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As the ferry drew us further and further from Sihanoukville, I found myself feeling lighter. The sun was shining, the water was as clear as glass, and a hump of land in the distance was slowly growing larger. We were approaching Koh Rong, the second largest island in Cambodia, which in size compares to Hong Kong, but in development compares to the fictional setting for the book The Beach.

Koh Rong, Cambodia

Previously, the most remote island I had visited was Perhentian Kecil, off the coast of Malaysia. Koh Rong would blow that right out of the water. The island has four small settlements, a handful of guesthouses, not a single internet connection, and electricity for only a few hours each night. The “tourism industry” consists of said guesthouses, a few freestanding restaurant shacks, and a lone poster for a guide willing to lead treks through the deep jungle of the island’s interior.

Koh Rong, CambodiaThe Pier

Koh Rong, CambodiaThe Village

I had been to one of Cambodia’s islands before- Koh Tonsay– and the beach wasn’t very impressive. So I was totally unprepared for this:

Koh Rong, Cambodia

Can you believe that this is Cambodia?

Koh Rong, Cambodia

Sidenote: Don’t let that tiny backpack deceive you. I should have my passport revoked for how bad of a packer I am. Mark was carrying the big bag… the green one is for camera gear and books!

Koh Rong, Cambodia

We had prebooked our accommodation on the mainland, not knowing we had any other options. We paid $15 per night (which is overpriced for what you get) but then arrived and found $5 rooms on the pier. Lesson learned!

Koh Rong, Cambodia

The bungalows were extremely rustic and to my dismay did not have any sort of locking device on the doors. No worries, I’ll just hide my thousands of dollars worth of electronics in the cold water shower area!

Koh Rong, Cambodia

I’ve never done the whole “camping” thing, so this was kind of a big deal to this former city girl. I had a minor tantrum when I woke up in the morning and there was a spider in my hair, lizard poop on the toothpaste, and teeth marks all over my razor head, which caused Mark to label me as “such a girl.” Guilty as charged.

Koh Rong, Cambodia

The “resort” did have some treehouses, which looked fantastic. Unfortunately, we are still the kind of annoying travelers who scoff at paying $30 a night for a room. I’m sorry, but that’s like, 30 banana shakes around here.

Koh Rong, Cambodia

The beach we were settled on featured three guesthouses on the eastern stretch of sand and the village and the pier towards the west, and two shacks that serve food set up between. When the usual trappings of tourism are stripped away (activities, tours, attractions, etc.) and the creature comforts are absent (air conditioning, electricity, internet, hot water, pools, luxurious rooms) you slip quickly into Island Life.

Water Buffalo, Koh Rong, Cambodia

Island Life to me means taking things slowly, savoring the little moments, and doing a whole lot of nothing. I think I may have spent an hour observing these bathing water buffalos that became the subject for my Photo of the Week.

Water Buffalo, Koh Rong, Cambodia

Water Buffalo, Koh Rong, Cambodia

The children of Koh Rong live an idyllic life. They go to school in the extremely early mornings and then spend the day playing and taking English lessons from a teacher who works at the dive shop on the pier. (Diving operations are based out of Sihanoukville but the sites are around Koh Rong, hence the shop here).

Local Children, Koh Rong, Cambodia

As soon as they saw me walking around taking photos, these boys came over and practically tugged the camera out of my hand wanting to try it for themselves. They also wanted their pictures taken but would hardly stand still for a moment before grabbing the camera body back to see the image of themselves reflected on the screen.

Local Children, Koh Rong, Cambodia

Local Children, Koh Rong, Cambodia

The kids had some competition for Biggest Cutie on the Island award, though. The place was absolutely chock full of puppies running in every direction. I could hardly make it a few steps without being obligated to stop, squeal, and squeeze a tiny little munchkin puppy until I could actually feel its fleas starting to attack me. It brought up mixed emotions. As indulgent as it was to get to kiss a puppy every five seconds, I could see that the animal population is getting out of control here and will only get more dire. Once that happens it’s hard to reel things back in, as I found when working at an animal shelter in Thailand in 2009. But seriously…

Is this cutest thing you’ve ever seen?

Koh Rong, Cambodia

No? How about now?

Koh Rong, Cambodia
Soon it was nightfall, and it true island life fashion, I had let a day go by accomplishing nothing more than annoying my boyfriend by making out with dogs and letting toddlers steal my camera.

Koh Rong, Cambodia

Um… you didn’t think the puppy pictures were over, did you? Because as I was eating dinner with a table full of people that were focused with rapt attention on a gecko about to eat a moth, I felt a little something scurry over my feet.

UM.

Puppy, Koh Rong, Cambodia

Okay, you can stop wasting time over at Cute Roulette now, because you’ve seen the cutest thing that’s ever happened in the history of the universe. I think I just passed out.

Koh Rong, Cambodia

As you can see, I was kind of trying to smuggle that pup out of there, but unfortunately his owner was having none of it and even insisted on being in what will be the photo on my Christmas cards.

Koh Rong, Cambodia

Mark was similarly enamored.

