Last update: January 2023
Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem were always high on our list, but on our previous visit to Cambodia we only came as far as Sihanoukville. We were bound to meet some friends in Bangkok and felt that we didn’t have time to visit the Islands. If only we knew then what we know now. For only now we realize we could have spent a few days in paradise instead of lingering in Sihanoukville, a town I really don’t care for.
Why you should visit now!
The sister Islands Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem, some 25 kilometers off the coast of Sihanoukville used to be Cambodia’s best kept secret. Used to be, because the word is out and there are predators on the prowl. Project developers are looking to extend their Sihanoukville footprint and are eyeing the prime spots to build large resorts. There’s even talk of establishing an airport on Koh Rong.
It’s not too late to visit though, because for now Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem are still the perfect getaway for tranquility seeking beach lovers. The main areas are rapidly starting to see more visitors, but if you venture beyond, you will find pristine beaches and untouched tropical jungle.
The sand is whiter than white, the water is crystal clear and the Islands are luscious green. Because of the increasing popularity you won’t have an entire beach to yourself. However, most of the beaches here are long stretched and there is no reason for your towel to be within 25 meters of the next.
Hold your horses!
Before you jump up and leap to the Islands, there are a few things that you should know. Many accommodations offer wifi, but some do not. So if connectivity is important for you, choose your place of stay well.
For the moment, 24/7 electricity is not the norm as there is no power plant on either Island and solar power is not yet fully developed. Most resorts shut down their generators for a few hours every night, some even for most of the day.
Besides this, running water comes straight from the Islands’ streams and has a red color from oxidation in the soil. If despite knowing all this you still want to let out the Robinson in you, then you’re good to go!
Best time to visit Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem
High season on the Islands starts mid November and lasts throughout April with a peak in December and January. Temperatures in high season range from 25C in January to 35C in March. Rain is always possible throughout the year, but during high season it won’t be much and normally comes in afternoon showers.
The rain season runs from May to mid November with September and October as the wettest months. I actually don’t recommend to visit the Island during the monsoon. Although not common, there is always the possibility of consecutive rainy days. You really don’t want to be confined indoors because of the weather, especially since a stay at the Island isn’t exactly cheap. Also, the seas can be rough that time of year, preventing boats from sailing to and from the Islands. So, getting stuck there when the rain is pouring is not unimaginable.
Things to see/do on Koh Rong/Sanloem
We had planned a week of doing absolutely nothing. To bask in the sun, do some long overdue reading and swim a bit. We just wanted to relax and that’s it. Of course that’s not how it turned out. As decadent as it may sound, you can only relax for so long. After 2 days we already felt bored with lying around and found ourselves looking for things to do. We were surprised that for such remote Islands we actually did find some interesting stuff.
There are ample snorkeling opportunities on the Islands, both from the beach and further out. Most resorts have snorkel equipment for rent and offer boat tours with snorkeling as part of the itinerary. The waters around both Islands are rich with marine life.
Reefs surrounding Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem support abundant soft and hard coral, sponges and anemones. The variety and concentration of marine life along the reefs is impressive and includes sting rays, moray eels, dolphins and even whales have been reported. Visibility is best during dry season from end of October to beginning of June.
The best diving sites are a bit further out near Koh Tang and Koh Prins, but all reachable from Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem. Diving outfits on both Islands are plenty.
The Islands are small, yet large enough to offer decent trekking opportunities. Most of the interior is covered in dense jungle and there are a few marked paths. It’s best to inquire at your guesthouse for more details. Ask them about the path from Saracen Bay on Koh Rong Sanloem to the lighthouse. About four hours to get to the lighthouse and back.
Whatever you do, don’t underestimate it just because you’re on an Island, you can still get lost. Bring water, let your guesthouse know you’ve gone trekking and don’t trek in the dark. Oh, and wear closed shoes against the snakes. Yeah, we did come across a few of the slithering creatures.
Boat tours are straightforward and all providers tend to offer pretty much the same. 5 to 6 hour tours with snorkeling, fishing, visit remote beaches and a barbecue lunch or dinner. Prices also tend to be the same, around $25. We did the tour offered by Coconut beach resort on Koh Rong, which surprisingly was just $10 and it was excellent.
