The sun was ablaze in the sky, the waters were calm and my mind had a difficult decision to make. In my final moments, I chose my next destination, Koh Rong. I had heard many mixed things about this particular Cambodian island. What I gathered from other travellers is that you either love it or hate it. Comments like "It was too much for me" or "The weather was so bad, that there was nothing to do." I thought "screw it, I have to find out for myself." I purchased my ticket, knowing I could leave this island after one day if I really wanted to. With nothing to loose I was on my way, excitement swelling inside me.
From the moment my boat docked at the pier I instantly felt a sense of home. Perhaps it was the beautiful clear beaches or the smiles on peoples faces that enlightened my mood. Walking down the street, everyone seemed to be living their lives without a care in the world. There were no police here, no rules, just locals and westerners co existing in peace surrounded by amazing beaches.
I stumbled into Vagabonds hostel, kicked off my shoes and was greeted with a warm welcome. The guys all getting me settled, handing me a free beer and immediately getting along. I checked into my own room which cost me $6, headed out to soak up the sun and hit the beaches to cool down. I felt as though I had found my paradise. Then and there I felt so at ease, almost as if I had lived there for ages.
This island has no traffic, no cars, no roads and maybe one or two scooters. It gives the place a slower paced feel and helps evoke the peace inside of you. Prepare to get your shoes off because you really wont need them. You will be hopping in and out of the beaches all day and being barefoot will help bring back some of those old primal instincts you forgot you once possessed.
Koh Rong is known for having a crazy nightlife. It's nothing too mental. Most bars will play tunes from 9am to 12am so don't plan on heading to sleep too early. Have no fear, after 12 am the town quiets down and the parties head out to one of the various after parties, located at either police beach or one of the other hidden jungle locations.
If you are not a fan of loud music or would prefer to have a few chill days, head out to 4k beach. The name speaks for itself, as it is a four kilometer stretch of beautiful soft white sand, with pristine clear and aqua water. It was some of the clearest waters I have ever seen in my life and I'm from Australia. You can walk out as far as you desire with the currents so gentle you will barely notice them. Take your time, rest up, have a dip, come back, drink a fruit shake and chill out. It really is an island paradise.
Is Weed legal on the island?
I'm going to try and clear this up for anyone interested in this. This is something I had no idea about before I landed on Koh Rong. For any smokers out there, well, weed is not legal but basically you can find it at almost any bar or backpackers hostel. It is advertised out the front of some hostels and you can smell the hypnotic scent of ganja filling the air all around the island. If that is something you enjoy personally, stress the word "you," than head into Vagabonds or islands boys for pre-rolls or whatever you like, they will sort you out. Just don't smoke on the streets, as it is still illegal and will incur a serious fine or jail time. All of the bar owners pay off the police around $200 USD a month to allow smoking in their bars. It is very corrupt, but that's Cambodia, money really talks, just be aware of this.
Koh Rong was one of my favorite places to rest, play and party, as it really had it all. The workers in all the bars and restaurants are super friendly, asking your names so they can say hi to you later in the day. The beaches like 4k, Sok San and even the spots just a short walk from Koh Toch Village are immaculate for swimming. The nightlife is loads of fun and gives you the option to head out into the jungle for a party or just chill out with a few friends and enjoy some great food.
If you are floating around Cambodia and you feel like a few days by the beach, please, you have to go here. My best advise is to be careful, you may enjoy it so much you may never leave.
Koh Rong Sanloem
This is Koh Rongs little chilled out brother. The island famously known for its Mad Monkeys hostel. Basically this place is like nothing I have ever seen before. It is a hostel with its own bar, restaurant and best of all, it has its own beach. You can lounge around on bean bags, chill out in hammocks overhanging the water or just sip cocktails all day. The place turns into a little club each night but if you are there for a full moon it gets even crazier. Fire twirlers come out to play, putting on a spectacular performance for all the patrons while DJ's drop fat beats till the wee hours.
Mad Monkeys will probably be the most lively place on the Koh Rong Sanloem so maybe book in advance, even in low season. I was the last person to grab a room when I arrived, with four other people behind me missing out and being forced to sleep on bean bags.
The only bad thing about this place is that it is far away from everything else, so you kind of get stuck and don't go anywhere else besides Mad Monkeys. Also some advice, check your beds before you sleep. I heard so many bed bug stories before I went here and those vile little parasites got me on my second night, forcing me to sleep on a bean bag with the millions of mosquitoes.
This is also located on Koh Rong Sanloem and is a great alternative to Mad Moneys. I heard whispers of M'Pai bay being an up and coming wonder spot in Cambodia. Funnily enough, three different people told me about this place when I had just left Koh Rong Sanloem. In the low season it is super quiet, with the hostels sometimes having only two or three patrons. As the weather begins to turn, it becomes a secret hot spot, with many bars and restaurants filling up and the whole vibe of the place picking up. Great for a few easy days on the beach.
If you are considering staying in Sihanoukville, don't! Just do not do it! It is a dump, full of casinos, prostitutes, and overpriced, shitty food. I spent one night there in hospital, helping out a dear friend and even then, just walking around and riding in a tuk tuk allowed me to see enough. Just around the corner, is a unique small town called Otres.
Otres is a little hidden gem. Yes it looks like a dirty little town, but the bars hidden away are a fantastic place to chill out and enjoy a slow paced lifestyle. Otres is located only a few kilometers away from the Sihanoukville port. It is a very simple place, with only one main strip, loaded with places to stay and have a drink. In the low season you can find bungalows for around $3 US a night right on the beach. Literally take 5 steps and you are in the water. Don't expect them to be a 5 star hotel, but if you need a bed and a place close to the beach, it is perfect. The Last Hippy Stand also has all night psytrance music for anyone game to rave all night long.
The sad thing about Otres beach is that due to raising water levels, all of the bars and bungalow situated directly opposite the beach will be demolished in the next year. They have left the one road into town as an absolute mess, as they know there is no point investing in repairs. It sucks but this place is still a must see in the south of Cambodia. This Otres sunset was one of my favorites. I caught it from the corner of my eye and bolted to the beach.
Koh Ta Kiev
Koh Ta Kiev was probably my least favorite of the islands but it still had its charm. You can go for a hike through the jungle or hang out on your own private beach. A few friends and I headed to Cactus hostel because we heard they had free dorm rooms. I found out exactly why. I was twice woken up to rain hitting me in the face in the middle of the night. Luckily, I was able to move my bed during the night or I would have woken up in a pool of water.
I must say, it is in a beautiful location with sunset views and absolutely amazing food. If you are lucky enough, go for a midnight splash in the water. On a dark night you will be able to see the luminescent plankton that surrounds the islands. I heard amazing stories but unfortunately I was there during a full moon, no luck.
The south of Cambodia was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. Waking up to beautiful beaches everyday brought me so much joy and helped me start the day with a giant smile on my face. The people around these places are extremely friendly and will go out of there way to help you. The slow pace tropical lifestyle is perfect for a holiday, but for me, was everything I needed. It left me feeling a great sense of joy and when I left the island, the joy quickly turned to sadness.
Stay for a day and get stuck for a year, this is what happened to so many of the expats working on Koh Rong. It was a place that I fell in love with and will definitely be going back to. Anyone of these places is worth seeing. If you think you only need a few weeks on the islands in Cambodia, be prepared to spend a few weeks JUST on the paradise islands in the south.
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