An Intriguing Travelers Guide To Remarkable Koh Rong Samloem

Koh Rong Samloem

Koh Rong Samloem island is off the grid. It has not been affected by the party culture of its big brother Koh Rong or the town of Sihanoukville, but it is a place to enjoy a laid-back atmosphere. This means floating around in the calm water, laying in a hammock, or quiet days of doing nothing. So, be prepared for quiet days and even quieter nights under a starry sky.

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Koh Rong Samloem is one of those places that you want to run out and tell the world about, but at the same time keep it a secret.

Also, be prepared for rustic living, as it is still very underdeveloped. This is an island where electricity runs on generators at certain times of the day and don’t even think about Wi-Fi.

On arrival, you’ll be surprised at the sheer lack of people. It takes time to transition to the quiet pace of island living.

It’s a tiny island and is situated eighteen kilometres due west of Sihanoukville and is south of Koh Rong. It has beaches on the west and east coasts. Marine life around Koh Rong Samloem is remarkably diverse, as such, there are many diving spots and is a popular choice for snorkelling and diving. There are a few diving shops on the island.

Non Divers To Koh Rong Samloem

For non-divers, the island does not have much to offer in terms of activities. You can walk across the island, through the jungle and explore the beaches.

The island is covered in dense forest and is generally flatter than some other islands, although there are some sizable hills. A great draw card is the amazing bio-luminescent plankton that makes the warm waters glow at night.

Its beaches are extraordinary. The wide sweep of sheltered Saracen Bay just might be the perfect beach with its white sand and dense jungle that hugs the shore. Further north is Sunset Beach and M’Pai Bay on the island’s northern tip which has a friendly fishing village. All have different levels of accommodation.

There is a well-functioning ferry network between Sihanoukville and Koh Rong Samloem. It is reachable in about fifty minutes by fast ferry or two hours using one of the slower converted fishing boats depending on the conditions.

Cambodian Island Hopping

Jump to the next list of Cambodian islands

Have you ever thought about island hopping Cambodian style? You may come to the country for the world-famous Angkor, but what is a surprising alternative is its less known offshore islands. The country has many, and quite a few offer a pleasant destination for a visitor to the Kingdom.

There are some 60 islands in Cambodia’s coastal waters. They include 23 in Koh Kong province, 2 in Kampot province, 22 in Sihanoukville and 13 in Kep city. Most islands are, apart from the two small groups of outer islands, close to the coast and readily accessible.

And there are extremes on the offer from idyllic white sandy beaches and aqua water to all night parties of drinking, music, and carousing. Some of the best snorkelling and diving in the region are also available. For the best visibility, corals, and fish, then the best diving and snorkelling are at the further out islands. Also, mountain biking and hiking are options.

And the appeal? the islands are off the well-worn tourist track and offer another side to why this country called Cambodia.

Let us dive in and take a peek at Cambodia’s offshore islands.

Koh Kong

This island is a real gem. It’s Cambodia’s largest and towers over seas so crystal-clear you can make out the grains of sand in a few metres of water. On Koh Kong’s eastern side, half a dozen forested hills, the highest more than 400 metres above the sea, drop steeply to the coast. There are rugged rock formations that create waterfalls and rivers that drain the mountains then end in freshwater estuaries and countless lagoons, all flanked by scenic beaches. There, the small streams are lined with coconut palms and lush vegetation. At one beach, a narrow channel leads to a hidden lagoon. The island has seven beaches, all of them along the western coast.

The island is situated about 20 kilometres southwest of Koh Kong town, or a 2.5-hour boat trip on one of the local’s longtail boats. On the way, you travel past the floating village, the Bak Klang fishing village, and the mangroves of Paem Krasaop Sanctuary. As you head to the island you might spot a school of Irrawaddy dolphins.

Exploration Prohibited

The island is only accessible during the dry season. It’s forbidden to explore the island’s thickly forested interior at any time of year. However, when you visit, it is possible to have a 700-metre long beach all to yourself, and the snorkelling is lively with plenty of fish to be seen. The sand on the beach squeaks when you walk on it.

And rubbish. Unfortunately, the beaches are becoming increasingly polluted as irresponsible tour operators fail to dispose of waste properly.

The only settlements are small fishing villages. Alatang is on the southeast corner, which is a Venice-like fishing village with stilted houses and colourful fishing boats and faces the Botum Sakor National Park. There is also Phumi Koh Kong on the west coast and Phumi Thmei on the east coast.

