Christmas in Cambodia: Koh Rong

by Sasha Savinov

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Koh Rong is a small ‘deserted’ island just a boat ride away from Sihanoukville. There are two options for getting there – the fast boat (45 minutes) and the slow boat (2 hours). It’s best not to buy a round-trip ticket if you’re taking the fast boat. We did that but then thanks to inclement weather, we ended up having to take the slow ferry back but paid for the fast one. There are actually two islands you can stay on here – Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem.

The former is a bit more developed and has a small nightlife scene, while the other is more “Robinson Crusoe” and good for a secluded holiday. Apparently there are plans to seriously develop Koh Rong, including an airport and casino (Hello Chinese tour groups!), so if you’re thinking about coming here, hurry and do it before any of that happens.

Approaching Koh Rong on the boat.

Leaving Snookyville by fast boat to Koh Rong.

We spent Christmas on Kohn Rong and it was the most relaxing Christmas I’ve ever had. We’re not from warm places, so it was definitely the warmest Christmas for both of us.

Christmas in Cambodia!

Christmas in Cambodia!

This kid's mom totally pawned him off on me for a photo opp.

This kid’s mom totally pawned him off on me for a photo opp.

 

Where to Stay

There are several hostels and hotels with bungalows along the beach near the pier where the boats arrive. The ‘backpacker’ thing to do is find a place when you arrive, but since it was Christmas we did our best to book a place early. The Italian restaurant has three guestrooms, so through a series of emails we thought we had made a reservation there. However, when we arrived they were full and seemed confused. Luckily the nearest hostel, White Rose, had a private room available. The room was basic with a bed, mosquito net and shelves to put our bags on, plus the shared bathrooms were good enough.

Further up the beach there are private bungalows and even further around the island you’ll find tree houses and more secluded bungalows. Those are great places to stay if you want a secluded island jungle vacation, but they require two extra boat rides to get on and off the island. Plus it limits you to eating, drinking and hanging out at your guest house unless you want to take another boat ride. If you want to be near all the restaurants and bars and you have a tight budget, it’s best to stay in a cheaper place on the beach near the pier.

Nice decorations

This helped everyone get into the Christmas spirit.


What to Do

As this is a small island, most of the fun activities are sitting on a beach or playing in the water. There are dive shops here, and of course you’ll find plenty of people organizing trips for things such as snorkeling, fishing, island hopping, and party cruises.

Away from the strip are a few completely deserted beaches with only a small local stand selling snacks and drinks. You can get to the “Long Beach” – a 7-km stretch of white sand beach that is almost completely deserted – either by hiking up a trail through the island or by chartering a boat for a few bucks.

The hike is good exercise and shows you that most of this island is still thick jungle. Just don’t attempt to do it in flip flops! The path is marked by flip flops that didn’t survive the journey, as an expat guy who mapped it out nailed them to trees. We didn’t find him, but apparently he can be your guide and show you some really cool things on the island.

Hiking the trail that goes through the island.

Hiking the trail that goes through the island.

Long Beach - your reward for a tough hike.

Long Beach – your reward for a tough hike.

Since our visit at the end of last year, they’ve also opened up an adventure park where you can do a high-ropes course. You can check out their website here if you’re interested.

We spent four days on the island and spent our time doing a mix of the above-mentioned activities. On our first day, we just walked up and down the main strip, chilled on the beach and took in a nice sunset.

Amazing sunset on Koh Rong.

Amazing sunset on Koh Rong.

The next day we hiked over to the Long Beach and spent most of our day there. On our last full day we went out and did a day trip on a small boat. First up, we stopped for some snorkeling. Next, we did a little fishing with a simple line. Sasha actually caught two fish, while I wasn’t so lucky.

Swimming with the fish...

Swimming with the fish…

...and then catching them.

…and then catching them.

Finally, we parked on the Long Beach and our guides got going on a BBQ while we got to go for a swim. We got to enjoy the fruits of our labor as we munched on grilled fish and had a few cold beers while watching the sun go down.

Doing some fishing and then grilling it up!

Doing some fishing and then grilling it up!

