When Adam and I made our way to Cambodia we knew we wanted to make it to some of the chilled out beaches.
We arrived in Phnom Penh and got straight to visiting the Killing Fields and S21 museum. (Both are must dos and as you would imagine, make for an emotional and eye opening experience). There wasn’t a lot else going on for us in the city of Phnom Penh itself so we were looking forward to heading down to the beaches around Sihanoukville, mainly Otres beach, which I’d heard and read so much about.
Our friend, Karolina, was down there and warned us that it was extremely quiet. As a very out going solo traveller I thought maybe she might have a different perspective compared to Adam and I! We don’t mind a bit of chill every now and then but as soon as we arrived in Otres I realised that when she said quiet, she really meant quiet!
~ Otres 1 beach (there is also an Otres 2, which is even more chilled out)
Aside from the uninspiring, July (aka rainy and low season) weather, most of the restaurants and bars were empty and those that were a bit more atmospheric had tarp up sheltering them from the rain and wind. Not exactly the perfect beach setting we’d imagined!
To Koh Rong or not to Koh Rong?
Karolina was desperate to move on and check out Koh Rong, an island about 25km south. We’d liked the sound of it but were debating whether it was worth the time and money if the weather was going to be just as bad and the atmosphere as dead.
It didn’t take long to persuade us as we actually had a couple of days to spare, plus it was nice to have some more time with Karolina. We bought a ticket from one of the agents in Otres costing $18 including bus pick up and boat.
~ Our accommodation at Otres Beach – Wish You Were Here
Boarding the speed boat
After getting picked up from Otres beach, we were dropped off at the pier in Sihanoukville. We made our way to the end where a small speed boat was waiting for us.
As we got closer, we could see a slight problem. The pier was about a meter higher than the entrance to the boat and there was no ladder. How were we supposed to get on? Ohh you mean sliding down that long, very thin and extremely steep piece of wood resting precariously between the two? Ok yeah no I’m definitely going to be falling into the sea and with backpack on, dragged under the boat.
We all got to watch in anticipation as the other passengers attempted the plank. So far so good but I noticed everyone else had much smaller bags and I honestly didn’t think I could do it with mine. Luckily, the guys working the boat told us to take ours off so we could make our way nervously down the plank.
Getting there (in rough seas)
As for the journey, I don’t think I’ve ever been so sure we were all about to be thrown overboard and left to struggle to swim to the nearest shore.
The weather had been quite rough so the waves were huge. Combine that with a little old speed boat and you have a recipe for water flooding everywhere, being smacked down every 5 seconds as you hit the water after every wave and feeling like you’re about to capsize. It was a troublesome time for those suffering with sea sickness!
Alas, after 4 hours (supposed to be 2) we made it to Koh Rong and the pier at the other side had steps to help us off the boat.
I forgot to get any pictures of the boat amidst the kerfuffle but here are some of our first impressions of Koh Rong, not bad!
~ Arriving on Koh Rong
Koh Rong accommodation
The main ‘strip’ is in the village right where the boat docks so you don’t have to trek very far. Although I hear they have plans for more development, there are currently no roads so this is where most of the accommodation, bars and restaurants are.
We’d met a nice Dutch guy on the boat who was raving about $3 dollar beds at Green Ocean and right on the beach. Sounded good to us. Karolina and I checked around first to be sure we weren’t missing out on any better deals!
~ Koh Rong beach huts
You can get some lovely bungalows further up the quieter end of the beach, such as Monkey Island, but they were going for $20. Green Ocean did it for us in the end; Adam and I managed to get a double room for $4 each.
~ The view from our guesthouse, Green Ocean
What to do?
Hike to Long Beach or just hit 4K beach like we did!
Obviously, if you haven’t already guessed from the feature image, it’s an island with beaches so you can just kick back and relax during the day.
~ The main beach on Koh Rong
The one near all the action has sadly suffered some neglect and there’s a lot of rubbish. You can find some nice parts of the sea here for a swim but it’s well worth venturing a little further for more crystal blue waters and perfect powdery-white sand.
There’s a well known 45 minute hike across the island through jungle to Long Beach that you can do. Boats won’t take you in low season due to the rough sea. Just as we were considering doing the hike, a few people told us the beach really isn’t up to much during rainy season and you can’t swim due to the wind and waves. We got recommended 4K beach, a fifteen minute walk past the main beach instead.
~ Leaving the main beach and discovering 4K beach
When we first arrived on the island the weather still wasn’t great, but we got so lucky with the weather for the rest of the time. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we emerged onto to 4K beach! We’d found paradise! I couldn’t help but wonder why hardly any one else was there. Perhaps because they hadn’t heard about this paradise 15 minutes around the coast or because it was low season. Anyway, we got to enjoy a lot of it to ourselves!
~ Jumping for joy having found paradise at 4K beach on Koh Rong!
Snorkel trips and phosphorescent plankton
There are a few boat trips on offer to nearby Koh Rong Samloem or other beaches for snorkelling and bbqs. We went for a night time plankton swimming one. About 20 of us were taken out to jump off the boat and splash around making the plankton glow. Pretty magical!
There are some organised parties on every now and then, sadly we’d just missed the one the night before we arrived. Aside from that there are bars that were still going in low season. Bunna’s Place is a pretty well known establishment for late night partying and sugary cocktail happy hours. Note if you stay here or at any of the neighbouring hostels you will get no sleep!
~ Bunna’s Place
What’s great is although this is Cambodia’s answer to a paradise island, the budget prices are still there. Most of the food on Koh Rong is pretty standard, you can get your usual Khmer dishes and plenty of Western options. One of the best meals we had was actually a pop up Thai kitchen down the alley leading towards the Long Beach hike.
It’s run solely by one guy and is ridiculously popular night after night. I don’t know how he copes in high season but must be doing ok for himself! There were rumours that he’s packing up shop soon to move on.
~ 4K beach, Koh Rong
There’s no ATM on the island so our stay was cut short at 2 nights / 3 days. We were kicking ourselves for not coming prepared with enough cash as we could have easily stayed longer.
For us, Koh Rong in low season was the perfect mix of chilling on the beach, exploring and nightlife. I can imagine in high season the pace picks up a bit and it becomes a real party island! (Still with plenty of laid back options)
~ Koh Rong, Cambodia
The journey back to the Sihanoukville was 100% better as the driver decided to take it easy this time. Funnily the weather turned bad again just as we hit the mainland!