Koh Rong: Unspoilt Paradise or Backpacker Hotspot?

Judging by what I had read about Koh Rong, I had anticipated a Robinson Carusoe-esque paradise, a white-sand island getaway from modern life. And while Koh Rong is certainly lacking in modern facilities (i.e. electricity), what I found was more of a beer-guzzling backpacker’s paradise than actual paradise.

Though I admit Koh Rong does have a certain draw- from the adorable kids and puppies playing by the pier to the dreamy, sugar-sand beaches, I see why some travelers love it. I met many expats who had been camping out there for months or even years.

The pace of island life is slow- electricity is only available for several hours a day, ice is delivered daily and the doddering wifi only became available last year. But sadly Koh Rong’s days as a slow-paced backpacker’s getaway are numbered. It is quickly being built-up as the Koh Samui of Cambodia and it’s only a matter of time before the rustic fishing villages are bulldozed to make way for Sheratons and Best Westerns.

Personally I found the island beautiful but wasn’t a fan of the amenities- it turns out I’m really not one for roughing it. (I draw the line at rat-infested.)

Here’s what I liked, disliked and downright couldn’t stand about Koh Rong.

Koh Rong Cambodia

Koh Rong Cambodia

Koh Rong Cambodia

Koh Rong Cambodia

The Good

The Close-knit Community

Koh Rong Cambodia

Beer pong at Island Boys. Which offers guests free beer from 6-7!

Koh Rong’s main town is just one strip of sand lined with bars and bungalows, so after only a few days you’re acquainted with almost everyone on the beach. But don’t expect Sihanoukville-style ragers- the partying on Koh Rong is more likely to take place sitting in a beach chair while the waves lap at your feet. Koh Rong does seem to attract a certain kind of backpacker- to best honest I don’t think I’ve ever smelled so much marijuana in my life.

Due to such a small community, the islanders as well as the visitors are very community-oriented. One night my travel buddies built a bonfire at the end of the beach and invited everyone on the island to come join. There’s nothing like fireside rum and cokes under a dazzling array of stars. Koh Rong Cambodia
Koh Rong Cambodia

The Phosphorescent Plankton

One of the inside joke on the island that the local pick-up line is, “Hey, have you seen the plankton?”

But really, have you seen it? The first time I dipped my hand into the dark water, a flurry of light followed my fingertips. I screamed out giddily, “It’s like glitter!” It’s like the stars fell down into the water. It’s magic.

And how’s this for a travel memory: swimming in the phosphorescent plankton with a new Brazilian friend singing me Portuguese lullabies. A platonic swim-sesh, mind you!

 

The Sugar-sand Beaches

Koh Rong Cambodia

Look at that beach. Need I say more? I spent many happy hours there, taking dips in the aquamarine water and then retreating to the sand to read my Kindle and reflect on my incredibly lucky lot in life. And, there’s one more thing- the awful beach vendors of Sihanoukville are notably absent on Koh Rong. Hallelujah.

The best beach on the island is Seven-kilometer Beach, which as you might guess is a seven-kilometer stretch of uninterrupted, snow-white sand. Unfortunately Seven-kilometer Beach is a strenuous jungle trek away from the main beach, and I never mustered up the willpower to journey there. Shame on me.

But I did take a day-long boat-trip to nearby Koh Rong Samloem (a neighboring island) and it was absolutely beautiful as well as peaceful. While it lacks the backpacker vibe of Koh Rong, it would make the perfect honeymoon spot.

 

The Sunsets

Koh Rong Cambodia

While I unfortunately never took my dSLR out on Koh Rong until I was literally leaving on the afternoon boat (I took this shot with my iPhone) the sunsets were some of the prettiest I’ve seen in Southeast Asia.

The Bad

The Absolutely Horrendous Accommodation

Maybe I’m spoiled, but the accommodation on the island is absolutely filthy.

On Koh Rong, a good nights sleep is basically impossible.

Between dog fights at three in the morning, raucous roosters crowing at dawn and the lack of power after around midnight (remember, no power means no fans) I don’t think I got one good night’s sleep in Koh Rong.

The first night may have been the worst. I paid $2 at Vagabond’s for a sandy hostel bunk littered with toilet paper, and was woken up by a seemingly confused Cambodian man who entered my room at 3 a.m. with a flashlight.

Next I switched to Bunna’s where I had my own bed for $7 a night. This room was debatably even worse. I will explain below, but let me give you two words of foreshadowing: rodent droppings.

Wherever you stay, there’s nothing quite like realizing when you return to your hostel at 3 p.m. that you can’t shower because you would be washing yourself in pitch blackness.

 

Widespread Petty Theft

Theft is a major problem on the island- I met two English guys whose room was broken into and all of their belongings stolen out of the hotel-provided safe. While I also met several other travelers who were pick-pocketed on the beach, the main problem definitely seemed to be theft via breaking and entering the bungalows.

 

The Unforgivable

I could’ve dealt with the terrible wifi, the rustic rooms and even the possibility of theft, but I could not deal with the island’s rat problem. I had so many rats in my bungalow that it took me 20-30 minutes each night (and at least 5-10 minutes each morning) to clear my bed of rat droppings. At night I could hear them moving and scratching inside the walls to which I just put in my headphones.

Maybe this makes me a wimpy traveler, but I can’t sleep soundly in a bungalow with a rat infestation problem that is quite at that level. I have my limits.

Overall I have some great memories on Koh Rong. But needless to say, I don’t think I’ll be back.

