Koh Rong Samloem is just two hours' and yet a world away from Sihanoukville. The island of many spellings — it's also known as Koh Rung Samloem, Koh Rong Saloem, Koh Rong Samlon and a few other variations — is owned by the Cambodian navy, which has a base there. Thus far the government has not sold Koh Rong Samloem as they have with most of its neighbouring islands — word is that they're saving the best for last.
The western side has three gorgeous yellow sand beaches, which are perfect for watching the deep pink sunsets every evening. On the eastern side is heart-shaped Saracen Bay, named after a British ship that once sailed there, and known for diving and snorkelling. The beaches on this side are an eye-blinding white, with a fast-developing choice of accommodation, from eco tents and circular huts to swish romantic bungalows.
At the northern top of the island is a small fishing village called M'Pai Bei, or 23 in Khmer. Marine Conservation Cambodia, a volunteer-funded ecotourism project, is based here and offers volunteering opportunities to visitors such as teaching in the local village and marine conservation. Those who are visiting for just a few days can participate in beach cleanups. Because of their strong relationship with the organisation, Village 23 is a particularly friendly place for tourists to visit and see life in a rural fishing village.
If volunteering isn't your thing, there are many snorkelling and diving opportunities on the island — The Dive Shop, Scuba Nation and Eco Sea in Sihanoukville do dives here and many of the places to stay on the island also rent snorkelling gear.
Other activities include trekking — the centre of the island is mostly jungle — and fishing the old-fashioned way with a line and hook. The Beach at Saracen Bay hosts monthly full moon parties, bringing over a boat-load of backpackers from Sihanoukville to join in the fun. If that sounds too tiring you can always relax with a cocktail on the porch of the aptly-named Lazy Beach. Koh Rong Samloem has enough options to keep everyone happy -- the only problem is deciding which part of the island to stay on.
It's possible to get a longtail to take you from the western side to M'Pai Bei for a negotiated fee (somewhere around $20 is reasonable), and jungle paths connect Robinson Bungalows and Lazy Beach to Saracen Bay, so if you can't decide, try more than one.
Koh Rong Samloem is beginning to attract more visitors, and it may be best to arrange accommodation before you go (or at least the first few nights) as you probably don't want to be trekking through the jungle in search of a room on the other side of the island from where you've arrived. The island's electricity comes from generators and solar power, and while there is mobile phone coverage from Metfone and Hello Axiata, WiFi is still a magical thing of the future. There are no ATMs on the island -- bring enough cash to last you.
Wildlife is an integral part of an undeveloped island, and Koh Rong Samloem has a veritable zoo of giant geckos, dogs, monkeys, hornbills and snakes. While you're unlikely to have a close encounter unless you don your safari suit and go looking, you should remember you are sharing the island with its original inhabitants. One insect you'll almost certain get up close and personal with is the pesky sandfly. These small black flies like to bite, and leave itchy red marks that can irritate for days. The best approach is prevention -- bring along some good strong repellant with DEET and apply it before you hit the beach, not forgetting that dusk is prime biting time, too.
Text and/or map last updated on 20th May, 2013.
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