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Koh Rong Samloem Island is one of those places that you want to run out and tell the world about, but at the same time keep your own little secret. With just a smattering of low key accommodation, the island is still very underdeveloped, and its pristine beauty is completely unspoiled by tourism. Besides the standard water activities of diving and snorkeling, the biggest draw on Samloem is the gorgeous beach and the opportunity to disconnect from “real life.”
After experiencing the damage that over tourism has left on the islands of Thailand, we were looking forward to somewhere off the grid. As our boat pulled up from the pier, we were pleasantly surprised at the sheer lack of people. It was almost eerily quiet. Coming from the mainland, it took us some time to transition from the busyness of city life to quiet island living. In a few hours though we were happy to float around in the calm water, read a book on the shore and just enjoy the serenity of doing nothing.
How to Get to Koh Rong Samloem Island (Koh Rong Sanloem)
Traveling to Koh Rong Samloem from mainland Cambodia isn’t difficult when going via Sihanoukville. There are now 5 ferry services that can take you by boat from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong Samloem. They all charge around $25USD and take about 40 minutes to an hour depending on stops.
All ferries leave from Ochheuteal pier (also known as Serendipity) in Sihanoukville and will either drop you off at Koh Touch on Koh Rong or Saracen Bay on Koh Rong Samloem. There are two piers on Koh Rong Samloem, so check with the ferry service to make sure they are dropping you off at the pier closest to your hotel.
Koh Rong Samloem ferry timetables often change, so the easiest way to find out departure times to to check closer to your arrive in Sihanoukville, or even when you arrive in town.
Once you arrive at Koh Rong Samloem your hotel or hostel may have free transportation from the ferry pier, so be sure to check before you arrive. Otherwise you might be walking for a while in the sun like we did!
Getting to Sihanoukville
Depending on where you’re coming from, you may be able to find an inexpensive flight directly to Sihanoukville. You can fly internationally from Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City and Macau. You can fly domestically to Sihanoukville from Cambodia hot spots like Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
There are also plenty of buses and tourist shuttles that can get you to Sihanoukville from all over Cambodia. We bussed it in from Phnom Penh, which is a 5-7 hour journey depending on traffic. Overall the bus to Sihanoukville was relatively easy and a comfortable and cheap way to travel. Since we took our bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville there is also a new service now running from Giant Ibis. Here is the schedule:
- Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville: 8 am and 12:30 p.m
- Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh: 8:30 am and 3:30 pm
What To Expect on Koh Rong Samloem
Unlike Koh Rong Island, its more touristy neighbor, Koh Rong Samloem Island has not been completely spoiled by the backpacker party culture. This means quiet days, even quieter nights and the chance to feel like you’re part of the natural landscape. Those that are looking for a break from the party in Koh Rong or Sihanoukville will enjoy the laid back atmosphere. Be ready for some rustic living, though.
Electricity runs on generators and only certain hotels will have electricity running 24/7. When we first visited, we didn’t even bother asking for wifi. Wifi on the island was like hearing an urban legend, we’d heard of a friend of a friend who has used it, but never never saw it ourselves. Now most accommodation will advertise that they have free wifi, but who knows how reliable it is. Our advice? Give in and enjoy the chance to completely unplug.
Where To Stay on Koh Rong Samloem
There are a few main areas on the island that you can stay at. Now, many new hotels and hostels have popped up all around the island. These are the main areas you can stay at:
The most populated area is Saracen Bay, where the ferry drops you off. When we first visited the island, all of the accommodation was located here. There are a variety of hostels, hotels and resorts along the beach, as well as adjoining restaurants and bars.
M’pai Bay (also spelled as M’pei Bay or M’phey Bei)
With a more backpacker feel, M’Pai Bay has a good selection of hostels and budget accommodation. This is where you’ll find a bit more of an active nightlife, that accompanies the backpacker crowd.
A much quieter area with just a few options for accommodation and food. This is a good option if you’re looking for the undeveloped, rustic vibes of Saracen Bay from a few years ago.
Koh Rong Samloem Budget Accommodation
Top Pick – Mad Monkey Koh Rong Samloem
If you’ve been traveling around Southeast Asia you surely recognize this chain of hostels. The Mad Monkey Koh Rong Samloem has its own private bay (Monkey Bay) and is only reachable by boat. Like most Mad Monkey hostels, there’s definitely a party vibe here.
They’ve set up some cool swings and hammocks suspended above the water for that perfect Instagram shot. Each room has a balcony with a sea view. There’s no wifi, so you have no choice but to make friends and enjoy the relaxing island life. A single bed in a mixed dorm costs $9USD/night.
One of the cheapest hostels on the island, Coast 23 is located in M’Pai Bay on Koh Rong Samloem. This hostel is pretty basic. Rooms come with mosquito nets, towels and a fan. Perfect for backpackers who don’t need anything fancy, but want a bit of a social vibe. A 12 bed dorm will cost you $7 USD/night.
This highly rated beach side hostel is located on the main strip of Saracen Bay. Onederz has plenty of hang out space to chat with other travelers and a bar for some nighttime fun. Despite being on the beach, the staff here keep the hostel super clean. A bed in an 8 person dorm room will run you about $11 USD/night.
Another highly rated hostel located in M’Pai Bay. Guests have said that the rooms are clean and the beds are large and comfortable. There’s also a restaurant on site. Rooms come with a balcony overlooking the stunning bay below. A double room will cost you about $15 USD/night.
Koh Rong Samloem Mid-Range Accommodation
Top Pick – SunBoo Beach Bungalows
These set of bunglows on Sunset Bay, the more secluded side of Koh Rong Samloem. The bay is calm and perfect for swimming and snorkeling. A bungalow for two with garden view will cost about $55USD/night.
