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Close to Sihanoukville are two tropical, best islands of Cambodia – wild Koh Rong and the pristine Koh Rong Samloem. Here’s how to get there and how to enjoy them.
With over a dozen Cambodia Islands providing coastline havens to the bustling mainland, Koh Rong Samloem Island might well be the most beautiful getaway of all. You wouldn’t think such a place exists just less than an hour away from the raucous and ruined Sihanoukville and only four kilometres south of the much-loved and hippy-vibed Koh Rong Island.
In the Gulf of Thailand, southwest of mainland Cambodia, the 9 km long, 4 km wide and relatively untouched Koh Rong Samloem is the country’s most pristine inlet. It’s a tropical paradise of bleached white sand beaches, piercing turquoise waters, endless jungle backed scenery and uninhabited sandy coves found via hinterland trails.
- How to Get to Koh Rong Samloem Via Sihanoukville
- How Do You Get From Koh Rong to Koh Rong Samloem (And Vice Versa)?
- Day Trips to Koh Rong Samloem and Koh Rong Islands
- What is Koh Rong Samloem Island Like? Paradise Found
- Don’t Pass Up a Visit to Koh Rong
- Which Island is Better – Koh Rong or Koh Rong Samloem?
- More on Cambodia Travel
How to Get to Koh Rong Samloem Via Sihanoukville
Love it or hate it, Sihanoukville is the gateway to Koh Rong Samloem (and Koh Rong) island, and for that reason alone, so you are going to pass through here regardless. There’s only one way to get here – cruising those crystal clear waters by ferry or via a fun all-day boat trip.
Sihanoukville to Koh Rong Samloem by ferry takes just 45 minutes. Boats leave from Serendipity Beach Pier (Ochheutea Pier) and arrive at Saracen Bay on Koh Rong Samloem.
Tickets prices are around $20 – $25 return depending on which of the ferry companies you use (some are faster than others) and what time of the day you travel (some have departures up to four times a day).
- GTVC Speedboat
- Speed Ferry Cambodia
- Island Speed Ferry
- Buva Sea Cambodia
Book directly at Sihanoukville Port, although you should book in advance to secure a space, which you can also do on the established transport portal 12Go Asia. Tickets to Koh Rong from Sihanoukville are the same price and timings, leaving Serendipity Beach Pier (Ochheutea Pier) and arriving at Koh Touch Pier on Koh Rong.
You can also compare and book prices on Camboticket too.
Staying in Sihanoukville?
While I’m not a fan of Sihanoukville, staying there for a night or two days on-route to the islands might be inevitable. I did have a great few days there with fellow backpackers I had met. By day, you can find pockets of calm in what used to be a sleepy Cambodian town over a decade ago. However, by night it is mostly sleazy and debauched, bar workers walk around town like zombies on a bad come down, and there are far too many stories of ladyboys robbing male westerners. Much of the bad atmosphere also comes from the ruin by hedonistic travellers with no thought for culture or custom.
Note that Serendipity Beach is the main beach that attracts the loud and full of drunk, ill-behaving tourists and is by default a significant target area for things to happen, and where things regularly do and have happened. Having your wits about you and being on your guard, like anywhere in the world, is the best way to stay safe. Otres Beach and other surrounding beaches are quieter and not lined with bars, so there are plenty of areas to escape to and enjoy the landscape and the local life.
How Do You Get From Koh Rong to Koh Rong Samloem (And Vice Versa)?
Koh Rong Islands Transfer Ferry
It’s fair to say you want to visit both islands, especially considering they are sister islands and not far apart from one another. To get from Koh Rong to Koh Rong Samloem (or vice versa), you can purchase a transfer ticket with your main ferry ticket either at Serendipity Beach Pier or when you are on either of the Koh Rong islands for more flexibility.
The Koh Rong transfer ticket is an extra cost of around $5 one way via the pick-up and landing points at Saracen Bay (Koh Rong Samloem) and Koh Touch (Koh Rong).
