Travel Report: Koh Rong Island, Cambodia.
Koh Rong Island, Cambodia.
December 2015. It was hard to imagine that Christmas was around the corner. In just under a few weeks I’d be flying back to Scotland where there’d be snow, mince pies and dog walks in the local forest.
It was all a million miles away from the blue skies and glistening turquoise waters of Cambodia as Wonderboy and I sped away from Sihanoukville towards the island of Koh Rong.
I’d heard mixed things about Koh Rong. Was it really an Idyllic tropical paradise? Or just another South East Asian nightclub, filled with the kind of people you’d cross the street to avoid back home. Hopefully it wasn’t the latter, because I’d seen enough of all that during my time in Thailand.
After some essential research, I felt satisfied that we could avoid all the nonsense and station ourselves somewhere authentic. In the end, we opted for three nights on Nature Beach, a non-party resort on the south eastern side of the island.
The boat from Sihanoukville dropped us at Koh Rong’s main village, Koh Touch, from where we had a four hour wait for the transfer to Nature Beach.
Koh Rong Island, Cambodia.
Koh Touch is home to the island’s main drag of guesthouses, bars and restaurants. Thus we certainly didn’t have any trouble killing time. Sauntering down the narrow strip of beach, we decided to settle down at Bong’s, a restaurant-bar guesthouse with a silly slogan that read “The local is local”.
At first glance Koh Touch didn’t seem so bad, in the daytime at least. It was mid afternoon and a pleasingly sleepy vibe prevailed. According to our moody waitress, most people were “still hungover” from last night’s beach party. Which suited me just fine.
All in all, it wasn’t such a terrible place to consume a disappointing bowl of beef nachos. But of course we anticipated much more from Nature Beach.
Finally, our complimentary boat pickup arrived at Koh Touch pier. All we had to do was choose either an 11:00 or 17:00 slot and give them twenty four hours notice by email. We had the boat to ourselves that day, which felt pretty special. Our mute captain ushered us onboard, fired up the engine and we were off!
The journey from Koh Touch to Nature Beach took about thirty minutes. Brilliantly, the trip unfolded during sunset, a lovely blend of pink, blue and orange in the sky as we chugged towards our destination.
Night had already descended by the time we were done checking in at Nature Beach. They have a range of accommodation options to suit all budgets. In what I can only describe as a moment of madness, Wonderboy and I thought it would be cool to stay in one of the raised beach tents.
Lured by a sense of adventure and the dirt cheap rate of $10 a night, we definitely overestimated the size of our “twin tent”. In fact, dear readers, that first night on Nature Beach stands tall as one of the worst night’s sleep I’ve ever had.
Firstly, it was stiflingly hot. To the point where I felt so overwhelmed I literally had to leave the tent two or three times for a cold shower in the communal bathroom.
Then there was Wonderboy’s snoring and the fact that bugs kept finding their way in through the netting. I can still picture myself lying there in agony, praying to the gods that my tent mate wouldn’t fart.
“F*** this let’s get a chalet!” exclaimed Wonderboy the next morning. Which is exactly what we did. It was hardly a luxury lodging, but boy did it feel like a major upgrade after our night in the matchbox sauna.
Moreover, we landed ourselves a 50% discount! It was Wonderboy’s birthday, so instead of the usual $80 a night (way overpriced), we only had to pay $40. A resounding victory!
Having settled into our new living quarters, we could now focus on enjoying Nature Beach’s many charms. I immediately loved how understated it all was. No crowds, no vendors, no litter, just a scattering of parasols and a wooden tree swing. This was what I’d signed up for!
And so unfolded our Cambodian tropical paradise experience. I took a much needed nap to make up for the previous night’s unpleasantness. Then came a paddle in the transparent waters, with its giant boulders and schools of tiny, multicoloured fish. And of course a proper swim in the sea, the skyline completely unobscured, not even a single boat in sight.
Koh Rong Island.
When hunger and thirst called, we’d take the five minute walk to the beach bar, a thatched roof hut where an Australian guy and a Filipino girl shook up some mean cocktails.
While their menu was somewhat limited, I had no complaints about the food itself. I particularly liked the Beef Lok Lak, a traditional Khmer dish. The meat is served in a rich gravy, the white rice topped by a fried egg.
I have great memories of Wonderboy’s 36th birthday night at the beach bar. The beers and cocktails flowed all night as we played round after round of hotly contested Jenga. Amazingly, a Thai family were also celebrating someone’s birthday and kindly shared their humongous cake with us. Good times!
Before calling it a night, we took in the unforgettable sight of glowing plankton down by a hidden cove. The barman assured us we wouldn’t want to miss it and boy he wasn’t kidding! It was a truly incredible sight as, all around us, tiny bioluminescent organisms lit up the water.
And of course they all reacted to the movement of our feet, creating a sparkly, shimmering extravaganza that truly has to be seen first hand to be believed. I tried to photograph it but the results were miserable. Following a bit of digging around online, I’d say it looked something like this.
Koh Rong Island.
On day two we spontaneously set off on the two kilometre hike to a neighbouring resort called Coconut Beach. We’d heard that this was one of the island’s most impressive stretches of sand, home to a stunning bay of aquamarine water.
There were no resting stations along the way, not even a spot of shade to duck into. If only I’d had a hat, that might have helped. Seriously, we were both fortunate not to get sunburn. As we progressed, there were plenty of bugs, lizards and even a few iguanas scurrying across the path. Unsurprisingly, we didn’t encounter a single person along the entire route.
Hiking To Coconut Beach.
At last we arrived at Coconut Beach Resort, a collection of large, handsome bungalows set in a jungle clearing. Admiring the scene for a moment, we subsequently continued along the trail that leads to Coconut Beach.
As the path began to descend, the trees cleared, providing a tantalising window into The Gulf of Thailand. The water was spectacular, while a large boat bobbed from side to side in the distance. Now we were closing in on the beach, the sound of the waves urging us on.
From the moment I laid my eyes on Coconut Beach I knew Wonderboy and I had missed a trick. This is where we should have stayed! The sand was so perfectly white and felt like powdered chalk to the touch. Scanning the situation, I guessed there were maybe half a dozen folk lying at the far end. So we happily set up camp right where we were.
Wonderboy wasted no time in jumping straight into the water for a swim. In contrast, I was hungry! So I made my way up the steep, 150 step staircase to the beach restaurant and bar.
Ordering a Coca Cola and a plate of banana pancakes, I drank in the glorious views of the sea. And then chuckled to myself as I caught sight of Wonderboy breast stroking his way along the panoramic.
Although generally inferior to the camera I have now, my Sony whatever it was did possess a kickass zoom. And it was fun pushing it to its limits that afternoon in order to close in on Wonderboy’s little spot in the sea.
If you ever make it to Coconut Beach, I can wholeheartedly recommend those banana pancakes. Fluffy and with just the right amount of crisp, they came with an unexpected jug of maple syrup. Delicious!
Koh Rong Island.
Suitably fed and watered, it was my turn to hit the sea. I wasn’t much in the mood for swimming, hence I made do with some lounging in the shallow waters.
It was such a perfect afternoon, and a world away from the Scottish hamlet I’d soon find myself in for the festive season. Looking back, these are the moments that make this strange and often stressful nomadic life of mine feel so special.
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