔️ (in some places)
|✔️ (in fewer places)
Koh Rong vs Koh Rong Samloem – What You Should Know!
Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem are more similar today than they were a decade ago. Development has arrived on both islands and although Koh Rong is further along the path to sanitised tourism, Samloem is heading in that direction too.
That’s not to say the islands are entirely big resorts and overflowing beaches. It’s still possible to find glimpses or in some instances, vast swathes of undisturbed paradise if you know where to go.
The islands each have their own feel too. While infrastructure projects are making the islands look more similar, there are enough differences to ensure your experience on each won’t be the same!
Koh Rong Samloem vs Koh Rong Sanloem
🍾 For Party Vibes – Koh Rong
Koh Rong is undoubtedly the party island. It’s one of the most popular party hotspots in Southeast Asia! If you’re looking for Koh Phangan without the yoga and wellness, you’ve found it. This is especially true in the backpacker hub of Koh Touch (also spelt Koh Tuch, Koh Toch or Koh Tuich), where music goes on well into the morning, happy hour lasts most of the day and budget beds can be found for just a few dollars a night.
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It should be noted that Koh Rong isn’t all party, party, party. You can still find plenty of accommodation options and quiet spots if you want a more relaxed time – just avoid Koh Touch! Palm Beach Bungalow Resort offers high-quality bungalow-style accommodation, ideal for couples and families seeking a relaxing stay!
While Koh Rong is the place for revellers, that’s not to say you can’t find a good night out on Koh Rong Samloem. The 23 fundraising parties in M’Pai Bay are cementing themselves into backpacker lore and with Onederz Hostel in Saracen Bay, there’s a big backpacker chain catering to those in search of good vibes!
☮️ For Laid Back Hippy Chic – Koh Rong Samloem
For the time being, Koh Rong Samloem retains a good chunk of the chilled-out backpacker charm that first made it one of my favourite places in Cambodia.
While spots like Sunset Beach are much more built up than they used to be, the development has been done in such a way that it doesn’t feel intrusive or out of place. There’s still plenty of greenery and buildings are made from natural materials. They don’t look out of place like some of the big concrete monstrosities going up elsewhere!
Even in M’Pai Bay, where the majority of buildings are two to three stories tall and made of cement, the hippy vibe remains.
If you’re looking for a real break to unwind and relax for a while, Koh Rong Samloem is for you.
While laid back and chilled out can also be found on Koh Rong, it’s not the same. Most of the sociable spots are set up for excess (be that booze or drugs), not for chilling.
⛱️ For Resorts – Koh Rong
Both islands are well served with resorts of varying quality but Koh Rong offers a better choice. The island offers better access via the ring road, making the resorts easier to get to. It also means you can explore the island without relying on taxi boats!
🌴 For Nature – Koh Rong Samloem
You’ll find plenty of nature on both Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem but if you want to properly explore, Koh Rong Samloem allows easier access. You’re almost always near the jungle and there are plenty of snorkelling and diving opportunities too! The water surrounding the islands makes up part of the Koh Rong National Marine Park – Cambodia’s first marine park. Here fishing is restricted, allowing the local flora and fauna to thrive!
Sunset Beach offers some of the clearest water on the island but you’ll find the most fish around rocks and near cliffs. One of my favourite spots to snorkel is from the shore below Cliff Hostel and On The Rocks in M’Pai Bay. They both have stairs leading down to the sea, so you need to enter through the front of the properties. Both places offer snorkel gear rental too!
Bioluminescent plankton can be seen around both islands. Just remember you need as little light pollution as possible to see them – making Samloem the better option as there are more quiet beaches to be found!
🏖️ For Beaches – It’s a Tie
When it comes to the Koh Rong vs Koh Rong Samloem debate, there’s no question about beaches. Both islands have beautiful stretches of sand and water. The problem is finding a quiet spot. Most accommodation, restaurants and towns butt up right against the beach, reducing the space for lounging and generally enjoying the sand.
