When I planned my trip around South East Asia, I spoke to a lot of friends, colleagues, and random strangers who had all travelled there previously – they turned out to be a wealth of information about where to go, what to do and where to stay. I have countless notes on my iPad they sent me of their favourite places and advice, and one place they seem to have in common are loving Cambodia. Well we’ve already established that I was more than disappointed by the country as a whole and rarely felt safe while travelling there, so I hoped that a trip to Koh Rong would change my mood. Koh Rong sounds like paradise when you hear about it – long, white sandy beaches, swings and hammocks overlooking the sea, those perfect sunsets. So you can imagine how much I was looking forward to it after seedy Sihounoukville – I was ready for a few days of swimming in crystal clear waters and relaxing. What I found after the two hour ferry ride over there was a beautiful island which has clearly been rapidly built up around the pier – so much building work was going on as I arrived and the locals were clearly doing everything they could to expand up, out and everywhere to accommodate the ever growing numbers of tourists.Sadly, these ever growing numbers were in short supply when I went there – it seems that just before Songkran pretty much everyone who was passing through headed to Thailand or Laos to celebrate, then headed home so Cambodia generally was seriously lacking in travellers. Perhaps this is what added to me feeling so unsafe when travelling through the country – by being one of the few travellers passing through I was just that much more of a target to those wanting to rip off or harm tourists. But I definitely expected Koh Rong, as a bit of a party island, to have a few more people around. It seemed a bit like the dregs of the travelling world were left behind when I arrived, and although I met some great people including bumping into two guys I had met in Vietnam, not many others were very impressed with the island either. It no longer held the appeal of a deserted island as I’m sure the other, smaller Koh Rong Samloem of nearby Koh Ta Kiev would have had. But the trashy puke-stained hostels, blocked up toilets, terrible music and waster atmosphere meant it missed out on having the appeal of a real party island. It reminded me of Koh Phi Phi and I really didn’t like Phi Phi – mainly because it reminded me of an extended episode of Sun Sea and Suspicious Parents – there are far better parties all across Asia in my opinion.I gave it my best shot – I found somewhere to stay that didn’t make me want to throw up by avoiding the main strip of dirty hostels and managed to get a room to myself for $10 a night after refusing to pay $30 – a huge bargain considering some of the outrageous prices on the island. I think I only got lucky because it was so empty at the time. I actually ended up meeting the production team of Survivor as soon as I walked off the ferry and once I had found a room somewhere I headed back out to meet them and party before they left. I had a pretty hilarious afternoon with them and it set the tone for a great time on the island, especially when I bumped into the two lads I met in Vietnam and they invited me on a nighttime fishing trip/boat party that night. I figured why not, it’s something different, and we had a great time with around 16 of us trying to catch grouper. I actually was one of the few people to catch a fish! And then swimming with the glowing plankton before eating BBQ’d fish on the boat. It was a great trip and a really fun first day – but as we headed back to shore about 1am I started to see the real Koh Rong with my rapidly sobering up eyes. The music was pumping even though nobody was there, the bars were pretty much empty except for a few small collections of sad looking souls who looked like they’d been partying for far too long and just needed a good mother. One particularly dirty girl looked like she’d been on the island for months in this pretty delirious state of confusion thanks to whatever she’d been taking. Now I have no problem with partying, anyone who’s read my posts on Koh Phanang, Pai or Laos will know I love it. But I just can’t enjoy party places like this – they remind me of the sad cousins of Zante, Magaluf and Malia – all places I came travelling to avoid.I took enough money to stay for a week (there’s no ATMs) but after three days of sunbathing and people watching I was bored solid. It seemed impossible to have a conversation beyond “I was soooo wasted” on the island and the nights out were terrible. Plus one other factor played a huge part in me wanting to leave early – SANDFLIES. Otherwise known as the demon bug that was trying to eat me alive. Over a month later, I still have marks on my legs from where the horrible little buggers were biting me every time I lay out on the sand to sunbathe. Locals recommended coconut oil, others said bug spray, I covered myself in everything I could think of and yet they still kept coming for me. For those who don’t know, sandflies are flies that live on certain beaches and they love to bite and drink our blood. While sunbathing, they will swarm all over you in certain places and this was the first place I had come across them. Now I can cope with mosquitoes, bed bugs and all the rest because you can soothe the bites and deal with them. There is no way of escaping sandflies and trust me, nothing soothes these itchy bites – I tried everything and they still itch now. After three days of being eaten alive and having the most boring experience of my time in Cambodia, I was done and caught the ferry back to Sihounoukville for a night before heading to Otres Beach for a few days for some real relaxation. I do make allowances for the fact that I went in serious low season and that will have affected my visit, and I know many people who have loved the island, but for me it was a huge disappointment. I would always tell anyone to go and experience it for themselves before making a decision but for me, I don’t think I’ll be bothering to head back anytime soon when there are so many better party places out there. My rule is that if you like Koh Phi Phi then you’ll love this place, but if you’re on the same page as me, you might also be disappointed. If you do go, I would recommend trying to get a room at Smile Guesthouse, which is just at the right end of the main strip of hostels and guest houses at the end of the pier. You’ll find it just before you start hitting the bungalows on the beach for extortionate prices. This place was very basic but the bathrooms were much cleaner than most I saw and the rooms were a good size, plus it felt a lot more secure. Plus the restaurant downstairs does a nightly BBQ and offers anything from fish like snapper and fresh tuna to lamb, beef and chicken – all served with fresh salad and potatoes. It was easily the best meal I had on the island – although the competition wasn’t great. Also, although I didn’t get a chance to go over there, apparently Long Bay is far more beautiful than the side I stayed on, plus it’s empty with nowhere to really stay, although you can camp if you fancy sleeping with the sandflies.
What did you think of Koh Rong? Can you recommend any other good places to stay or eat? Would you go back?