Saracen Bay in Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia
Travel, Travel Stories

Koh Rong Samloem – A Hidden Cambodian Gem

One of Cambodia’s hidden gems is Koh Rong Samloem island. It’s a place where one could easily spend a week engaging in adventurous tours or simply relaxing, enjoying the quiet waters and delicious food. I spent a few days here recently and here is this Midlife Adventurer’s trip report from Koh Rong Samloem.

Background to the Trip to Koh Rong Samloem (KRS)

As I mentioned in my previous posts, I was on a four nation, three-week long tour that took me to New York, Singapore, Cambodia and Malaysia. Cambodia was the crux of the tour as I was to spend most of the time there.

In Cambodia itself, I spent time in Siem Reap before heading to Koh Rong Samloem and then finally to the capital, Phnom Penh.

In KRS, I was to spend three nights at the Sara Resort.

Why Koh Rong Samloem

I was to spend ten nights in Cambodia and I knew I was going to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh so I wanted to spend a few days by the beach.

And for that, there are a few options in Cambodia – there was Sihanoukville, and the two islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. There were also other places, such as Koh Kong, Kep and Kampot though they are not necessarily known as beach spots.

The Main Touristic Islands of Cambodia - Koh Rong & Koh Rong Samloem
The Main Touristic Islands of Cambodia

I was keen on either Koh Rong or the smaller island of Koh Rong Samloem, both of which have a number of beaches.

But I had a tough time deciding where to go.

My preference was a lively beach (read: I am not against crowds) with many options for eating out. Though there were references to the many beaches, there wasn’t much concrete information on them. Some sounded very secluded resorts, so I disregarded them. Some of the beaches sounded as if they were backpacker places hostels or accommodation without a/c. I didn’t want luxury but comfort. I also wasn’t sure what facilities in terms of restaurants were available in some of the beaches.

One of the challenges was that a good number of videos and blog posts were done either before Covid or in 2022 or early last year and I assumed a lot has changed since then.

Having become confused with Koh Rong, I shifted my attention to KRS. There was even less information about KRS but I found M’pai Bay and found it alluring because this was an area where the tourists could intermingle with locals. Another area I found interesting was the Saracen Bay.

And finally I zeroed in on Sara Resort in KRS.

Getting to Koh Ron Samloem

From Siem Reap there were three options to get to the island.

  • By bus to Sihanoukville and then the ferry
  • Rent a car to Sihanoukville and then the ferry
  • Fly to Sihanoukville and then the ferry.

I opted for the third option. It was slightly more expensive than the first two options and I did seriously consider renting a car so that I could see the countryside.

However, I didn’t have that many days in the country so the decision was made to use the time efficiently. I had seen what I wanted to see in Siem Reap and now I wanted to reach a beach as soon as possible.

The Ferry Ride to Koh Rong Samloem

From Sihanoukville airport, I took a taxi to the ferry terminal.

Sihanoukville Ferry Terminal in Cambodia
Sihanoukville Ferry Terminal in Cambodia

The Sara Resort had advised taking a particular ferry that anchors off at a pier close to the resort. But I got confused at the terminal in Sihanoukville and bought the two-way ticket only to find out that it goes to a different pier on the island.

However, the resort staff were cool with the change of plan and said they will pick me up anyway from the terminal where the ferry will stop.

The boat passed through mostly quiet waters and the landscape on either side was pretty – an islet here and there, some hills with lush greenery and then open waters.

An Island and a Temple in Cambodia
An Island and a Temple in Cambodia

I had assumed the ferry would first go to Koh Rong and then reach KRS, but we were the first stop, after about twenty minutes.

Shortly after disembarking, the resort’s boat came. It was another five-minute ride in the small boat.

Waiting for Hotel Boat at Soon Noeng Pier in Koh Rong Samloem
Waiting for Hotel Boat at Soon Noeng Pier in Koh Rong Samloem

The Sara Resort first offers a cool drink for the guest and then the check-in formalities.

And soon, we were taken to our room.

After a short break in the room, it was time to engage in what brought me here – enjoy the beach.

The Low Tide Beach Outside Sara Resort in Koh Rong Samloem in Cambodia
The Low Tide Beach Outside Sara Resort in Koh Rong Samloem in Cambodia

It was a very clean beach. There was no garbage or any other unwanted material. The beach, though, is shallow. One will have to walk a few dozen meters to get to deeper waters but I stayed closer to the beach. And it was a calm beach with a few boats in the distance.

