A bucket list fulfillment
“After lots of partying and traveling around the most crowded places of Southeast Asia, my travel buddy and I wanted some quiet time at the shores of a spotless beach, and nothing else”. These were the words of a seasoned traveler I met in Myanmar when he described what he was looking for and introduced to me Koh Rong Sanloem, in the Southeast Asian country of Cambodia. “Basically it is you and nature. Cellphone signal is weak. At night, if you go for a swim, you can see the luminescent plankton glowing around you”.
When the time came for me to visit Cambodia, I was determined to see this described paradise with my own eyes, and that is how this island (kaoh, in the local Khmer language) was definitely included in my route across the country. After my time there, I consider it to be an ideal beach destination for a backpacker: no fancy hotels, paved roads, or the noise of beach sports and their participants. It’s perfection in simplicity. Just white fine sand, turquoise waters, glowing sunsets and the sound of the waves touching the shore.
Location and expenses
To get to Koh Rong Sanloem from the Cambodian mainland, daily ferry boats depart from the Ferry Station in Sihanoukville and back. The island actually has several beaches with more development for tourists, but I am talking particularly about Clear Water Bay. The name of the pier where the boat alights its passengers is called Driftwood Pier (pretty descriptive name, huh?).
In these shores, there is only one accommodation option: The Driftwood Hostel. Yes, Driftwood Pier and Driftwood Hostel. And to say “hostel” is to say a lot since once you check in in the main hall, you just get a bunk bed in a shack with some mosquito nets.
Some basic expenses for a decent experience at Koh Rong Sanloem, including transportation to and from the island, are as follow:
- The round trip between Koh Rong Sanloem and the Ferry Station is USD 20. If you plan to travel from Cambodia’s capital, you can book the whole trip at your hostel and pay an additional USD 10 for the land transport from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, and to the station.
- If you stay at the Driftwood Hostel, they offer meals (check the timetable) ranging from USD4 to USD10. The quality is decent and the amount is fair.
- This hostel also offers water refill for less than one US dollar, but it is subject to availability.
- One night at a shared bedroom is about USD5.
What to do at paradise
Well, it is up to you! Doing nothing is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think in a place like this. However, there are some really simple but entertaining things that can still be done here. Here I drop some suggestions:
- Relax in the seawater: there are some very simple wooden swings, platforms, and chairs where one can linger the whole day.
- Share experiences with the rest of the travelers at the hostel reception: the hostel serves three home-made style meals per day, but the dinner is special. The staff will assume you will join everyone else for dinner at 8 pm unless you call it off. This initiative promotes a friendly environment among the guests. These kinds of “travel networking” have certainly inspired me every time by talking with other travelers, who always had given me new ideas of destinations, routes, travel hacks, etc. The administration of the hostel hires travelers from all around the world who stay for a couple of months and then leave, so you will always find new stories to hear. While you chat, you can also leave a little memento of your stay by unleashing your inner artist, making a handcraft and hanging it somewhere in the main hall.
- Retrieve some trash from the beach for a free drink: Although I said “spotless beach” before, sadly the human activity surrounding the area has its impact in Koh Rong Sanloem. Plastic and other kinds of waste can be found in the waters and shores occasionally. At the time of my visit, the Driftwood Hostel had a “deal” with its visitors: collect a bag of trash and take them back to the main hall for a free beer. Give it a try!
- Go for a walk to the north beach: this beach can be accessed by foot, crossing the jungle between them. It is a nice trail that takes about 30 minutes, and once you get there, there are more accommodations, stores, and restaurants to choose from. In fact, many people arrive at this side because is more “comfortable” and cross the jungle just to enjoy the beach at Clear Water Bay. Cellphone signal is considerably better on this side as well (in case you want to get in touch with the world).
- Have a fresh fruit shake: one of the clear advantages of being in a tropical country is the availability of fresh mangoes, bananas, and other delicious fruits. Needless to say, a fruit shake at the beach shore is never a bad idea.
- See the luminescent plankton at night: you can see these little organisms during the night. Thus, in order to do this activity safely, make sure to let someone else know that you are going for a dive at night, or even better, have someone else to join you. Once you are in the water, dive and move your limbs as fast as possible under the water and you will be able to see the white-bluish light like bubbles coming from the plankton.
- Bring your own party: unless you are willing to pay twice the price of the mainland, you better bring your snacks and drinks with you. Once you get to the island and check in, though, you will be advised to leave all your foodstuff locked in boxes in the main hall due to the wild rats that roam the island. Do not worry, they do not eat people in their sleep, just the food in your backpack leaving ugly holes on them, so take the staff’s advice and put your stuff in those boxes.
- Insect repellent: mosquito nets are given for a good reason. So, whenever you are not in your bed, or in the water, you should have repellent at hand. Mosquitoes here can really spoil your experience, so it is better to be prepared.
- Keep the daily boat schedule in mind, since they are very few. At the time of your departure, ask the hostel reception for this information and be at the Driftwood Pier on time to board.
All pictures were taken with an iPhone 5 (8 MP, f/2.4) and a Pentax Q10 (12.4 MP + Pentax 02 Standard Zoom Lens).