One of the main reasons why people come to the southern coast of Cambodia is to visit the islands in the Gulf of Thailand. One of the main Islands is Koh Rong. A relatively simple island with a uncomplicated island life. I was told if there was one place to go then that would be the island to go to. As per usual, I went along with other people’s suggestion based on their experience there.
Over here, when you make a booking here for a tour, the company will send a bus around to pick you up. It’s pretty easy and stress free despite not knowing exactly what time the bus will come as they need to pick up other passengers along the way. Whilst we in Otres 1 picking up the remaining passengers, a group of of English lads came on board along with a local man called Mr Bong. It was as though they had been partying the night before and hadn’t slept and decided to drag this guy along.
So at this point, Mr Bong proceeds to roll a fat joint on the bus and starts talking jibberish about how to pick up girls and the bedroom rituals that must be performed when on Koh Rong. It was obvious that he was the local pot dealer and that the guys thought it would be a laugh to drag him along as well so that his broken english and potty jokes would provide countless hours of hilarity.
Also when you book any type of transport, the route and length of time it takes is far from reality and at times a test of patience. Everybody I spoke to said it would take two hours on the cheaper yet slower boat to go directly to Koh Rong, but in reality it took five hours with two stops at Koh Kaong Kang for a quick swim, then to Koh Rong Samloem for lunch and then finally reaching Koh Rong.
A few of the passengers quizzed the operator and they said we had all been lied to by the booking agents. I couldn’t really care less as we got fed and saw more islands than I wouldn’t have normally had seen. I only had a daypack with a spare change of clothes on me and in the back of my mind, a day trip to the island would be possible but by the end of the cruise there, I was definitely staying the night. So as per usual, I had to find a place to stay.
As I got off the boat, we’re greeted by a coast line that’s dotted with bungalows, restaurants and some beach street food vendors. I say beach street vendors as there are no streets or cars here so everything is by boat or by foot.
Local kids run around naked whilst dogs roam around begging for food. I even saw a couple of dogs going at it hammer and tongs in the middle of the walking area whilst the children taunted them by making groaning noises. Did I paint a nice picture there?
In typical JimmyDau form, every place I looked at along the coastline were either too expensive at $50 per night or completely full. Shock horror. I ended up settling for a place on the pier for $25 a night. It had a big room and would have been good value If I could have shared the two queen sized beds with somebody else but I just had to suck it up.
One of the guys managing the guesthouse said that Long Beach on the other side of the island was a great place to escape the crowds as well as enjoy the stunning Cambodian sunsets. It required a trek through the hilly jungle terrain but overall would take 50 minutes to get to the other side. Being late in the afternoon already, I decided to pack my daypack and headed off to into the woods.
After 45 minutes of dodging feral dogs and a steep ascend and descent down a rocky cliff wearing inappropriate footwear, I arrive to Long Beach. There’s not much there apart from a couple of bungalows, an outdoor bar and a long strip of beach, which is probably the reason for the name of the beach.
A couple of guys are selling tickets for the boat ride back around the island after dark so I buy one for after sunset at 6pm. This would allow approximately an hour for me to stroll along the beach.
Over the hour of wandering around I would have come across about ten or so groups of people. It was my kind of place – open, breezy, warm and inviting water. However, the more I walked along the coast, the more piles of rubbish I encountered. At first it was a few plastic bottles, then bags of rubbish piled on top of each other.
The problem I’ve noticed from my own encounters as well as speaking with others is that with development nations, there is an emphasis on getting things built but no planning or thought put into keep things maintained and ticking along and in working order for future generations. Here in SE, there’s just no consideration about keeping things looking cleaner for hygienic as best demonstrated by the constant scene of fields and streets littered in plastic bags on the mainland.
As I sat on the ferry ride back the following afternoon, I reflect on the day just gone. On paper, despite the plague of mosquitos and sand flies in the evenings, Koh Rong should be a place where everybody who goes there would fall in love with it. However, the reality is that, I think that I’ve been spoilt with what I consider the most amazing coastlines along Central America both along the Carribean and the Pacific in my travels last year.
Am I taking these beaches here in Cambodia for granted? Yes I am and it’s difficult for me to not make those comparisons. I know that although there were parts of it that I say it was simplistic and beautiful – the warm waters, lack of electricity in the evenings, cleaner air and being able to walk around half naked. I just don’t think it’s for me at this moment. It was a situation where I went with other people’s suggestions but deep down I already knew that it wasn’t for me right now, that my motivations lay elsewhere and in future I shouldn’t give into FOMO.
I hope that my analysis and experience put you off though from visiting Koh Rong. It is still a pretty nice island to visit. There are plenty of activities you can do such as snorkelling, diving, fishing, bush walking or just lazing around the beach.
Whilst researching the Island, I discovered that Koh Rong is privately owned under a 99 year lease from the government by the Royal Group of companies. There are plans to build an eco friendly resort as well as an airport there. Is Koh Rong set to be another Koh Samui or Bali?
Despite the small strip of guesthouses along the beach and the lack of power from the generators in the evening, the constant sound of cheesy techno music still managed to spew out of the loud speakers until 3am in the evenings. With more investment by larger corporations, I can only imagine what this means for the island environment as well as the Mr Bongs of the world.
Do you ever feel that your preference for a type of place you would visit or enjoy constantly changes over time?
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