Koh Rong, But Koh Right: Heaven on Earth in Cambodia

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Originally Published on Half a World Away by Katie Milne

I’d had many friends travel around Asia before I did, but hardly any of them had visited the Island of Koh Rong before. From others, I had been told tales that Koh Rong was what Koh Phi Phi and Koh Phangan had been like before the influx of intoxicated tourists invaded, probably after watching The Beach too many times. Any-hoo, at the time I visited Cambodia in 2014, Koh Rong really was the closest thing I could get to The Beach without going totally off the beaten track and being deserted on an island on my own.

Just a two-hour boat ride off the coast of Sihanoukville is the island of Koh Rong—s tiny island that had only been receiving tourists for about four years at the time of my visit, which was much less built up than the notorious Thai Islands. I’d been told that I’d want to spend more than a few days here, and once I stepped off the boat, I could see why.

To me, the young, inexperienced backpacker I was, this was the most beautiful place I had ever seen.

I was greeted with crystal blue waters, snow white sand and an array of wooden hut beach bars. Where the hell was I? Was I in paradise? It felt like it.

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As we set foot on the island, instead of following the backpacker crowd, I had latched onto an Aussie guy and a Dutch guy who wanted to look further afield than the “hostel” accommodation. We walked further into the island where we found a brand new set of beach huts set up on the hillside for just $15 USD per night for a double room with an ensuite. I believe there are much more accommodation options on the island now, but at this time options were limited, and this was much nicer than what I’d heard from where other travelers were staying.

The next week on Koh Rong was one of the best weeks I had throughout my whole trip.

This place really was heaven to me. Not only were the beaches unreal and the blazing hot weather, but the people I met really made it. You’re never too far away from friends or a party—the island is so small that it almost creates a micro-community of travelers who all end up in the same places each night. It’s just a great vibe. The main “strip” is about 1km, lined with bars open all day through the early hours of the morning with blasting music and cheap drinks—a backpacker’s dream.

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The lack of WiFi connection also made this such a different experience. This was the only place I had really been disconnected from social media for longer than a week, and it most definitely added to the care-free state I fell into during my time on Koh Rong.

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Food is pretty cheap if you go to the local places. We regularly ate $2 noodle soup at one of the guest houses on the beach front, which was so delicious. We’d heard about the BBQs at CoCo’s so we decided to check it out one night to see what the hype was all about. For about $3.50 USD, we got a massive BBQ with meat, fish and vegetables. The only downside was that we waited about three hours, which isn’t good for me as I get a bad case of hanger.

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We formed a pretty cool group of travelers, with people from all different nationalities and travel experiences. We decided to take a boat trip out one day to fish and visit Long Beach—for something like $10 USD we hopped on a boat for the day armed with a box of beers and went in search of dinner. After a day at sea, we stopped off at Long Beach to relax and cook the fish we caught (I didn’t catch any), which we cooked on a fire on the beach. We watched the sun go down and hopped back onto the boat to the main part of the island just as the rain started.

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During my last two days on Koh Rong (like most tiny islands I’ve visited), I was taken out by a pretty nasty stomach bug. Although bed-bound for my remaining time on Koh Rong, I couldn’t fault the vibe of this place. I would have gone back in a heartbeat. I don’t think I’d go back now; it just wouldn’t be the same, however, I’m glad that I have the memories of what was an amazing part of my travels.

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