In my opinion, Cambodia’s #1 top spot! Beaches, jungle, the small charming village of M’Pai Bei and very, very good vibes. Koh Rong Sanloem Island is one of those places that, no matter how long you’ve been there, you’ll always find an excuse to spend one more day.
KOH RONG OR KOH RONG SANLOEM?
Not only do these two islands have almost the same name, but they are also located next to one another in the Southeast of Cambodia. Therefore, it can sometimes be hard to decide which of them to visit:
However, the difference between them is very clear: Koh Rong, the biggest and probably most visited island, is the perfect place for backpackers looking for night life and hard partying. On the other hand, Koh Rong Sanloem is a much quieter island… then why is it so special?
(Of course Koh Rong has much more to offer apart from party. Alesha and Jarryd from Nomadasaurus tell us about it here.)
DISCOVERING KOH RONG SANLOEM
Basically, this small island consists of a main beach on the East side, Saracen Bay, where most of the resorts are, and a few smaller beaches scattered around the island, like M’Pai Bei in the north, or Sunset Beach and Lazy Beach in the West. The rest of the island is covered by thick, untouched jungle with almost no trails going through it. [Click on the map for a bigger view].
Better facilities are the reason why most people choose to stay in Saracen Bay. This, in my opinion, is a big mistake! Based on my experience, the one true reason why Koh Rong Sanloem is so special is… M’Pai Bei! Located in the north and isolated from the rest, this part of the island fills you with happiness and makes you forget about the rest of the world.
Enjoying the nice quiet crystal clear water, sitting on some rocks to watch the Sun dive into the water, discovering the diverse, colorful and abundant underwater life when snorkeling on the reef or exploring the wild jungle should be enough to convince anyone to visit this wonderful island. But this is only a small part of its magic. There is much more! 🙂
Not the beach, the sunsets, the underwater life, nor the jungle. The best part of M’Pai Bei (and probably of Koh Rong Sanloem) is undoubtedly its small village. Wooden houses, kids playing in the sand and extremely nice small shops (especially vegetable shops) and restaurants owners give a special atmosphere to the place.
Fortunately, this part of the island has not been corrupted by massive tourism, remaining fairly authentic. That makes it a perfect opportunity to observe and learn about Khmer local life (Khmer is the name of the main Cambodian ethnic group), and even be a part of it!
I was fortunate enough to be there when one young couple was getting married. Much to our surprise, I and the rest of the tourists staying in the village were invited to the Khmer wedding dinner! Yes, we were soooo lucky! 🙂 Lots of food, beer and dancing with the local people. Awesome!!
The Khmer wedding
Curious about what a Khmer wedding celebration is like? The truth is that this dinner/party was the last thing on a list of events that had been going on for several days. What shocked me the most was that the just married couple didn’t stop working the whole night! :O Welcoming the guests, serving the food, serving the drinks… They were really hosting a party for their guests! So different from the Western weddings I am used to!
Eating, drinking, and finally… time to dance! The dance floor was quite interesting: a table with a plant in the middle around which everyone was dancing! It is probably not very accurate to say that the dancing movements were similar to the famous Hawaiian ones, but that’s what I was thinking about when dancing… I hope the Khmer people will forgive me! :S
Normally I wouldn’t recommend a specific place to stay, and if for any reason I happened to do so, it definitely wouldn’t be the name of a subheading. So, the reason why I’m doing it this time is because I honestly think that Longvek Hostel is more than a place to stay. It is part of the overall Koh Rong Sanloem experience. I’ll probably end up forgetting most of the places I’ve stayed while travelling. NOT THIS ONE.
So what’s the secret of this $5 per night Hostel? Well, the secret is that it’s not a hostel. From the moment you walk in, you become part of a family. A family where cooking together, eating together and having coffee while chatting on the terrace are some of the common daily activities. Oh, and you better wake up early if you don’t want to miss the homemade bread made by Andrew (the owner of this wonderful place). Yummy! 🙂
I’m a pretty active guy, so usually I wouldn’t think of spending hours of the day just sitting on a hostel terrace… Here I did so. Enjoying the peaceful atmosphere, observing the villagers’ daily life, or playing with some little girls that used to come by when bored was simply priceless.
