Photo: Saracen Bay, Koh Rong Samloem.

Introduction

Our rating:

The smaller of the two Rong islands, Koh Rong Samloem sits more of less due south of its bigger sibling and proves that size really isn’t everything.



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Why should you go to Koh Rong Samloem?

As with its larger neighbour Koh Rong, Koh Rong Samloem boasts some excellent beaches and a selection of very welcoming places to stay. The island’s smaller size brings with it some benefits, including that many of the beaches and points of interest (though not all) are within an hour or so of walking of one another. That the various spots on the island are more accessible make this perhaps a better choice for travellers who like to have a bit of a poke around but don’t want to shell out for a scooter or boat trip.

Oh the serenity. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Oh the serenity. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Popular activities on the island include hiking to the lighthouse for excellent views and visiting some of the other low key beaches on the west coast of the island. There is also a diving scene and snorkelling day trips are popular.

The main beach, Saracen Bay, was not looking its best when we arrived. To be fair weather had not been great, but there was plenty of trash on the sand and we were a bit incredulous that some of the $200+ resorts were not bothering to clean the beach out front, while other, more budget-minded places were. We preferred the beaches on the west coast—both for the cleaner sand and less busy scene—even if you don’t plan to stay on the west coast, do wander over for a visit at some stage.

When to go to Koh Rong Samloem

As with neighbouring Koh Rong, the island is monsoonal. This means roughly May to late September is wet season. More resorts are remaining open (often offering more reasonable rates) than in the past across this period, but you should expect considerable rain and erratic, weather dependent, ferry timetables.

Pull up a pew. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Pull up a pew. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Season on Koh Rong Samloem runs roughly October to April, with December and January being peak season. Weather across this period is characterised by brilliant sunshine, warm waters and hot days. Expect little to no rain. In peak season room rates can jump by more than 100% to simply ridiculous levels. Outside of peak season, expect to pay roughly double what you’d expect to pay in Thailand for similar standards of accommodation.

In peak season we’d say reservations in advance are highly recommended. Unfortunately there is plenty of variance (in both directions) between online agents such as Agoda and Booking versus what you will be quoted as a walk-in and on official accommodation websites. So you may be lucky or you may not. Where possible we’ve listed direct contact details for places to stay and it can really pay dividends to contact them directly to see what rate you can get.

Amen. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Amen. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Unless budget is not really an issue, arriving in peak season without a reservation could end up being a serious budget buster. On the subject of budgets, if you’re looking to spend $20 or less per night, you’ll almost certainly be in a tent on the west coast or a dorm. The one budget area, M’Pai Bei village, has plenty of accommodation under $20, but the boat trips back and forward to the better beaches will add up fast.

Orientation

Koh Rong Samloem sits on a roughly north south axis, with M’Pai Bei village near the northern tip. To the east of M’Pai Bei there is a long yellow sand beach, and, around the corner, the east facing Clear Water Bay. The main beach on the island, Saracen, sweeps along the main east facing bay and is, by far, the most developed beach on the island. Hidden around the corner from Saracen lies east-facing Sandy Beach which is most easily reached by boat. The west coast has Military Beach towards the southern end, then Lazy and Sunset Beaches a little to the north. As far as we were able to establish, you can’t walk along the coast between these beaches. There are a few other minor beaches scattered around—you’ll most likely hit some of them on a snorkelling trip.

Walking beats wheels. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Walking beats wheels. Photo: Stuart McDonald

At the time of writing (late 2019), there were no ATMs on Koh Rong Samloem and few places accepted credit cards. Some small retail outlets advertised cash back services, but the charge for this (we saw signage saying 10%) makes for a very expensive way to access your money. Cash up in Sihanoukville before heading to the islands.

3G phone coverage is not as good on Koh Rong Samloem as it is on Koh Rong. Our Cellcard sim gave patchy coverage on Saracen and little to no coverage elsewhere. We were told Smart is a better choice for the island. Many places, both accommodation and restaurants, offer WiFi.