Long-Tail Boat Hire
If you want to travel slowly and in local style, hire a private longtail boat. This traditional wooden Khmer fishing boat is a great way to support the locals, although it is only cost-effective at around $20+ if you are in a group.
Day Trips to Koh Rong Samloem and Koh Rong Islands
The first time I visited the islands, I joined an all-day return boat trip from Sihanoukville to get a first taste of the Koh Rong craze I kept hearing. Since I didn’t want to join a booze cruise, the more tame Party Boat was the next best option. It’s not as thumping as the name suggests, but it’s more upbeat than your average boat ride with a sunbathing deck, funky music and a relaxing atmosphere.
- The Party Boat leaves from the Serendipity Beach Pier daily and costs $20 for the full day including lunch and a token for one free drink. Tickets can be booked via bars and tour operators in the Serendipity beach area and at the Pier.
- The Daily Tour Boat also offers a similar service.
The first stop was to a secluded rocky shoreline of Koh Rong Island where we had half an hour to snorkel, dive and swim in the warm waters before heading to Koh Rong Samloem. This kind of day trip doesn’t give you much time on the long stretch of Koh Rong coastline, where you may wish to spend more time later.
What is Koh Rong Samloem Island Like? Paradise Found
Landing at Saracen Bay, I’ve never seen a beach so breathtakingly beautiful in neon strokes of blue. The clear waters swirled across the white sands in a snaking pattern that formed tiny circular sandy islands and warm water pools. The sea glowed under the glorious warmth of the sun, and the entire coastline was quiet, except for the soft lapping of the waves onshore and the light winds passing through the jungle wall hugging the shoreline.
It was pure perfection, a haven of relaxation. Wandering down the beach from Saracen Bay, there was nothing but one bungalow overshadowed by a curve of palm trees. I had the sands to myself as leisurely soaked up the tranquil atmosphere, watching tiny crabs scurry into their holes as I tiptoed over the untouched sands.
At another end of the bay were two bars and a small handful of accommodation options (private bungalows and dorms) yet, in being spread out, the island can retain its tranquil atmosphere. While there are several resorts in Saracen Bay, any form of nightlife is non-existent in keeping with the character of the island.
For those looking for even more seclusion, head to the western side of the island where you will find Lazy Beach – named one of the world’s best beaches by National Geographic. It’s one of the many parts of Koh Rong Samloem that remains a semi-untouched paradise island with just one rustic resort and is reachable on a short boat journey or a 45-minute trekking trail from Saracen Bay. The fishing village of M’Pai Bay is also a chance to escape the main beaches and find a part of the island where Khmer culture thrives.
Outside of those scattered resort hubs, Koh Rong Samloem island remains mostly uninhabited, and there is also a marine conservation programme to continue its natural preservation as the island grows in popularity for diving.
My only hope is that the serene beauty of this destination does not get ruined and overrun. That it isn’t affected by the rumble of multiple boats turning up each day to ferry across dozens of passengers and that it doesn’t succumb to the ugly of waste and other eyesores as a result of booming tourism.
Koh Rong Samloem Accommodation
Budget: The Mad Monkey Hostel brand is a well-known name in Cambodia and it’s no wonder they made their way to the island, offering what they call a premier backpacker private beach resort. A little north of Saracan Bay, Mad Monkey Koh Rong Samloem offers private wooden beachfront bungalows and dorm rooms from $12 upwards all with a balcony and sea view. The terrace pier bar and lounge area, garden and hammocks having over the sea complete the ultimate relaxation offering.
Mid-Range: The Sara Resort sits in the middle of Saracan Bay, in the heart of the island action minutes from the pier and with easy access to Lazy Beach and Sunset Beach. Rooms are standalone minimalist white and blue units that line up into the jungle for quiet away from the coastline. The beautiful restaurant, bar, lounge and garden spaces sit right on the beach.
Hidden Away: Lost and Found in the northern set M’Pai Bay is a bed and breakfast is a quiet, more luxurious offering just minutes from Clear Water Beach where you can easily catch boats to other parts of the island.
