Koh Rong, the largest of Cambodia’s collective of islands, has enjoyed the “backpacker favourite” status for the last five years. However its smaller sister, Koh Rong Sanloem, beautifully unspoiled, yet closer to the mainland is a much quieter and more picturesque and serene spot; favoured by the “flashpackers,” and definitely worth consideration for backpackers looking a little further off the beaten track – or for those not looking for a trashy Full Moon Party.
Despite being just 45 minutes away from Sihanoukville by the “Fast Ferry” ($20 return) or 2 hours in the “Slow Boat” ($10 return)*; navigating your way to, from, and around the island is a little more challenging than you’d assume: So below are some points to consider when planning a trip to this truly stunning island.
*The main strip in Sihanoukville is full of small travel agents who will be able to book you on either ferry. Try to book a day in advance if you’d like to go early in the morning, otherwise you can arrange same-day transport.
- How to get to Koh Rong Sanloem
Just south of Koh Rong, Koh Rong Sanloem takes pristine beaches to another level; offering picture perfect snorkelling spots and peaceful Eco-conscious diving options, as well as a stretch of standy beach for sun-worshipping.
Koh Rong Sanloem’s M’Pay Bay is the closest beach to Koh Rong and as well as offering unspoiled beaches, here a small community of fishermen and their families gives tourists a unique insight to village life.
For an average of $40 a night (you can stay in a dorm for around $10, camp for $5 or pay up to $80 for more premium accommodation), you can sleep in a beach front bungalow with private bathroom (some also offer free wifi in the guesthouse restaurant between 6pm and 11pm); and use the dense jungle behind you for trekking and exploring.
A 45 minute trek through the jungle will lead you to the other side of the island, Saracen Bay; where a stunning and vast expanse of pure white sand snakes round in a circular bay, meeting a pure aqua shallow sea; the landscaped dotted only with occasional traditional turquoise fishing boats.
IMPORTANT TRAVEL INFORMATION: If travelling from Sihanoukville main land, both ferries will only drop you off on Saracen Bay and you will have to make your own way to M’Pay Bay either by paying $45 on for a “taxi boat” or talking to some locals and jumping in with them for free at around 4pm when they head home.
No one will tell you this before getting to the island, so if heading to Koh Rong Sanloem from the mainland it is best to book a guest house on the stunning Saracen Bay; or keep in mind that you will have to make your own way (via boat or jungle trek) to M’Pay Bay.
Similarly, if you are traveling to Koh Rong Sanloem from Koh Rong, most boats only go to M’Pai Bay, so it is worth booking accommodation here, or keeping in mind that you will have to find your own way to Saracen, via the same suggestions above.
Both beaches are equally beautiful, with chilled out beach bungalows, low key bars (although M’Pai is has a bit more of a party scene) and delicious seafood restaurants; Both are also a little more expensive than the mainland with accommodation starting at around $30 a night and the cheapest dish (including breakfast) starting at $4.50.
Therefore whether you end up in M’Pai or Saracen you are in for a similar experience; it’s just useful to know which beach you can expect to end up on, depending on where you are travelling from.
However as they are only a 45 minute, breezy, jungle walk apart, it’s very easy to day trip from one side of the island to the other to experience both!
Prefering the quieter island life, we stayed on Saracen
- Where to Stay on Saracen Bay
After the fast or slow ferry drop you at the Jetty, the second guesthouse you will reach is a Turkish-owned set of beach bungalows, called Rumi & Atam Bungalows, which at $30 / night was one of the cheapest options, and where we chose to stay. The bungalow was a decent size, had sea views, clean private bathroom and the seafront restaurant, naturally serves very good Turkish and Khmer food for a reasonable price. The staff are very sweet and our stay was very pleasant.
About halfway down the beach is the beautiful Green and Blue Resort. Somewhere I wish I’d stayed if we’d explored a little further at first. Again, Turkish-owned, this bohemian blissful spot has blue and green day beds, hammocks, murals, traditional Turkish “Evil Eyes” hanging throughout and offers beautiful, uniquely designed bungalows with balconies which cost around $60 a night.
For a cheaper option try the lovely Easy Tiger Bungalows at $24 a night and for a bit of luxury, go for Sol Resort which just opened in 2016, or the very cosmic Moonlight Resort – where you will stay in unique luxury domes at the far end of the beach for $120 a night. – Another place I wish I’d explored further to reach when looking for a place to stay.
- Where to Eat on Saracen Bay
The restaurants in both Rumi and Green Blue Resort offer very good Turkish Food, Green Blue is better, with more picturesque views, stylish cocktails, more of a beach vibe – and is the only place on the island to take card or offer cash back. Green Blue is a romantic little dinner spot and close to where the Plankton surface at night, if you feel like a sparkling midnight swim after dark.
For incredible pizza, perfect seafood (and the most reliable wifi on the island) head over to Moonlight Resort’s Blue Moon Restaurant. As though dining under the stars, the blue domed restaurant is a beautiful place to eat along side the shore.
- What to do on Saracen Bay
Sunbathing is the obvious choice: All of the hotels and bars have day-beds and sun loungers on their ‘patch’ of beachfront, free for anyone to use; and if you need a little shade then there are plenty of treehouse style beds, built around the shoreline’s palm trees.
The living is easy and blissful.
StandUp Paddle boarding at just $5/ hour is available on the island, the team also arrange 2-3hour snorkelling trips around the Saracen Bay’s two reefs for just $20/person, or 6ft Diving for $60/person.
The snorkelling trips are beautiful: The sea is crystal clear, making for a serene immersion into coral reefs spiked with Black sea urchins and shoals of tropical fish. To the meditative sound of your own breath, hours can be spent lost underwater admiring clown fish – and small octopi.
If you need to resurface to adjust your snorkelling mask, you’ll also spot monkeys playing in the jungle on the reefs edge.
If island-hopping through Cambodia, it would be my strong recommendation to visit beautiful Koh Rong but to steer as far away from Sok San Beach as possible – unless you enjoy terrible music (*PSYTRANCE) and don’t mind the tragedy that it’s once pure shores* are now washed up with the mainland’s rubbish.
*It also speaks volumes about how tourism has changed the island for the worse now that police patrol the beach to stop anti-social behaviour.
Instead take the time and small extra expense to visit Palm Beach on the north side of the island. This private, but inexpensive stretch of beach with thatched bungalows, a great bar and a solid playlist is a stunning, edge of he world setting, opposite the stunning SongSaa Resort, the owners of which, work hard to preserve their local environment and marine life.