I definitely miss those days in Longvek Hostel. Fortunately, whenever I want to travel back to them, I just need to listen to the song that made this place an even more special one: Skinny Love by Bon Iver . Enjoy it!
SARACEN BAY, LAZY BEACH AND SUNSET BEACH
If spending a long time in Koh Rong Sanloem, it’s a good idea to discover some of the other beaches on the island, like Saracen Bay, Lazy Beach or Sunset Beach, which are connected to each other through the jungle. Take a taxi-boat when going to or from M’Pai Bei! Don’t be as stubborn as me and try to walk since there is no actual trail connecting the beaches.
Let me tell you more about my adventure through the jungle! The first day I arrived in the island I took the wrong boat from the mainland and got off at Saracen Bay. I had to reach M’Pai Bei, but I wasn’t willing to pay for a taxi-boat. Looking at the map, walking the 5km distance along the coast didn’t seem an extremely hard challenge… It was.
At first everything went smoothly, as climbing some rocks was the hardest challenge I found within the first kilometers. However, it got harder and harder… Look at the photo below, that was the first big challenge! The water was deeper than it seems, and swimming was not an option since I had my backpack (with a computer) with me…
Then, the final challenge was still to come: crossing two deep streams without any kind of bridge. After some time thinking of how the hell I was going to cross them, I found myself standing on a water pipe struggling not to fall into the water…
Finally, after three hours of adventure, I arrived to my destination, where I was told that the forest was home to King Cobras!! Whaaaaaat? So yep, better take a taxi-boat! 😉
At the beginning of the article I wrote that Koh Rong was the perfect island for those looking for party while Koh Rong Sanloem was a quiet one… well, that’s not completely true. There’s a crazy party going on every week on this island, the Jungle Rave. Leaving from Saracen Bay (the main beach) after a tiring up-hill 30-minute walk into the woods you’ll find yourself partying in a clearing in the middle of the jungle.
Although this clearing, called “Good Vibz Camp”, also hosts the Full Moon Party every month, it has nothing to do with the famous and super crowded one in Thailand. Unlike the Thai party, where thousands of people are dancing on the beach, the Good Vibz Camp parties are much more “familiar”, with hardly 200 people taking part of it.
A mixture of foreigners and local people spend the night enjoying the psy-trance music, the neon colors and the freedom that being in a jungle in the middle of an island offers 😉 . Tired? No problem, let’s have a rest in one of the hammocks in the open-air dorm. How cool is that! Best not to think about what kind of animals might be staring at you and just enjoy the night!
Once the sun is up, it’s time to go down. If you are quiet and lucky enough, you might spot some monkeys on the way! Or even more scary animals… Good luck!
HOW TO GET TO KOH RONG SANLOEM
There are ferries departing every morning from Serendipity pier in Sihanoukville both to Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem. There are two kinds of ferries, the fast one ($10 one way, less than one hour trip) and the slow one ($5 one way, two hours trip).
If you decide to stay in M’Pai Bei, make sure that the boat is stopping there and don’t get off at Saracen Bay. If you happen to get off at Saracen Bay, look for a taxi-boat to take you to M’Pai Bei and don’t try to walk from Saracen to M’Pai Bei like I did!
By the way, there isn’t an official taxi-boat service. So when I say look for a taxi-boat I actually mean look for someone who is willing to take you there in his own boat. Paying around $5 to $10 per person should be enough to convince them to do so. 😉
So, that’s the end of the article. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and that one day you can go to experience it yourself. Whichever beach you choose, you’ll definitely have a good time. But remember, I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to get involved in the daily life of M’Pai Bei villagers, even if there is no Khmer wedding celebration! 😉
Oh, and if you plan to go there, better hurry up! There was some construction work going on… Meanwhile, why not let your friends know about it by sharing the article? Thank you very much! 🙂