Koh Rong Samloem is just 45 minutes by speedboat 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.
As of late 2014 a development company awaits the approval of their plans for the island, with large signboards along the beach near M'Pay Bei village sticking out between the trees, reminding you of the future that awaits this gorgeous island. That said, nothing much has happened yet and it remains unclear when the proposed golf courses and hotels will hit the island. So it's still a blissfully idyllic getaway, even with beach bungalows starting to spring up like mushrooms in the wet.
The western side has three gorgeous yellow sand beaches of which Lazy and Sunset beaches have accommodation. These two are also accessible on foot via jungle paths from the eastern side and are perfect for watching the deep pink sunsets every evening.
Lazing on lazy beach.
On the eastern side is heart-shaped Saracen Bay, named after a British ship that once sailed there. It's the first stop of the fast boat service from Sihanoukville, the most developed bay on the island and a popular destination for day-trippers on organised boat tours from the mainland. 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. Despite its accessibility, there's still a very chilled out vibe. There's only one real bar, The Beach, and the accommodation options -- including those we saw mid-construction at the end of 2014 -- are sufficiently spaced out that it doesn't feel crowded.
Just another beach...
At the northern tip of the island is a small fishing village called M'Pai Bei
, or 23 in Khmer. Eco Sea Dive sits at the far end of the long sandy beach while the rest of the accommodation is in the village proper, where most places don't have sea views or direct beach access. Marine Conservation Cambodia, a volunteer-funded ecotourism project, is based here and offers volunteering opportunities
to visitors such as marine conservation. Those who are visiting for just a few days can participate in beach clean-ups. Because of their strong relationship with the organisation, Village 23 is a particularly friendly place for tourists to visit and see life in a real rural fishing village.
Koh Rong Samloem is known for its diving and snorkelling
, with outfitters Eco Sea, The Dive Shop and Coral Gardens Dive Centre all based here, with others from the mainland like Scuba Nation running trips here. Eco Sea sunk a boat in August 2014 to create an artificial reef just off M'Pai Bei village, though the natural reefs are teeming with enough life to keep you entertained underwater. Many of the places to stay on the island rent out 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 offers kayaks to keep you entertained in the daytime and at night 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 aptly-named Lazy Beach. Koh Rong Samloem has enough options to keep everyone happy.
Super easy to reach with two fast boats a day from Sihanoukville to Saracen Bay (Speed Ferry 45 minutes, ISpeed 20 minutes); it is feasible to visit the east side of the island just for the day. Some properties at either end of this bay also arrange their own slow boat direct from the mainland. Though these take about two hours they save you from the need to drag suitcases along the length of the beach. The Speed Ferry service also serves M'Pay Bei. It's also possible to get a longtail boat to take you from the western side to M'Pai Bei for a negotiated fee (somewhere around $20 is reasonable).
Room with a view anyone?
To get to the western side you can only take slow boats from the mainland organised by hotels -- you don't really want to get to Saracen Bay then have to hike across the island through the jungle with your luggage.
A jungle path connects Saracen Bay with Sunset beach (home to Robinson Bungalows and Huba Huba) and a separate, shorter, jungle path connects Saracen Bay to Lazy Beach. Note that the western beaches don't have interconnecting paths so you'd need to hire a boat or walk to the east then back to the west on a different path to see both.
Koh Rong Samloem is beginning to attract more visitors in part thanks to two competitively priced fast boat services which started up mid-2014, Speed Ferry and ISpeed, leaving from Serendipity pier in Sihanoukville. Both fast boats serve Saracen Bay, now the busiest bay on the island for tourist accommodation, while only SpeedFerry stops at M'Pay Bei. Lazy beach and the accommodation on Sunset beach, Robinson's and Huba Huba is only accessible via slow boats arranged through the respective properties. The fast boats also stop off at neighbouring Koh Rong.
In high season (starting November 1) accommodation prices hike and fill up fast so it's best to book before you go. If taking the Speed Ferry to Saracen Bay it's also recommended to reserve your return leg as soon as you arrive to be sure of space for the way back, since you can only buy open returns on the mainland.
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 -- we saw it advertised at Robinson Bungalows, but it didn't seem to exist. There is patchy internet coverage from providers like Metfone. There are no ATMs
on the island so bring enough cash to last you.
Wildlife is an integral part of an undeveloped island and Koh Rong Samloem has a veritable free-range 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. Dusk is prime biting time.
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