Koh Rong Island, Cambodia: Paradise … for the Time Being

Something I love about travelling in places like Asia, the Nile River and even New Zealand, is discovering those jaw-droppingly-magical places that are still unspoiled from the tentacles of development.  We were lucky to stumble upon another gem, Koh Rong Island, in a recent trip to Cambodia.

 

One of Koh Rong Island's 23 beautiful beaches

One of Koh Rong Island’s 23 beautiful beaches

 

Like much of Asia, Cambodia has experienced blistering development of late.  With the big-hitting attraction of Angkor Wot, and close proximity to billions of increasingly wealthy Asians, tourism in Cambodia has received a big share of that growth.  That’s why it was refreshing to find the beautiful Koh Rong Island so undeveloped, much like Thailand’s charming islands of a bygone era, Asia’s old hands will tell you.

 

No Roads, Electricity or Internet

The old tub of a ferry takes two hours from Sinahoukville on Cambodia’s south coast to Koh Rong Island.  It is well worth the trip.  It reaches a rustic village of tin and thatch-roofed huts clustering around three rickety piers.  Chickens peck around hand painted signs offering fish curries and guest houses.  A group of locals crowd around a card table while a smiley old man observes from his hammock.  A small wooden counter sits in the sand with one of the handful of western residents, barefoot, organising dive tours.

 

On the Pier at a Koh Rong Island village

On the Pier at a Koh Rong Island village

 

There are a few backpackers around, sipping on mango juice on tables in the sand, but none are buried in a laptop or iPad like at a lot of tourist spots these days.  There’s no Internet on the island, and no electricity to keep it charged (although some guest houses power up a generator for a few hours in the evening).  It’s just a place to sit and watch the day away, cooled by the ocean breeze.  And if you want to go anywhere, you’ll have to walk or hitch a ride in a local boat as there isn’t a road on the island.

 

Paradise in a Hong-Kong-Sized Package

Koh Rong Island is the largest island in the Koh Rong Archipelago that sits about 25 kilometres off Cambodia’s coast in the Gulf of  Thailand.  At 78 square kilometres, Koh Rong Island is a similar size to Hong Kong Island, but with around 1,100 people, it has less than 1/1000th of population.

 

Lush jungle blanketed hillsides fall into the turquoise sea.  Around the island there are 23 squeaky, white sandy beaches; virtually all of them alluringly empty. And it would be hard not to be grinning while splashing in the tepid and incredibly clear water, especially in the moonlight, when the phosphorous sparkles around you like you’re Peter Pan.

 

We stayed at Pura Vida Resort  in one of two bungalows and the thatch roofed restaurant on an otherwise deserted ribbon of white sand.  From the hammock or chairs on our deck, we overlooked three islands and that wonderfully clear aqua sea.  Pura Vida is owned and operated by Italians Beatrice and Fabricio.  They run a relaxed ship, complete with some good old Italian cuisine cooked to order (there’s no menu, but make sure you try the famed mango cake) using both local and real Italian produce.  At $50/night, there are cheaper bungalows on the island, but there’d be few other places that price would get you European service on a breathtaking beach with just one other hut.

 

Happily lazying on the hammock in our Bungalow at Pura Vida Resort

Happily lazying on the hammock in our Bungalow at Pura Vida Resort

 

Worth the Walk

Aside from looking at colourful fish diving or snorkling, taking a dip, dining or just lounging in a hammock, there isn’t much do to on this little piece of paradise.  But the rugged terrain and lush jungle make for some good walks if you fancy a little exercise.  We met a Russian on the ferry who’d visited Koh Rong a dozen times and recommended a beach an hour’s walk from the pier, by Broken Heart Guest Hotel.  With watery eyes, he spoke of the clearest water he’d ever seen.

 

There’s only a vague paragraph about the whole island in the Lonely Planet, and no mention of any walks.  Other instructions to get to the beach are a little dubious, so I thought I’d shed some light if you fancy a stroll.

 

The clear water at the beach by Broken Heart Guest Hotel

The clear water at the beach by Broken Heart Guest Hotel

 

Walking to the Broken Heart Guest Hotel Beach from Koh Rong Village:

  1. Facing the village from the beach, by the left-most pier there’s a path that starts under the Blue ‘Cambodian People’s Party’ sign.
  2. Walk up the path between shacks, through the rubbish heap and you’ll find yourself on a reasonably steep track past palm trees and grazing water buffaloes (don’t play with them) up the hill.
  3. At the top of the hill, you’ll hit a T-junction, hang a left.
  4. After walking along an undulating track, you’ll come to a fork in the path, hang another left.
  5. The track weaves through foliage and comes to another fork, there’s a small sign that points to Broken Heart Guest Hotel, follow this to the right.
  6. The track soon plunges down a pretty steep hillside, there are parts where a rope helps make a little a easier, but at the bottom you can reward yourself with a drink and some amok curry at the guesthouse (with unfortunately surly service) and bathe at that beautiful beach.

 

The walk takes about 1 hour, so carry some water with you as it can get hot trekking up.  I found jandals (flip flops) fine, but shoes might be a little more comfortable.  Remember left-left-right.

 

Ellen's gone bush on the track down to Broken Heart Guest Hotel

Ellen’s gone bush on the track down to Broken Heart Guest Hotel

 

The Clock’s a-Tick’n

Some would call it progress, but the days of the roadless, powerless and shinynessless on Koh Rong are numbered.  Plans are underway (they’ve already started on the road) to make Cambodia’s unspoilt jewel just like a million other ‘resorts’ dotting SE Asia. The crew at the Royal Group have grandiose plans for Koh Rong Island with an international airport, resorts, a casino, marina, golf courses and of course, the Internet for those tourists who love to lose themselves in their laptops.  My suggestion would be to get there soon!