The backpacker village of M’Pai Bei. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

The backpacker village of M’Pai Bei. Photo: Stuart McDonald

There is a small pharmacy in M’Pai Bei but we saw no other medical facilities on the island.

As with Koh Rong, the accommodation here is resoundingly poor value given the standards. In peak season (late December through to mid January) some of the room rates are just nuts. We were told that many more places (mostly off the back of Saracen) would be opening in 2020, so this increased supply may lead to some softening of rates—wait and see. Most places are fan-cooled with cold water bathrooms—expect to pay a significant premium for air-con, and bear in mind that air-con may only work in the evening. A few of the fancier hotels have a swimming pool.

A worker snoozes at Sandy Bay. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

A worker snoozes at Sandy Bay. Photo: Stuart McDonald

At the time of writing there were no scooters for hire on the island, which makes sense as, at least for now, the road network is extremely limited. From Saracen Bay there are two dirt trails to the west, one to Lazy Beach and the other (an extremely rough and rocky trail which, based on our personal experience, we don’t recommend doing in the rain at night) to Sunset Beach.

A third trail, running from the far southern end of Saracen runs to the lighthouse and Military Beach. Some maps mark a trail north from Saracen to Mad Monkey Hostel and onwards to M’Pai Bei, but we were told the trail through to M’Pai Bei was no longer accessible (we didn’t have time to try it out for ourselves). Likewise there is apparently a trail from Saracen to Sandy Beach (home to Bodega Hostel and Tube Resort) but we went by boat.

On the way to Clearwater Bay. No, we didn’t make it. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

On the way to Clearwater Bay. No, we didn’t make it. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Lastly, you are in theory able to walk from M’Pai Bei to Clear Water Bay, but we couldn’t find the trail—boat men will do the run for $5 per person each way—a sound investment if you plan on spending most of the day there.


Where to stay on Koh Rong Samloem

As with Koh Rong, accommodation here is not good value. If you’re on a tight budget and want a range of places to choose from, consider staying in M’Pai Bei, but bear in mind the island’s best beaches are a boat ride away and these costs will add up.

Put on your lazy shoes at Lazy Beach. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Put on your lazy shoes at Lazy Beach. Photo: Stuart McDonald

If you’re ok with a tent and would like a more isolated setting, Sunset Beach on the west coast has some good options. If you’re after a hostel party scene, Bodega, Mad Monkey and Onederz are all worth consideration.

For those looking for more creature comforts, think air-con and or a swimming pool, Saracen Bay has the widest choice of offerings, but prepare yourself for the prices.

Who doesn’t love a cliff view? Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Who doesn’t love a cliff view? Photo: Stuart McDonald

If you’re more after a hippy chic quieter spot, Lazy Beach ticked a lot of boxes. If Lonely Beach on Koh Rong suited your tastes, then Lazy Beach will most likely also be a good fit.

M’Pai Bei

Koh Rong Samloem’s backpacker village, M’Pai Bei is a scrappy little village largely given over to affordable guesthouses, hostels, bars, cafes and travel agents. It faces onto an equally scrappy beach bisected by a pier where the boats from Koh Rong and Sihanoukville land.

Open air dorms at The Cliff Hostel. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Open air dorms at The Cliff Hostel. Photo: Stuart McDonald

While you can stay in the village itself, we preferred the places which run along the north facing cliff looking across to Koh Rong and our pick of the bunch was The Cliff Hostel (T: (016) 329 508 Facebook Agoda Booking ). The Cliff has an excellently placed sunset terrace, with their very well-priced dorms ($3-$4) and private rooms ($12-15) sitting in a two floor wooden building back off behind the restaurant. Our room was simple but clean and while the attached bathroom was tiny, it all worked. The dorms are semi open air and do the job, like the rooms upstairs they were very well kept. The one disadvantage of staying here it is about a ten minute walk from the pier and the rough dirt pathway to it is unlit at night.

