Koh Rong Samloem, a beautiful tropical island located in the South West of Cambodia, is a place to escape the crowds on the mainland. It is mainly unspoiled and often described as Thailand 15 years ago, before mass tourism. It is possible to have some of the beaches completely to yourself. The only worry you have is to wonder if it is spelled Koh Rong Samloem or Koh Rong Sanloem, and both seem to be fine. There are no cars and no motorbikes. The only way to get around is on foot or by boat. So if you are looking for tranquillity, you can’t go wrong with Koh Rong Samloem.
We visited Koh Rong Samloem after the first week of May, together with sister island Koh Rong. We had made our way south from the scorching heat in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and were totally ready for experiencing the island life. It was time to spread our towel on the beach and plunge in the ocean! In this blog, we will tell you all you need to know about the small island: Koh Rong Samloem.
needed to see it all
Things to Know
You can easily apply for a visa upon arrival at the airport of Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. Costs for a 30-day tourist visa are $35 USD and you need to bring 2 passport photos. Applying goes really quick, there are many people working and it’s done within 10 minutes. You can also apply online via the official government website.
Being close to the equator means that the temperature is often the same, around 30˚C during the day and at night it can cool down to 22˚C. There are two seasons: wet and dry season. The dry season is from December to March, and the wet season from June to September. In April and May the wet season builds up and the humidity grows. During October and November, the wet season is tailing off.
Best time to visit
Best time to visit is from December to March. This is the high season but the weather is usually fine from the middle of November till the beginning of May.
The official currency in Cambodia is the Riel, but prices are usually indicated in US Dollars, and that’s the most common currency used. You can get US Dollars and Cambodian Riel from the ATM’s BUT there are no ATM’S on the island so make sure you bring enough cash. The ATM’s usually charge a $4 – $6 fee. At the time of writing (June 2019) $1 USD is approximately 4000 Riel.
The island can be a bit more expensive than the mainland. Accommodation starts from $20 per night for a budget room, but a hotel room with aircon and private bathroom starts from $40 per night. For a not too fancy dinner for 2 people, you’ll spend about $20 USD.
The official language of Cambodia is Khmer. Most people in tourist areas speak basic English as well.
Most accommodation options offer wifi when the power is on. Power is made by generators, most hotels run them 24 hours per day. You also have phone coverage on large parts of the island.
The major religion in Cambodia is Buddhism. The people are friendly and very helpful. On Koh Rong Samloem you can enjoy the laidback island vibes.
To get to Koh Rong Samloem you will need to take a ferry from Sihanoukville. You can take a (mini)bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville which takes about 6 hours and costs $10 per person. Book at least 1 night before to make sure to have a seat. We would recommend Bayon VIP.
From Sihanoukville, you can get a ferry to Koh Rong Samloem. There are many boat options and best is to check if the boat company stops in the bay where you are staying. You can find the time schedule here. It depends on the Ferry company, but they stop in two bays: M’Pai Bay, which is popular among backpackers and Saracen Bay, the main bay of the island. If your hotel is in one of the other bays, like Sandy Beach, the hotel usually offers a (free) transfer. Costs are $20 for return or $12 for a single way. You can also use your return from Koh Rong. We would not recommend staying in Sihanoukville longer than necessary, it is the most disgusting city we ever visited.
The only way to get around Koh Rong Samloem is by foot or by boat. Saracen Bay is the main area of the island. It is located on the east side and from here you can walk to two beaches on the west side: Lazy Beach and Sunset Beach. The path to Lazy Beach is quite good, and the first half to Sunset beach as well. The second half is a bit more adventurous. You literally walk in the middle of the jungle. The rest of the island is only reachable by boat.
Koh Rong Samloem is a beautiful small island, and one of the main attraction are the beaches. You can find 6 beaches spread out over the island. The main beach in Saracen bay isn’t very beautiful and the water is often smelly. Lazy Beach and Sunset beach on the west side are a great visit. The ocean is quite rough on this side of the island. East of Saracen Bay is the most beautiful beach of the island: Sandy Beach. The beach is quiet because you can only reach it by boat and is mainly used by the few hotel guests staying on this side of the island. In the Northern part you can find two more beaches: M’pai Bay and Clearwater Bay.
If you want to see a nice view over the island a trip to the lighthouse is worth it. On the east side of Saracen bay is a jungle trek that goes south to the lighthouse. It is a 4 km one-way walk on an uneven path. The walk itself ain’t spectacular but if you go up in the lighthouse the views are the best of the island. Going up will cost $1.
Swim with Bioluminescent Plankton
At night there is something really special to see. A certain point in the ocean is filled with bioluminescent plankton. You won’t really see it from the surface but when you jump into the water you will be surrounded by thousands of minuscule lights and it looks like you are swimming through a starry sky. We can recommend Karmakazi as a tour operator, they pick you up at the hotel and the tour costs $12 USD.
Go Kayaking or Paddle Boarding
If you need a bit more action than just chilling on the beach you can hire a kayak or a paddle board to conquer the blue ocean. You can hire a kayak or paddleboard at several hotels. Some hotels offer this for free when you stay there.
Enjoy the sunset at Sunset or Lazy Beach
One of the things we love about small islands is that it is never far to the west side to watch the sun go down. The two western beaches Sunset Beach and Lazy beach are a 30-minute stroll away via a jungle trek from Saracen Bay. The last part of the track to Sunset Beach is a bit tricky, so bring a torch if you have to go back in the dark.
Go snorkeling or diving
Koh Rong is beautiful to go snorkeling or diving. There are many places where you can snorkel, best is to ask your resort where the best place is or take a snorkeling tour which takes you to the best spots. There are 3 dive shops, 1 in Saracen Bay and 2 in M’pai Bay.
Just do nothing!
A must do activity at Koh Rong Samloem is to do nothing at all! You are on a small island in paradise, what’s better than taking some time to relax at the beach and/or pool and take that well-deserved rest! If you are here to rest we would advise to look for a resort in one of the more quiet bays like Sandy Bay.
Where to Stay
As we told above, Koh Rong Samloem has several bays where you can stay. If you want to be in the center of the islands with the most life around you then Saracen Bay is the place to be. If you are after some relax time we would advise going to a more quite bay like Sandy Beach. You can only reach it by boat and that’s why there are only people at the beach that stay there, and there are not many resorts so it is very peaceful. When you have a tight budget then M’pai Bay is a good fit for you. This part of the island offers budget accommodations and is therefore popular among backpackers. One side note: The prices for accommodation can increase rapidly during high season and public holidays.
Budget Accommodation in M’pai Bay:
Hotels in Saracen Bay:
Resorts at Sandy Beach:
This is the resort where we stayed, on a beautiful peaceful beach. These new bungalows are in the form of a tube and are really cozy inside. The wifi was the best we had in the whole of Cambodia and the employees are very helpful. Another awesome thing: they have a pool!
From USD 60 per night
These bamboo, fan-cooled bungalows are in a great location. You’ll sleep underneath a mosquito net because the bungalows have some small openings that allow bugs to get inside.
From USD 55 per night
The options for food are a bit limited, but that doesn’t mean that the food isn’t good! Here are some restaurants we can recommend:
It is a tropical island, so you don’t need to bring much. We advise the following:
- Sunscreen and after sun cream
- Mosquito spray
- Enough money because there is no ATM on the island
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