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.
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.
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.
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.
Walking to the Broken Heart Guest Hotel Beach from Koh Rong Village:
- 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.
- 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.
- At the top of the hill, you’ll hit a T-junction, hang a left.
- After walking along an undulating track, you’ll come to a fork in the path, hang another left.
- 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.
- 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.
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!