When most people think of the beach in southeast Asia they think of Thailand. Malaysia. Maybe even Borneo. But Cambodia? Cambodia isn’t generally associated with good beaches, yet is has a few incredible islands with white sands and aqua blue water off its small coast. Two such islands are Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem. While the names are quite similar the vibes are not and for me, Sanloem was the standout.
Koh Rong Sanloem
After escaping the awful Sihanoukville on a 1 ½ hour ferry ride, I arrived at Koh Rong Sanloem. About 1 minute after stepping foot on the island I knew I wasn’t leaving anytime soon – and wound up extending my stay for 6 days. Almost everyone I met did the same.
Sanloem boasts amazing white sand beaches on its main coast (Saracen Bay), plus more secluded beaches on the opposite side of the island you can easily hike to. As the island is so small, it’s possible to see both sunsets and sunrises. There are tons of cute bars and restaurants outside of equally cute lodgings with chairs oceanfront where you can have a beer, a meal, or just laze around all day. At night, a variety of twinkling lights add to the atmosphere. If you want to be less lazy, you can kayak, paddleboard, snorkel, read in a hammock or swing, or see the phosphorescent plankton at night. You can also hop a slow ferry to M’Pai Bay at the top of the island – a remote local community with a small beach – or do a day trip to another island.
Koh Rong Sanloem: Lazy Beach & Sunset Beach
There are 2 beautiful beaches on the backside of the island. Lazy Beach is closer to Saracen Bay and a quick 15 minute walk on an easy path (you could go barefoot). It’s a small, darker orange sand beach with deeper bright blue water and more waves sinces it’s an inlet between the jungle peaks. Sunset Beach requires a bit more effort – a treacherous 30-ish minute walk through the jungle over some rocks. Both beaches were very deserted when I went and both are amazing.
Koh Rong Sanloem: Full Moon Party
I was on the island during the full moon, and thus the monthly full moon party at Jungle Republic. Initially not planning to go because I’m “old,” I decided to stop being lame and went along with some people from my hostel. It turned out to be quite fun – cheap beer, a flaming limbo (terrifying, I’m surprised noone was hurt), a dance party under the stars (albeit with weird techno music). And, of course, an end-of-the-night swim.
Prefer to Party? Go to Koh (Rong)
Koh Rong is the more busy, less clean version of Koh Rong Sanloem and attracts the majority of the backpacker crowd. You can get to it from the main pier or hop a ferry between islands. It’s good for those who like to party; there’s a nightly pub crawl with a free vest. While it still has amazing beaches, the ones close to the port are a bit dirty and pale in comparison to Sanloem’s beauty. Also I am just obsessed with Sanloem. There are more dining options and cheaper ones at that, and even a street food vendor or two as the local village spills into town.
A walk away from the pier brings you to nicer and more secluded White Beach and 4k Beach where the resorts and bungalows are located. Way up north is the very remote Coconut Beach. I planned to go but it was downpouring and I didn’t feel like waking the hour and a half each way (you must walk on the main road to get there – you can’t go all the way on the beach). Water taxis go there too but, you know, not in budget.
Koh Rong was alright, but I much preferred Sanloem and found myself taking the ferry back after only a quick night’s stay in Koh Rong. For beach lovers like myself, Cambodia’s islands were an amazing stop to my trip and I am already secretly planning to go back.