Our trip to Cambodia was relatively quick in comparison to our time spent in other countries, but we only had two things in mind for our time there-Angkor Wat and a beautiful beach. After visiting Siem Reap made our way south to the Cambodian Islands, Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. Cambodia is becoming more popular every year but the islands have remained quiet in comparison to the hoards of people visiting Siem Reap. If you have traveled much are around South East Asia you know that it’s difficult to find a spectacular beach that isn’t already over-developed, but Koh Rong, specifically Sok San Beach turned out to be an absolute gem. One of the most beautiful beaches we have ever seen and from what we’ve witnessed in the rest of the region, it’s only a matter of time before that changes.
Cambodia isn’t a very large country and the tourist bus systems work great for overnight travel to various destinations so we opted for the sleeper buses to get us around. The overnight buses run direct from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville (the closest beach town for island travel) and take about 10 hours. Tourist offices all over Siem Reap sell bus tickets so it will be easy to find one for around $10. We arrived in Sihanoukville at sunrise and bought our boat tickets to Koh Rong at the pier. Be aware that the tuk tuk driver taking you to the pier will insist that you buy a ticket with him or at his office (they get commission), but there are offices at the pier with prices listed for slow boats and fast boats. We always prefer to buy at the office if possible, especially in Cambodia where it’s common to be sold fake tickets. Sihanoukville has a pretty big party scene so don’t be surprised to see people still out drinking at sunrise and the beach littered with garbage. Nick spent New Year’s Eve in Sihanoukville a few years ago and had a great time, so if you’re looking for a place to crash for a few nights before you head to Koh Rong, there are guesthouses just off the beach that you can check into when you arrive in town.
The boats will take you to Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem and leave a few times throughout the day for journeys no longer than a few hours, slow boats being the cheaper option. We purchased return tickets on the slow boat but the times coming back didn’t coincide with our travel plans, but we were able to exchange the ticket for a speed boat for only the difference in ticket price and no added fees. Both the speed boat and slow boat were comfortable and clean, we had no complaints.
We had a week to spend on the islands and anticipated visiting both, but after getting settled in on Sok San Beach, we ended up staying there for our entire week. Koh Rong, the larger island of the two, is known to be the party island. The main pier that you arrive at is sat on a beautiful stretch of white sand with several bungalows and guesthouses to rent. We asked around at a few but found them to be over our budget. For clean, private bungalows expect to pay $35-40/night and for $15-20/night you can sleep in small rooms above a bar, not exactly what we wanted. The party scene seems to be lively based on the number of people advertising Koh Rong pub crawls. There is one dive shop in Koh Rong but we read that diving in Cambodia isn’t as safe as other destinations so we gave it a miss. You can rent snorkel gear and take days trips from any of the beaches but since over fishing is problem and the reefs are destroyed we skipped that as well. The information booth right as you get to the beach was extremely helpful in guiding us toward a great beach with rooms in our budget. They suggested we take a taxi boat to the north end of the island (1 hour journey) and stay on Sok San Beach.
We couldn’t believe our eyes when we pulled up to the pier- the most stunning turquoise water, soft white sand, a few bungalows and even fewer people. We had found absolute paradise. We wandered up the beach enquiring about rooms and found a private bungalow for $20/night that was perfect. Guesthouses advertised rooms ranging from $10-40/night so there are options for all. There is a larger resort just a short walk down the beach, Sok San Beach Resort, that is more upscale, the only place with wifi, the only place that takes credit card and has a good selection of food and drinks. The beach is small and restaurants are limited but make sure to eat at The Moon Restaurant. There is never a shortage of cold beer, good music and excellent regional dishes, our f avories were fish amok and beef lok lak. We tried a few other food spots but nothing came close to the quality here so we ended up coming back for every meal.
We decided not to leave Sok San and explore the other beaches or islands because it was just too perfect, but if you are looking to island hop, there are boats that can take you to Koh Rong Samloem and back to the main pier on Koh Rong everyday. Although we planned to visit Koh Rong Samloem because it is known to be quieter and more relaxed, we felt that we had everything we wanted on Sok San Beach. I truly hope that gorgeous stretch of Cambodian paradise can fight off developers for a few more years, just enough time for us to return and experience it all over again.