On the moonlit walk back to our bungalow, we were greeted by some kids who quickly invented a super fun game called, Hit Mark’s Hand and Watch His Funny Face Reactions. Based on their reactions, this may have been the highlight of their year.

Koh Rong, Cambodia

And I don’t think they were alone in that.

Koh Rong, Cambodia

Have you ever been anywhere as remote as this? Was I a total sissy for crying over the toothpaste thing? And what exactly is people’s objection to tongue kissing dogs, anyway?

Stay tuned for our foray into the jungle and on to a beach that blew away any other I’d ever laid eyes on…

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44 Comments...
  • Peter cresswell
    December 8 2011

    Great story and even better photos! Currently sitting in Phuket Patong makes me yearn for this kind of seclusion. Seclusion is such a rare commodity these days. So refreshing to see it. Might just put this on the destination list.

    • Alex
      December 8 2011

      Peter, you should! And soon… you’ll see why in Part II of my Koh Rong post. But yes, if there is a place still this secluded in Thailand, I would love to know about it.

      • Rob
        September 24 2012

        There sure is… some of the most southern beaches on Koh Samet in Thailand are the sort where you will hardly see another person all day if you’re lucky. It’s not a big island but the layout means most people stick to the more known/accessible beaches in the northern half.

        • Alex
          September 24 2012

          I’ll have to check it out and do a comparison! Thanks for the tip… I love a good recommendation from a fellow traveler.

  • Dad
    December 8 2011

    The whole thing is too cute to be true

    • Alex
      December 8 2011

      Ha, I can just hear you saying that with your flat humor!

  • Amanda
    December 8 2011

    Hey Alex,
    Somehow came across your blog and I have loved reading it! I am backpacking through SE Asia for six months or so when I graduate from college in May and your posts are so helpful in planning my trip! Just wanted to say hi!
    -Amanda

    • Alex
      December 8 2011

      Hi Amanda!
      So nice to “meet” you. You are about to have the time of your life! If you want to keep up with the rest of my travels you can subscribe by putting your email in the sidebar and all my posts will be delivered to your inbox. There are many more to come! Best of luck with your planning and travels!

  • Kathryn
    December 8 2011

    OK, the most remote place I ever was…one of the thousands of islands in Indonesia…the name escapes me. I was helo’d into a remote medical site. The fog and rain were intense and I was hoping the helicopter had good navigational equipment. As the helo took off, I walked a half mile in the pouring rain to the clinic. It was incredibly freeing to walk in the downpour, with no protection except a large ziplock keeping my camera dry. The helo couldn’t return until the next day because of the fog, so I slept in a “tot,” (tent/cot) sans any bedding – basically an instrument of torture. Wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

    • Alex
      December 8 2011

      Wow! I don’t remember that story somehow! The bed doesn’t sound so nice though…. Now, not to one up you in the remoteness contest, but this place definitely didn’t even have a clinic 🙂

  • Audrey
    December 8 2011

    awwwww, those puppies!!! I take so many pictures of dogs on my travels, haha, even the big ones!

    And I’d LOVE to stay in that tree house! I bet it has killer views 😀

    • Alex
      December 8 2011

      I like big dogs too! I’m a big advocate of adopting adult dogs. However the ones on this island were pretty shy, so it was mostly pups willing to pose for photos 🙂

  • Fidel
    December 9 2011

    Well I see where I will be jetting off to when the ship pulls in to Snookyville. Great guide here! I kind of like the no-frills approach they have, although at $30 a night, I’d expect more than a few hours of electricity at least.
    Can you get the traditional Cambodian foods here like amok? I gotta have my amok!

    • Alex
      December 9 2011

      Well, like I said it’s possible to get $5 rooms on the pier. And frankly they looked exactly like what we were getting for $15 a night, plus they had a nice ocean breeze! And I’m pretty sure it’s $15 for a return boat ride. I hope you make it there!

      • Fidel
        December 9 2011

        I will definitely try and make it there. Glad I discovered your blog. I probably would not have known about it.

  • Mica
    December 9 2011

    Hi Alex!

    I’ve been stalking your site for a while and not sure if I’ve left a comment or not yet. I suck at remembering shit. Anyway, those puppy pics are awwweeecutes!
    I had a similar experience in Caye Caulker. I wanted to adopt 2 of them and my boyfriend threatened to leave me on the island. I heart puppies.

    • Alex
      December 9 2011

      Hi Mica! Glad you came out of lurk-dom to comment 🙂 I love Belize almost as much as I love puppies. What is with boyfriends and their overwhelming animal jealousy, anyway?

  • Olivia
    December 9 2011

    you were NOT a sissy about the toothpaste. Not even a little bit.

    • Alex
      December 9 2011

      I knew you would understand.

  • Globetrottergirls
    December 11 2011

    What a great little island! Never even heard of it but I think we might need to stop there for a couple of days when we get to Cambodia!

    • Alex
      December 11 2011

      You should DEFINITELY make time for one of the islands. We visited two, but I wish we could have gone to each! They are a bit pricey to get to (relatively, of course) but that’s the only downside.

  • Daniel
    March 8 2012

    Super cute post, and looks like you had a great time. Is this the white sand with turquoise waters kind of island that a California valley native would yearn for?

