A Bit of TLC Part 13– What Could Possibly Koh Rong?

Koh Rong Sanloem, Cambodia  January 2024

Our flight down to the port town of Sihanoukville went smoothly enough, and we managed to make our connection to the island ferry. We were advised to spend as little time here as possible due to massive over-construction taking place.  It was once Cambodia’s favourite seaside resort, but now unfortunately, it was an environmental and cultural disaster, with crime and poverty on the up and filthy beaches. More than 70 casinos had been opened in the last 3 years with more massive resorts being planned.  Horrendous!

From Hell…

The two main islands off the coast were Koh Rong and it’s smaller sister island Koh Rong Sanloem (where we had opted to stay at the fishing village of M’Pai Bay).  The short speedboat ride took us along the island’s northern coast which seemed to boast long expanses of golden sand fringed by forested hillsides.  It felt good to be back on the coast!

…to Heaven (in 45 minutes)

With no real roads on the island (yet!)…we were collected in a 4 wheel drive buggy for the short, but very steep drive up the hill to our resort.  We would maintain our “temple climbing” fitness on this trip!  Our accommodation was the largest and one of the newest properties on this part of the island and looked perfect on their website.  The extensive grounds had impressive sea views but were curiously landscaped with garish sculptures of, amongst other things, large groups of pigs and elephants, surfboards, rocks painted in a variety of colours and bizarrely a woman in a 50’s bathing costume… (maybe they got them cheap from Butlins??).

Hello campers!

The village centre consisted of one small lane and a beachfront lined with very bohemian bars and cafés, predominantly owned by Europeans, and staffed by young western volunteers with names like Emerald and Skye!  It was an odd mix of local families and long-term ex-pats, but it seemed to work.  Everyone seemed to know each other and it and it was nice to see the village kids playing in the sea together and the lads having a game of football on the beach as the sun went down.


The food on offer was mostly western fare with a few Khymer dishes thrown in, and things like falafel, burgers, omelettes, pizzas and cheese toasties featured on most menus.  There was even a French restaurant, serving excellent homemade pasta and cottage pie (??) and a wine and cheese bistro.

Happy Hour

This wasn’t the true Cambodia, but I have to concede that the place did have a very friendly feel with many of the locals attending the fundraising and community events which included live music nights,  beach cleaning, yoga and English lessons. Even we were soon on first name terms with many of the café owners and staff, as the village was so small!

Welcome to paradise

It also had the most picturesque (and pretty clean) beach along which we strolled the very long length of the next morning, and had virtually to ourselves.  We also discovered some excellent snorkelling sites just a few rocky steps down from our hotel, with multitudes of different fish and some lovely corals.

Good reef!

We took a boat trip further out to the neighbouring island one afternoon for a spot more snorkelling and enjoyed a pleasant couple of hours floating amongst the amazing coral gardens, and then watching the sun set over the headland.

Sunset session

We had heard that the islands suffer from power cuts and poor Wi-Fi/phone coverage.  Whilst not too bothered about the latter, we were dismayed to lose power for the first couple of nights, when the a/c cut out and we found ourselves sweltering.  We were advised that they were “replacing the generator” but it only seemed to be affecting our block!  The suggestion that they move us to a different room (one with solar power for example!) fell on deaf ears.  This, along with various other shortcomings, such as wires hanging out of the wall and a lack of any sort of service once we’d arrived, left us feeling we’d chosen the wrong lodgings this time.

Saracen Bay…the quiet before the storm

However, after visiting the main beach on the island, we had certainly picked the best location.  A bumpy boat ride along the coast took me to Saracen Bay, a long sweep of golden sand lined with a couple of upmarket hotels, lots of backpacker hangouts and more than a few half-built resorts.  I swiftly found the path across the island to Lazy Beach on the opposite side of the island.  Feeling anything but “lazy” after trekking 30 minutes through the jungle in the blazing heat to get there, I concluded that it was worth it.  I settled down with my book on its idyllic stretch of palm fringed sand, cooled off in the crystal clear water, a found a great little restaurant set amongst a small resort of thatched bungalows, for lunch.

Twin peaks on Lazy Beach!

Sadly, this part of the island is being carved up by Chinese developers who have cleared the forest to eventually build what looked like huge highways to access the beaches.  The building had already begun on Saracen Bay, and much construction was taking place on the previously remote beaches across the island. Being a Khmer fishing village, I was told that M’Pai Bay would hopefully escape the worst of it, as long as it remained unconnected by road.

The new Koh Rong motorway

Waiting for my transport back, I was surprised to be directed to the cargo boat which transported goods around the islands.  The range of merchandise that was being unloaded astonished me – everything from oil drums, beer and soda, scooters, roofing and water pipes, dairy items – even a wardrobe! It turned out to be a very slow journey back as we had to stop off at another beach to offload bags of cement and other building materials to the new hotel sites.

The cargo ship!

I’m very glad we visited the island when we did – I have a feeling it’s going to face a lot of changes (and challenges) in the next few years, and not in a good way.

Next Stop:  The best “Kep” secret

More photos!…

Sunset beach
Koh Rong Rovers
I was somewhat distracted watching the West Ham game!
I could put a few names forward!
Jungle trek to Lazy Beach
On the right track
Pork life??
Errr.. no, you're alright, plus he'll never fit in my case...
They certainly know their customers
Peace, love and harmony prevails
Bye bye M'Pai...

2 thoughts on “A Bit of T L C – Part 13 – What Could Possibly Koh Rong?”

  1. Nice you’re back to enjoying beach life. Such a shame that in all these gorgeous places change never seems to be for the better 😕. Some more great captions, thanks for the laughs. xx

  2. How lovely that you are on beaches again. It is a terrible shame that so many places over there are being spoilt by tourism, new roads and modern life. You can never get that back. It’s really good that you are able to see a lot of it before it is too late. xx

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