Koh Rong: My Survivor Beach Getaway
Koh Rong? No. If I asked you to tell me about Cambodia, you’d probably start with temples, right? Angkor Wat. Bayon. That sort of thing. Maybe you’d say people are friendly and the food is great.
What else? Siem Reap. Khmer Rouge. Buddha. Dollars. Tuk-tuks. How long you’d have to keep going until you got to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world? Right?
People tend to forget about Koh Rong. They don’t associate Cambodia with beaches. That’s Thailand.
Most tourists decide to do Thailand – Cambodia – Vietnam itinerary in three or four weeks. Then, after Phuket, Phi Phi, and James Bond Island, they don’t have time for more beach getaways. When they get to Cambodia, they spend 80% of their time in the country exploring the Angkor complex. But there is a good side to this.
How amazing is Koh Rong?
This means, not too many tourists actually get to Koh Rong and this is what makes it such a great destination. Take a look at the photos! There are only a few places like this left in the world.
Honestly, the beaches on Koh Rong are among some of the best I’ve ever seen. We can even compare them to Caramoan Islands in the Philippines.
There is something that links these two places together as well and it’s the US reality show Survivor. Both destinations have been featured in it, both have been the setting of two seasons of the show each! (Caramoan in seasons 25 & 26, Koh Rong in seasons 31 and 32) Considering that Survivor is always set in some of the most picturesque places around the world, this should mean something, right?
Anyway, let’s focus on the facts.
How to get to Koh Rong?
It was thanks to Survivor that I actually found out about Koh Rong. I was the lucky one to visit the island when the show was actually airing on TV, but before I could see any impact of it on the island.
Koh Rong was our island getaway after a long stroll across Mekong Delta in Vietnam and a week spent exploring Khmer caves, pepper farms, and salt fields around Kep and Kampot.
Tired after three weeks of constant sightseeing, we were ready for a taste of paradise. We jumped on a bus to Sihanoukville and got ready to hit the Survivor beaches.
The island of Koh Rong is the second-largest island in Cambodia located about 25 kilometers away from Sihanoukville. You can get to Koh Rong by a slow boat (2,5-hour trip / $10 USD return ticket) or a fast boat (40-60 min / $20 USD return ticket) from Sihanoukville port.
The ferry will drop you off in Koh Tuich Village (Tui Beach). Our group was called inside a pub just opposite the pier where we got a 10-minute orientation about the island. It was a nice and friendly welcome and we appreciated all the information we were given about where to eat, where to drink, where to sleep, and how to behave politely and respectfully (even though it should be common sense, we realize, some people clearly need to hear it).
What do you need to know about Koh Rong?
The island is very underdeveloped.
There is no hospital on Koh Rong, the electricity situation keeps changing (not long ago, Koh Rong only had power between 6 and 11 pm), and the wifi is awfully slow. Take lots of sunscreen with you as well, ’cause they price it like gold on the island.
Addicted to social media? Get a sim card!
If you do need to keep in touch with the outside world, get a Smart sim card, top it up for $5 USD and get 4GB of data that should work fine in most places on Koh Rong.
Accommodation on Koh Rong
Tui Beach is where most of the island’s budget hostels are located. If you’re a backpacker who’d rather spend less on the room and more on the food and drinks, this is where you’ll most likely stay.
We spent about an hour walking from place to place trying to find basic accommodation at a decent price (’cause some of them places were complete shi*holes and cost as much as $30 USD per night for a wooden hut with holes in the walls and cockroaches all over the place). Basically, the further away you go from the pier, the more expensive it’ll be.
Finally, we decided to stay in the Dragon Den hostel for $15 USD per night and even though it was very basic (and I mean, very basic: no air-con, no hot water, no wifi), we always think it’s better to spend more on food or activities than accommodation. Especially if you’re on such a beautiful island like Koh Rong!
When we went there, there weren’t any big luxury resorts in Koh Tuich Village whatsoever, only budget to mid-range accommodation. Most of them with sea view and direct access to the beach, but this will be changing soon, unfortunately.
After checking in, we put our swimming shorts on and quickly went for a swim in the sea. We noticed the beach was full of pubs and restaurants, but the island still didn’t feel very commercialized.
Most businesses were small and local, while a lot of expats work in hostels and tour agencies. This side of the island felt like the ultimate dream come true of a gap year backpacker. As much as it’s not our cup of tea, we loved it! The vibe, the landscape, the friendliness of the locals and the expats.
To the south from the main pier is a local village where you can find more Khmer local shops. When you’re on the expat side of the village you can walk around shirtless and girls can wear their bikinis, but if you want to go to the local side of the village, you should cover yourself and respect the cultural differences.
It was amazing to see expats and Khmer people living in such harmony in the village, respecting each other. Most people know each other regardless of where they work, where they’re from, or what nationality they are. It was the first time that I got a sense of a real community on an island like this. It was a nice change after Thailand’s hectic and loud Phuket or Phi Phi.
Activities! What to do on Koh Rong?
If there is one thing that’s a must see on Koh Rong, it’s the beaches. Explore the island’s beaches and don’t let yourself get stuck in Koh Tuich Village.
A half an hour walk to the north from the pier, you’ll find the 4K Beach, a gorgeous long beach with next to no tourists there and only a few local pubs on the way. This is where you can hide away or even rent a tent to get a taste of camping in paradise (or glamping even, looking at those tents with electric sockets inside!).