Quieter spots are more common on Koh Rong Samloem but they’re harder to get to – often involving strenuous hiking! On Koh Rong, the beaches are easier to reach but this means they’re more popular.
A Note On Rubbish 🚮
🛵 Ease of Getting Around – Koh Rong
Koh Rong is much easier to travel around. Unlike when I first visited in 2015, Koh Rong now has roads! Almost the entire island is connected by smooth, snaking concrete. As you reach the road’s terminus, the routes continue along dusty tracks that are generally okay to traverse on two wheels. In a few places though, the term road doesn’t aptly describe the sketchy tracks – luckily, these can easily be avoided!
Scooters are easy to rent on Koh Rong. Most accommodation options have some available or there are rental shops in Koh Touch or Longset Beach. The cost is around $10-15USD per day. There are also plenty of tuk-tuks available to get you where you need to go too. Prices are higher than on the mainland but that’s to be expected on an island.
By contrast, Koh Rong Samloem has no sealed roads at all. While new routes have been carved through the jungle, these are barely gravel tracks and there is very little traffic on them. While you will see big industrial vehicles in quarries, or near building sites, you’re very unlikely to meet these on the tracks themselves. You might see the odd scooter though.
Some places on Koh Rong Samloem rent scooters to tourists but they are few and far between. If you want to travel between beaches, prepare to walk or get a boat.
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🚤 Ease of Getting to – It’s a Tie
Getting to either island is simple enough. Take a ferry from Sihanoukville for the simplest route. Boats go from different piers and some only visit one island, not both. Make sure you know exactly what you’re getting when you book your boat!
Some resorts have their own boats to provide transport to their guests. These boats aren’t usually included with your stay but as they drop you off right at your accommodation, save money on transport around the islands!
You can also get a slow boat from Sihanoukville. These are cheaper but much slower as they’re generally just small fishing boats, rather than a high-powered speedboat! There is also a bus and boat route from Koh Kong to Koh Rong, which saves you going all the way to Sihanoukville first.
Getting between the islands is easy. The speed ferries leave a couple of times a day and slow boats leave regularly. When travelling to or between the islands, make sure the boat stops at the right bay for you as the journey between bays can be a chore with all your stuff. Most ferries only stop at select bays but you can often ask a slow boat to take you exactly where you need to go.
🏨 Range of Accommodation – Koh Rong
Both Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem cater to all budgets and types of traveller but there is more choice on Koh Rong. Being the larger of the two islands, Koh Rong has more space for accommodation. Plus, it’s well-connected, so getting to the accommodation is easier.
🤿 Range of Activities – Koh Rong
If you’re looking for more than just lazing on the beach, walking in the jungle or snorkelling/diving, Koh Rong is the island for you. There are a range of activities from hiring a scooter and exploring under your own steam, to kayaking through the mangroves.
Internet Access – Koh Rong
WiFi is more prevalent on Koh Rong but it’s not good on either island. Don’t expect to be streaming Netflix every evening! You might get lucky and be able to check your emails or send some messages though.
Some locations on Koh Rong Samloem provide a connection but don’t expect it to be the norm or any good.
📶 Phone Signal – It’s a Tie
If you have a Cambodian SIM card, you’ll be pleased to hear that decent signal is common in most spots on both Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. Expect a mix of LTE and 3G on CellCard, Smart and Metfone.
🏧 ATMs – It’s a Tie
There are no ATMs on either Koh Rong or Koh Rong Samloem. Plan ahead and make sure you have plenty of cash. Whether you’re using US dollars or Cambodian Riel, don’t rely on just large denomination notes – change can be hard to come by on the islands!
But if you do get caught out, several places on each island offer a cashback service. There’s an 8-10% fee for this, so it’s better to just bring the cash you need.