Don’t Pass Up a Visit to Koh Rong
Even though I had fallen in love with Koh Rong Samloem, Koh Rong’s proximity and more accessible transportation options to and from the Sihanoukville coast at the time was also more convenient.
Koh Rong is also considered one of the most beautiful places to visit in Cambodia and shouldn’t be dismissed entirely in the shadow of its perfect, polished haven sister island.
Although not as stunning and peaceful as Samloem, Koh Rong and its main area of Koh Tough (Koh Toch) is indeed beautiful, a little rough around the edges in the rugged sense and not too crowded. It appears Silhanoukville still a firm grip on caging the more crazy partygoers – the Cambodia Koh Rong islands attract the more curious.
Koh Rong teams with local life, making the island feel very exclusive and not overly westernised. It soon becomes homely, cosy, and you become a part of the small community.
Getting around the island is still via local shuttle boats, which can take you from southern Koh Touch to nearby Sok San Beach and Coconut Beach from $5 one way. Longtail boats whisk people around to the other side of the island to the northern Long Beach and Palm Beach for approximately $50 return.
The quieter beaches on the other side of the island, are where the sun sets and a prime spot for watching another day draw to a close.
Koh Rong Accommodation
There’s a host of options on where to stay in Koh Rong, all across the island. Unfortunately, Koh Touch beach is not entirely secluded as nearly the entire shoreline is filled-in with accommodation. In essence, you can choose to reside in a budget beachfront hut where you can spend between $5-$30 per night and be right in the action. Opt for a more secluded hillside bungalow right at the very end of the beach, or a resort based accommodation on quieter parts of Koh Rong, and you will be looking to pay around $60-$80 per night.
While I always arrived at islands, asked around and hoped for the best, the continuing attraction of Koh Rong means it’s wise to secure a room before you arrive.
Budget: The Coconutbeach Bungalows are located on the quieter southeastern tip of Koh Rong in Derm Tkov Village in the Coconut beach area. The offering is basic facilities for a budget price, on a private beach area, from $5 forest tents to a double room with shared bathroom and sea view for $15.
Mid-Range: The Tree House Bungalows offers private bungalows, Khmer style houses and tree-houses from $12-$35. Set on a private beach next to Koh Touch, being close to the centre also gives easy access to High Point Rope Park, the Koh Rong Dive Centre and the pier to catch a boat to other parts of the island.
Resort: On the quiet western bay, the Sok San Beach Resort offers luxury, private wooden bungalows right on the pristine white-sandy beaches, complete with a seafront open-air lounge, restaurant and bar. A boat transfer service can be arranged upon booking in order to get here.
Which Island is Better – Koh Rong or Koh Rong Samloem?
If you have time, travel and stay on both islands. I also wouldn’t rule out a full day trip to Koh Rong, even if just to escape the trodden tourist path of Sihanoukville. It’s a gorgeous little island yet on the cusp of becoming too touristy. If you overnight here, you have to pay extra for the serenity that is tucked away in the jungle fringes.
In Koh Rong Samloem, that stillness is in its prime and its natural wonder found in pockets of wilderness that still exist, which is why I would choose to stay there before the phenomenon of its isolation is lost forever. This island is a part of Cambodia that overthrows the general picture painted of the country as a whole.
More on Cambodia Travel
For more Cambodia travel inspiration, you can view my full list of articles from the time I lived in and travelled around the country.
If you are looking to travel in Cambodia with others in a small group check out the G Adventures Ultimate Cambodian Adventure trip that does a loop of main city highlights and smaller towns from Phnom Penh. It even includes time in Sihanoukville, with a transfer to your own private beach on Koh Rong island, where you stay for two nights.
As a G Adventures Wanderer and ambassador for the brand, I can vouch for their service having taken many tours myself. The fact that you will travel with a local Khmer guide is also invaluable for knowledge and guidance when travelling.