 

 

15 steps from my hammock at Pura Vida on Koh Rong Island

15 steps from my hammock at Pura Vida on Koh Rong Island

15 Responses to “Koh Rong Island, Cambodia: Paradise … for the Time Being”

  • Simmsy:

    Thanks Mark – magic! We are at snooky this Xmas do we will def add this. Great words!

  • That looks so cool Mark – I’d love to visit Cambodia. We’ll catch up next time in Shanghai – but I’ve gotta ask when you’re off to Burma? That’s also got to have an awesome coastline. I fly over West Burmas coast regularly these days between East India and China and from the air it looks an adventurers dream…
    Great photos btw
    CDE

    • Burma is high on the list Chris; that stunning coastline appears to have been an explorers/adventurer’s stop off point for some time as you know, and much else to see. Looking forward to catching up next time you’re in town

  • koh rong will be no longer paradise, if you read the website of the millennium group and the royal group. so called eco, but with casino etc.
    preserve marinelife. do not make me laugh! in koh kong sandmining
    does not stop. the main breeding place for seafish will be destroyed!
    cambodian government is only short term vision, money now!
    so dear readers visit koh rong now, before it’s too late!!

  • Candy Tian:

    Hi,very cool.

    I am come from China.I plan to go to the Koh rong island. I have some problem, need your help.Could you tell me where is the boat from Sihanoukville? How much ?thanks very much.

    • Hi Candy, you will have fun there. Yes, the ferry leaves from Sihanoukville port, a short bus ride from the town/beach area. There’s a few travel agencies at the beach who can organise the bus to the port and the ferry trip, it’s about $20 return and very easy.

      There are two places the ferrys go to on the island, so make sure you’re on the one that stops closest to where you are staying – it will most likely be the dive shop. The ferry ride is pretty rustic and takes about two hours. Enjoy yourself and if you’re not staying at Pura Vida, it’s worth the walk down there for a meal at least.

  • Ting:

    Hi Mark
    Your article is very very helpful as I’m planning my trip to Koh Rong. I have a few questions here and would really appreciate if you can answer.
    I can imagine that there are a lot of nice beaches but since i will stay on the island about 6 days, i’d like to know where is the best location ,with amazing view yet too not quiet. I checked Pura Vida Resort , it looks like a great place but it’s currently closed. :(
    Anywhere on the island i can stay while enjoying the view,room and food? I dont need fancy place.
    2. What about Monkey Island , have you been there? is it worthy?
    Thank you so much

    • Hi Ting,
      I’m genuinely sorry to hear Pura Vida has closed; it really was a special place. As I didn’t stay anywhere else, I’m probably not the best person to ask, but I did like the look of Treehouse Bungalows, down the beach between Pura Vida and the village. I don’t think it’s too quiet. I’ve heard mixed reviews about Monkey Island, but everyone I spoke to who went to both much preferred Koh Rong.
      Have a great trip!

  • Dear Mark,
    I m Beatrice manager and chef and owner ( with Fabrizio) of Pura Vida Resort.
    Unfortunately we did not decide to close we were forced to do it! It s a long story with a really bad end for us!
    You know Pura Vida become in 2 years the best place in the island, but few people ( both cambodian and foreigner ) having business on island were not happy for our success.I m talking especially about the turkish owner of many business in the island like: Coco,Three house, Koh Rong Dive Center and the most important the only man who provides with his boat the transportation of supplies that every resort o small guest house need for working. This man and few other people related for business or working or institutional to him start to make our working life in the island nearly impossible.Afterward we had intimidation and even blackmails from this people and we don t wont agree with their control system of every business in the island not connected to them.
    Many other things happened after and many other reason were back to this story. At the end after we have had many troubles we felt not safe at all and really lonely in
    situations that we don t know how to manage in a country like Cambodia.
    We decided to leave and loose everything…..( even because they did not permit to us to come back in the island to take our personal effects).
    Also our Cambodian business partner was involved in the story and she took advantage of the situation to take the control of Pura Vida totally and for free.
    Now she is managing the place using Pura Vita name and copying everything from us, even the italian menu’and she doesn t want to pay us our business sharing part!
    We are still very frustrating and still nearly shocked for what happened to us and we would like that as many people as possible can know our story.
    I don t know if you are interesting to put our story in your blog.
    If you need any other details of you have any question you can contact me at info@puravida.asia.
    Hoping to meet you again somewhere else in the world…
    in the next Pura Vida…

    Beatice e Fabrizio ( Owner ,builder, manager, Chefs of Pura Vida Resort- Koh Rong Island
    December 2011-February 2013

    • Hi Beatrice and Fabrizio,
      Thank you for letting me know the full story about Pura Vida. I am so sorry to hear about what happened and hope that by including your story here, it can in some way help. My wife and I had such a special and memorable four days with you at Pura Vida and it has ruined us for other holidays!! Of course the location and bungalows were fantastic but the service and hospitality we received from you both as our hosts was what really made Pura Vida so unique and something your former business partner will not be able to re-create.

      If you do decide to open another Pura Vida somewhere else in the world, please do let us know, wherever it is, we will come! In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying some rest and relaxation in Rome or elsewhere.

      All the very best,
      Vi auguro ogni bene,
      Mark and Ellen Tanner

      • Hello Mark,
        Thank you to both of you!
        We really wish to meet you and your wife again somewhere else in the world.
        Take care, we keep in touch!
        Greetings

        Beatrice e Fabrizio

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My wife Ellen and I are currently living in China, bumbling our way around this fascinating and fast-changing country. We kicked off our stay with a semester of Intensive Mandarin studies at Beijing Language and Culture University and are now living in Shanghai. These posts cover some of my experiences, views and curious facts in and around the Middle Kingdom. Please let me know what you think!


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