A strong military presence on the island means access is tightly controlled. You must visit on a guided boat tour out of Koh Kong or Tatai. There were two hotels on the island, but one is now closed. However, camping is possible on a tour.

Koh Rong

The fabled party island for backpackers travelling Southeast Asia is definitely a place not to kick back. If you’ re in search of partying until the sun comes up, buckets of beer and gallons of Mekong whisky then this is the place for you. Having said that, the island does have its quieter side.

The island is situated 26 kilometres west of Sihanoukville. Koh Rong is the biggest of the islands of Sihanoukville province, but despite its size it is only home to about 1,000 residents. Keep in mind that there is a $2 environment tax levied on all visitors.

It is well worth the 2.5-hour boat trip from Sihanoukville. There is now a good ferry service between the mainland and Koh Rong. Most of the bungalows are built on Sunrise Beach.

The first thing you notice when the ferry docks at Koh Rong’s pier is how undeveloped the island is. Koh Rong has undergone years of individually undertaken development. Unfortunately, during recent years rapid development has wiped away some of Koh Rong’s idyllic charm. Despite the very moderate infrastructure, visitor numbers have risen quickly, and Koh Rong has also been declared a stop on the “Banana Pancake Trail”.

Often described as an “island paradise”, it is known for its sandy coves and coral reefs, like those around Koh Rong pier. It is a predominantly hilly island with an interior that has a dense jungle terrain dotted with coconut palms and waterfalls. The hills provide water for creeks, lagoons and estuaries. In the south are Jewel Orchids; a small zoo home to butterflies, snakes, and birds; and lively Police Beach, a party spot. High Point Rope Park has suspension bridges, rope walks and zip lines.

Koh Tuich

The main tourist beach is Koh Tuich and with lots of hotels, bars and night clubs creates a vibrant party atmosphere. The quiet, less-busier beaches, such as Long Set Beach, Lonely Beach, and Palm Beach beckon more relaxing destinations.

And the beaches really are as picture perfect as everyone says.

Long Beach

But Long Beach is really something special. Long Beach is located across the island from Koh Tuich Village. You can take a boat there or walk through the lush jungle. When you emerge from the forest before you is a flawless strip of meandering white sand and turquoise water that stretch for seven kilometres.

Beware of sand flies which plague Koh Rong and seem to enjoy feasting on people. Koh Rong, particularly Koh Tuich Beach, is a must stop on any Southeast Asia itinerary.

After visiting Koh Kong, Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem you could drop by some other islands. There are many in this region. One or two are better known while most are not. So, let’s continue island hopping down Cambodia’s coast and explore some of the Kingdom’s other offshore gems.

Koh S’dach (King Island)

This island is most definitely off the radar. Located in the Gulf of Thailand about 1.5 kilometres off the coast of Botum Sakor national park is Koh S’dach with its bustling fishing and farming community. And, getting there is half the adventure: from Koh Kong town you can take a two-hour minibus, car, or motorcycle ride and once at the coast you can reach the island by a 10-minute boat ride. Or, from Sihanoukville catch a boat direct.

It is not a big island, and once there you will find a little fishing village centred around the rickety wooden dock the ferry uses. The people are mostly Khmer and Vietnamese but there are also people of Chinese and Thai descent. The village is along the east side of the island.

If you want, you can wander around the ramshackle village made up of huts on stilts perched on the water or sit and watch the fishermen head out to sea in their longtail boats then later on return with their catch. You can also try their catch at local eateries.

Koh S’dach belongs to a small archipelago of 12 islands, all in relative proximity to each other and the mainland; mostly uninhabited. From Koh S’dach, you can explore the other islands, some of which have isolated beaches and good snorkelling and diving.

The Vibe

Koh S’dach’s coast is mainly rocky with only a few beaches, but Coconut Beach, Australia Beach and the beach at Belinda’s Resort will give you the island-paradise vibe. On the west of the island, there is also a guesthouse.

The island is rather flat and forested. Natural jungle has mostly been replaced by coconut trees and forest crops. Settlements are mainly in the north while the southern third is mostly unpopulated. Tiny Koh Khmauch lies about 250 metres to the west of Koh S’dach’s southern end.