Dinner

I wasn’t keen on exploring the area and the hotel’s dinner special for that day – barbequed shrimps – was very enticing. After all,  a second reason I came to this island was to enjoy seafood. Besides, they had lit up their beach with tiki torches and that was a place to have a quiet dinner. The dinner, washed down by beer, was delicious.

Day 2

Saracen Bay in Koh Rong Samloem at High Tide
Saracen Bay in Koh Rong Samloem at High Tide

My cabin was a little away from the beach but I could still feel the breeze as I came out of the room for a morning walk. And then it was time to enjoy a breakfast. My booking at Sara Resort came with free breakfast and I had a local noodle soup. Of course, I asked for diced hot chillies. The breakfasts in Cambodia almost always come with a fruit platter.

And then it was time to hit the beach. The beach was much different from what I had seen the previous evening. Now, in the morning, the water level had risen with the high tide but I could still walk for a few dozen meters with my feet touching the sea floor. Except for a few ripples, it was a quite sea.

But it didn’t mean it was all in all a quiet place. There were many boats in the sea and near the shore, men were draining the waters off their boats.

I took a long walk along the bay.

And I saw the effects of Covid-lockdowns. Along the way, I saw many shuttered resorts.

An Abandoned Hotel in Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia.
An Abandoned Hotel in Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia.

This one must have been a fancy one, with solo cabins but there is nothing there. I saw another hotel with most of the furniture still intact.

I walked back and after a dip in the sea moved to the pool.

The pool is fairly big and the pool chairs were almost all taken. It was getting hot but I managed to find a spot under some trees to have a rest from doing nothing while enjoying a beer.

Lunch

I wanted to try something new so walked to my left and found the Eden Resort.

Morning Glory & Seafood Lunch at Eden Resort, Koh Rong Samloem
Morning Glory & Seafood Lunch at Eden Resort, Koh Rong Samloem

It was also a hotel with a restaurant and looked pretty quiet.

I ordered Morning Glory stir fry with garlic and squid with Kompot peppercorns. It was another delicious meal and after taking a mini walk, it was time to get back to my room for a siesta.

Dinner

As the sun set on the other side of the island, the tiki torches were back and the hotel had grilled red snapper. The meal always comes with corn.

And then it started raining. By now I had got used to Cambodian downpours. They really are downpours. The torches were out but I was having dinner in the main restaurant with a roof (though the sides were open) so I felt the ambience was enhanced by the heavy downpour.

The rain ceased eventually, and I noticed one of the nearby hostels had a fire dance event. I also noticed that the sky was quite clear with the stars shining. I brought out my tripod, camera and the wide-angle lens for some astrophotography.

No Luck with Astrophotography
No Luck with Astrophotography

Astrophotography is a new passion of mine though my previous attempts, including one in a desert camp in Oman, had been mostly unsuccessful or unsatisfactory.

But I had a tough time getting good photos. However much I tried, I saw the photos were blurry. And then I realized the issue: the humidity had caused fog to build up in the lens. I cleaned and started taking more photos.

I was still working on getting the perfect settings when I faced a new problem: mosquitos. Somehow, these tiny creatures have a love for my blood and it was getting worse so I had to give up and return to the room.

Day 3

Day 3 began, as always, with a clear and warm sky. After enjoying the sunrise, it was time for breakfast. I went for a western breakfast with toast, bacon and eggs. The beach was somewhat busy: Here and there I saw a jogger and out in the sea, there were boats plying. I wasn’t sure whether some of them were fishing boats.

And then after a brief dip in the sea, it was time to get rid of the laziness and exert myself. And the best way was to walk to Lazy Beach.

The Lazy Beach is on the other side, on the west side, of the island and it is about 1.5km across the island by foot.

I started off around 9 am and it was already turning out to be a hot day though there is enough greenery to provide cover should one need one.

The path leads to two beaches – the Lazy Beach and the Sunset Beach. It appeared the route to the latter was somewhat more strenuous than the one to the former. I had already seen videos of people walking-hiking to the Sunset Beach.

There are clear signs showing the path to both beaches but still I got lost sometimes. I blamed it on some signs missing at the important forks.

I had my data package but it wasn’t working at all places. Besides, I was also mindful of not using it up.

The Lazy Beach in Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia
The Lazy Beach in Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia

And then there it was. It was a very quiet place when I arrived there with just a handful of people resting on the beach or in the water. Just like in Saracen Bay, here too the water was getting warmer.

I walked to the Lazy beach restaurant to get a green coconut. I liked that they gave me metal straw which I had to return.