In the village itself, Ing Ing (T: (098) 507 078 Agoda Booking) has a handful of modern but simple rooms ($20) in a newish brick and concrete building. If you’d prefer to stay as close as possible to your beer, the Two Ducks (T: (070) 897 005 Facebook Agoda Booking) is atop the same named pub and isn’t bad value for the money ($12).

There are a bunch of other places to stay in the village, over near the river, The Wildflower (T: (081) 250 198 Facebook Agoda Booking) with both dorms ($5) and rooms with shared bathroom ($15) came recommended, but we were unable to see a room. The setting is a bit more natural though compared to some of the other offerings in the village proper.

One note of warning regarding accommodation in M’Pai Bei, online reviews frequented mention bedbug problems—we had no problems at The Cliff, but, especially if you’re in one of the cheaper digs, check recent online reviews for reports of bedbugs.

Saracen Bay

Long sweeping Saracen Bay is the whitest sand beach we saw on Koh Rong Samloem but the weather had not been the best and it was looking a bit on the tatty side. Much was strewn with garbage (partly thanks to an onshore breeze) and we were surprised how many of the fancier hotels along the beach seemed to have no interest in cleaning at least the strip of sand in front of them.

In spots Saracen Bay is well pretty. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

In spots Saracen Bay is well pretty. Photo: Stuart McDonald

This is a busy beach, lined with resorts, flashpacker bungalows and hostels along with small shops, a laundry, bars and cafes. As pretty as it may look in some photos, if you’re looking for a beach to lay around in the sand on, this is far from the best choice on the island. There are a number of piers along the length of the bay and plenty of other smaller boats coming and going. This combined with people walking its length throughout the day, make for a beach that is far from the quietest on the island.

Accommodation is a very mixed bag, and expect to pay a significant premium for any of the more upmarket digs. If you’re on a budget, there are a few hostels to choose from. Travellers at the between $20 and $50 mark are very poorly served from a value point of view.

The cute four-bed dorms at Onederz. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

The cute four-bed dorms at Onederz. Photo: Stuart McDonald

If you’re looking for hostel-style accommodation and can’t face M’Pai Bei, our top pick on Saracen is Onederz Koh Rong Samloem (T: (090) 200 400 Official site Agoda Booking). Associated with the also excellent hostel in Phnom Penh, Onederz has a bunch of dorms in three flavours running back from the beach on a fairly narrow block. Dorms come in eight bed ($8), six bed ($10) and four bed ($11) options, with the latter in small cute cottages on the right of the block as you walk back. The area back off the beach includes a social area with pillows, hammocks, a bar and a pool table. Dorms and the share bathrooms were immaculate and we found the staff to be cheery and helpful.

The location is more or less in the centre of Saracen Bay so it is well situated for nightlife, plenty of places to eat and the trail across to Lazy and Sunset beaches. If full, consider The Big Easy (T: (071) 960 0387 Facebook Agoda Booking ) which is nearby. In high season reservations are prudent. Recommended.

A bungalow interior at Leng Meng Beach Bungalows. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

A bungalow interior at Leng Meng Beach Bungalows. Photo: Stuart McDonald

For those looking for a standalone bungalow but not wanting to pay the earth, Saracen doesn’t really present a great range of options. Leng Meng Beach Bungalows (T: (088) 889 6896 Facebook Agoda Booking) was renovating their restaurant when we passed through in late 2019, but the bungalows remained open, and at $30 (significantly less than what the $70 we saw them available online for) these were about the best value bungalows we saw on the beach. The thatch roofed wooden bungalows are well placed along a good stretch of sand, each with a wooden deck to relax on. Inside, the four poster beds have a mosquito net and decent linen along with enough spare space to thrown down a few bags. Cold water bathrooms are simple but clean.

A little further down the beach you’ll find Lime Beach (T: (097) 784 9669 limebeachbungalow@gmail.com Agoda ) whose cold water fan cooled wooden bungalows ($30-$40) are a bit more ratty and don’t make as good a use of the beachfront as Leng Meng does, but we found the young Khmer crew running this place to be very friendly and welcoming. If they offer to share their breakfast with you, take them up on the offer—it is better than what you’ll get in any cafe!

