When asked ‘Why Cambodia?’ prior to embarking on my Asian adventure, my response was always ‘Why not?’ However, I must confess that my main reasoning was the same as most other new travellers: Angkor Wat. Whilst no one should visit Cambodia and neglect the Temples of Angkor, Cambodia offers so much more, you just have to go out and find it.
The first time myself and my boyfriend heard about the mythical island of Koh Rong Samloem, it was 6am and we were sitting in a riverside cafe in Luang Prabang, Laos with a group of people we had just met. This is the thing I love the most about travelling, it is a constant learning curve and advice is dispensed in the most unusual situations. Of course, having already travelled around Thailand, we were no strangers to a good beach. Sadly though, neither is anyone else. Iconic sands like Maya Bay and Freedom Beach offer a beautiful setting but the experience is marred by swarms of tourists, some of whom have no respect for the natural environment. Koh Rong Samloem was described to us as a largely untouched desert island paradise, who wouldn’t want a piece of that?
After hearing about the island, we couldn’t shift it from the forefront of our minds. We did our research and used the information we could find to make our Cambodia itinerary. From Siem Reap we caught a night bus down to Sihanoukville and jumped on a ferry to the southern islands. Ferries go regularly from Serendipity Beach jetty to neighbouring island Koh Rong so we made this our first stop. Koh Rong boasts a lively backpacker strip and beautiful beaches. A rapidly evolving island, construction is everywhere. Beach bungalows and bars are popping up wherever you look and the party vibe is in full swing at all times of the day. In a few years it is sure to become a rival of Koh Phangnan and the other party islands. After a couple of days and in need of some relaxation after the excess, we jumped on a speed boat to nearby island Koh Rong Samloem.
In true backpacker style we arrived on the island with nowhere to stay and took to scaling beachfront at Saracen Bay looking for budget guesthouses. After a few laps and seeing nothing but luxurious beach huts (which were definitely out of our price range) we took a moment to re-evaluate our plan. It was then we spotted it: a dirt trail into the trees. Hiding just out of view down the path there was a sign in the direction of Sunset Beach. Off we went.
The trek through the jungle towards Sunset Beach is challenging to say the least. The path is not overly established and seems to disappear in places, not to mention the tracks take you down steep verges and up tall hills. At certain parts of the journey, the walk evolves into a straight out clamber over large rocks. In total, the hike from the main jetty to the other side of the island where Sunset Beach is located takes around an hour. I would be lying if I said it was an easy trail, as if lugging heavy backpacks wasn’t bad enough, the heat is stifling and overbearing. There is an enormous sense of relief when you hear the hum of the generator and realise there isn’t much further to go.
Accommodation options on Koh Rong Samloem are limited; there are some picturesque bungalow resorts as well as a dorm located in the Dive Shop. These range in price but there is something for even the thriftiest backpacker, including tents for hire that you can pitch up on the beach. No words can describe the beauty of Sunset Beach, the clear water laps gently on the golden sands where you rarely see the beach playing host to more than a handful of people. The beach is secluded and private, not to mention immaculately clean. Unlike its larger companion island Koh Rong, the party scene is yet to find its way to Koh Rong Samloem and it doesn’t suffer from the noise pollution and litter problem that plagues its sister island. This doesn’t mean to say there is nothing to do here, the island offers excellent snorkelling and diving spots not to mention an opportunity to get up close and personal with some of Cambodia’s wildlife.
Koh Rong Samloem is a largely undiscovered pearl of Cambodia and this is reflected in its amenities. There are no ATM machines on the island and only one place where there is access to WIFI. This is located in Saracen Bay so if you find your way to Sunset Beach, checking Facebook means an hour hike back through the jungle. Is it really worth it? Electricity is intermittent at best with only six hours of reliable output a day. In my opinion, it is these things that make the island of Koh Rong Samloem so special. It is a complete retreat from the hustle of the mainland, which offers few outside distractions. This means that there is little else to do but sit back and enjoy the island for what it is: an escape. Koh Rong Samloem is Cambodia’s best secret and the whispers have already begun.
Have you visited Koh Rong Samloem?