We were supposed to chill.
Crash on the sun beds like a couple of beached jellyfish, gone all soft and limbless after the two-week tour de force through mainland Cambodia. Temples, ancient and modern, villages, jungle treks, lakes, the capital’s museums, and more temples…it felt like we’ve done it all.
Three nights on this paradise-postcard island had kept us going like The Promised Land, the ultimate reward for our intense journey. No more alarm call early mornings to catch a speedy breakfast and start the tour with our guides like marching students on a school trip. My legs looked like one of the first explorers’ poorly drawn maps: bumps and bruises, scratches and insect bites everywhere. Those poor pins with swollen calves could definitely use a tan and being put up in a hammock!
How to get there:
From Sihanoukville’s port, we took the speedboat that would drop us directly at our resort on the east coast’s Pagoda Beach. Not included in the resort booking, not cheap- more on our questionable choice in a moment!
A more reasonable option is to take the fast ferry from the islands’ terminal of the Sihanoukville port- way cheaper and more reliable, even in case of rough seas. The only drawback is that you disembark at the main village of Koch Tuch, quite far by road from other parts of the island where your accommodation might be. So pay close attention to your resort/beach bungalows’ location, like this you don’t find yourself stuck (like us!) on the rong side of Koh Rong.
Where to stay…or where to avoid staying 🙂
Now this was painful. I thought I was clever, did my research, nailed it. Let Koh Rong prove you…rong (sorry can’t help myself 😃)
After stubborn online browsing I had finally settled on a newly-opened resort, white-washed and of minimalistic design, showing a bit of restrained luxury compared to other more basic-looking options on the island. I could see it now- I got seduced by the polished pictures, it spoke of tranquility and bliss. Our well-deserved Zen Pod. (“this place looks like it was made by Ikea!”, my travel partner cleverly noted upon arrival)
I didn’t miss checking the distance to the main buzzing hub of Koch Tuch village- for a bit of partying in the night time- a mere 5km from our place. Easy! we exclaimed, envisioning ourselves zooming in and out the village- from Zen to party, party to Zen– in the usual style, on a motorbike. Little did we know.
We spent the first afternoon practicing what we preached- dolce far niente, nothing more than a pleasant walk on the beach. So peaceful and barely another human in sight- so I knew that by nightfall we’d get itchy feet. Dinner and drinks in the village! and we hopped on two motorbikes behind two taxi-guides for 10$ each one way.
Instants after the lights of the resort faded behind us I realized what we got ourselves into: a terrifying, “don’t tell my mom I did this!” one-hour hell-of-a ride: plenty of time to have multiple moments of my whole life passing through my eyes while holding onto the motorbike saddle in a death grip.
A plunge into jungle-deep darkness on a narrow sandy path (lots of scary back wheel drifting!), the thick canopy of leaves and branches closing in like a tunnel above us. Amplified jungle sounds like blasted from a surround system, crickets and hooting owls, hunting cries and other creepy shrills that made the hair on the nape of my neck stand up.
We made it out of the jungle trap-tunnel eventually, the road opened up a little but it stayed pitch-black and bumpy as a crocodile’s back. It felt like being in a videogame – a crazed biker trying to avoid huge gaps, sandbanks, tyre-shredding rocks and jumping over tractor-wheel sized sinkholes. We passed clattering wooden-plank bridges, so shaky that I thought they would give out at any moment and send us flying in the river- and I couldn’t decide whether it was scarier with my eyes closed or simply witnessing the sheer madness.
Visibly entertained by our fright, the guides finally dropped us in the village, grinning from ear to ear. Oh Lord, bar lights never looked so bright! Make that a double, anything you got, just to take the edge off, said the two damsels in distress, hugging their clattering knees.
Gosh, we found the Koch Tuch village absolutely smashing. Everyone walking around barefoot and buzzed, beer in hand, music blasting out of the side by side bars and beach shacks. Tattoo parlors, souvenir shops, barbecue-style restaurants, post-meal hammocks with bar service…and a cheerful young crowd. Finally, there was life! Fresh energy bubbling to fit the island spirit! Clearly, isolation-style resorts don’t fit us much- so choose your island area better than we did! Now that I know better…here are your best options:
Koch Tuch Village:
Do stay here if you want some action along with your beach holiday. We checked some accommodations along the strip and this is what we came up with:
Green Ocean Guesthouse: we slept here for one night after being stuck in the village after our boat trip ( the sea was too rough for a boat taxi to take us back to our resort and we said a solid NO to another hellish motorbike ride at night…never again!)
We got a clean, air conditioned room for 25$ and woke up just once in the night despite the college-dorm type of chaos, and that’s just because through the paper-thin walls we could hear our neighbor listening to some type of narrated historical documentary, serious stuff, like a WW2 war transmission. Well, at least he wasn’t watching porn!
