Imagine a place where your boss, your mom and your Instagram followers can’t reach you unless they want to take a 20+ hour flight followed by a 5-hour bus ride followed by a 45-minute ferry.
… Welcome to Koh Rong Samleom.
The Cambodian island is the kind of place you dream about when you imagine packing your bags and dropping everything to move to a deserted island. It has the white sand beaches, crystal clear waters and total remote-ness that you dream about when you’re sitting at your desk in the middle of February in New York City. If “beach porn” was a thing (… is it a thing? should I start that??), Koh Rong Samleom would be the biggest star in the world.
The island is located 45 minutes by boat from the beach town of Sihanoukville. There are two islands: Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samleom (which is also spelled Soleom, Saleon, Someleon… and all kinds of other ways). It’s really confusing.
Koh Rong is a larger island, also located 45 minutes away from Sihannoukville. It’s beautiful, but it’s full of backpackers who, in the words of one local I met, “Pay $5 for a bungalow and complain about $1 beer but roll on $25 worth of MDMA every day for a week.” I spent one night in Koh Rong, and decided it wasn’t really my scene (there was a lot of trash on the beach, and an cruise ship of tourists landed at our hotel while I was in the middle of an ocean-front massage), so caught a boat over to the nearby Somleom which I had heard was a more relaxing and isolated spot.
As we got closer and close to the island, the service bars on my phone got lower and lower until they finally dropped off completely. I was being forcibly disconnected (… thank God it was a Saturday) and I was pumped. With the exception of spotty wifi in the hotel’s lobby, James and I were totally cut off from the world and it was heaven.
Here’s what we did during our one, heavenly day in Koh Rong Samleom… Aside from pinch ourselves to make sure it wasn’t all a dream.
Where We Stayed
The Moonlight Hotel
Because Koh Rong Samleom is so isolated, there aren’t any resorts or major hotels on the island. All of the accommodations are bungalow style, and we picked two of the most unique ones we could find to spend our nights in. The Moonlight Hotel is an absolutely bizarre place, in the best way possible. Each of the bungalows is modeled after a design from NASA, and built out of sand to resemble an anti-hill. Inside our dome-shaped hut, there was a circular platform bed in the middle of the floor that looked exactly like the one from Austin Powers. We paid $200 for the night at the bungalow, which is crazy expensive as far as Cambodian prices go, and as weird as the place was it didn’t quite feel like it was worth the money. For $200, IMHO, the toilet and the shower should be two separate entities. The banana pancakes at breakfast were delicious, though, which almost made up for the fact that the air conditioning stopped working halfway through the night.
Because we weren’t in love with the Moonlight and wanted to stay with the theme of “weirdest bungalows ever,” we spent our second night on the island at a resort called “Pipes,” where each of the rooms are literally built inside of pipes. They are surprisingly more spacious than you’d expect and fit a queen sized bed and a full bathroom with a separate toilet and shower (SCORE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). Ours happened to be the “pipe” closest to the ocean and had floor to ceiling windows facing the beach, so we got to wake up looking at the sunrise. Pipes was $130 for the night, which is a lot pricier than most other places on the island, but worth it for the toilet/shower situation alone.
What We Did
Lounged Around On Sacaren Bay
There are hammocks, swings, day beds and pretty much every other prop you would ever need to create the perfect “I’m On A Beach!” Instagram Photo.
Hiked To Lazy Beach
Growing up in Rhode Island, AKA The Ocean State,I’m kind of a snob when it comes to beaches. So I can say with genuine authority that Lazy Beach is the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s a 20-minute walk from Saracen Bay (the main part of the island, where theferries land) through the jungle, which is a fun experience in itself. There are all kinds of signs cautioning you to watch for monkeys, though we sadly didn’t see any. BUT the real treat is the beach itself — I’ll let the photos do the talking.
Cruised With A Local Fisherman
For $30 each, we spent the afternoon on a private boat tour around the island. We snorkeled with some sea urchins and Nemo-looking fish, which was OK, but the coolest part of the experience was being on the boat and getting to see the landscape from the water. It was too hot to sit on the beach, so it was the perfect way to be outside and have some sort of a breeze to make it more manageable.
Watched The Sunset From The North End
Technically, Sunset Beach is the most beautiful spot on the island to see the sun go down, but it’s difficult to reach by boat and requires a tough 45-minute hike which we decided against in the 90+ degree heat. Instead, our boat took us to a fishing village at the North end of the island where we got to see a local village. The North end has a few cheap backpacker dorms (we’re talking $5 a night bunk beds) but has very, very few tourists. We watched the GLORIOUS sunset fro
m a cliff outside of a bar called The Dragonfly.
Swam With Bioluminescent Plankton
There are a lot of incredible things on Koh Rong Samleom worth obsessing over (did I mention the Instagram swings???), but none of it was more exciting than the GLOW IN THE DARK PLANKTON. The “Bioluminescent Plankton,” as everyone else insists on calling them, hide out during the day, but at night (especially when the moon is at its skinniest) they go wild. Our boat driver took us to a pitch black patch of ocean on our way back to Sacaren Bay and told us to jump in the water. As soon as we did, the water around us lit up like crazy — as if there were fireflies swimming all around us. It was impossible to get a photo, but trust me… IT WAS LIT.
Where We Ate
Secret Paradise Hotel Restaurant
When we got to Secret Paradise, the kitchen was closed, and they agreed to serve us anyway, which was legitimately one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. The menu has an odd mix of Cambodian and Polish cuisine, but somehow it works. We had Shrimp Amok and Beef Lok Lak, two of the most traditional Khmer dishes you can find, and both were delicious. Plus, the ocean-front atmosphere is super romantic and the cocktail selection is unbeatable.
The One Hotel Restaurant
This is one of the other nice hotels on the island, and it has a great atmosphere and delicious Western and Asian dishes. We had the Fish Amok and Ginger Chicken, which were pretty good. I think the menu is generally better known for its Western dishes (the restaurant is managed by Europeans), of which the menu offers a lot of.
The Moonlight Hotel Restaurant
Everyone raves about how amazing the pizza here is, but clearly they have never eaten pizza in New York. I’ve always believed that there was no such thing as bad pizza, but the food at the Moonlight changed my mind about it. I couldn’t even get through one slice.