    • Alex
      March 8 2012

      I think it just might be! I grew up in Upstate New York so no beaches to compare to at home but I did spend a lot of time in places like Myrtle Beach. They are a totally different ball game!

  • Sara
    October 27 2013

    Travelling to Cambodia in December and I’ve got the mainland activities jotted down but was left at a lost as to what to do or except from the islands. Your blogs “opened a whole new world” so speak. Really looking forward to Koh Rong now. Where did you stay while on the island? And I was thinking of taking my Open Water PADI there. What diving center would you recommend? Love LOVE your blog~!!!

    • Alex
      November 1 2013

      Thanks Sara! I can’t remember the name of the bungalow we stayed at unfortunately… at the time there were only three options on the island and we just picked the cheapest! There was one dive center on the island — Koh Rong Dive Center. I didn’t use them, but they seemed well reviewed! Check out my posts on diving in Cambodia to see which center I did use! Best of luck!

  • Steve
    April 7 2014

    Hey, great right up! I’m leaving to Koh Rong soon, what was the name of the place with 5$ rooms? Where did you stay?
    Cheers 🙂

    • Alex
      April 8 2014

      Hey Steve, unfortunately this was so long ago I don’t remember any details not already shared in this post! And even if I did from what I hear the island has changed so much I’m not sure that any of it would still be there. Sorry I couldn’t be more help… enjoy Koh Rong!

  • Daniel
    June 4 2014

    Koh Rong plan for a new $10 million international airport on Koh Rong island.

    The airport is part of the first phase of Koh Rong’s development plans, which also includes establishing luxury resorts. With 28 beaches, Koh Rong has been billed as Asia’s next big island destination.

    • Alex
      June 4 2014

      I’m very sad to hear about that. Southeast Asia doesn’t need any more overdeveloped beach resorts, it needs to protect its natural resources and beauty.

  • Jason
    June 20 2014

    Forget the water buffalo, that puppy!!

    And remoteness–the dozen or so most remote places I’ve been are probably high in the Himalayas and Andes, but this post brought to mind Nicaragua’s Little Corn Island, which takes about 8 days and 3,400 ship journeys (okay, 22 hours, 2 ferry rides, and a small boat ride) to reach from the mainland if you opt to not splurge on a flight. I’m not a lobster eater, but divers can select their own sea scavengers and pay a pro $5 to boil them alive and serve them with (I think) all of the trappings a lobster eater could want with her meal.

    • Alex
      June 20 2014

      The Corn Islands are VERY high on my list! I’m definitely going to see them someday, and I hope its sooner rather than later!

  • Jane
    June 20 2014

    LOVE your entry, you have such a funny sense of humour, my kind of humour haha. I’m bout to be in cambodia in 10 days and this just makes me squeal because PUPPIES EVERYWHERE?????? 5 nights isn’t gonna be enough no way!!!

    I gotta ask, did you see any rats?

    I would literally cry if a rat popped up in my room

    • Alex
      June 23 2014

      Didn’t see any, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there 😉 Five days is definitely not enough, I have to agree… try to stay longer! But no matter how long you’re there, you will love it!

  • Chris
    August 25 2014

    OMG!!!! that´s my mermaid on the sand!!!
    Nice blog^^

    • Alex
      August 25 2014

      Oh wow, Chris, that’s awesome! Do you want me to send you the photo (if I can find it?) How did you find this blog?

  • Shivvi
    May 26 2015

    I visited koh rong last year and I ended up staying for 3 months!! It’s definitely island paradise but it’s becoming so developed now! Love seeing your photos from back then 🙂

    • Alex
      May 28 2015

      I’ve seen some recent photos and they tugged at my heartstrings. It’s one place I don’t think I’ll ever go back to — I love remembering it just like this.

  • Shivvi
    May 29 2015

    I totally agree! I still have many friends who work and live there and I would love to go back and help out with the friends of koh rong organisation but I’m afraid I’ve been away for too long!

    • Alex
      May 29 2015

      I think I wouldn’t be able to help but compare it to the way it was. So deliciously underdeveloped. I guess nowhere so beautiful can stay that way for long…

  • KohRong.Guide
    March 16 2016

    Hello. Thank you so much for writing about our island paradise Koh Rong – We need all the help we can get to keep spreading the good word! We are a non-profit, independent organisation created to help keep the Koh Rong Islands clean and help the local fishing communities. Would you mind sharing the link to our new guide to help our project? Your help would be very much appreciated!

    Thank you!

    • Alex
      March 17 2016

      Thanks for the work you do! Koh Rong is a beautiful place and deserves to stay that way.

  • wan Bang
    April 5 2016

    Hi, A million thanks for sharing those amazing photos and experience. I’m planning to visit Koh Rong in June. May I know which side of the island that you went to during your trip?

    P/S: I’m pretty new at travelling, trying to dig out as much info as I could. Thanks! 😀

    • Alex
      April 6 2016

      Hey Wan. We stayed on the only side of the island that had accommodation back in 2011… where the pier was, and then hiked to the other, abandoned side. I’ve heard a lot has changed so perhaps there is now accommodation across the entire island.

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