Water sport activities are limited to kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. During our stay on the Islands we only came across one stray jet-ski (thank you Lord). The Islands are pristine and the noise pollution from the long-tail boats and speedboat ferries is more than enough. Rent your kayak at $5 for an hour or $12 for a whole day. Sup’s are $5.
I’m a sucker for nature and both Islands do not disappoint. More than 150 bird species call the Islands their home with big birds like eagles, ospreys and horn bills among them. No larger mammals remain, but the trained eye might spot long tailed macaques, squirrels and at night even civets, along with all kinds of reptiles like lizards and snakes.
And then there’s the bio-luminescent plankton on Koh Rong. On the beaches with less light pollution the glow-in-the-dark plankton offers a magical sight. They glow even brighter when there is movement in the water so go ahead and swim in this miracle of nature.
High point adventure park
Zip-lining has reached Koh Rong. South of Koh Toch village on Koh Rong you can challenge the 160 meter zip-line. There’s a 400m full course with suspension bridges, walking wires, self-moving devices such as the rope-walker and the flying surf. Pretty good views and quality equipment. $30 for a day pass including instructions.
Party all night
Monthly full moon parties are organized on Koh Rong Sanloem behind the beach of Saracen Bay. A bit in the style of the 1990’s full moon parties of Koh Pha Ngan in Thailand (before commerce came in and ruined it). It’s drink, dance and party till dawn and beyond. Koh Rong has its full moon parties at Police beach, South of Koh Toch village. Actually if you want to party on Koh Rong you don’t have to wait for full moon. There are party’s every night in the bars of Koh Toch village where party goer’s flock and rock the night away.
No no no, don’t skip this chapter because you think travel insurance is boring. Just because you’re in paradise it doesn’t mean that nothing can happen. Realize that healthcare in Cambodia is hopelessly underdeveloped and practically non-existent on the Islands.
Any serious ailments or injuries will result in medical transport to Bangkok or Singapore. A costly event and payable upfront when lacking proper insurance.
Where to stay on Koh Rong/Sanloem
So which Island should you go, and which beach? Ha, good question, it all depends on your wants and needs. There are just too many accommodations to choose from so below I singled out the ones I know to offer great value for your hard earned buck.
Measuring 78 square kilometers Koh Rong is the larger Island with 7 bays, 28 beaches and a few small villages. It is said to be the party Island of the two. This is partly true for Koh Toch village and the surrounding beaches in the South. Most other beaches on Koh Rong are remote and tranquil.
Koh Toch village is where the ferries drop off most of their passengers. It’s literally crammed with backpacker accommodations, bars and restaurants. Accommodation is cheap here, but what you pay is what you get. Koh Toch village is Koh Rong’s party location and looks a bit rundown and sleazy. The village is located in between Koh Toch Beach to its North and Police Beach to its South.
Koh Toch Beach
The beach here is actually not bad too look at apart from the sloppy village backdrop. It is said though that sewage water from the village goes straight to the sea in front of the beach. Apparently it’s being worked on, but still… It might be a better idea to stay at the Northern part of the beach. It’s clean and still close enough to the village. More party vibes can be enjoyed at Police beach to the South of the village, named after the police station that is set up here. Big parties on Wednesday and Saturday nights, as well as full moon parties.
Sok San Beach / Long Beach
Sok San beach, also known as Long beach, because it’s…well, it’s the longest beach on Koh Rong. This is truly a picture perfect beach. Development has started, but the beach is so long that resorts are still pretty far apart. Accommodation is available in all price ranges.
Lonely Beach, what’s in a name? Because it’s so remote it remains almost untouched. At the time of writing there was still only one accommodation there with dorm beds and basic bungalows.
Palm Beach / Praek Svay Village
Praek Svay is another small and typical Cambodian fishing village on the Northern tip of gorgeous Palm beach. Either stay in one of the few village guesthouses or at the Southern tip of the beach at Palm Beach Bungalow Resort.
