I’m in two minds about writing this post. In some ways I’d prefer nobody else finds out about this place so it’ll stay exactly the way it is now.
Koh Rong Samloem (aka Koh Rong Samlem or Koh Rong Saloem) is an absolute gem. A magical place, as my travel partner has described it at least twenty times a day during our time here.
As I’m writing this, I’m lying on a sun lounger right on the beach. Behind me is our little bungalow and the jungle, in front of me is the crystal clear, bath tub warm water of Saracen Bay glistening in the sun.
Somehow, fortunately, Koh Rong Samloem has managed to keep away mass tourism so far. There’s a number of resorts at Saracen Bay beach, but all of them are made up of small bungalows, huts or even tree houses.
There are no cars here, no tuktuks, no roads. The “footpath” to the other side of the island only barely fits that description. It hasn’t been cleared in ages, we climbed over fallen trees and random rocks many times in our attempt to traverse the island in flip flops (note: bad idea). There is no warm water; electricity, coming from a generator and solar panels, is only available for a few hours at night. Wifi is still a thing of the future. This is a place to relax and forget about the real world.
My mesmerizing source of entertainment: Thousands of tiny little crabs on Koh Rong Samloem beach spending their day rolling sand into balls in their search for food. They’re so organized they could be German.
How to get to Koh Rong Samloem
Kog Rong Samloem can only be reached by boat. There are a few options to choose from, most of them will take you to Saracen Bay Pier on the east side of the island. All of them depart from Sihanoukville on the Cambodian mainland.
The most popular option and the one we chose as we got a discount from our resort for it, is the “Party Boat”. It departs from Sihanoukville’s Serendipity Pier at 9.30, makes a short swimming/snorkeling stop at Koh Tas and gets you to Koh Rong Samloem between 12 and 12.30. This boat is better than it sounds, offering a dining room, a lounge room with comfy sofas and a sun deck on top. The food was also surprisingly good, a bit of sweetbread as breakfast snack and an all you can eat buffet for lunch, with fried rice, curry chicken and pork, fried vegetables and deep fried squid. Dessert was fresh fruit.
Koh Rong Samloem Day Trip
If you’re just going to Koh Rong Samloem for a day trip, you can take that same boat back to the mainland at 3.30 and get back to Serendipity beach in Sihanoukville just in time for sunset. There wasn’t much partying going on on the boat, Koh Rong Samloem doesn’t seem to attract the party crowd. The only party people on our trip were two Cambodians who, after a few beers too many, ended up doing an impromptu sunset show of some kind of Gangnam Style meets 90s boy band moves to a techno version of the Sound of Silence – swinging an imaginary lasso and all that.
As of January 2014, a round trip ticket for the Party Boat will set you back $25. Since you won’t want to leave though, pick one of the resorts on the island and stay the night – or the week. And even if you’re normally a strong believer in just walking up to a place and finding a bed for the night, take my word for it and book accommodation ahead here, especially in the dry season. Most resorts in Koh Rong Samloem only have a few rooms / beds and they will book out. Every day so far, I saw someone come to our resort and ask for a room for the night only to be turned away. A few people have had to take the boat back to the mainland after three hours of asking around. This is not a place where you want to waste your time trying to find a bed for the night.
Where to stay on Koh Rong Samloem
We did our research four months ahead of time and scored the last bungalow at Saracen Bay Resort. This place is paradise! It’s the perfect combo of island vibe and luxury. Saracen Bay Resort consists of nine little bungalows right on the beach, surrounded by trees that provide a bit of shade. Each bungalow has a king size bed, a little desk (who would want to work here???) and a private bathroom. There’s no aircon, but there is a fan. We didn’t miss an aircon, the bungalows are open underneath the roof so there was always a bit of a breeze going through. The front of the bungalow has huge floor to ceiling windows so you can see the beach and the sea from your bed. Lastly, each bungalow also comes with cosy lounge furniture on your private little patio and two comfortable padded sun loungers that you can put anywhere on the (empty) beach as you please.
Saracen Bay Resort also has one of the best restaurants on the island, with prices slightly higher than on the mainland but very fair considering they have to import everything from Sihanoukville. A big breakfast with eggs, bacon, baked beans, the best hash browns on the planet, toast, jam, a plate of fresh fruit, orange juice and tea/coffee was $6.50. At lunch & dinner, Khmer dishes were around $5-7 and “Western” dishes ranged from $4 to $8. A big bottle of water was $1.50. All dishes that we tried were really good and very fresh. Unlike most places in Cambodia, they also always managed to serve everyone at a table at the same time, even on nights when the restaurant was packed. Service was always good and the team running the restaurant and the rest of the resort is incredibly friendly and smiley.
There are a number of other resorts on the island, the website of Saracen Bay Association will give you a good overview. There’s something for every budget, from luxury bungalows to open air hammocks with mosquito nets. I’ll have to warn you though, we got a visit from a herd of water buffaloes the first night. I, for one, was certainly glad there was at least a thin bungalow wall between us. But maybe you’re more adventurous than I am.
What to do on Koh Rong Samloem
Lie on the beach. Lie in the bath tub warm sea. Watch the millions of crabs on the beach. Watch the sunrise from your porch… or your bed. Do nothing.
If that’s really not enough for you, Koh Rong Samloem does have a few options for more active vacationers too:
- Go snorkeling or diving with one of the dive shops on the island. Ask for details at the dive shop next to Freedom Bungalows on the far end of Saracen Bay or at the dive shop next to Robinson Bungalows on the other side of the island.
- Go for a hike across the island to see one of the other beaches. If you’re staying on the Saracen Bay side, there are two options: The path starting behind The Beach Resort leads to Robinson Bungalows, takes about 40-60min and you should bring decent shoes. The path behind Orchid Resort leads to Lazy Beach, takes about half an hour and can easily be done in flip flops. For either of these walks, you’ll be going through the jungle so wear some mosquito spray and maybe bring some water. A flashlight for the return trip wouldn’t be a bad idea either if you’re going for a sunset hike.
- Ride a mountain bike across the island, if walking isn’t your thing. The Beach and Orchid Resort both organize Mountain Biking trips to my knowledge. Contact them directly or check out the Saracen Bay Association website for more details.
- Explore the island’s shores and the fishing village with a kayak. The Beach offers both guided tours and rentals so you can go exploring on your own.