Located in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Rong is Cambodia’s second-largest island. Koh Rong is blessed with nearly 27 miles of beautiful coastline and easy accessibility from the mainland; nevertheless, much of the island remains only lightly developed. The few roads that exist are dusty and unfinished. Infrastructure is basic at best—the police presence and medical facilities on the island are limited.
The jungle interior and scattering of remote beaches lend an air of ruggedness to Koh Rong. Some of the smaller bays are home to only one or two bungalow operations that get shared via word of mouth. Supplies and guests have to be brought in by boat. On some beaches, tents are easier to find than bungalows. For travelers seeking islands in Southeast Asia not yet steamrolled by tourism, Koh Rong is just the right amount of wild.
(The most developed beach and village on Koh Rong gets transliterated into a variety of names. We’ll stick with calling it Koh Toch, but you’ll also see it spelled Koh Touch, Koh Tui, and Koh Tuich.)
Planning Your Trip
- Best Time to Visit: Dry season for Koh Rong runs from November to April. The best weather can be enjoyed in December, January, and February, but these are also the busiest months to visit.
- Language: The official language is Khmer; however, hotel and restaurant staff speak enough English.
- Currency: Although Cambodian riel (KHR) is the official currency, nearly all prices are quoted in U.S. dollars. There are no ATMs on Koh Rong, so bring enough cash with you.
- Getting Around: Getting around Koh Rong can be a little challenging. You’ll need to hire a taxi boat or brave unfinished roads by motorbike taxi (or pricey scooter rental) to reach many of the remote beaches.
- Travel Tip: Unless you’re visiting Koh Rong primarily to party and socialize, consider choosing a better beach away from the nightly noise at Koh Toch, the biggest village.
Things to Do
Aside from enjoying some of the bluest water and whitest sand around, there isn't an abundance of things to do on Koh Rong, but that’s a good thing!
- Boat Trips: Group excursions include trips to nearby islands for snorkeling or fishing. You can join an existing tour or hire a private boatman to set your own itinerary. Some boat trips depart at night, offering a chance to see the glowing phosphorescent plankton that frequently visits the area.
- Diving: Scuba diving and PADI courses are available from a handful of dive shops scattered around the island. Koh Rong Dive Center at Koh Toch is the biggest operation.
- Pub Crawl: The twice-weekly pub crawl in Koh Toch is an organized way to meet fellow travelers. Ask around about joining or look for someone wearing one of the official shirts.
What to Eat and Drink
Koh Rong couldn’t easily be celebrated for its culinary prowess, but some hostel restaurants do offer hearty Western breakfasts. Fish of varying quality is always easy to find; beach barbecues are popular, but freshness varies from night to night. Thai food seems easier to find on the island than Cambodian food. On beaches away from Koh Toch, you may only have one or two choices for places to eat!
For an inexpensive breakfast and large portions, try the busy eatery at White Rose. Their fruit salad is the best deal on the strip, and travelers celebrate the oversized breakfast burritos as hangover cures. For better quality fare with an unbeatable view, grind up the many stairs to Sky Bar. Look for the sign and start of the stairs near Koh Lanta Restaurant.
Alcohol prices on the island are shockingly low. Some restaurants even throw in a free beer (one of the local lagers on draft) with dinner. Koh Toch comes alive at night with parties and entertainment.
Where to Stay
Compared to islands in Thailand, much of the accommodation on Koh Rong isn’t a good value. Standards are lower while prices are higher. For this reason, choosing where to stay on Koh Rong can be tricky for the first visit.
Koh Toch, the default arrival beach, is far from the best the island has to offer. Adding to the challenge, some of the beaches farther afield (you’ll probably need to take a taxi speedboat) have only one or two options each for accommodation. You should try to book ahead in the high-season months between November and April. Understand that some of the bungalow operations on remote beaches don’t have online listings; you can try to contact them via email or Facebook.
