Solo palm tree, Koh Rong

Beaches, Bugs, and Bovines: Three Days on Koh Rong

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After a perfect ten days on Otres beach we reluctantly decided to move on. It would have been far too easy to spend our entire month there, but there was much more of the Cambodian coast to see. First stop: Koh Rong.

When we went there, this island, around sixteen miles off the coast of Sihanoukville, had little more than a dive shop and a few bungalows on it. Things have certainly changed in that regard, but if you pick your spot, there are still unspoiled beaches with few other tourists on them.

The ferry lumbered to a halt, and deposited us on the rickety docks. We had booked three nights at Paradise Bungalows, a short stroll away down the beach. The white sand squeaked beneath our bare feet as we walked, the turquoise water lapping quietly nearby.

There are no roads along the coastline, and just enough electricity to keep the beer cold. It wasn’t hard to see how Rudy, the long-time owner of the bungalows, came up with the name.

Paradise Bungalows entrance

One doesn’t expect much in places like these, where you’re more likely to be sharing your room with a family of lizards than a minibar. Stories of rats and cockroaches at some of the other places abounded, and I expected to be able to identify a full range of Cambodian insects by the time we left.

Surprisingly, the wildlife inside the room turned out to be the least of our worries. Sure, the giant tokay geckos in the bathroom added a sense of adventure when going for a pee, and the nearby ant colony was certainly industrious, but once the net was pulled down and the light switched off, there was little to worry about.

The room was clean, the bed was comfortable, and the semi-outdoor bathroom was quite lovely (with warm water, at least if you waited until the sun heated up the tanks).

No, it was the outdoor animals that were far more interesting.

Rocky shoreline, Koh Rong

After breakfast the next day, we wandered off down the beach. Clambering over a few rocks, we soon came across Treehouse Bungalows.  I can’t imagine why they’re called that.

Treehouse bungalows, Koh Rong

Eventually giving up on the rock-hopping, we struck inland along a dirt trail. Thankfully, at that point Lauren hadn’t heard about the snakes often found on Koh Rong, else I can’t imagine she would have been quite so keen on the idea.

Trail through the trees on Koh Rong

Emerging further down the sweeping bay, we picked our way through the seaweed to the edge of a narrow channel. With a couple of thousand dollars worth of cameras and phones in my backpack, I was a little concerned when I couldn’t see the bottom.

A bit of frantic paddling and a lot of slicing my foot open on submerged rocks later, however, everybody — and everything — made it across almost unscathed.

Isolated beach, Koh Rong

The bleeding stopped eventually, just in time for a new health adventure – Lauren vs Sandflies.

Lauren lost.

Since the bites take several hours to show up, we had no idea dozens of the things were feasting on her, so we lazed on that beautiful isolated beach for a couple of hours. Somehow I barely got bitten — score one for natural immunity after growing up with the damn things in New Zealand, perhaps.

At least the surroundings were pretty…

Empty beach, Koh Rong

Limping back home, we recuperated in the bar next door by eating that well-known Khmer staple of bangers and mash, while watching three young puppies amuse themselves biting each other’s feet.

Puppies playing, Koh Rong

After a long, restless night largely spent rubbing Tiger Balm on Lauren’s four million bites, we were a tragic sight while hobbling down to breakfast the next day. Plans to hike through the jungle to a deserted beach were reluctantly shelved, in favour of a day spent soothing cuts and bites in the ocean.

Swimming in the famous bioluminescent water that night was also a failure. Splash around in the darkness as we might, there wasn’t a hint of light to be seen. Perhaps the full moon had something to do with it, or maybe it just wasn’t our day.

The fun wasn’t over yet, though.

Water buffalo at Paradise Bungalows

Lying awake to the sound of Lauren feverishly scratching, a new sound suddenly took over. A herd of elephants was apparently rampaging around beside the bungalow, tearing up nearby plants and thundering through the undergrowth.

After several minutes waiting for our imminent demise, we finally realised it was just the harmless local water buffalo coming to say hello. At three in the morning crouched inside a bamboo hut, however? He sure as hell didn’t sound harmless.

Even with the injuries and lack of sleep, however, we were sad to head back to the docks in the morning. This was the kind of beautiful spot that’s becoming increasingly hard to find, the kind of place you could easily imagine staying for months, letting life just slowly pass you by in a haze.

Sadly it won’t be that kind of place for much longer.

Like many of the best parts of Cambodia, Koh Rong has been sold to a development company. In a laughable irony, the Millennium Group are planning to turn this pristine island into an “eco-resort” complete with spas, beach clubs, a marina, and even a damn airport. Because, apparently, cutting down the forest, polluting the water and belching carbon into the atmosphere is environmentally-friendly tourism.

Greenwash, much?

Thankfully, after starting the carnage, the economic crisis has left the developers struggling to finish destroying the island. Even though building could start up again at any time — and all of the existing accommodation cleared with only a month’s notice — for now, at least, Koh Rong remains relatively untouched.

Go there now, before the economy improves and this beautiful place is completely ruined.

Where to Stay on Koh Rong

We stayed at Paradise Bungalows, and liked it. The room was basic but comfortable, and the food at the restaurant was tasty and good value.

Check out Coconutbeach Bungalows if you’re on a tight budget. You can sleep right on the beach in your own tent for around $10/night, with well-priced single and double rooms available as well. The restaurant has good food and drink, at low prices.

Looking to splurge? Long Set Resort has stylish, air-conditioned rooms, a large swimming pool, and a gorgeous beachfront location away from the crowds.

How to Get to Koh Rong

The days of Koh Rong being isolated and hard to get to are long gone, with around half a dozen different ferry companies running services to the island year-round.

Boats run from the docks in Sihanoukville throughout the day. Outside high season you may be able to just show up and book a seat, but otherwise it’s worth buying tickets in advance. The price is about the same, and you’ll have a lot more certainty about getting there on the day you intend to.

Other Things to Think About

Don’t forget the bug spray, and use it liberally! Lauren’s reaction to the sandflies on Koh Rong wasn’t an exception: many other people in the restaurant each morning were feverishly rubbing Tiger Balm on their inflamed, itchy bites.

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  1. Trying to talk my neighbors into meeting my husband and I in S. Cambodia. All sounds great though the sand fleas will scare our husbands away. Happy trails, Patti Bess

    1. I didn’t come across any sand flies on the mainland, it seemed to be a Koh Rong problem in particular. Of course, if you want some time away from the husbands….. 😉

  2. Koh Rong is one of my favorite places ever… Sand-flies and all. I couldn’t agree more that the time to visit it is now before it is ruined.

  3. Love our time on the Island! We went for a beer & food @ Paradise place you stayed, I actually had the best Thai green curry there on the whole trip in Cambodia! Was lush.
    It is a real shame about the ‘development’ of it all, we are v glad we went when did!
    Happy memories!
    Cheers! – Nigel