This place has seen more people change their travel plans, extend their visa’s and stay in paradise than anywhere else in South East Asia.
Koh Rong might even rival the big backpacker mecca’s of the world with its traveller’s culture and community here. For the large portion of western staff and business owners, it is a beautiful world in a bubble residing far away from the 9-to-5 of mainstream society.
Though sadly this slice of paradise will only remain beautiful for a short time. The inevitable commercialisation is bulldozing its way through the island as we speak.
Koh Rong is roughly 78 sq/km and is Cambodia’s second biggest island.
The main beach and port hosts 3 small piers, each being only 3-4 metres wide. As of writing this (2015), there are no roads, tuk-tuks or aggressive people trying to sell you sunglasses. As a backpacker, you step off a ferry onto the pier and then straight onto the sand. You take off your shoes and don’t put them on again until you leave.
Most people spend their days sitting in the sun and swimming in one of the three beaches within walking distance. There’s hidden beaches, waterfalls, small hikes and treasures all over the island. You don’t see much of the mess or the poverty that most stumble past in South East Asia. Instead, Koh Rong is an island populated equally by western staff and the friendliest Khmer people I’ve met in Cambodia. With efforts from both groups, everyone lives together relatively harmoniously.
The westerners that work there have set up clean-ups every week and the bars and tourists are strongly encouraged to respect the cleanliness of the island.
One of the many treasures that I will always remember were the nights spent skinny-dipping in the vast, moonlit ocean at 3:00 am. Away from the lights of civilisation, one can truly enjoy an experience of a lifetime:
Koh Rong is situated in a part of Asia with beaches renowned for their Bioluminescent Plankton. Sitting in the peaceful warm water late at night is surreal. Every movement of your body sends thousands of little blue stars shooting off in all directions through the water. It feels like you’re floating inside a sea of stars.
Cambodia’s currency is a mix of the US Dollar and Rial.
- Most guest houses and hostels will charge $7-$10 dollars for a dorm bed and $12-17 for a private room.
- The cost of a beer and a can of coke is set at $1.
- Meals usually range from the cheap and delicious noodle soup (1$) and fried rice ($2), through $3-4 for burgers and curries.
- But you can’t go past the barbeques for $5-6 which are put on by most of the bars and hostels in high season. A personal favourite of mine is Vagabonds’ pork ribs.
- The slow ferry from Sihanoukville currently costs $5 one way, and the fast ferry is $25 at the moment.
- Edible marijuana is a grey area for Cambodian law. Though it isn’t thrust in your face, most bars sell cookies, brownies and more for roughly $6 (1 between 2 people should be enough for most), and I’m sure someone could easily help you find something else if you asked.
Is a rope park situated on top of the small mountain overlooking the main beach. This great obstacle course see’s you running across ropes and planks way above the ground as you climb to the top. Rewarded with a fantastic view of the entire beach and sea beyond, you can’t help but appreciate the true beauty of Koh Rong. Tickets are expensive but worthwhile at $25.
A great way of seeing the rest of the island and making some friends. The usual routine takes you snorkelling around one of the little reefs or even to the small island in the distance. After that, some basic fishing, swimming and you’ll finish up watching the sunset on the picturesque Long Beach. Tickets – usually $10 with some commission for the staff.
A small 45-minute hike over the little mountain will find you on the beautiful squeaky sand of Long Beach. Roughly 7km long (4.35 miles), this beach stretches on forever. The water is crystal clear and the sunset is absolutely stunning. A boat ride back to the main beach is roughly $3-4.
After walking around barefoot every day and drinking like a standard backpacker does, you’ll collect some scratches and bruises.
Inevitably, bacteria live in the sand and on the ground surfaces of most of the bars. Even a small cut on your foot should be covered up and cleaned.
Any injuries or medical concerns will need to be treated at the Koh Rong Emergency Service. Ran by some pretty courageous nurses and paramedics, they’re volunteers who’ve taken on the responsibility of providing basic health care to the people of the island. With the closest hospital over an hour away, they are the main support for any emergency on the island – support or volunteer with them!
Keeping your wounds clean is a must.
Otherwise, exercise normal caution while travelling because the closest serious medical attention is over an hour away.
If you find yourself in any trouble, don’t be afraid to ask any of the western bartenders as most would love to help.
Those looking to prolong their time in paradise or help this beautiful island grow, there are many options to find work as a volunteer.
“Doing this was one of the best decisions I made travelling.”
I was only spending roughly $3 a day as compared to $30-$60 before I started volunteering. Vagabonds was my home, where I worked 2 days on, 1 day off.
My payment was 2 free meals a day and 10 free drinks. This is roughly the same with most bars, and the restaurants offer more food for fewer drinks and often 3 days on 1 day off. This was more than enough to live and enjoy without the hassle of needing to worry about money. Accommodation is offered for free in the staff housing which can lead to some interesting stories.
Alternatively, for a more rewarding experience, you can volunteer with the Friends of Koh Rong or (if you have medical/emergency experience) Koh Rong Emergency Service.
The Friends of Koh Rong are beautiful people who help clean up the island. They also teach the kids and adults of Koh Rong English and among other things. For more information and how to volunteer for Friends of Koh Rong, click here.
Donations are also available if you feel like putting your money to a very worthy cause.
I could write for days about my love of this place. Courtney (from New Zealand), Dave (from Australia) and Meg (from the UK) are the owners of this fantastic and lively hostel/bar. These guys work tirelessly to give the backpackers a welcoming and friendly place to hang out, drink and play games.
Vagabonds have private rooms and dorm beds. They have a great food menu and cocktail specials from 7-9pm. Definitely worth staying!
Taking on any opportunity to celebrate any occasion, there a parties most nights that go on long into the morning and most will find themselves at Vagabonds after 12:00 pm.
The Vagabonds staff were my family and the same has been said by countless travellers that found a home here and consequently stayed longer than those at any other hostel. With such a homely and friendly vibe, great food and the best vegetarian options, Vagabonds is exactly what every traveller needs on a tropical paradise like this.
Vagabonds also have some of the best selection of edible marijuana.
I left Koh Rong on the 29th of April after staying for almost 4 months! This was the place in a foreign country that I called my home.
A picturesque wonderland of drinking, beaches, sex, dancing, and beautiful people from all over the world. Leaving the real world 4 months earlier felt fantastic but finding my place among the ruffians, adventurers and the runaways was a whole new endeavour in itself.
The months that followed saw me working in at Vagabonds. The relationships I formed and the stories I’ve been a part of on Koh Rong and at Vagabonds will stay with me for years.
The island was staffed by characters from all over, some stood close to the edge of alcoholism while others walked around bruised and battered. All of them were genuine, friendly and rather alternative people.
This lifestyle held no security like the west does. A proper hospital over 5 hours away and only the most basic medical attention and a small pharmacy were accessible on the island. Though to be fair, Mr T (the local nurse) did save me from many gruesome infections and stomach bugs.
In this time, I didn’t wear anything on my feet, walked up and down the beach all day every day. When not working, I fluttered from bar to bar to see my friends and lounged aimlessly on the beaches. It was this experience, unlike anything else I have ever done in my life, that saw me falling head first into a world that exists in a bubble, a fairytale. Paradise.
Images and amazing times thanks to Vagabonds Koh Rong.