A relatively small but beautiful beach, with plenty of resorts, but never crowded. We stayed here at the Coconut Beach Bungalows and it was fantastic. Robbie and his sister Lia manage their resort in a way that I have seldomly seen in South East Asia. They are extremely well organized and add a personal touch to their service by being very committed to their guests. Above all, they communicate with their guests. Robbie will take you out to see the bio-luminescent plankton and flying lanterns. The bungalows, although basic are very nice and clean.
Coconut Beach Bungalows
Dirt Cheap = up to $10
Budget = from $10 to $30
Mid Range = from $30 to $75
A beautiful remote beach with only two smaller resorts offering basic and rustic bungalows or tents. People we met that stayed here were complaining about bad and expensive food with no alternative dining options. I guess tranquility comes with a trade off.
Just one resort here owns the rights to the entire beach. Suns of Beaches Resort offers tents, dorm beds, thatched and wooden bungalows for reasonable prices. The place to be if you really want to disconnect in a community like atmosphere.
Long Set Beach
Also known as 4k beach even though it’s only 3 kilometers long. For now there are just a handful of resorts on Long Set beach, but development is on its way. White sand beach, calm and clear waters with a cashew, mango, and coconut orchard back drop. We haven’t been, but we heard good things about Pura Vita Resort.
Koh Rong Sanloem
This Island is recognized as the more idyllic of the two and it’s certainly nothing like Koh Touch on Koh Rong Island. However, the speed of development, at for example Saracen Bay, is off the charts. I just hope it will all be done in a sustainable manner so Koh Rong Sanloem can continue to be the small piece of paradise it still is today.
Saracen Bay is the 2.5 kilometer main beach of Koh Rong Sanloem. By now the full lenght of the beach is claimed by resorts with some of them high-end. The few low budget accommodations that remain are slowly being phased out. The bay and beach are still gorgeous and manage to keep a laid back and relaxed atmosphere despite the recent developments.
One of the few remaining affordable resorts in Saracen Bay offering dorm beds is “The Big Easy”. It’s definitely not a luxurious resort, but the atmosphere more than makes up for it. Chill and relaxed in the daytime, party and fun at night. The lively and outgoing staff plays a large part in the fun and they really made our stay something special. We also noticed that many guests from surrounding resorts preferred breakfast, lunch, dinner, party and just chilling here over their own resorts.
On the East side of Koh Rong Sanloem is Sunset beach. It’s a small remote beach for travelers that like to seclude themselves from the crowds. We saw four basic accommodations (each with a restaurant) and one dive shop here, but there might be more now, because we also saw some development taking place. We had a look at Sleeping Trees eco-friendly resort without actually sleeping there, but it left a good impression. Just a handful of basic bungalows and we also saw a large tent.
Another remote beach featuring only one accommodation that adds to the truly secluded vibe. The English owned resort organizes many activities to keep the guests occupied. So you have a choice to either make your stay here an active one or a lazy one.
M’phey Bei Village
The only settlement on Koh Rong Sanloem that comes close to qualifying as a village. You will find many low budget accommodations here, as well as a few good dining options and an excellent empty beach.
To compare prices and read reviews check out Agoda.com.
Where to eat on Koh Rong/Sanloem
Don’t expect a lot of authentic local eateries on Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem. You are after all on a small holiday Island that attracts mainly foreign tourists. Often, the staple on holiday Islands is mediocre burgers, pizza and westernized local dishes. Thank God for seafood barbecue! Still, one cannot eat seafood barbecue every day, so we tried a lot of other food as well. Some of them good, some of them not so good. Below are my recommendations:
The Cocohut Restaurant: (Coconut beach, Koh Rong) And the winner is….! We ate here once for lunch and once for dinner. Undoubtedly the best meals we had on Koh Rong (and Koh Rong Sanloem). The sweet and sour barbecued snapper was huge, fresh and super tasty for an insanely low price. Friendly people, good service and right on the beach with a fantastic view over the turquoise waters. Good place for zipping cocktails as well.
Sigi n’ Thai Food: (Koh Toch Village, Koh Rong) From the beach road at White Rose guesthouse walk 50 meters into the road that leads up the hill. Hole-in-the-wall food place serving delicious Thai noodle dishes.
Coconut Beach Restaurant: (Coconut Beach, perched on the hillside, Koh Rong) Western and Khmer food options. Quality and taste of the food is above Island average. Great staff.