When we first visited this accommodation, it was mostly a few tents scattered along the sand that you could rent for $5/person. There was no electricity or running water, but But when you woke up in the morning, one unzip of the tent revealed a stunning view of turquoise water. Doesn’t get much better than that. With more development, Sweet Dreams has now become a cluster of bungalows
If nothing’s changed, the business is run by a few Russian couples. Say hi to Alex for us, he’s the tan Russian in short shorts and a fanny pack happily chatting away with customers. A standard bungalow with a fan for 2 people will cost you $50USD/ night.
Koh Rong Samloem High-End Accommodation
Top Pick – Pearl Resort
Located on Saracen Bay, Pear Resort is definitely one of the swankier hotels on Koh Rong Samloem. Their modern bungalows each have air conditioning, a TV and some even include a private plunge pool. Like any good luxury resort, Pearl has an infinity pool overlooking the beach complete with swim up bar. A king room with balcony and private plunge pool costs $188 USD/night.
For something a bit more upscale, Bounty Boutique on Saracen Bay has the standard amenities you’d find at a four star hotel. Air conditioned rooms come with a mini fridge and guests have access to the outdoor pool and private beach area. A beachfront bungalow for four guests will cost you $180USD/ night.
Where To Eat on Koh Rong Samloem Island
Food on the island is a little pricey compared to other parts of Cambodia, because it all needs to come in by boat. That being said, you can still eat at an affordable price if you’re on a budget. There are a couple of small stores on the island where you can buy snacks and supplies, but nowhere for a big grocery shop.
Hostel By The Sea Cafe & Restaurant
This veggie friendly cafe located on the sand in Saracen Bay, is a great option for yummy healthy food. From falafel wraps to Turkish pizza you’ll get a taste of mediterranean and Western food that just may be better than back home. A bit pricey for Cambodia standards at about $5-7USD for a meal, but it’s well worth it.
A crowd favorite on the island, the Fishing Hook is located on M’Pai Bay. They have a seafood buffet every night for $6USD. And the seafood is always fresh!
The Big Easy
Delicious home cooked food with the usual selection of international dishes. Great place to grab a pint and watch the waves roll in or stop by for a 75 cent beer during happy hour!
Mom’s Home Cooking
This local spot on M’pai Bay is a favorite for budget travelers because most menu items are only $2! If you’re on a budget, this is the spot to go!
The One Resort
If you’re looking to splash out on a meal for special occasion, The One Resort is probably the fanciest place on the island. They have a selection of local and Western food and a good variety of cocktails which can you sip in the bar overlooking the pool.
If you’re hungry as soon as you step of the boat, grab a feed at Orchid Restaurant in Saracen Bay. We enjoyed their fish sandwich and their seemingly never ending supply of cold beers. They also have bungalows and rooms available.
What to Do on Koh Rong Samloem
Diving on Koh Rong Samloem Island
Koh Rong Samloem Island is a popular choice for divers. There are a few diving shops on the island and the experience is supposed to be really special. Unlike some areas of Southeast Asia, this spot has been well preserved, so there’s a better chance of seeing a greater variety of sea life. Whether you’re getting PADI certified or you’re an experienced diver, you’ll definitely find a spot under the surface that peaks your interest. EcoSea Diver in M’pai Bay has come recommended as a safe and eco-friendly dive shop.
Water Sports on Koh Rong Samloem
For non-divers, there are some good spots for snorkeling. Most hotels will rent snorkels for about $5. You can walk across the island for about 20 minutes, through the jungle to Lazy Beach or organize a boat trip to offshore along Saracen Bay or Koh Koun. The best snorkeling is found on the Western side of Samloem. The Dive Shop in Seracen Bay has daily snorkeling trips for $25, including lunch. Travelers that prefer to stay on top of the water can rent a kayak or stand up paddle board and explore the bay. Most hotels will have kayaks or SUP boards available for free or a small rental fee.
Explore the Interior
If you get sick of the beach (just kidding! That’s not possible), head into the interior of the island. You can take a few different trails and explore other parts of the Samloem. The middle of the island is a thick, lush jungle and is even more undeveloped than the coast. A popular trek is hiking from Saracen Bay to the Samloem lighthouse. It takes about 4 hours round trip but the reward is stunning views from the lighthouse. Make sure you time your trek to get back before dark. It can get confusing in there!
Koh Rong Samloem Full Moon Party
Koh Rong Samloem may still be a somewhat undiscovered island, but there’s no shortage of backpackers. And where there are backpackers there is always a party! The Koh Rong Samloem full moon party takes place at Camp Good Vibz in the jungle, not far from the Beach Island Resort, in between Sunset Beach and Saracen Bay.
It’s chill, and has a more low key, rustic vibe compared to the Koh Phangan half moon party and full moon party in Thailand. The organizers also throw a black moon party, so you can get your big party fix twice per month.
Lay on the Beach
The beach along Saracen Bay is a long strip of white sand dotted with swings, beach beds and chairs to spend your day relaxing in the sun. The ocean is so flat you can walk in the water for a hundred meters before actually getting your hips wet. Your accommodation may not have strawberry daiquiris or an infinity pool, but Koh Rong Samloem Island is as close you’ll get to a luxury beach resort for $9 per night.
Although it’s grown much more touristy since our first visit, Koh Rong Samloem island is still an undiscovered treasure in Southeast Asia. Compared to the overcrowded beaches of Thailand, Samloem is quiet and relatively untouched. The underdevelopment gives you a feel for the raw natural beauty of Cambodia. There’s no high-rise resorts to block your view of the ocean and at night when some of the hotels turn off their electricity, you’re left with a sky full of brilliant stars.