Simple wooden beach shacks at Lime Beach. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Simple wooden beach shacks at Lime Beach. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Another curious entry at this point is Sara Resort (T: (097) 567 8950 Official site Agoda Booking). Modern decorated blue roofed rooms here run back from the beach in a narrow row. They’re simply notable for being functional and clean (though the room we were shown smelt strongly of cleaning liquid). We were quoted $109 as a walk-in but by the time we had reached the room the price had dropped to $49! At $49 this is good value, $109, not so much. Shop around for an online discounted rate.

Edging up the price scale a little, towards the far southern end of Saracen, you’ll find Cita Resort (T: (096) 261 2418 Official site Agoda Booking ) whose lumbung style bungalows offer elevated balconies to take the sea views. Rates are around the $60 to $70 mark, which, given they’re air-con isn’t a bad deal for Saracen. The downside is you’re a long walk from the centre of things on Saracen (though for some this may be advantageous). If you’re not familiar with a lumbung, the sleeping area is upstairs, with the ground floor is open air and for relaxing on. This also means the bathroom is downstairs, accessed by a steep set of stairs, so if stairs are hard for you, Cita probably isn’t a good option. That said, they were building some newer one floor rooms at the rear of the resort when we visited. City only has a handful of rooms, so in high season, bookings are essential.

White white sand at Green Blue Beach Resort. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

White white sand at Green Blue Beach Resort. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Another strong option towards the centre of the beach is Green Blue Beach Resort (T: (090) 869 086 Facebook Booking) which has some very thoughtfully designed wood and thatch bungalows ($80) overlooking a great stretch of beach. What makes the bungalows here memorable is they have an upstairs chill out deck furnished with a couple of axe pillows and reached by a steep ladder. These decks are ideal for hiding out on in the midday heat. Bungalows are otherwise of a good size with attached bathroom and a regular downstairs deck as well. Larger, family-friendly bungalows with air-con go for $120. Green Blue also has a comfortable restaurant with a great outlook. If you want a beach bungalow but a bit more solid than here, consider one of the bright white bungalows ($89-$119) at Sky Beach Resort (T: (088) 383 9888 Official site Agoda Booking) towards the southern end of Saracen Bay.

Our favourite place on Saracen under the $100 mark though is Bamboo Jam (T: (097) 221 0861 Facebook Agoda Booking), a little to the north of the centre of the beach. We loved the fairy garden like beach scene, strewn with hammocks and a variety of quirkily designed lazy chairs ideal for losing the day in. Cute thatch-roofed bungalows ($89) run in a single row behind the garden and all would have decent sea views. Bathrooms are clean and the bungalow interiors match the bright and fun vibe of the place. The attached cafe is also great and has an attached store selling beautiful Khmer scarfs and other fabrics. Another standout here is Claudia, who showed us around the place—uber welcoming and helpful. Shop around online for good deals. Recommended.

Our new favourite jam: Bamboo Jam. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Our new favourite jam: Bamboo Jam. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Jumping up a notch price wise, Sol Beach Resort (T: (097) 717 7117 Official site Agoda Booking) has vaguely Khmer style luxury bungalows along a quieter stretch of Saracen Bay. Glass fronted with large decks, some of the bungalows are at ground level, others raised up high for a better outlook. Interiors are smart and very well kept, with both hot water bathrooms and air-con (rare in these parts!), but the prices are high. On the upside, if this fits with your budget some of the larger rooms can sleep four ($169) and six people ($199), maxing this a popular choice with midrange families. Note the rates we were quoted as a walk-in were $20 less than the rates on their website. Shop around for a discounted rate.

Another more luxurious option down this end of the beach is The One (T: (016) 676 700 Official site Agoda Booking) which has the best placed swimming pool on Saracen Bay. Rooms are smart and modern but really packed in and the ones at the rear ($150) in particular struck us as poor value. The front row rooms ($198) might sound tempting, but the rooms are not all that private. Still, if was want a pool overlooking the beach and ocean beyond The One does fit the bill. Walk in rates were high and this is definitely a property to keep an eye on for discounted rates through the various online agents.