How to get from Koh Tuich Village to Long Beach?
My favorite activity while on Koh Rong was a hike from Koh Tuich Village to Long Beach and Sok San Village.
To get to the trail, you need to turn left once you get to the alley by Dream Catch Inn or Sky Bar. You will see red trail markings on trees and stones with occasional flip flops scattered on the path (I know, what the heck?). Follow the flip flops!
The hike is about an hour long and was one of the biggest highlights for us. You climb up and down the rocks across a thick jungle and at the end your reward is an amazing view of the Long Beach. A seven-kilometer long beach with flour-like sand and calm, crystal-clear water. Knowing it was the setting for two seasons of my favorite show made me even more hyped about this whole day.
Reaching the Paradise on Koh Rong
Greg and I spend most of the afternoon walking down the beach towards the Sok San Village. That’s also where production of the show was located. I was beyond ecstatic to see a tribe flag in one of the resorts, I mean, just look at that grin.
Unfortunately, I’m sure that pretty soon this side of the island will be full of construction sites. More and more big resorts are planning to build high-end accommodations there.
I’m afraid that a lot of people might not get a chance to see Koh Rong the same way we saw it. A raw and wild beauty where you could stay on the beach all day long without seeing more than a few friendly locals walking past.
If you decide to take the hike to Long Beach (I mean, is that even in question at this point?), make sure to get lots of water with you and some extra money for lunch and a boat to return to Koh Tuich.
Do not hike back to Koh Tuich Village after dark! It’s a big no-no and it’s impossible to do without torches and proper equipment. As I said earlier, there is no hospital on this island, so you need to be extra-careful! What can you do instead? Take a boat back to Koh Tuich.
We rented a boat from a local fisherman on Koh Rong
Scheduled boats usually leave around 6 pm, however, let our story be a warning. When we finally got to Sok San Village on the day of our hike, all travel agents there told us the current was too strong. No boats were going back to Koh Tuich that night.
It was already too late to hike back, so we started panicking a little bit. OK, I started panicking. I thought we got stuck there without a place to stay, without any money, and without our stuff! Fortunately, we found a local fisherman who took us back to Koh Tuich in his fishing boat for $20 USD. Now, I’m not a sailor, so I don’t know how smart or how stupid of us it was to find a way to go back when all legit travel agents told us the current was too strong, but we got back ‘home’ safe and sound.
It’s one of the most amazing experiences we had during our trip to Cambodia.
Now I have a photo of myself in front of the Survivor flag, I visited Sok San beach and had a fab adventure getting back on the fishing boat rented from a random local! Sounds good? Then make sure to add Koh Rong to your itinerary for Cambodia!
Behind the Sok San Village, there is also a lagoon worth checking out. Also, if you can arrange transport back to Koh Tuich in the evening, I hear Long Beach is a fantastic spot to watch sunsets. Let me know if it’s true!
Snorkeling Tours on Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem
If you want to spend your day actively on Koh Rong, sign up for a snorkeling tour and island-hopping. We went for a day trip archipelago exploration with one of the Koh Tuich travel agencies. It cost us $15 USD per person including fruit, drinks (2 beers or soft drinks each), snorkeling equipment rental, and dinner at a restaurant on Koh Rong Samloem. If you ask me, I think it’s a bargain! We had a great day!
A trip like this will be a chance to meet other backpackers on the island. If you’re a solo traveler seeking company, this is the right option for you.
Our itinerary for the day was snorkeling in some cool spots around the area, followed by dinner on Koh Rong Samloem, a visit to a local village, watching the sunset, and a quick trip to see fluorescent plankton on the way back to Koh Tuich Village.
Fluorescent plankton on Koh Rong?
You’re damn right! And if you’ve never seen fluorescent plankton and you’re going to Koh Rong, don’t miss this opportunity! It’s an amazing experience and it honestly makes you feel like magic is real.
And if you want to overcome your fear of darkness, you’ll get a chance to jump into the sea when it’s pitch black and the only light you see is the one given by the fluorescent plankton!
Sigi’s One Man Orchestra
What’s a better way to finish a day full of so many exciting events than to get some amazing food? Sigi’s Thai Kitchen is one of the coolest dining places (’cause you can’t really call it a restaurant, more like a one man’s show) on Koh Rong. We’d recommend a gorgeous Pad Thai or Pad See Ew there!
Sigi’s is our favorite place to eat on Koh Rong and Sigi, the owner, one of the biggest characters we’ve met during our six-month journey. But no more spoilers from us – just go and try it yourself! Talk to Sigi all evening long, but don’t confuse him too much, you don’t want him to burn your noodles!
There’s plenty other restaurants and pubs on the island, so make sure to try a different one every day!
Koh Rong is the ultimate island getaway!
Make the most of your time in this perfect island getaway of Cambodia.
It’s rare to find such a gem nowadays, so go and experience it before it gets spoiled by construction sites of big resorts. Enjoy the sun, the sea, chill in a hammock and read a book. Hike through the jungle to one of Survivor’s finest beaches and sip a fresh coconut sat on the shore admiring the views of nearby islands. This is Cambodia’s ultimate paradise.
Let me know what is your favorite beach in the comments!
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