Getting Off The Beaten Track In Koh Rong
I was sipping a beer in my hostel in Phnom Penh and in the process of booking a bus to Siem Reap when I first heard about this beach, and I knew I had to get there. Sadly, my story is not about to turn into a critically acclaimed book, and there’s no Leonardo DiCaprio, but it’s about as close as close as I’ve come to a “The Beach” experience in a world that has almost become too small. I mean, fuck – there’s even bioluminescent plankton, ample access to weed and jungle-encased waterfalls, so that’s close enough, right? The fact that there are no shark attacks or breakouts of insanity could almost mean it’s better.
I heard about the large but largely undeveloped island off the coast of Sihanoukville and immediately changed my plans, which originally had me volunteering for a week in Siem Reap (sorry kids!) to go check out what was to be an island paradise. I jumped on an overnight bus landing me in the overly westernised, partygoer hell that was Sihanoukville. With every minute in Sihanoukville, my excitement for the island drained, anticipating I would end up on another beach destroyed by Western tourists sipping buckets and wearing fluoro obnoxious enough to adequately represent their personalities.
It was easy enough to arrange a ticket for the two hour boat ride which would take me to my destination, and I soon found myself at the incredibly industrialised port becoming more anxious about my decision by the minute, until I spotted our boat on the jetty. A wooden, rickety but character-filled old fisherman’s boat was to be our transport. The boat was already stacked with supplies for the island, mainly grass for the huts at the other end, and was connected to the jetty by a wooden plank which other travellers were already navigating. I picked a prime spot on top and sat back against the grass dozing in the sun for the two hour journey.
The first glimpse of the island came and any reservations about where I was headed washed away. Dotted along the coast line were a handful of bungalows, the charming wooden pier connecting Koh Rong to the real world and traditional Cambodian fishing boats, all backdropped against a vast green jungle with crystal blue waters washing upon unspoiled white sandy beach broken only by a singular volleyball net.
Welcome to paradise.
From then on, Koh Rong didn’t have a chance of disappointing me. I teamed up with a Venezuelan girl and British guy on the boat who had been travelling together and we decided to share a bungalow. The room we found was three dollars a night each for a basic bungalow with a hammock out the front, which is all you can really want from a room.
We spent each day snoozing on the unseasonably sunny beach, seeing who could swim the longest underwater and lighting up every two hours. Afternoons usually involved trekking through the jungle to waterfalls and dodging spiders at every turn, or trying to find our way to one of the many beaches on the island. Night times were passed getting high and swimming with the bioluminescent plankton, marvelling in the way they would scatter around our hands and feet as we moved through the water and staring at a blanket of stars basking in feeling trivial.
Since the island is virtually undeveloped, there aren’t too many people around; and everyone has a similar outlook on travel, so tends to get on easily. It doesn’t seem to attract any eighteen-year-old football lads coming abroad to try new things: eating pizza in another country, getting fucked up drunk in another country and buying a Bintang singlet to prove their cultured travels to everyone back home. The lack of infrastructure means there is no law enforcement on the island, so lighting a joint on the beach is fairly safe and you can stock up at almost every bar; however, there’s also no doctor, so if you get sick you’ll have to wait for the next boat in and they only come twice a day. There’s no one selling you rip-off shit on the beach while wearing offensive “I Fuck Midgets” t-shirts, no roads where you can be hounded to take a tuk tuk and most importantly not a bucket in sight.
Unfortunately, this is not going to be the case for long. Koh Rong is set to be developed into the next luxury resort destination with a new speed boat rumoured to be taking the place of the old fisherman’s boats as soon as this year. While the expansion is sure to be good for certain local industries, it is undoubtedly disappointing to see another natural, untouched beauty become a churned out tourist hotspot without an inch of charm, charisma or culture.
It almost goes without saying: get there and get there soon.