💳 Card Payments – Koh Rong
Card payments are certainly not ubiquitous on either Koh Rong or Koh Rong Samloem but there are a few places that take plastic. There’s usually a fee but it can vary from around 50 cents to 5-8% of the total bill.
⚡️ Electricity – It’s a Tie
Gone are the days of eight hours of electricity. Now, it’s n/ormal across both islands for power to be available 24 hours a day! Cosmopolitan!
However, power cuts are still commonplace, so plan ahead and make sure you have a power bank ready if you need to keep your devices charged!
🥵 Air Conditioning – Koh Rong
It’s no secret that Cambodia is hot. The rise of tourism to Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem means that more places than ever offer air conditioning but it’s still not the norm. While air con is more common on Koh Rong, most places only offer fan rooms – especially if you’re on a budget!
🌮 Food – It’s a Tie
While slightly more expensive than on the mainland there is a great variety of food on both Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. Whether you’re looking for Western dishes or some local fare, you’ll find great examples of both on each island.
It’s worth noting that if you stay in a resort on either island, you may be quite a distance from anything else. This means you could end up eating at the resort restaurant every day.
Koh Rong vs Koh Rong Samloem FAQs
Can I get from Koh Rong to Koh Rong Samloem?
Yes. You can get either a speed boat or slow boat from Koh Rong to Koh Rong Samloem. The speed boat is more expensive and spaces are limited but it’s significantly faster. The slow boats are cheaper and leave frequently throughout the day. You’ll see signs for both being advertised along the beaches or at your accommodation on both islands.
Expect to pay around $10USD for the slow boat and approx. $15-20USD for the ferry.
Which is better, Koh Rong or Koh Rong Samloem?
Neither Koh Rong nor Koh Rong Samloem is ‘better’. They both come with advantages and disadvantages. Koh Rong is more built up but easier to get around, with a wider range of accommodation options. Koh Rong Samloem offers a quieter experience but there is less to do. What you want from your trip will determine which is best for you.
Is Koh Rong expensive?
While it’s slightly more expensive than mainland Cambodia – which is already slightly more expensive than its neighbouring countries – Koh Rong isn’t expensive by Western standards. Expect to pay around $10-15USD for a dorm bed or $20-40USD for a budget room. Meals are around $3-10USD per person.
Is Koh Rong Samloem expensive?
Koh Rong Samloem is a little more expensive than mainland Cambodia but by Western standards, it’s still a cheap destination. Dorm beds are around $10-15USD with private rooms starting at around $20USD per night. Meals cost around $3-$10USD per person depending on whether you opt for local or Western dishes.
Can I swim in the sea on Koh Rong?
Most beaches on Koh Rong are perfectly safe for swimming. The only place I would avoid is the sea at Koh Touch. It’s reported that many establishments along this beach flush raw sewage straight into the sea. There are much nicer stretches of sand anyway!
Is Koh Rong too touristy?
Whether Koh Rong is ‘too touristy’ depends on what you’re looking for. Sure, it’s more popular than it used to be but the island still has plenty of quiet spots if you’re willing to look for them.
Is Koh Rong a party island?
Koh Rong is an island with plenty of parties. But there are also plenty of places you can go if you want some peace. If you’re looking for a party, base yourself in Koh Touch or Long Set Beach. But if you’d rather avoid the mayhem, there are plenty of other places to stay!
Koh Rong vs Koh Rong Samloem – A Round-Up
While I enjoy both islands immensely and will continue to return, my personal favourite is Koh Rong Samloem. It’s an island I fell in love with on my first visit and I was pleased to discover I still feel the same way after my most recent trip.
I love the chilled-out atmosphere that the island and its inhabitants, exude. It’s busy enough that you can find a drink or meal when you want one, and regular parties are on offer if that’s your thing. But if you want quiet and solitude, you can find that too. You only need to walk a few kilometres before you stumble upon a stretch of empty sand!
South East Asia Backpacker is a ‘travel diary for everyone’. This article has been written with the help of backpackers and local experts. We would like to thank…