The Lazy Beach resort has a quiet vibe to it with wooden bungalows all over.

Rustic Charm of Lazy Beach Resort in Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia
Rustic Charm of Lazy Beach Resort in Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia

After a few dips and resting, I saw the dark clouds gathering in the distant and assumed there will be another thunderstorm. This made me to ditch my initial plan of having lunch there and return to Saracen Bay.

On the way back, I saw more people walking towards the Lazy Beach so obviously they were not worried about the gathering storm.

Lunch

I decided to have lunch at the Onederz hostel, close to Sara Resort. The hostel is a backpacker haven and was busy. I loved the advisories hanging at various places in the restaurant. While they are funny, it is also a sign of the challenges the staff face.

Funny Memes at Onederz Hostel in Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia
Funny Memes at Onederz Hostel in Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia

I ordered a rice dish with fried egg and stir-fried seafood. Of course, I got my extra chillies. It was a simple yet great lunch.

Simple Lunch at Onederz Hostel in Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia
Simple Lunch at Onederz Hostel in Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia

Later, I walked around and found this rather luxury resort, the La Passion and had a fabulous dessert with mangoes, glutinous rice and coconut.

Dessert at La Passion in Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia
Dessert at La Passion in Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia

Dinner

In the evening, it was dinner time at the hotel. And, of course, it rained heavily with lightening and thunder. Again, the tiki torches were put down and the BBQ moved to the main corridor. For the second time, I went for seafood dinner.

Later, when the rains ceased, I stepped out for a walk. One of the astonishing features is that one wouldn’t notice it had rained so heavily. The sand had obviously absorbed all the water. Here and there, restaurants were getting busy.

Day 4

Day of departure. After breakfast and a brief walk, I checked out. The small boat was ready for me to go to the ferry terminal. Again, we were initially told the ferry would take a circuitous route to Koh Rong before reaching Sihanoukville, but it just went straight to the city.

Back at Soon Neong Terminal to Return to Sihanoukville
Back at Soon Neong Terminal to Return to Sihanoukville

My next stop was the capital Phnom Penh and I had initially planned to rent a car but just for fun decided to travel by bus.

Some Information on Koh Rong Samloem

Access

There is no airport, so the sea provides the only access to the two islands. There are multiple ferries leaving from Sihanoukville terminal. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a common website detailing all the ferry timings. I wanted to take Buva Sea ferry but ended up taking another one. I just bought the ticket for the earliest ferry.

Internet

The hotel provides wifi network and I also had my own e-sim.

Even though there have been reports of bad data coverage, I didn’t find it that bad. Granted, I was mostly in the hotel or walking around close by (except for the walk to the Lazy Beach) and most of the time the connection worked.

Cash

There is still no ATM but most of the places accept credit cards. They also offer cash back services but check whether the establishment will charge the credit card commission to you. I used mostly cash.

What do Do in Koh Rong Samloem?

Koh Rong Samloem is a quiet place. From what I have read and felt, Saracen Bay is perhaps the most active of the few beaches there. Lazy Beach and the Sunset Beach are quieter and mostly meant for backpackers or for those who want to rough out without A/C. M’Pay Bay is mostly the same while Saracen Bay has a mixture of comfy hotels and hostel-like accommodations.

Koh Rong Samloem Map. Courtesy: Google Maps
Koh Rong Samloem Map. Courtesy: Google Maps

So, considering all these, here are some reasons why one could, should, go to Koh Rong Samloem.

  • Snorkeling
  • Kayaking
  • Glowing or bioluminescent plankton visit in the night.
  • An island-hopping tour.
  • Walk
  • Just chill out, enjoying the quietness and the beauty of the island

I was there for just three days and took it easy.

Changing Landscape of Koh Rong Samloem

There has been talk of Koh Rong Samloem losing “its innocence” with all new construction going on. I didn’t see a lot of construction work though it appears there will be some paved roads. But that is inevitable, that the tourism industry will look for new places to invest and attract business. If all things work out well, there also be more jobs for locals.

But I rarely interacted with any locals. It appears that the staff comes from outside. There are locals in the M’Pai Bay but I decided for Saracen Bay.

This is something I missed.

Conclusion of My Trip to Koh Rong Samloem

I would have preferred more eating out options but as I mentioned, KRS is just recovering from the long lockdowns. So, hopefully, things will improve over the next few years.

But this is a nice, beautiful place and I don’t regret going there. Had I had more days to spend, I would have gone on a trip to M’Pai Bay and perhaps an island hopping tour.

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