Paradise Bungalows: this would have been our first choice for the village area, had we decided to spend the full length of our island stay here. They also have the most atmospheric restaurant, with great Khmer and international food in a relaxed setting: everyone is lounging about on floor mats and cosy pillows…just a few steps away from the beach.
Treehouse Bungalows: rustic style Khmer houses, some with sea views, family suites with kitchen if you feel like doing your own post-hangover fried eggs…and a private beach. You’re around a 15’ min walk from the village (700m) so it might suit those who don’t want to sleep with background fist-pumpin’ music in their ears.
Sok San Village:
Hands down the most beautiful stretch of beach I’ve seen on the island, and so blissfully deserted it’s soothing to the eye. Not to mention it makes a photographer’s job so much easier, as you don’t have to zap people off with photoshop to show how pristine the beach is…like I was tempted to do in Thailand: bus-load after bus-load of tourist hordes lining up to buffet lunches, killing any good vibe left out there, RIP island paradise.
Sok San Beach Resort is the only modern option in the village, with Khmer-heritage furnishings and the expected comfort. If you’re not too pretentious you can stay at one of the basic-but-lovely Sok San Beach Bungalows.
There are a few bars and restaurants lined up on the beach, nothing too-crazy, but you can always hop on a boat ride for the main village.
Eat, eat and be merry!
Being on a party island goes without saying…there can be a lot of drinking involved. So at least make sure to have some padding for your stomach with tasty food…and then party away till the small hours.
Sigi’s Thai Food
…was hands-down our best meal on the island, cooked and served by do it all myself Sigi, a wonderful chef who worked many years in New York and finally decided for a change of lifestyle with an island stint, opening his own simple-and-effective shack on a small alley off Koh Tuch’s main stretch.
Order and get your pad-thai, curries and stir-fries straight from his steaming, spice-fragrant wok, Sigi is amazingly generous with his portions and you can clearly see his prime choice of ingredients, the freshest seafood, veggies and meats. He is chummy enough and you can chat him up while he’s cooking, show appreciation for his food, but don’t stretch it: a clueless tourist was repeatedly ignored while asking for soy sauce on her already amazing Pad Thai, and when her voice spiked to an annoying shrill (gosh how I wanted to shut her up!) the chef coldly advised “Why don’t you try it first?”
Amen, chef. Sigi deserves some Michelin stars and his own Netflix show…much like Bangkok’s Street Food Queen Jay Fai …can’t wait to go back for more!
Police Beach does an electro-house & psy-trance party every Wednesday and Saturday, and every Full Moon (Cambodia’s answer to Thailand’s famous Koh Phangan moonlit dance extravaganzas) with fire shows and glowing neon body paint, and there are pub-crawl tours almost every night at the village.
If you want to take it a step further hop on a boat headed to sister island, Koh Rong Sanloem, for its Jungle Parties, another hippie-backpacker oasis that gets pretty wild…when the jungle comes alive in the Thriller moonlight !
Things to do:
Do it on the first day, with one of the Koch Tuch boat operators: we stopped by the Pirates of Koh Rong desk and after hearing the their story we were hooked ! Had the best day out at sea ever with a fun-loving group (no boring sulky tourists allowed :)) A boat tour is the smartest way to see the most beautiful beaches on the island and choose your favorite hang-out for the remainder of your holiday.
High Point Adventure Park:
For those up for a bit of a challenge, up you go in the trees- the island of Koh Rong is covered in thick, lush jungle, so the guys at the Adventure Park built a clever rope course park, with ladders, suspension bridges, walking wires and zooming ziplines! There’s even a surfboard between the trees, and an opportunity to get close to some wildlife…quite a change of pace from lazy beach lounging.
Koh Rong Dive Center
The island is located in the North-Eastern part of the Gulf of Thailand, offering a different type of diving experience compared to the Southern Thai islands. Here you can spot bamboo & coral cat-sharks, eye-catching nudibranch and the usual anemones with the in-house guest Nemo clown fish. During our stay there the underwater visibility wasn’t great, as the sea was rich in plankton…which brings us to the next attraction-
Glowing plankton night-swimming
Imagine going into the sea at night- and with every move of your body, raising an arm and spreading your fingers through the water – you are igniting a galaxy of stars: it’s the bioluminescent plankton, reacting to your presence. Our boat trip took us to a strategic location to enjoy a starry swim, sadly short-lived because of the strong currents in the area, not manageable by everyone (especially those who had been hitting those bottles of Khmer Whiskey hard at sunset 😅) . You can also watch the glowing plankton from the shore, in the area of Long Set Beach.
I wrote down some options there but honestly just being on the island has enough to keep you busy and fulfilled! Feels like Thailand years ago- and I loved the messiness of it, the simplicity, the people still making small talk without the hidden hustle. Go before the masses and the over-development that sacrifices the local charm ❤️ Koh Rong !