At Royal Retreat Cambodia, each bungalow has one of these. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

At Royal Retreat Cambodia, each bungalow has one of these. Photo: Stuart McDonald

For travelling families with a bit of budget, the tastefully designed family-sized bungalows at Royal Retreat Cambodia (T: (088) 565 0634 Facebook Agoda Booking) are well worth considering. These large wooden and bamboo finished bungalows ($70-$90) have a separate relaxing sala out the front (with lazy chairs) and are spread across a shady area just back from the beach. Very spacious inside, the fan-cooled rooms have two double beds with plenty of room to swing a cat and also have large cold water bathrooms attached. Bedding is simple but clean and beds come with a mosquito net apiece. The attached beach bar may deliver a bit of noise come the evening, but we found the owners to be chatty and very friendly. Rates double across peak season and reservations are recommended throughout the year.

Lazy Beach

Of the two western beaches on Koh Rong Samloem that have accommodation, golden sand Lazy Beach is both the easier to reach from Saracen (around 30 minutes on a broad, not too hilly track) and the less developed, being home to just a single place to stay. Want to drop off the map for a few days? You’re in the right place. Lazy Beach has the only place to eat on the beach, so if you prefer a variety of places to eat, this may not be a good choice.

Hello Lazy Beach. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Hello Lazy Beach. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Lazy Beach (T: (016 214 211 Official site ) was the first accommodation to appear on Koh Rong Samloem and it still offers some of the best digs—as long as you’re not after too many creature comforts. Bungalows are large wooden affairs ($45 to $75 depending on season), with big wooden decks and plenty on space to relax. As the resort encompasses much of the beach, they are very well spaced out across the shady grounds, meaning if you’re one who does not want to get to know your neighbours, this is a good option.

Interiors are simple. Basic bedding with mosquito nets (the room we were shown had two double beds in it) is about Elle Decor as the interiors get. The room we saw also had a large vinyl couch in it which was extremely out of place, but even with that in the room there was still plenty of space. The cold water bathrooms are rudimentary—without the flair and imagination you’ll see at Lonely Beach—but they’re adequate. Bungalows also have plenty of windows, making for a bright room once you get all the drapes open.

No WiFi, no worries. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

No WiFi, no worries. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The restaurant is super-sized, with a few different areas to relax in and the food well above what we expected. There is no WiFi, so you’ll need a local sim to get a signal. Lazy Beach reminded us a lot of Lonely Beach on Koh Rong, so if you like one, you’ll most likely like the other. Staff were friendly and very helpful. Reservations are essential in high season. Recommended. Note Lazy Beach run their own boat once daily in season from Sihanoukville—contact them for details.

Sunset Beach

Set just to the north of Lazy Beach, aptly named Sunset Beach is a similar, golden sand beach reached by a very hilly and rocky trail—take our word for it, don’t attempt it at night in the rain. Unlike Lazy Beach, there are a bunch of places to stay, with the focus of more affordable camping and simple, rustic accommodation. If you’re trying to decide between the two, Lazy Beach is ideal for those who don’t want to meet a bunch of other like-minded souls, while Sunset Beach is. The drop-off here is sharper than at Lazy Beach.

There is a reason it is called Sunset Beach. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

There is a reason it is called Sunset Beach. Photo: Stuart McDonald

With four places to stay on the beach, our pick of the crop is Robinson Bungalows (T: (088) 454 6872 Official site Agoda Booking) set at the southern end of the beach. They offer a mix of options from large family-friendly bungalows ($50) with private cold water bungalows through to smaller huts with shared facilities ($30), and a variety of tents ($20-$30) making out the cheaper offerings. Bungalows are wooden and well designed, with lazy seats and hammocks strung on the veranda and mosquito net shrouded beds inside.

