The Time I Discovered the Pristine Beauty of Cambodia’s Islands

Thailand isn’t the only country that has some stunning islands in the Gulf of Thailand. Although they’re much less famous, the Cambodian islands are arguably just as beautiful. Plus, unlike the immensely popular Thai islands, Cambodia’s islands in the northern Gulf of Thailand are still mostly serene, pristine, and somewhat off the beaten path. The two islands I specifically have in mind, which I recently visited and fell in love with, are Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem.

Koh Rong

The larger of the two islands, Koh Rong has a definite party, backpacker vibe on the main beach. In fact, they have full moon parties there, too, just like in Thailand. If you’re not looking to party, don’t stay anywhere near the main pier because that’s where it gets particularly rowdy at night.

Part of Koh Rong’s party area during daytime

My husband and I stayed at Paradise Bungalows down the beach, which I’d recommend for those looking for nice, well-priced bungalows on Koh Rong. As for daytime activities, you can enjoy the beautiful beaches and surrounding turquoise waters. We rented a kayak for a few hours, along with a mask and snorkel, and paddled over to a secluded beach—highly recommended! Don’t expect endless colourful reefs, but the underwater biodiversity is good, even when just swimming off shore.

Koh Rong’s main beach by Paradise Bungalows

Koh Rong Samloem

This is the island that truly stole my heart. Koh Rong Samloem still feels like pristine tropical-island paradise (although it may not for much longer). Aside from the main beach where the ferry stops, the island has a very limited infrastructure.

Sunset Beach, Koh Rong Samloem

The entire interior is covered by unspoiled jungle, which you can hike through to get to two smaller and even more remote beaches: Lazy Beach and Sunset Beach. There are some very limited bungalow accommodations there, but chances are that you’ll only be sharing those beaches with a handful of other people.

Swinging lazily on Lazy Beach, Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia

Some notes on what to expect for both islands:

  • A roundtrip speed ferry ticket to either island from Sihanoukville will cost you about US$20.
  • Accommodations on the islands are limited in general, budget options are VERY basic (e.g. no hot water is standard), and bungalows are not cheap by Cambodian standards (min. US$30 a night in high season).
  • These are basically CASH ONLY islands. There are no ATMs and pretty much the only places that accept credit cards are the few expensive bungalow resorts.
  • There is no reliable Wi-Fi. Even when you’ll find some, it’ll likely be dodgy.

The bottom line: Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem offer a refreshing escape from the now mostly over-beaten path of Southeast Asian budget travel—just make sure to get there before the crowds do!

As always, happy travels!

– Ala


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