 

Where to Munch

On the main strip, there are quite a few restaurants. You’ve got one or two cheap local places cooking up rice and noodle dishes, plenty of mid-range places serving a mix of Cambodian and Western food, and a few nicer, more expensive places. The highlight of our trip was our Christmas Dinner at La Mami’s, the Italian restaurant on the pier. Even though they fudged our room reservation and left us in a noisy hostel, we still had to try their food. It’s real Italian made by an Italian family, and it’s damn good.

Christmas Dinner in Koh Rong.

Christmas Dinner in Koh Rong.

Nightlife

A great sign in a bar on Koh Rong.

A great sign in a bar on Koh Rong.

While you may hear from some that Koh Rong is a “party island,” we beg to differ. Sure, there are a few places to get a drink along the main strip, but it’s nothing too rowdy. Places like Koh Pha Ngan in Thailand and even Sihankoukville just across the water in Cambodia are far crazier when it comes to nightlife. That being said, plenty of people come out at night to have a few drinks and dance, and some bars will do your typical SE Asia fire show as well.

On our visit, it seemed like everyone was partying on our first night (Christmas Eve), but things really chilled out the next few nights and it was rather quiet. If you stay off the main strip, you’ll have total peace and quiet, as there are no bars over there.

Koh Rong Summary

Cruising around Koh Rong.

Cruising around Koh Rong.

Transportation: The fast boat costs $30 round trip and takes about 45 minutes, and the slow boat costs $20, taking about two hours. If you want to take the fast boat, just by a one-way and then see what the water is like when you want to leave. Sometimes it gets cancelled due to choppy seas.

Getting Around: There’s no transport whatsoever on this island, so you’re limited to your own two feet and chartered fishing boats. You can hike from the main strip to Long Beach in about an hour or so, or you can pay a boat to take you.

Accommodation: Just near the pier, you’ll find plenty of budget-friendly options. As you move down the beach, you find private bungalows and more mid-range options. On the other sides of the island is where you can find super nice places that will set you back quite a bit. We stayed in White Rose in a double private room for $18/night. Note that we were there for Christmas, when rates go up.

Activities: It’s an island, so sit on the beach or head out into the water! Now you can also check out the adventure park if you need some more excitement.

Food/Drink: As mentioned above, there’s a lot of good stuff to eat on this island. We would opt for fresh fruit and coffee from nice ladies who have a small stand in the morning, rice/noodle dishes for a cheap lunch, and then something nice for dinner. La Mami’s comes highly recommended.

Recommended Time: It depends on how much time you have and how much you like islands. Four nights here was pretty good, but of course it would have been nice to stay a bit longer.

Total Cost: We spent $293 for our 4-night stay on Koh Rong. This includes our boat tickets, which were $25 each RT. As we were there for Christmas, we spent a bit more than our normal budget. You can definitely enjoy a cheap stay here, though. Or you can ball out of control and have a fantastic trip – it’s up to you!

4 comments

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4 comments

KohRong.Guide March 16, 2016 - 1:18 pm

Hello. Thank you so much for writing about our island paradise Koh Rong – We need all the help we can get to keep spreading the good word! We are a non-profit, independent organisation created to help keep the Koh Rong Islands clean and help the local fishing communities. Would you mind sharing the link to our new guide to help our project? Your help would be very much appreciated! You can find our guide on Koh Rong & Koh Rong Samloem here: http://kohrong.guide/

Thank you!

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Grateful Gypsies March 25, 2016 - 9:58 am

Sure thing! We loved Koh Rong and we hope it stays the way it is for as long as possible. We heard there were big plans for development there. Here’s to hoping they don’t go through!

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KohRong.Guide March 25, 2016 - 1:56 pm

Yes indeed, although much is uncertain, the government seem to be in the process of creating a road network around Koh Rong, and it looks like more big resorts are going to be built over the next few years (the airport runway you mention is currently more of a rumour than fact). It will help in some ways (to meet demand of tourism) but it will impact the natural beauty of the island. Koh Rong Samloem looks to be the future holiday destination for those looking for the island paradise experience. Take a look at our page on it here: http://kohrong.guide/samloem/

Reply
Anton April 14, 2015 - 3:37 pm

Me and my family is going there next year in jaarnuy, now I can’t wait, it looks totally perfect. Please, enjoy your trip.(You look stunning) Love, Maya.

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