Bathrooms are clean, but cold water only. Rooms have no fans, nor even power sockets (at least that we could find—the resort uses solar power which may explain the limited power availability) but there is a shared charging counter up by reception and the restaurant. Accommodation is well spread out through the shady grounds and some of the tents down at the southern point have an ideal setting. The restaurant is on a slight rise back off the beach and enjoys a fine outlook—food is good too, while if you prefer to have your feet by the sand there is a small beach bar down on the sand. Staff were friendly and helpful. There is also an area for sparring should you like to mix your holidaying with some boxing. Reservations are recommended in high season.

Call me Crusoe. At Robinson Bungalows. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Call me Crusoe. At Robinson Bungalows. Photo: Stuart McDonald

On the same beach you’ll find Sunboo (T: (071) 750 8716 Official site Agoda Booking), Sleeping Trees (T: (071) 773 6403 Official site Agoda Booking) and Huba Huba (T: (088) 554 5619 Facebook Agoda Booking). All three of these struck us as solid options, we just preferred the slightly more isolated location of Robinson. We’ve heard particularly positive reports regarding Sleeping Trees.

Sandy Beach

This isolated strip of sand is around the headland to the south of Saracen Bay. The beach is a grey to white with a long, very shallow drop off—great for kids. There is apparently a walking trail to here, but we approached by boat from Saracen—the trip took 15 minutes. On the back (west) side of the beach is the midrange Pearl Resort (T: (016) 818 608 Official site Agoda Booking), but just to the south of it is a scraggly path which leads over the hill to Sandy Beach.

Sandy Beach is, well, sandy. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Sandy Beach is, well, sandy. Photo: Stuart McDonald

There is clearly something big going in here as there were concrete roads and fences for construction, but as late 2019, work seemed to have barely commenced.

The star of the show here is the very popular party hostel, Bodega (T: (061) 755 566 Official site Agoda Booking) which sits on the northern headland of the beach. Like many hostels, it has a mix of private rooms and dorms in a few flavours. The highlight are the superior beach view bungalows, which are not actually bungalows, but rooms in a bright white and teal building by the sand. At $35, these are spectacular value. Spacious, spotlessly clean and well kept and the outlook is just terrific.

Smart digs at Bodega. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Smart digs at Bodega. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Dorms are air-con, come in 8, 10 and 12 person flavours (priced around $6, $5.50 and $5 respectively) and are set in a series of bunkers running back from the beachfront rooms. These are also excellent value. Rounding out the deal is the well appointed restaurant which includes a photogenic swimming pool wrapping around a corner of the restaurant. Like many party hostels, Bodega has a distinct backpacker factory feel to it, with plenty of foreign staff, and you’ll either love or hate it, but if you’re looking to meet other travellers, this is a very solid option. Reservations are recommended in high season. If you want this vibe, but elsewhere, consider the equally isolated and popular Mad Monkey (T: (069) 901 076 Official site Agoda Booking) midway between Saracen and M’Pai Bei.

Also on the beach are Tube Resort (T: (077) 745 745 Official site Agoda Booking) and Sandy Beach Bungalows. The latter was closed for extensive renovations as of late 2019.


Where to eat on Koh Rong Samloem

To boil it down, Koh Rong Samloem has better beaches than food. You won’t starve or anything like that, but with a few notable exceptions the food is pretty underwhelming.

Throw another shrimp on the barbie. Dinner on Saracen Bay. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Throw another shrimp on the barbie. Dinner on Saracen Bay. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Not surprisingly, Saracen Bay is the epicentre of the island’s food scene and every evening seafood barbecues set up on the sand in front of the various hotels and restaurants. Most are concentrated at the centre of the beach and while we tried a couple, they were pretty standard fare. Expect to have little change from $10 on a seafood barbecue with a couple of drinks.

One particularly popular spot towards the centre of the beach is the place right next to Onederz (whose name we lost, sorry). You’ll know it when you see it as the tables were jammed every night we were on Saracen. Their pizza was better than the seafood.