And the island’s name: legend has it the island had a king who commanded an army. However, there was no fresh water, and the king searched for some. Eventually, he found a rock near the sea which he split open with his sword, releasing water that locals still use today at the village well.

The area is also changing markedly as a huge Chinese “resort city” development has taken root nearby on the mainland.

Koh Totang

Blink and you will miss Koh Totang. It is midway between the Thai border and Sihanoukville, approximately 60 kilometres in either direction in the Koh Kong Archipelago. The island has a solo resort, Nomads Land. With five bungalows strung with hammocks, it sits on the shore and runs on a bundle of eco-friendly systems: solar power provides electricity, drinking water comes from stored rainwater, and bathrooms have composting toilets and bucket showers. There is telephone coverage. However, there are no roads, no restaurants, no banks, and no ATMs.

Few tourists have heard of it and even fewer come to visit it.

Koh Totang and Koh S’Dach are the only islands in the area that provide accommodation and on Koh Totang the accommodation is not cheap.

Coral reef and Snorkelling

Coral reef gardens surround Koh Totang, so the island has plenty of snorkelling and dive sites. The island has a sandy main beach, and the water itself is a beautiful turquoise. Or, take a stroll from the bungalows for about 20 minutes across the jungle until you reach Sunset Beach, a deserted stretch of sand that you can have all to yourself. While walking through the jungle you’ll encounter all kinds of wildlife: elusive Iguanas, grasshoppers, praying mantis, crabs, and an incredible variety of butterflies fly through the coastline meadow.

At night, the sea glows spectacularly due to the phosphorescent plankton.

To get to the island there is a Chinese-built four-lane road on the mainland from Andoung Teuk leading to Poi Yopon village, the village being the pick-up point for the 15-minute boat ride to Koh Totang.

Koh Bong Po-oun/Song Saa (Siblings/Lovers Islands)

Also known as Les Frères, these are two tiny islets situated amongst a lush cluster of mostly untouched islands in the Koh Rong Archipelago off Koh Rong’s northeast coast. It is also home to the exclusive Song Saa Resort.

The islets’ environment is pristine with untouched stretches of white sands surrounded by clear calm waters teeming with tropical fish.

The remote private island resort of Song Saa offers ultra-luxurious villas built into the jungle or perched on stilts over the sea.

Rooms start at about $1000, so this place is not for the feint hearted. And at that price you might think that the place is empty most of the time, wrong, it is extremely popular with the rich and famous and probably one or two dodgy types.

The best time to go to Koh Bong Po-oun/Song Saa is from January until March and December when the weather is warm. To get to the islands, there are boats from Sihanoukville.

Koh Kaong Kang/Thass (Mangrove Island, Ile des Paletuviers)

It is one of the inner islands and just off the coast from Sihanoukville, or 45 minutes by boat; perfect for day trips. Koh Kaong Kang is an uninhabited island and ideal for that castaway feeling.

This island has two beautiful beaches with one named after Elvis. There is the added attraction of shallow rocky reefs teeming with marine life, which has made it a popular place for snorkellers.

It is very flat, so freshwater is scarce, and one of the reasons why nobody lives there permanently.

Koh Koun (Child Island, Ile de Cone)

This is a small forested island in the Koh Rong archipelago sandwiched between Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. This uninhabited and undeveloped island is 22 kilometres from Sihanoukville or about 1½ to 2 hours by boat.

The pyramid-shaped island has two tiny beaches on the east side, the rest being rock that goes down to the sea. It is a popular dive and snorkelling spot, and all dive companies from Sihanoukville go there.

The north and west side of the island have more coral and rocky outcrops, the south and east have shallow corals with sandy areas. There is a proliferation of dazzling coral and marine life such as seahorses, octopus, pipefish, stone fish and scorpion fish.

If you are interested in going there, talk to someone at a local dive shop on the mainland, or you can organise a boat from Koh Rong. However, it would be better to travel to the island from Koh Rong Samloem, as it is just off the coast.

Koh Tuich (Small island)

Another tiny island off Koh Rong island’s Koh Tuich village. There is a little pagoda on it that has been there since around 2010. Shallow waters provide good snorkelling spots around the whole island.

Koh Puos (Snake Island or Morakot Island).

This island lies 800 metres off Sihanoukville’s Victory Beach. Russian developers have been converting it into a luxury holiday destination and exclusive residential area. Snake Island is linked to the mainland by a bridge and road. The bridge is currently not open to the public and has a padlocked steel gate at the entrance to the bridge. Maybe in the future you can visit this Russian stronghold.

