Cambodia's Island Paradise of Koh Rong Samloem

No paved roads, no decent internet connection, and not even a TV; only an island paradise with fine white sandy beach and clear blue waters that could definitely rival those of Thailand, or even in the Philippines. Island life may be dull and boring for some but I loved the freedom we had at Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia; the liberty to do nothing, away from the bustles and anxiety from the city life. It was pure bliss; having the luxury of time to stare all day at nature’s wonder.

Last year's Beach Hop Asia 2016 trip was purely dedicated to exploring undiscovered beach territories from previous trips. Maldives, of course, tops our list of the best island paradise.

On this year's Same Same Summer Trip 2017, we went back to some of our favorite countries in Southeast Asia and discovered what we missed during past visits. For two months, we traveled to Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam and did some beach stopovers. Koh Rong Samloem was definitely this trip's best beach (which is also spelled as Koh Rong Sanloem, Koh Rung Samloem, Koh Rong Saloem and Koh Rong Samlon).

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Halfway through our backpacking trip, we had a relaxing time at Sihanoukville for five days. And with the help of our resort in Otres Beach, Penguin Pablo Bungalows, we secured tickets to Koh Rong complete with shuttle pick-up and slow boat fare for a roundtrip fare of $13 per person.

We were dropped off at the port at Serendipity Beach. We had thirty minutes more before departure and waited with a hundred or so tourists who were heading to the same island (more than half of which were just doing a daytrip).

Koh Rong Samloem Saracen Bay Cambodia Beach
The Port at Saracen Bay, Koh Rong Samloem
Being the best travel researchers in the world, we didn't know that there are two main “Koh Rong” islands; Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. We had prior booking reservations and were each asked by our friendly boatman of our destination. Apparently, we're booked on a resort in Koh Rong Samloem, the more quiet side of the two.

The boat ride was, well, slower than I thought. The two-hour journey lulled me to sleep most of the time though, just like our seven-hour train ride from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville (check here for discounted tours, transportation and activities in Phnom Penh). Those who were getting off at Koh Rong Samloem were dropped off first, including us. The boat then went to Koh Rong for its last stop.

Koh Rong Samloem Saracen Bay Cambodia Beach
Low Tide
The midnoon sun shone brightly to this quiet island. I could hear no party music, no noisy chatter and not even a single human sound. The slow splatters of waves were the only thing that's echoing through.

There are still no paved roads along Saracen Bay and the only way to get to your destination was to either hire a small motor boat or walk along the shore. We braved the twelve o'clock heat and chose the latter.

Koh Rong Samloem Saracen Bay Cambodia Beach
Island Paradise
The three-kilometer crescent of blindingly fine white sand beach was breathtaking. The clear waters were in different shades of blue. The first few minutes of our walk was surreal, the minutes that followed were a punishment.

Our heavy backpacks were dragging us as we slowly treaded the fine white sand. We halted a few times, still in awe of the beauty of Saracen Bay. 

Koh Rong Samloem Saracen Bay Cambodia Beach
Powdery White Sand
We saw a few resorts, a police station, one (just one) minimart and nothing else. I’ve heard of Full Moon Parties that are organized here but I think it wouldn’t be as crazy as the Full Moon Party in Koh Pangan, Thailand.

We arrived on our booked accommodation and asked for our reservation. Our names weren’t on the list though. The formerly welcoming staff was soon irate and perplexed on the situation so I asked for the manager or supervisor. She told me that the person I was looking for wasn’t there. To cut it short, the European manager (who was there all those time and probably have seen everything) offered us a bed on their “dorm room” which happened to be a “staff room”.

Koh Rong Samloem Saracen Bay Cambodia Beach
Sunset Viewing
We weren’t usually picky when it comes to lodgings but after seeing two men in their boxer shorts and a bag of weed inside the room, I knew that this wasn’t just the ideal set-up for us.

We moved on from that stressful incident and looked for a place that would fit our measly budget.

