After a couple of days in Sihanoukville we were ready to get off the main land and head out to the island of Koh Rong. We bought a ferry ticket at the pier called the “Backpacker Ferry” for a $15 return trip to the island. We were given a ticket stub for the return ferry and were told we could take it any day we wanted, so there was no obligation to return until we had our fill of the island.
The ferry took about 2 hours and the water was delightfully smooth. As we made our way across the water we saw hundreds of huge jellyfish the size of dinner plates just under the surface!
As soon as we got off the boat we could tell the vibes on Koh Rong suited us much better than Sihanoukville. It was significantly cleaner (though still some litter and sewage draining into the ocean, it’s still Cambodia after all) and there were no gross old men or prostitutes. The water was much cleaner as well. We found a guesthouse called Three Brothers with private rooms and shared bathrooms for $12, a few steps down the beach. After we dropped off our backpacks we headed right back out to get some lunch and go exploring.
Joe’s sunburn was really bad. Like really bad. We avoided sunbathing for his sake and opted to take a walk up the beach to get our bearings of the island. Our guesthouse was located on the Southeastern most part of the island called Tui Beach, which is where most of the guesthouses on the island are situated. We walked up the beach, past all of the bungalows, restaurants, and bars until we got to a more secluded place called Treehouse Bungalows, where all of the bungalows are built up on stilts as tall as trees!
Just past the treehouses, the sand ended and there were rocks separating us from the next beach. We walked around the rocks and found a small, secluded beach with beautiful orange sand. It was sort of like a private beach for the guests that were staying in the treehouses, but the attached restaurant was open to the public as well. We stopped there for a margarita and enjoyed the view.
We wanted to walk even further, but the sand ended once more and there were even larger and more numerous rocks and boulders in our path. To go around them we had to curve around into the jungle and follow a small path that led us to Long Set Beach, complete with beautiful white sand, turquoise waters and hardly any other tourists!
After enjoying the beach for a while and making our way back, we ended the night with dinner at a restaurant on the beach called White Rose before heading to bed.
When we woke up the next morning, we decided to try a place a few doors down called Dream Catcher that boasts the best breakfast on the island. With options including eggs benedict, french toast, and coconut muesli, it did not disappoint!
Our goal for the day was to trek over to Long Beach on the other side of the island. We had heard it was one of the top beaches in the world on some list or other, and made for a fine place to watch the sun set as well. There are no roads or motorized vehicles on Koh Rong, so to get there, our options were to take a taxi boat or a one hour hike through the jungle to the other side.
We decided to hike it and found the sign leading the way. The trail is not really marked and at some points we weren’t sure which way we were supposed to go, but there was always a friendly local nearby that would point us in the right direction.
It was a fairly difficult hike, but our minds went elsewhere as soon as we set foot on Long Beach. The water was crystal clear and the sand was squeaky clean–literally! The sand squeaked under our feet with every step. We spent the afternoon on the beach and watched the glorious sunset before taking a taxi boat back to the other side of the island. (It’s not safe to hike at night due to the probability of hurting yourself, in addition to the venomous snakes, spiders, and scorpions that inhabit the island.)
It just so happened that this was the night of the full moon and there was to be a Full Moon Party taking place on Police Beach, a short walk south of the beach where we were staying. Knowing we weren’t going to be on Koh Phangan for the infamous Full Moon Party in the Thai islands, we decided we might check out Cambodia’s version instead.
We drank gin and tonics while watching people spin fire poi to electronic music on the beach with a few hundred other backpackers. It was actually really nice hanging out with everyone on the sand. We even met a guy from Cleveland! Definitely none of the famed debauchery of Koh Phangan’s Full Moon Party, but probably more enjoyable for us, personally.
We woke up with the raging hangovers that are to be expected after such an event, but luckily we were in the best possible place for such things. We walked up to Long Set Beach and strung up our hammocks under some trees by the sand. Hanging in the shade with a cool breeze on our skin and tranquil ocean waves in our ears had us feeling in top shape.
As we were discussing every possible way to stay on the island permanently, we found ourselves hungry for an early dinner and made our way up to a place called Sky Bar that overlooks the island. They had a small menu but we had an amazing dinner of gnocchi and vegetables-the perfect end to a perfect day.
We ended the evening on the beach with a couple of chocolate crepes before heading back to our room for the night.
Having done much of where there is “to do” on Koh Rong, mayhaps we should have left the next day. But…we just couldn’t resist one more day of paradise.
We intended to do exactly as we had done the day before, but this time when we tried to walk up to Long Set Beach we were stopped by an official looking man in uniform.
“Where are you going?”
“…to the beach?”
Points to various locations. “What part?”
“I would like to inform you that this beach is closed for 4 months.”
“Er, okay…why is that?”
“I can’t tell you.”
Of course we were disappointed that we couldn’t go to the beach that we wanted, but we were more curious about what the heck that encounter had been about. At first we wondered if there had been some kind of scandal, but then we remembered that before we even got to the island, we had read that the TV show Survivor was going to be filmed on Koh Rong starting later that month. Sure enough, when we looked it up, we found an article on a Cambodia news website saying that the crew was already on the island preparing and that there was to be a four month filming schedule.
We were kind of honored to have been on the beach the last day it was open and grateful we had not come any later! We hung out on the small beach by Treehouse Bungalows instead and enjoyed one of their woodfired pizzas later in the evening.
One thing that we hadn’t done yet during our stay on Koh Rong was visit the phosphorescent plankton. There is too much light pollution coming off of Tui Beach to see them, so we paid $5 each for a boat to take us to a small island right off of Koh Rong.
At 7pm, we waded in waist deep water out to the boat along with about 15 other people. We were all crammed in the boat and once we were all on board, they started handing out goggle masks. When we had signed up for the boat ride we figured we would just be riding out to the island and looking at the plankton from the boat or shore or something, but when they handed us the masks we wondered if maybe we were supposed to stick our faces in the water…?
It took maybe 15 minutes to get to the small island but we stopped about 20 or 30 feet away from it. Once the boat stopped, we were instructed to just jump off the boat and into the water! Luckily we had been wearing our swim suits but several other passengers were not…they really aren’t clear about this when you buy the ticket!
Anyway, everyone was looking at each other wondering who was going to jump in first. Finally someone did and when they hit the water, we could see a million green glowing lights all around their body. That was enough encouragement for the rest of us and a few minutes later we were all in the water splashing around and watching the plankton. It looked like our bodies were engulfed in a magical green aura and they got even brighter if you swam down deep.
Ten or fifteen minutes later, once the magic wore off and were all starting to get cold, we climbed back onto the boat and went back to shore. We ended the night with dinner at a bizarre but delicious Italian/Reggae restaurant for our last night on Koh Rong.
We both agreed that it was our favorite place we had been on our entire trip so far and it was veeeeery difficult to leave! We had also read that there are plans in the making by a huge investment company called Royal Group to turn Koh Rong into an “eco resort island” which means it might not be a backpacker paradise for long–hopefully the development is done responsibly.
In short, Koh Rong was very choice, and a high highlight of our trip through Cambodia!