Koh Dek Koul (Nail Island)

This is a small island in the Gulf of Thailand located about 7 kilometres off the coast of Sihanoukville’s Victory Beach. The Russian Mirax Luxury Resort corporation operates a hotel business on this predominantly rocky island. The 5-star resort is the only infrastructure.

This island is a preserve for the wealthy. If you want to visit, you must rent a room and the prices start at $350 a night.

The Russians have supported the Cambodian regime for years, so it’s no wonder that there are islands, such as Koh Russei, or markets, like Russian Market in Phnom Penh, named after Russia.

If you do visit, then there is not a lot to do apart from laze about. There are a few walkways, a pool, spa, and there are various water sports. The island is also covered in lush greenery.

After visiting Koh S’dach or Koh Totang, there are still some great islands you could drop by. One or two are well-known while most are not. So, let’s continue island hopping down Cambodia’s coast and explore the tail-end of this extraordinary island chain.

Koh Russei (Bamboo Island)

The island, also known as Koh Russey and Koh Ru, is one of a group of small islands in the Gulf of Thailand about 20 kilometres east of Sihanoukville. It is about 4.5 kilometres offshore and a 45-minute boat trip from Sihanoukville. It is also remarkably close to Koh Ta Kiev.

The ferry for Koh Russei departs from Sihanoukville’s Serendipity pier. On the island, there are no banks or ATMs, so take enough money with you.

The long gold beaches of Koh Ru are breathtaking. It was one of the first islands to capitalise on tourism. There are two beaches, and a small path through the middle of the island connects them the so you can walk between the two in ten minutes. In fact, you will find footpaths throughout the island, so you can explore the interior.

There is also warm, blue, crystal-clear water, which is perfect for swimming, snorkelling, and fishing.

The Koh Ru side has the best beach on the island with spectacular sunsets. This place is also much quieter than the other side of the island.

If you decide you would rather not leave at sundown, there are bungalows on both sides of the island. However, it is best to book in advance as accommodation fills quickly. Come nightfall the island is deserted.

For many years, the island served exclusively as a small outpost of the Cambodian Navy. However, rising tourist numbers in Sihanoukville brought increasing numbers of travellers to the island.

Cambodian Island Hopping; continued

Koh Ta Kiev

Tired of hearing about the good old days of southeast Asia’s island living, then put Koh Ta Kiev on your bucket list. Only a handful of budget resorts straddle the west and southwest shorelines, with opportunities to sleep in hammocks or under canvas, as well as dorm and basic hut options.

Another breathtaking island that’s yet to be destroyed by foreign investment, Koh Ta Kiev is just one hour away from Sihanoukville by boat and close to Ream National Park. Even though it’s the closest Cambodian island to the mainland it retains that castaway island feel. Make sure you stock up on cash before you leave the mainland if you want to spend the night here.

The fingerprints of big development are fast appearing here with a road sliced through the thick jungle interior to service a planned luxury resort on the north shore.

Koh Thmei (New Island)

Also known as Ile du Milieu, the island is immediately southeast of the Sihanoukville headland and inside Ream National Park. It is located about 300 metres off the coast of Cambodia and next to Phu Quoc.

The boat trip from Sihanoukville will take 45 minutes to Koh Kchhang fishing village on the mainland.

When you get there, you will find pristine beaches, clear waters, and breathtaking landscape. The waters that surround Koh Thmei are some of the clearest and pure that you will find anywhere, and the beaches are never crowded.

Only 200 people live on the island with most living in the small fishing village of Koh K’chhang.

The electricity on the island is generated by solar panels and generators. Electricity is only available from 6:30am to 11:00pm each day. Phone service is accessible on the island through Metfone and Smart, but there is no WiFi.

Pristine and Unspoilt

Due to the unspoiled, pristine state, dense, lush jungle, its remoteness and small population, Koh Thmei is considered one of the most ecologically esteemed Cambodian islands. The highest point on the island is roughly at its centre with two main peaks. The peaks are separated by the Prek Koh Krabei River. The peaks rise to more than 100 metres and drain in all directions, lending the island the shape of a gentle mountain. The island’s moderate elevation enables it to retain enough water for a few little rivers, creeks, and estuaries.

On the island, there are seaside bungalows with some other accommodation also available. You can camp out as well.