Escape the heat at Bamboo Jam. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Escape the heat at Bamboo Jam. Photo: Stuart McDonald

For coffee and general beachside grazing, Bamboo Jam ticked all the boxes and be sure to browse their boutique once you’ve put your latte to bed. Excellent staff too.

Once of the best meals we had though was at a tiny Thai food stall which sets up between Octopussy Bar and the trail through to Lazy and Sunset beaches. We had a cracking larp with sticky rice here and if you ask for it Thai style spicy, you’ll get it Thai style spicy. Yummo.

If you’re counting your pennies and don’t mind eating off the beach, take the road which runs to Lazy and Sunset beaches and just as the cement road ends on your right you’ll see Nary’s House, which does plenty of standard one plate dishes. The chicken wire walls seemed a bit odd, but the food was decent and affordable.

The view from the bar. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

The view from the bar. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Bar-wise, Octopussy and Treebar, both in the centre of the beach, nail that crusty lazy beach bar vibe. Chatty staff and iced cold drinks make for a good way to pass the late afternoon. Of the two, we preferred Octopussy. A bit further to the north is The Big Easy, which wasn’t really to our taste, but is a popular spot for drinks and grub throughout the day.

While it is a bit of a walk, if you head over to Lazy Beach (or better still, are staying there), the food at Lazy Beach is excellent. We sampled some of their Thai food and were well impressed. Prices are reasonable too.

Over in M’Pai Bei, a bunch of open air places set up tables and chairs under the shady trees making for a good spot for lunch or late afternoon grazing by the sea. Lisa Restaurant was ok.

Seek out some shade at M’Pai Bei. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Seek out some shade at M’Pai Bei. Photo: Stuart McDonald

For breakfast, coffee and beers in the evening, Bong’s is right opposite the pier and is a popular choice. This is a good spot for a coffee while waiting for the boat (and far cheaper than the rip-off cafe out on the pier).

For drinks come the evening, Two Ducks is on the road leading back from the pier, while a little way to the north, another the seaside trail, you’ll find Easy Tiger and Chill Inn. Our preferred spot for a sundowner though was at The Cliff Hostel, whose cliffside terrace delivers excellent sunset views, has cheap drinks and the food is good too. If you don’t want to walk that far, there are a few similar spots dotted along the trail back into town.


What to see and do

Diving, snorkelling, boat trips and hiking

As with Koh Rong, the main pastimes on Koh Rong Samloem are diving, snorkelling boat trips and hiking around the island to other beaches.

Snorkel on your doorstep. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Snorkel on your doorstep. Photo: Stuart McDonald

You’ll find a few dive shops on the island, both on Saracen and on Sunset Beach. We were quoted $80 for two fun dives from a dive shop on Saracen. If you’re looking for snorkelling, we were told the best off the beach snorkelling was along the northern points at both Lazy and Sunset beaches, though travellers we talked to who had snorkelled both said to expect little more than plenty of fish—this is no Komodo. If you’re staying over at M’Pai Bei, some of the cliffside places have staircases running down the cliff so that you can snorkel off of the cliffs. This is also a popular area for the snorkelling trips. Watch out for sea urchins—it can be a nightmare to get the tiny spikes out—touch nothing!

Over on Sunset Beach you’ll find Sunset Adventures (T: (088) 616 6484). We didn’t try them out (though they did give us a cute sticker which is now on the Travelfish laptop), but they offer a range of services including rock climbing, kayaking, Muay Thai and the ever popular plankton tours in the early evening.

Meet Military Beach. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

Meet Military Beach. Photo: Stuart McDonald

For something off of your own back, an afternoon walk to the lighthouse is well worth it, especially if you combine it with a visit to the near-deserted Military Beach. To get there, walk to the far southern end of Saracen Bay and take a trail running inland—and just keep going. After an hour or so, you’ll reach a crossroads. Turn right for the twenty minute walk down to Military Beach. This is so named because it is a military beach, but we had no problems getting access. Note the cannon emplacement just before you reach the sand—no photos please.

