Cambodia stole my heart the minute I first set foot in this land. It’s the kind of experience I had deeply longed for. The kind of thing my soul had always craved. My first steps took me to Siem Reap, then Phonm Penh and then Sihanoukville. Each of the trips was done separately and for a different length of time. And each of them carved their name in my heart in their own way. However, as much as I loved all the three destinations, this post will be mostly dedicated to Sihanoukville and its surroundings.
Koh Rong – Paradise found
This is the first time of my life I truly and genuinely sense that I have found my own slice of paradise on earth. The feeling is so magic that I find it hard to grasp. It’s just divine, unbelievably divine. The wonderful journey starts once you get off the boat at Koh Rong pier, which is the busy and party area of the island, full of backpackers. For a stopover or wait for a boat fine, but personally I’m after a more unique vibe and therefore wouldn’t recommend staying here.
When I travelled to Koh Rong, transport (boat taxi) to the island’s Long Beach was arranged by the resort (Pura Vita Resort). And I can guarantee you that once you get there, you are bound to feel like in a Robinson Crusoe movie. It’s just so pristine and untouched. Hard to describe in words. It’s just a sweet coincidence that this wonderful spot on the coast also bears my name (Sonyia Beach).
This paradise-like feel comes at a price though
First of all, be prepared that there is really nothing much to do. How terrible! The beach is deserted and practically left to yourself, the only people you see all day are the staff or a handful of other tourists. What a tragedy! You are surrounded by a pristine jungle and its sounds twenty-four seven, the waves lull you before sleep and wake you up in the morning. What’s more, long strolls on the beach day and night seem to be never-ending and all in all, you are pretty much stuck in a real paradise. Holy mishmash!
To add to the ‘misery’, you are also off the grid, though Wi-Fi or 4G are more or less available at some points during the day depending on the place you stay in. And if the disconnectedness of everything wasn’t serious enough, then another ‘complaint’ one could make are awesome massages available right on the beach, a few steps from your bungalow. Life is tough, indeed.
Now, seriously… Basically, the only real bummer appear to be the sand flies. They are definitely there. Loads of them. Swarms of them. While you can’t see them, I guarantee you will feel them and you will leave itchy and scratchy want it or not. But this is not something a good repellent couldn’t fix.
As abandoned as the island looks, if you walk around you will see that the beach is dotted with cosy bars here and there, and if you are after partying, you certainly don’t have to worry. It’s available too. My favourite was the Nest Beach Club, but there are other spots with drinks and music.
While I reminisce way too often about the whole trip, there is one specific memory that stuck in my mind forever. One day, when I decided to follow the sound of something that definitely seemed like Cambodian modern music on the west side of the beach, hence venturing to the otherwise uninhabited part of the island, I was rewarded for my curiosity with one of the best parties of my life with locals, local music, local food and an incredible local vibe. Approaching from afar I could see it’s a private party. At some point I wanted to turn around as I felt as if I was intruding, but my curiosity was (luckily) stronger. As I slowly but surely made my way closer to the venue, I was invited and warmly welcomed by one of the men to join the whole party. It turned out it was a large group of old school friends who followed another friend, a wealthy businessman, building a new resort there. The party was not only meant to be a school reunion, but also a small informal ceremony before the official opening of the resort a couple months later.
I was immediately made part of the ceremony, offered delicious sea food and drinks. It was a blast! Apparently, a handful of other travellers had the same curiosity as me and later the party turned into an international mix of people having so much fun that’s it’s hard to describe. Music, dancing, jokes, laughter, we had it all. It was definitely worth the massive headache the next day! Holy mishmash! I couldn’t have chosen a better time to come here. To this day it has remained one the sweetest memories I have had on my travels, indeed.
Today the Koh Rong Hill Beach Resort is already open and in order to get in you obviously need to book a room or eat and drink at the wonderful pool bar, but I am sure it’s still equally warm and enjoyable with lovely parties going on. Though, it seems it’s geared more towards catering to a higher class traveller rather than backpackers.
And yeah, that’s what I love about Koh Rong. It has nothing and everything you need at the same time. And if you look carefully, you get to find amazing surprises.
Of course you can also arrange day boat trips to nearby beaches or rent a motorbike. Don’t expect some infrastructure though. The roads are rough and getting lost is easy. For trips or motorbike rental always approach the staff of the resort you are staying at.
In the past two years, new resorts have sprung up and this also means that Koh Rong might be losing some of its charm. You can’t stop the development, I’m afraid. So if you want to enjoy some of the most beautiful beaches in the region, with its serene, unspoilt atmosphere, hurry before it’s too late.
How to get there
Getting to Koh Rong is simple. Fly to Sihanoukville (currently residing in Kuala Lumpur I of course always use Air Asia). Take a taxi to the Serendipity pier and then take a boat from there. You may read horrendous reviews on basically all of the boat companies but my experience was not that bad actually. In fact, it was pretty good to be honest. I guess it’s all down to what boat company you use. I ‘sailed’ with Island Speed Ferry (white boat with blue letters). You will find bad reviews about this company too. So it’s up to you which one you choose. I liked the fact that I could buy the ticket online and getting to Koh Rong Pier was straightforward. It was the second stop but you always need to double check this with the crew as there are other islands, such as Koh Sanloem, and beaches, for instance Sok San, the boats take tourist to. The taxi drivers know the ropes, so in case you feel uncomfortable, ask them for help you with collecting the tickets as well as pointing the boat to you.
These days, however, getting there may not be as fun as it used to due to an unpleasant development the region has gone through. So in Sihanouk you may be letting yourself in for some unpleasant experience, on which I will elaborate more in the next post.