There is great scuba diving and snorkelling around the coral reefs. You can either do this right along the shore of Koh Thmei Island or, if you wish, you can go out on a tour boat or rent a boat for the day and go out further into the Gulf of Thailand. The beaches are piled with exotic seashells for those who do not want to go underwater. Athletic types can kayak and when the weather’s right, even surf.

Surf Cambodia

Koh Thmei also offers the best surfing in Cambodia. There are incredible waves, and a large area of open water that allows for some of the best surfing you will experience.

The island offers a bus system that will take you anywhere you want to go. The roads are small, but the buses are few so be prepared for a short wait of 30-45 minutes.

You can also rent a bike for the day. There are trails and paths all over the island. Bikes allow you to get around to any location as quickly as your legs will get you there.

Koh S’mach

Nearly deserted tropical paradise. This is the best of the nearby islands, just one kilometre away, home to a small fishing community and with some sandy beaches.

Koh Tang

Koh Tang and Koh Prins, which are only reachable by boat, a trip that can take as much as eight hours. These islands offer what are said to be the best diving opportunities in Cambodia, but visits must be chartered or arranged through a diving outfit. Large pelagic are seen regularly and visibility is double what you will find at the closer sites.

Overnight trips are necessary in order to reach Koh Tang.

Koh Seh (Horse Island)

It’s former French name is Ile a L’eau and is located inside Ream National Park. It lies 1.5 kilometre south of Koh Thmei and around 9 kilometre south of the mainland of Sihanoukville’s Ream commune. A 4.3 km (3 mi) wide sound separates it from Phu Quoc.  Less than 400 meters south-west of Koh Seh lies the tiny islet of Koh Ky.

Koh Seh is uninhabited while most of its shores are fringed with mangroves. The island constitutes the south-easternmost part of Ream National Park.

At just 2.9 square miles, Koh Seh is one of the smallest islands off the coast of Cambodia but is it still an immensely popular resort island to go to. It is not surprising that so many would want to come to this beautiful land, as Cambodia is quickly becoming a hot bed for those looking to find the perfect tropical getaway. Cambodia not only has beautiful waters, island paradises, and an amazing climate that allows for nice warm temperatures year round, but the fact that this area is just new to tourism is making it a perfect place to go to because the islands to not have hundreds of years, or even decades of tourists traipsing over them ruining the beauty of the land. It is just beautiful here and a lot of it remains looking totally natural.

Pristine and Scuba

Right now, it is completely undeveloped, but there are plans to change that. There is a project that began late last year to add a large resort hotel here.

The primary reason that people come here is because they can enjoy the water like few other places on earth. The island has had a small number of tourists to it, so the island is quite pristine.

Besides swimming and laying on the beach, the most popular activity on Koh Seh is scuba diving. As the island is protected, the coral reefs around it are pristine, and you will see sea life that will astound you.

Koh Tres/Kteah (Pan Island)

Formerly known to the French as Ile Ronde, the island is off Otres beach and easy to reach by boat. There are plenty of boat owners in the area who are willing to offer their services. If you are game, then it is only a 15-minute Kayaking trip to Koh Tres. The island has a small beach, which is submerged at high tide. Only one Cambodian family, or government officials, live there. Thinking about a morning, or even a day trip, then try this island.

Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island)

Just a 25-minute boat ride from the old colonial beach town of Kep is Koh Tonsay, the sight of it as your longtail boat approaches – all fringed with palm trees swaying in the breeze and speckled with hammocks on the shoreline – is sure to be a highlight of your trip to Cambodia. Picture-perfect with warm, gentle waters, Koh Tonsay is usually secluded.

Koh Poh (Coral Island)

This place has clean white sands, turquoise water, coral reefs and great snorkelling. The huge island that dominates the horizon is Phu Quoc, which is in Vietnamese waters, is called Koh Kut by locals from when it belonged to Cambodia.

And that is it. I hope you have enjoyed Cambodia Offshore Islands. They are extraordinary places to visit with their pristine beauty, lush jungles, white sand beaches and turquoise waters. Many of them are teeming with wildlife and offer a break from the mainstream. Unfortunately, the Cambodian government is quickly selling off permits to develop many of the islands. My advice if you want to visit these islands then go now before it is too late. All you have to do is look at what happened to the islands in Thailand to understand where Cambodia is heading.

Koh Rong Samloem

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