It was the idyllic turquoise-blue waters, white sandy beaches and promise of untouched paradise that drew us to the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem in Cambodia. As the islands were not in our original itinerary of South East Asia, we knew very little about them and through searching the internet, we found very little advice. And so we blindly booked a bus to Sihanoukville and set off to discover the islands. We made a few mistakes along the way and a little extra guidance would have helped, so I hope this guide makes your travels a little easier.
The Low Down on the Islands
First of all, these are two different islands, very close to each other with very similar names. Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. Confusing? Yes.
Koh Rong has a reputation as a party island. The main beach and ferry stop on the island is Koh Toch, though there are a variety of other beaches around the island that you can choose to visit that are outside of the party atmosphere.
My first impression of Koh Toch was pretty negative. I envisioned paradise and arrived to see brown water, a beach littered with garbage and the smell of sewage in the air. There is a small village at the pier of Koh Toch lined with restaurants, bars, and accommodations. The party atmosphere is apparent by the many signs advertising parties, free shots, etc. If you’re looking for a backpacker’s party place, this is where you go. If you are looking for a quiet escape like we were, I wouldn’t recommend it.
But if you go further down the beach of Koh Toch away from the village, you can find your own piece of sand. It’s maybe not picture perfect but it’s definitely pretty nice.
Since Koh Toch wasn’t what we were looking for, we stayed only one night and moved onwards to Coconut Beach. Arriving on Coconut Beach it felt like the angels were singing. This was what we were looking for, an untouched paradise almost too pretty for the eyes. It’s a place so beautiful and rare that I almost hesitate to write about it because I want it to remain a secret paradise.
Koh Rong Samloem
I would describe Koh Rong Samloem as the luxury island, particularly if you stay at Saracen Bay. The bay is a long stretch of gorgeous white sand dotted with luxury resorts. There is no shortage of hammocks, swings, and picture perfect spots on this beach.
Saracen Bay is not where backpackers tend to congregate because prices are higher than M’ Pai Bay, another stop on the island, but come in low season and you can sneak some sweet deals!
From what I heard about Saracen Bay I was expecting the best of the best and it was beautiful but truthfully I preferred the simplicity of Coconut Beach.
Getting to Koh Rong or Koh Rong Samloem
Oh, the ferry system! If there is one thing the Cambodian islands could improve, it’s their ferry system. It can be confusing and challenging at times to navigate. Also, don’t always expect the ferries to depart or arrive on time.
From Sihanoukville, you can board a ferry to either island. There are multiple ferry companies, most cost about $10-15 one way per person but will sell you on their $20 return ticket. We found out later you can also ask around about getting onto a supply boat for $5 one way per person. It leaves from a different pier than the main one.
Ferries run every couple of hours throughout the day. In high season you may want to book your ticket in advance but during lowseason, you could book for same day ferry without any problem.
Koh Rong Ferry
Getting to Koh Toch, the main beach on Koh Rong is very easy but if you wish to visit any other beach it can be more complicated. Different ferry companies offer services to different beaches.
When we wanted to go from Koh Toch to Coconut Beach we were told by multiple people our only option was a water taxi which cost $25 one-way or $40 return. But after doing some more digging, we found Buva Sea offered a ferry for only $5 per person one way. However, we weren’t able to book that same ferry back to Koh Toch for our transfer to Koh Rong Samloem.
Bottom line – Beach hopping along the island is costly. You are better off to pick your beach first and choose a ferry company that takes you to that destination from the mainland.
Koh Rong Samloem Ferry
Koh Rong has two main accommodation areas – M’ Pai Bay and Saracen Bay. Saracen Bay is a long strip of beach and ferry companies use one of the four different piers. Getting from the pier to your accommodation is no small feat when you need to haul your luggage down the sand in the blazing heat. While some higher end resorts offer boat service from the ferry, budget accommodations do not. Therefore, I recommend first figuring out where you plan to stay and then booking a ferry that docks close to your accommodations or getting directions from your resort on the best way to get there.
If you want to travel between Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem there is a $5 ferry. If you purchased a return ferry ticket from the mainland, you can return from either island.
