When thinking of Cambodia, most people know it first and foremost as the location of Angkor Wat, the majestic and sprawling temple complex. For budget travelers who have joined the legions of backpackers in Southeast Asia, Cambodia will conjure up memories of sightseeing in the chaotic cities in the sweltering heat by day, and vague recollections of loud music, inexpensive alcohol, and wild parties by night. There is no disputing that Angkor Wat is a majestic sight that is not to be missed, but the backpacker parties in the sightseeing hubs of Cambodia, like in other Southeast Asian destinations, may leave some travelers wanting a more relaxed, back-to-nature experience.
For the budget backpacker who has seen the temples and wants an escape from the overwhelming ‘party backpacker’ scene, and the sometimes maddening chaos of these cities, the beautiful island of Koh Rong is the perfect destination. If you want to see how travelers and locals can live in harmony and bare-minimum simplicity on a laid-back island of great beauty, Koh Rong is the best-kept secret in Southeast Asia.
The beautiful, largely undeveloped island of Koh Rong lies only 45 minutes from the mainland by boat
Backpackers can reach the small island by speed ferry (a much larger boat than those pictured above) from the Cambodian coastal town of Sihanoukville. The journey takes about 45 minutes by speed ferry, though cheaper slow boat tickets are available as well.
Speed ferry tickets can be purchased online, in some Sihanoukville hostels, or at any number of small domestic travel companies near the docks. In high season, one ticket to the island is 26 USD, or 21 USD in low season, though prices have been known to fluctuate.
No-frills accommodation in Koh Rong’s backpacker area allow for pure enjoyment of the stunning scenery without distractions
The ferries from Sihanoukville will drop backpackers off at the Koh Rong Village Pier, which is situated on a strip of beach that is effectively the ‘backpacker area’ of the island. The backpacker accommodations on this main stretch of beach are basic. Air conditioning is a luxury deemed unnecessary by Koh Rong inhabitants and travelers, so the hostels and guesthouses on the island are simple; small, wooden, open-air buildings with basic bunk beds and mosquito nets. Showers are to be kept under two minutes, and power is only available during certain hours of the day when generators are on. Koh Rong is not a destination for the high-maintenance traveler, but the backpacker who is happy living simply will not be displeased with the basic conditions.
Some of the hostels and guesthouses on the main backpacker’s beach can be booked online ahead of time. However, many backpackers make their choice of accommodation spontaneously, and choose a guesthouse upon arrival. In the peak of the high season, or for groups larger than two, advance booking is recommended. Otherwise, travelers can start their trip in the go-with-the-flow Koh Rong mindset, and choose a place to stay upon arrival from the string of guesthouses and hostels that line the main beach.
A boating day trip will treat backpackers to unique experiences and unbelievable views
Travelers to Koh Rong will appreciate the fact that it is a destination without checklists. Unlike Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, there is no list of places that must be seen and ‘checked off the list’ in Koh Rong. However, there is one activity that most visitors to the island take part in at some point in their journey: most of the hostels and guesthouses on the main strip of beach offer day trips around the island by boat.
The trips can vary somewhat by operator, but they all have the same basic activities in common: snorkeling with colorful fish in crystal-clear waters, fishing, a stunning sunset from a beach on the other side of the island, and the opportunity to witness glowing plankton in the water at night. Trips can cost as little as 10 USD for the day, which usually includes a small meal.
Pristine beaches and crystal-clear water: enjoy the original ‘no-filter’ destination
A trip to Koh Rong will show visitors the value and enjoyment of living simply. Aside from the boat trip, backpackers on Koh Rong never make any plans: there’s no need. Visitors occupy their days swimming in the sea that is as warm as a bath and as clear as bottled water, sunbathing, and watching stunning sunsets. Impromptu games of beach volleyball inevitably crop up. Reggae music plays in the background as palm trees sway, and inexpensive, home-cooked meals are consumed at picnic tables in the sand.
Photos of the island speak for themselves; Koh Rong is a place of unequivocal, unparalleled natural beauty. Luckily, the simple beauty of the island has been preserved, as developers wanting to build large hotels and resorts on the island have been turned away. For now, Koh Rong remains a pure and simple utopia. Backpackers looking for the crazy, technicolor parties that other parts of Southeast Asia have become known for in recent years will want to look elsewhere, because Koh Rong is nothing more than a relaxed, laid-back paradise for relaxed and laid-back travelers.
Tired of the Southeast Asia party backpacker scene? Get away from it all and unwind on Koh Rong
Are you a true budget backpacker who is happy in basic conditions? Do you shy away from party-centric backpacker events like the Full Moon Party and excessive drinking? Has ‘checklist’ sightseeing made you weary and in need of a relaxing escape from the city chaos? If you are the type of traveler who has answered ‘yes’ to these questions, you will find peace and happiness on Koh Rong. Join other laid-back, dreadlocked, reggae-loving backpackers on the island of Koh Rong to enjoy the beauty of nature at its purest and most pristine.
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.