If you aren’t sure where to stay but know you don’t want to be near the noise at Koh Toch, consider defaulting to 4K Beach (also called Long Set). A handful of accommodation options (hostels, tent operations, and bungalows) are spaced widely along the long strip of sand. The priciest resort options are located at the farthest (northeast) end of the beach. The ferry from Sihanoukville can drop you directly at the pier, or you can walk from Koh Toch in around 20 minutes. If walking over from Koh Toch during high tide, you’ll have to wade through thigh-deep water with your luggage at one point to continue along 4K Beach.
Make no mistake: If you stay along the beach at Koh Toch, you’ll have to deal with nightly thumping music and noisy partygoers. For a more tranquil environment, you should choose a different beach. If staying elsewhere isn’t an option, you can limit the noise a little by staying on the northern fringe of Koh Toch or farther up the one road that leads inland (turn at the White Rose restaurant).
Koh Rong is accessed via Sihanoukville (airport code: KOS), a port city once popular with travelers. Unfortunately, unrestrained foreign development has reduced Sihanoukville to a literal wasteland of rubble and casino construction. Limit your time there.
Several companies run ferries and fast boats between Sihanoukville and Koh Rong; Speed Ferry Cambodia is one of the biggest operators. When booking a ticket, tell them where you want to arrive on Koh Rong: Koh Toch (the default), 4K Beach (Long Set), or Sok San. Listen carefully for your pier to be shouted above the noise before each stop the ferry makes. Your boat could also possibly call into Koh Rong Sanloem—a different island entirely! Ask someone if you aren’t sure where to get off.
The ferry crossing can be a wild ride in rough seas. Passengers and baggage do get wet. Waterproof your passport, and take precautions if you’re prone to seasickness.
When departing Koh Rong to fly out of Sihanoukville, allow a larger time buffer than usual. Sea conditions and mechanical problems can delay ferries. Road construction and other unforeseen events in Sihanoukville can stretch the usual hour-long journey to the airport into 90 minutes or more.
Biting sand flies are a serious nuisance on some beaches, especially Koh Toch. You’ll see travelers everywhere with oozing sores from the slow-healing bites. Wear mosquito repellent when not swimming, and sit on a sarong. Avoid sunbathing directly on the sand.
Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness, is another good reason to bring ample mosquito repellent from the mainland. Outbreaks on the island are frequent. If your bungalow has a mosquito net, it’s there for a reason—use it! Spray holes in the net and window screens with repellent.
Theft has been a problem in the past. Lock your bungalow door when going to the beach. Ensure that windows can be secured; broken latches may indicate they’ve been forced open in the past.
Although easily avoidable, Koh Rong has an open drug scene. The ironically named “Police Beach” located adjacent to Koh Toch is one place where regular parties include easy access to illegal drugs. Deaths due to overdose or drowning do happen. Although illegal, marijuana is smoked openly on Koh Rong. Cambodia’s drug laws are among the harshest in Asia; if caught, you could be given prison time or asked to pay a steep bribe.
Money Saving Tips
- Bring extra U.S. dollars with you. With no ATMs on Koh Rong, your only option for accessing cash is to use a cash-back service offered by some shops and resorts. These don’t always work, and you’ll be charged at least 10 percent for the transaction. Boating to Sihanoukville and back just to find an ATM is an expensive waste of time and energy.
- No need to pay for a taxi boat from Koh Toch to enjoy the nicer sand at 4K Beach. The same applies when staying on 4K Beach and running to Koh Toch for supplies or more restaurant choices. You can walk from one beach to another in around 20 minutes via an easy jungle trail.
- If you need to fly out of Sihanoukville after leaving Koh Rong, consider purchasing only a one-way ferry ticket instead of succumbing to pressure to book an open-ended return ticket in Sihanoukville. Later, you’ll have more flexibility when purchasing your ticket back to the mainland and won’t be locked into using the same company that brought you over. If sea conditions or other issues cause one of the operators to delay or cancel service, you’ll have other options.