Koh Rong Samloem Saracen Bay Cambodia Beach
Laidback Life
We were famished from the half day journey and the disagreement with our former lodging that we settled for a costly lunch on a restaurant that day. Based from the menu, I sensed that Koh Rong Samloem is somewhat an expensive island, in backpacker’s standards. Our meal of one serving of fish amok and one cup of rice set us back at $8. In the Philippines’ famed island paradise of Boracay, you’d feed three persons with that price and quality of food served.

We’re doomed. We’ve got nowhere to go, no spare cash to splurge on lavish resorts (even a low-priced resort for that matter) and no ATM machines/credit card facilities anywhere.

Koh Rong Samloem Saracen Bay Cambodia Beach
Our Cheap Beachfront Accommodation
Me and my buddy looked for our options which isn’t that much. We found an unnamed resort with native bungalows and shared bathroom for $25 per night. Maybe it was the gloom on my face that they showed us some rooms for rent at $20 per night. After haggling really hard, we got the unassuming room for $25 for our two-night stay.

Our nine-square meter room was basic with ceiling fan and mattress on the floor. The shared toilet and bath was just okay; we couldn’t be finicky at this time.

Where To Stay In Koh Rong Samloem
Basic Room
A neighboring minimart was also part of the beachfront compound. It was actually the deciding point for us as there were only two minimarts on the island and we didn’t plan on having all of our meals on restaurants.

With all the hassle we came across that day, we only got to appreciate Saracen Bay’s beauty when we had our dinner that night. We had baguette, sardines and water for dinner and finished it off with skewered meats (from the barbecue stall, still, on the same property) and Klang Beer on the beachside. We spent the rest of the night chatting about our mishaps and watched as the outdoor beach chairs and tables were filled with locals who seemed to be having a nice chatter that evening.

Staying in our own room made our sleep that night very peaceful and unworried.

Koh Rong Samloem Saracen Bay Cambodia Beach
Gorgeous Cambodian Sunset
We felt energized as we woke up the next morning. We grabbed our supplies for the day at the minimart and found a nice spot to chill on the shore. We got into our swimwear and lounged all day at the beach; yes, one full day at the beach.

We could’ve explored the jungles or maybe went to Lazy Beach or Sunset Beach on the other side of Koh Rong Samloem but no, we chose to stay where we were and enjoyed Saracen Bay all day long.

Koh Rong Samloem Saracen Bay Cambodia Beach
Chill Spot for One Whole Day
We frolicked on the powdery white sand and clear cerulean waters with two local kids. We also had an afternoon beer stint as me and my buddy talked about our dreams, travel plans and whatnots.

Koh Rong Samloem Saracen Bay Cambodia Beach
Shades of Blue
The next day, our last, my buddy woke me up earlier than usual. We watched as the sky showed off with a great morning spectacle. Together with the resident dogs in our place, we witnessed a quiet and serene daybreak on this side of Cambodia.

Koh Rong Samloem Saracen Bay Cambodia Beach
Our Early Morning Buddies
There’s a little bit of sadness as I leave this island paradise, but the longing for the normalcy of life seemed more powerful. Maybe because we had no money to spare and indulge on a decent resort or even for a nice meal or maybe the deafening silence and order that overly calmed our souls made us yearn for the chaotic life outside this dreamland. 

Koh Rong Samloem Saracen Bay Cambodia Beach
Break of Dawn
Or maybe we had no connection at all with the island because the locals were all too preoccupied on the tourism industry that they seem to almost forget the very essence of tourism—the opportunity to experience the locals’ way of life. I can’t actually identify it but I have no attachment or whatsoever with Koh Rong Samloem, which saddens me, really.

Koh Rong Samloem Saracen Bay Cambodia Beach
Crystal Clear Waters
Koh Rong Samloem is truly a nature’s gift to mankind. I heaved a sigh of relief as we landed back on our home in Sihanoukville. The warmth of their smiles and greetings made me feel at home once again. We walked over to Otres Beach and watched Cambodia’s glorious sunset. Back to the daily grind; the backpacker’s way.


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