Having already spent some time on Phu Quoc island, we were eager to explore some of the islands off the south coast of Cambodia. Sihanoukville is the gateway resort town for reaching the islands but it is not somewhere we wanted to spend any time. The town is a hedonistic resort where half naked young backpackers drunkenly crawl the many bars. There are problems with theft, prostitution, drugs and tourist scams, not to mention the impact on the environment. We arrived into town by bus and waited around two hours for the next available boat to the islands, which could not have come soon enough. Just before our ferry arrived, we saw a pirate party booze cruise leaving the dock. Around 50 barefoot, sunburnt, paralytic youths were herded onto two boats with booming music and encouraged to down their beers. As we looked along the beach it was more like Magaluf than the beautiful beach resort, nestled in the gulf of Thailand that it should be. Feeling glad to have not spent a night there, we boarded the speed boat to Koh Rong.
The island looked beautiful on our approach and we were excited to get off the boat and find a place to stay. As we walked along the pier we saw fish swimming in the clear blue sea. When we began walking along the beach we were surprised by how built up the island was. Many guest houses were crammed into a very small section of beach, like Sihanoukville there were westerners working in all of them. We took a room in a guest house and went to explore the beach. It is clear that the boom of tourism in Koh Rong is bringing in money to local residents, but it is also bringing in pollution. Sections of the beach were filthy, littered with cigarettes, plastic and other waste. The island was a mess, and needed a real clean up. It is such a shame to see the potential of how beautiful a place can be, ruined by high impacting tourism, lack of regulations and education. Following a terrible nights sleep and a six AM wake up call from the building site next to us, we decided to leave Koh Rong.
We caught a smaller speed boat to the next island Koh Rong Samloem, hoping things would get better. When the boat pulled into Saracen Bay we were elated to see an unspoilt white sand beach and crystal clear seas. The accommodation was spread out and much more in keeping with the surroundings, this really was the paradise island we had been looking for. It felt secluded and peaceful, we often had the whole sea to ourselves whilst swimming in the spa like water. We spent five days on the island but would have stayed much longer if only they had an ATM or a card machine! We spent our days relaxing outside our beach front bungalow, swimming in the calm waters and reading several books. Our only company were the friendly Lizards in our bungalow that did a great job of keeping the bugs under control. The days passed all too quickly and leaving the island was a sad experience for us, especially as we had to spend a night in the debauched and depraved capital of chaos before moving on. With the rise of tourism is it hard to find such unspoilt natural beauty as Koh Rong Samloem, we would highly recommend visiting the island and hope to return soon.
We returned to Koh Rong Samloem for Emily to complete her PADI Advanced dive course, but stayed in a bungalow on the other side of the island.