The schedules and ferry companies appear to change regularly so the best advice is to first determine where you want to stay, then look around for the appropriate ferry company. Also, consider only purchasing a one-way ticket so you can be flexible with the ferry company that you return with based on dock location and schedule.
Being an island, accommodations are significantly higher priced than the mainland and fairly basic. Don’t expect A/C unless you’re willing to pay a premium. But with the ocean breeze, you’ll hardly miss the air conditioning.
Many accommodations on Koh Toch have booking offices in Sihanoukville so you can go and talk to them before you leave. If you’re traveling outside high season, you can also show up and look for accommodations once you’ve arrived. This allows you a chance to see the room before agreeing to stay there. While a lot of accommodations are now online on booking sites, there are still a number of places that are not and you could find some deals if you don’t reserve in advance.
When you show up on the ferry at Koh Toch, the cheaper accommodations are in the village and to the left. The more expensive accommodations that are quieter and more private are to the right of the pier and down the beach. Again, fair warning that those more private accommodations means you have to haul your luggage down the beach to reach them.
We only stayed one night on Koh Toch because it certainly didn’t meet the paradise standard we were hoping for. We stayed right in town at Coco Boutique Resort. We got a private room with bathroom for US$25. It was clean and nice and had good Wifi service. The bar downstairs is noisy but unless you go way down the beach you can’t escape the night noise in Koh Toch.
On Coconut Beach, you only have a choice of 5 accommodations. We stayed at Bunnan Bungalows. We spent two nights in the tent and one night in the bungalow. The tent cost US$5 per night and was actually really nice. It had a nice comfortable mattress inside, a fan, and a power cord for plugging in electronics. However, there is no safe place to keep your belongings. We kept a lock on our backpack and on our tent. We didn’t run into any trouble.
The bathroom is shared with other people in tents and the owners of the resort. There are only two bathrooms but there weren’t many people in tents when we were there so it wasn’t a problem. They are kept clean. The bungalow we stayed in was cheap (US$20), very basic, but comfortable. The only problem we had was the drainage in the bathroom, the floor was tilted away from the drain so water pooled in the bathroom.
The wifi, food, and service at this resort were all really good, plus it’s directly off the pier. I would highly recommend.
Koh Rong Samloem
Koh Rong Samloem is more expensive than Koh Rong and there are very limited budget options. We spent our first night at Dream Dorms. For $30 we got a beachfront bungalow. It was definitely the definition of basic. The sheets had seen better days, it’s open to the elements so expect some critters inside at night and the shower was basically open to the world so you had to duck down to keep your privacy. For a budget place, it was really nice. The only problem is depending what ferry company you arrive on, it is on the far southeast end of the beach and no water taxi service is provided between the piers. No wifi is available at this resort but we were able to easily guess the neighbour resort’s wifi password and had great service inside our bungalow.
We upgraded to luxury our second night at Sweet Dreams Samloem. Because it was low season, we were able to get a garden view bungalow for US$45. When we first looked the price was over US$100 but as dates got closer and it wasn’t filled, the price kept on dropping.
The rooms were really nice. They are closed off to the elements, so less critters and mosquitos. The bathroom was huge and clean and even had hot water.
Breakfast is included in your stay (and was substantial), the wifi service is good and there are plenty of beach chairs, beds, hammocks, and swings to relax on. The restaurant food was reasonably priced and fairly good too. The staff were really nice and accommodating. Plus big bonus, they have boat transfer to the ferry!
Things to Do
We read about a few different things to do on the islands but honestly, we didn’t do much. We took some time off for complete relaxation and some mandated time off from food poisoning.
But if you are looking to get off your beach chair there is scuba diving lessons offered at both islands. Koh Toch offers a lot of different snorkel tours for US$10-20 per person for half to full day. You can also snorkel by yourself off Lazy Beach or Sunset Beach which are accessed from Saracen Bay by a 20-40 minute walk.
One thing I do recommend if you visit Coconut Beach is visiting Coconut Beach Resort. Nightly they set off bamboo wish lanterns which are absolutely magical. They also shut off the lights of the resort so you can go swimming and see the bioluminescent plankton at night. The owner of the resort is so friendly and genuine. You don’t need to be staying at the resort to partake in the activities, we just happened to be eating at their restaurant.