Practical info: Koh Rong is a $10 one-way ferry ticket from Sihanoukville. There are only two ferries a day, morning and afternoon, so arrange transport with your hostel in Sihanoukville in advance.

Coco’s is the best place to stay on the island. It’s a great place to hang out, eat and work- the food’s nice, and the upstairs has beautiful views of the water as well as lots of outlets and the island’s best wifi.

Frank’s Burgers makes insanely delicious burgers. And as a proud American I take burgers very seriously.

Diving is available on Koh Rong, but I opted not to go – apparently the reefs are mediocre as they have been destroyed by dynamite fishing.

Have you visited Koh Rong before? Does it sound like a place you would enjoy visiting or not so much?

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29 Comments

  1. I feel awful. You are living worst than the NYC street bums. Rats!

    Reply
    • I wouldn’t go quite that far but yes, the rats were gross!

  2. It almost doesn’t seem worth the good! I don’t even consider myself to be high maintenance in the least but waking up to rat crap on your bed??? And people breaking into your room??? HELL NO.

    Reply
    • Haha love this. I’m glad to see I’m not alone!

    • Ugh, it was horrible. I almost wish I had taken a picture just to show how disgusting it really was!

  3. I shudder to think what you endured! Dangerous, for
    rats carry diseases. Do not even stay when this happens.
    Clear out,your life is too precious.

    Love, Gamma

    Reply
    • Don’t worry, Gamma, I already left! And have no intentions of returning.

  4. I didn’t have time to go to Koh Rong and was a little disappointed, but now I’m kind of glad I didn’t. I don’t do rats.

    (To be quite honest, I can barely do rooms without aircon in SE Asia…)
    Amanda Slavinsky recently posted..Afternoon Tea in London: Round 2My Profile

    Reply
    • I don’t even think Koh Rong has AC at all! Don’t worry about not seeing Koh Rong, you’ve been to just as beautiful of beaches in the Philippines anyway :)

    • It was completely different from Koh Tao. Koh Tao is much, much more built up and has a lot more infrarstucture. Koh Rong definitely has better, more secluded beaches but I liked Koh Tao a lot more! (I stayed there for almost two weeks :) )

    • The plankton was the BEST. The rats? Not so much.

  5. eeww about the rats! It seems like every year older I get the less i want to “rough it” I have been reading so much on blogs about theft increasing here! that’s such a shame.
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..Private Secret Beach Resort in GoaMy Profile

    Reply
    • I also find myself less wanting to rough it the older I get… it’s just not the same as when I was 17! And yes, unfortunately I think theft is on the rise in Koh Rong and Cambodia in general :(

  6. Ugh! Rats or cockroach infestations are too much for me, I would never be able to get in bed thinking of something crawling on me during the night. You’re quite the badass for even attempting to sleep there!
    Christina Gmyr recently posted..My love affair with Galway, IrelandMy Profile

    Reply
    • Haha thanks, Christina! I don’t think I’ve ever been called a badass before. Oh and p.s. I loved Galway too :)

  7. Can’t agree more with Koh Rong. Didn’t really know what to expect when arriving. The “main” beach was absolutely horrendous, however, Long Beach was one of the most scenic beaches I have ever seen. As for accommodation, I had to get drunk 3 nights in a row just to get to sleep! As for the rats…thank god i read this after I went. haha

    Reply
    • I had a similar strategy, haha. And I wish I would’ve seen Long Beach, I bet it was gorgeous! However I’m definitely not going back anytime soon…

    • Haha sound logic. I have to say I agree- no beach is worth that kind of filth! :)

  8. Oh my goodness! I can’t even imagine waking up in the morning with rat droppings in my bed… how did you even sleep?! I have to commend you for living through that. I probably would have bailed after one night.
    Emily recently posted..I am Done Being “Busy”My Profile

    Reply
    • I tried a few different places but just gave up in the end and decided to tough it out… it was pretty grim though!

  9. I’m here in Koh Rong currently and have been here for 3 nights so far. I agree it’s hard to get a good night sleep here. I stayed at Bunna’s the first night and was kept awake until 2:30am from the loud generator and music. Then I moved to Dream Catch and it’s been quite and peaceful here and I’ve been sleeping perfectly.

    I haven’t seen a single rat or had any rat droppings in my room.

    There are also more expensive bungalows that are nicer, but I’m happy in my basic room here and think Koh Rong is the backpackers paradise. It’s been my favorite island so far and I’ve been to a lot. I’ve been blogging about it daily since I’ve been here.
    Johnny recently posted..Day 8: Paddle Boarding, Maintaining an Online Business without Electricity and Island BBQsMy Profile

    Reply
    • I never heard about Dream Catch, I wish I had stayed there too! Koh Rong definitely is a backpacker’s paradise but I would say my favorite islands in SE Asia are Gili Trawangan and Koh Tao :)

    • I almost forgot about Gili T. I really liked that place as well, great diving, no cars. I couldn’t see myself living there longer though as they only have salt water showers, and the food isn’t great. Koh Tao though was awesome, I worked there for a year as a dive master and loved it. My favorite isn’t though for divers is Mabul in Borneo.
      Johnny recently posted..Day 9: Koh Tao Thailand vs. Koh Rong Cambodia (Backpacker’s Island Paradise)My Profile

    • I was pretty sick of showering in cold, brackish water by the time I left so I totally know what you mean! I definitely would love to check out diving in Malaysia- it looks amazing!

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