Koh Rong Sanloem
Cita Pizza & Italian Restaurant: (Saracen Bay, Koh Rong Sanloem) Located on the beach right next to the Eastern pier at the Cita resort. Yes I confess, I needed a break from seafood barbecue so we went for pizza. Almost every other restaurant in Saracen Bay offers pizza so it’s easy to find. Cita serves the better Island pizza, almost resembling authentic Italian. Great wines as well.
Hostel by the Sea Cafe & Restaurant: (Saracen Bay, Koh Rong Sanloem) A few steps from the speed ferry pier. Mediterranean restaurant with a young and cool vibe that offers a nice break from the seafood barbecue. Also has some good vegetarian options.
Sweet Time Restaurant: (Saracen Bay, Koh Rong Sanloem) On the beach, 300m East from the speed ferry pier. Most resort restaurants in Saracen Bay are interchangeable. They serve the same Western and (Westernized) Khmer food and seafood barbecue. Another thing they have in common is the inflated prices. Sweet Time restaurant serves food that is as good as any other resort restaurant, but at reasonable prices.
How to get to Koh Rong/Sanloem
Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem are small Islands so the only way to get there is by boat from Sihanoukville. There are several boat companies that run a regular ferry service. Busses come from anywhere to Sihanoukville and it’s even possible to fly there. I recommend using the Skyscanner website to find the full schedule and prices of incoming and outgoing flights. From the airport, charter a tut-tuk to Sihanoukville’s Serendipity pier.
Bus and Ferry tickets
For bus/ferry/train schedules and tickets for most routes within Cambodia I always use the transport planning tool below from BookmeBus.com to book online. Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). The tool is incredibly easy to use, just fill out your place of departure, your destination and travel date. It will show the complete schedule and ticket price of all related transport. Make your choice and book instantly.
You can book your ferry tickets here as well. Select “Ferry” in the tool and fill out Koh Rong or Koh Rong Sanloem as your destination from the drop down menu. Don’t forget your travel date. Check the ferry drop off points in the schedule to make sure you end up on or near your beach of choice.
Or, alternatively, buy your ticket directly from the boat companies near Serendipity pier in Sihanoukville. It might be a dollar cheaper than online. However, in high season your preferred time of departure might sell out quickly.
Also at times, for reasons unknown, the port of departure changes last minute forcing you to arrange you own transport from Serendipity pier to the main port. If you pre-booked your ticket online the boat company will transport you for free to the main port.
Beware that the ferries often don’t keep to their own schedule so make sure to build in some slack for onward transport connections. We heard plenty of stories about people missing their bus or even their flight, because of delayed ferries.
When headed for Koh Rong you will probably be dropped off at Koh Toch village with some of the ferries continuing to Sok San village. Onward travel to other Koh Rong beaches can be done either by taxi boat or motor bike taxi. Some of the beaches, like Coconut beach are also served by the ferries from Sihanoukville, and some of the resorts at remote beaches have their own boats.
The main pier for Koh Rong Sanloem is Saracen Bay and some ferries make an intermediate stop at M’Phey Bei village, but not all. If your final destination is M’Phey Bei, make sure that you’re on the right ferry.
For Lazy beach you can take the slow boat that leaves once a day from Sihanoukville. The resorts on Sunset have their own boats, so make prior arrangements with your resort. Both Lazy beach and Sunset beach have no pier so you might have to wade the last bit from the boat to the beach. Sometimes rough seas prevent boats from landing on the beach altogether and you’ll have to trek your way from Saracen Bay, so pack light.
Getting around by boat is the way to go on the Islands. There are no regular boats from one beach to another though and chartering a boat can be pretty expensive. On Koh Rong Sanloem ask around at the dive shop in Saracen Bay or at the kiosks on one of the piers. From Saracen Bay you can do an easy walk to Lazy beach in 20 minutes while Sunset beach is about 30 minutes and requires some minor climbing.
On Koh Rong your best point of info is your guesthouse or one of the travel agents in Koh Toch village. There are a few small roads on Koh Rong and it’s possible to rent a motor bike, ask around.
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