Once you are done with the beach (it is quite lovely, so be sure to allow time for frolicking), backtrack to the cross roads and turn south, continuing for about thirty minutes to reach the lighthouse. Again there are cannons around here—photos (of the cannons) are not permitted. A guy on site will open the locked gate to the lighthouse for $1—a sound investment as the views from the top of the lighthouse are just spectacular, encompassing all of Koh Rong Samloem and Koh Rong beyond.

The views from the lighthouse are not shabby. Photo taken in or around Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

The views from the lighthouse are not shabby. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Hit here in the late afternoon on a clear day and it is just divine. Just be sure to allow enough time to get back to Saracen Bay unless you want to walk in the dark (in which case, bring a torch). Much of the trail is shaded, but a hat and plenty of water would both be sensible as we saw nowhere on Military Beach to buy drinks.


Getting there and away

Boat

Transport to and from Koh Rong Samloem is at the mercy of the weather. Boats sometimes leave late as a result, so give yourself a few extra hours if you’re booking a bus directly after your return to Sihanoukville.

We strongly advise against organising a flight connection closely tuned to the ferry timetables. Yes Sihanoukville is an absolute dive, but better a couple of hours spent hating on it there rather than missing a flight and getting an entire evening of hating on it for your troubles.

If you’re susceptible to sea sickness, the crossing in inclement weather can get pretty wild. If you sit on the back deck, you and your bags will get wet—take our word for it.

There are at least four operators running boats to Koh Rong Samloem. Speed Ferry Cambodia is probably the most popular (we used them with no problems), others include GTVC, Buva Sea and Island Speedferry.

On Koh Rong Samloem, the primary boat landings are at M’Pai Bei and Saracen Bay. Note that Saracen is a long bay with three separate clusters of piers (north, middle and south) so check where you are staying and pick an operator that will be using the pier you need. If you don’t bother, then like us, you’ll get to walk the entire length of Saracen for your troubles. The walk takes about 45 minutes.

Fares between Sihanoukville and Koh Rong Samloem are set at $22 for an open return ticket. Don’t lose the return stub or you’ll need to buy another ticket. Boat operators appreciate you “checking in” the day before departure, but in practice many don’t bother.

In clear weather the trip takes around 30 to 40 minutes to Koh Rong Samloem, but in bad weather these times can increase considerably. Boats may also go via Koh Rong.

Timetables are subject to change (and weather) but at the time of research (late 2019) there were multiple departures daily with the first boat from Sihanoukville at 08:00 and the last at 17:00. Tickets can be purchased at any travel agent, the pier, or online through Travelfish partner BookMeBus (the price should be the same regardless of where you buy the ticket).

Speed Ferry Cambodia
T: (081) 466 880
Official site
Departs Sihanoukville 09:00, 11:30, 14:00, 16:00
Departs Koh Rong Samloem 07:30, 10:00, 12:30, 16:00
Book your ticket now

GTVC Speedboat Cambodia
T: (070) 221 234
Official site
Departs Sihanoukville 08:00, 11:00, 14:00, 16:00
Departs Koh Rong Samloem 08:30, 11:30, 14:30, 16:30
Book your ticket now

Buva Sea
T: (098) 888 950
Official site
Departs Sihanoukville 08:00, 11:00, 14:00, 17:00
Departs Koh Rong Samloem 07:00, 09:00, 12:00, 15:30
Book your ticket now

Island Speedferry
T: (015) 811 711
Official site
Departs Sihanoukville 09:00, 12:00, 15:00
Departs Koh Rong Samloem 10:00, 13:00, 16:00
Book your ticket now

More isolated resorts such as Lazy Beach run their own boat. If you’re staying on Sunset Beach, you can get a boat to Lazy Beach to use their boat to the mainland (and visa versa). Please contact them directly for details.

Getting around

We saw no scooters for hire on Koh Rong Samloem, which makes sense given the limited supply or roads and their very iffy condition. We saw no bicycles for hire on the island.



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