Koh Rong is quite possibly that cliched island paradise you've been looking for, boasting pristine white beaches, turquoise water and limited development on most of the island. For years the island was almost completely undeveloped save for a diving outfit and a few bungalows, though that's changing, in particular on the southern patch Koh Touch.
Serviced by the fast boat from Sihanoukville as the fourth stop, Koh Touch is a sandy guesthouse-packed stretch that has earned Koh Rong a reputation as a party island. All the beaches aside from Koh Touch however are undeserving of this label as they're the kind of places where the lights go out when the sun goes down and the sounds of nature, rather than music, will lull you to sleep. Despite many a developer having their beady eyes on the 78-square-kilometre island, the rapid development of late is mostly limited to basic bungalows and cheap guesthouses in Koh Touch, so it remains easy to find a quiet refuge elsewhere on the island.
The island is truly gorgeous. So gorgeous in fact that a production company has set up a permanent base at Soksan Base Camp hotel, on Soksan Beach, making the most of the deserted beaches and exceedingly beautiful waters for filming all sorts of movies and programmes, including reality TV show Survivor. The swish property occasionally opens to outside guests in-between production runs.
The island boasts seven bays, all teeming with marine life, making for great snorkelling and diving. The ultra-high end millionaires' hang-out Song Saa Resort is to the north of the island, but you can save your cash and get the same paradise views at a fraction of the cost elsewhere. There's enough to keep even the most active visitor busy, with diving, snorkelling, mountain biking, trekking, kayaks and motorbike treks, and plenty of sand, sun and sea for those with more relaxed tastes.
Koh Rong has 43 kilometres of beaches, but the majority of bars and accommodation is on the southeast, by Koh Touch village. There's barely a patch along the bright white sand without a bungalow being constructed. Here music blares out till the early hours where sleeping in the tightly packed accommodation close to the pier is usually a wasted effort -- the main generator turns off at 02:30 but that doesn't stop one bar, Mango, which has its own so it can pump on till 05:30.
There's a couple of basic minimarts, laundry services and a choice of eating, but no ATMs or internet cafes -- though a scattering of properties now offer free WiFi. The clientele closest to the village are mostly backpackers and divers who have come to enjoy the nightlife, with expats and couples preferring more seclusion further along the beach at quieter, more spread out accommodation.
The next largest cluster of accommodation is on Sok San, a sleepy village that's a world away from Koh Touch with regular direct slow boats from Sihanoukville and a fast boat primarily serving the production company based there, with an irregular schedule accordingly. Family-run over-water stilted bungalows and basic beach huts are the order of the day here, with multiple new bungalows springing up during our October 2014 visit.
Soksan Base Camp is based at the end of the village with a whopping 90 new bungalows -- adding to the existing 54 -- being constructed at the end of 2014. This is to accommodate more production crew and to be able to open it up more to tourists -- currently there are only very narrow windows during filming breaks when they accept bookings online, usually in low season. With 24-hour power, high-speed internet and air-con, prices are steep for these smart wooden bungalows but there's nowhere else that really competes.
A handful of other one-off resorts are set around the island at the northeast and southwest and these arrange their own slow boats from Sihanoukville; it's a two-three hour journey that's absolutely worth it if you're looking for real peace and isolation.
The Cambodian government has sold Koh Rong to an investment group based in Cambodia, which has plans to build an airport and "ecological" resort. There's currently little sign of development though apart from a rough and ready road which connects some parts of the island, and the WiFi and mobile phone signals which now service most of the accommodation. If you must make that call, Hello Axiata and Metfone seem to get the strongest signals, particularly on Koh Touch beach.
The interior of the island is largely undeveloped and travelling between beaches requires trekking or a boat; the latter is relatively expensive. One of the most beautiful beaches, north of Koh Touch, is known as Long Set beach, after the farmer who lives there growing cashews, coconuts and mangoes. Thanks to the views, it's thought it will be the first one to be developed. Around the point to the west of Koh Touch, the white coral sand bay known as Seven-Kilometre beach, with Sok San village at one end, is also a potential development site.
So far the development group has left the bungalows alone and they appear safe for the time being. The operations pay rent and have signed agreements saying they will leave whenever they are ordered to.
So if you want to take advantage of Koh Rong's perfect beaches, diving, snorkelling and phosphorescent night swimming (subject to availability), go now.
Rooms are highly sought after in high season, and it's better to book before you go, or arrive on the early ferry to catch rooms at Koh Touch beach. Be aware that the island does not have mains electricity and resorts rely on generators for power -- you'll get the most power supply at Koh Touch including at night, though not 24/7. Water is also a precious commodity, and most bathrooms employ an economical bucket flush system.
One of the problems of deserted beaches is that undisturbed sand can be the perfect habitat for sand flies. These small black flies like to bite, and leave itchy red marks that can irritate for days. The best approach is prevention so bring along some good strong repellant with DEET and apply it first thing in the morning as well as after the sun goes down.
While you're enjoying the turquoise waters, don't forget to look for sea urchins or sea eggs underfoot. The spines are painful if they embed in your sole and won't pull out easily. However, the discomfort will wear off in a couple of days and these particular creatures are not dangerous.
Being a small, mostly uninhabited island, medical help is very limited. For anything halfway serious, you'll need to return to Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh. Bring some supplies of iodine and plasters with you, and take care of yourself!
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Text and/or map last updated on 7th December, 2014.
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