Koh Rong is an island off the coast of Sihanoukville in Cambodia. Its undeveloped beaches have been a backpacker favourite for years, offering an unvarnished island travel experience that is slowly disappearing in Southeast Asia.
Despite a few previous visits to Sihanoukville, I had never been. I was in Sihanoukville at the start of 2022 reporting on the mega construction projects of the city. I thought what better way to wash away the residue of a city with 100+ casinos than by going to an island with no casinos or highrises…yet.
Boats to Koh Rong leave from Sihanoukville port and arrive at the Koh Rong Community Pier on the south of the island at Koh Touch (Kaoh Touch).
I thought I booked a hotel near the pier, but I had actually booked a hotel next to a private pier on the western side of the island. Getting there involved a motorbike taxi for $10, and I didn’t know if I was being ripped off or not. It was a long ride, so for every kilometre racked up from the pier, the price seemed more reasonable.
It turned out to be a good booking as I was staying at Sok San Beach. This beach is stunning, and as I said on my Instagram post of the day, how can something Koh Rong be so right.
Here is the pier at my hotel on Sok San Beach.
There is a fishing village at Sok San and some old guest houses that have seen better days. Some have closed down during the pandemic, while there are some new ones being built, hopefully in time for better days ahead.
One of the reasons I was compelled to book here was because I wanted to stay in a wooden bungalow. I wonder how long these types of bungalows will be around, so I like to stay at them when I can. The showers are with a bucket, mosquitos get through the big cracks in the wall, and of course the wifi is terrible. It’s all part of the experience though that one day may not be there.
As much as I love walking on white sandy beaches with clear warm water lapping at my feet, the main reason I was here was to see what was happening on the island.
There are big plans for Koh Rong, including plans for casinos and highrises. I rented a motorbike to have a look for myself.
Even though it was the dry season when I visited, there was a mid-morning downpour just as I started off on my motorbike trip. I took refuge under a construction shed until the rain passed.
Most of the road from Sok San to the main pier has been sealed now, but there was one section that hasn’t been finished yet. I got back on the road again and I got a taste of how bad the roads are here when it rains.
Riding around the island there are already miles of construction fences marking out future developments.
At one of the construction sites, there is a masterplan map that gives an overview of what is planned for Koh Rong. Included in the plan are a new airport and a casino zone.
They were laying concrete roads while I was there, and once that is done then they will be able to send trucks anywhere on the island.
I went back to the main pier at Koh Touch because that is where most of the shops and cafes are. There is a decent beach here, and more things to do here than anywhere else.
I like these lowkey places with backpacker vibes. I would have stayed here if I had known, but I’m glad I stayed at Sok San.
I noticed how some of the diving and fishing shops are advertising in Chinese, as if to acknowledge who the main tourist groups will be in the future.
It feels like Koh Rong is in a sort of travel interregnum, where the pandemic has put a distinct gap between two eras of travel. The old era of western backpackers is receding while a new era on the horizon is of package tourists that will fly in and stay at resorts. I was there in this in between time, when Cambodia had only been open for a few months after the pandemic lockout.
Not to be that guy who is always telling people to “see it before it’s gone”, this might be your last chance to see Koh Rong in this iteration.