Living like a Castaway on Koh Rong Island, Cambodia

 
 

When we ended up in Cambodia toward the end of our trip in February 2015, we weren't totally sure what we'd do there. We were at the end of a long journey and the only thing on our mind was getting a little more relaxation on a beach.

We bussed it from Saigon, Vietnam to the capital city of Phnom Penh. We were quick to determine there wasn't much reason to stay, with our time overseas (and our budget) running out quickly. So as quickly as we arrived, we left on a bus to Sihanoukville, a beach town on the Southern coast of Cambodia. We knew about the island of Koh Rong and had friends who were already on the island working, or were going to be there soon.

When we arrived, some "hype kids" from Coco's bar instructed us to come and listen to a rundown about the island in their bar/lounge area. We thought they were just trying to sell us, so skipped this; but, if faced with the same scenario, DON'T! We totally should've listened to all the info they gave! It was super informative (we found out later).

Koh Rong was a little more expensive than other islands we had visited, so we had to stay in a cheaper hostel (and a little more "rustic" than we were used to). Koh Rong Island Boys was definitely the party spot, which was fine for us. It was a cheap bed, but the bathroom situation was rough.

Unfortunately, I got my first and only bout of tiger tummy while on Koh Rong. I was so sick for about two days, and because luck sucks sometimes, we were told that the water at our hostel would not be working for a few days, and that they did not know when it'd be back on. Not the time to be puking (and other things) when toilets are backed up and showers don't work.

Although that 48 hours were the worst, we met up with Matt & Jas (read We Will Go for the full rundown of our meeting Matt & Jas). They had a plan to go camp on Long Beach, a secluded beach on the other side of the island. They told us to go buy hammocks and stock up on food. So I figured sleeping in a hammock would be better than sick in bed with no fresh water or toilets.

As for our camp on Long Beach, here's how I described the experience in another post:

"The next few days were some of the best days on our entire trip. We lived like beach bums in the harsh Cambodian sun. It actually reminded me a lot of “The Beach”. A bunch of characters from all over the world setting up camp in the middle of nowhere in paradise. We underestimated a lot in terms of supplies, but we survived. We set up our group of hammocks under a small gathering of trees with big red fruits that no one knew the name for, but acknowledged were most likely poisonous. We spent afternoons relaxing, prepping meals, and swimming in the crystal clear water. We argued about proper cooking techniques and how to keep coals hot in the sand, and yelled every time someone kicked sand in our food. We drank and smoked around bonfires at night, swam with bio-luminescent plankton, and invented makeshift games that had us all belly laughing for hours. We heard stories of cobras and encountered giant hermit crabs and scorpions. We lived simply; a few days feeling like we were no longer a part of the real world."

During the afternoons, pairs of us would set out to replenish forgotten or depleted supplies. There was a day Brandon, Jas, and I stayed back and we just played frisbee in the warm sea water for hours, talking about life plans and what we'd do when we returned home. We talked about family and careers. Stuff that we hadn't spoken about in months. It didn't feel like the end of our trip, and it was the first time I had to face that reality.

By the end of the 3rd day, we had added multiple new souls to our camp. Including a friend of Matt's who had just randomly been walking the beach in search of another traveling friend (this stuff happens on the road all the time; can't even make it up). The excitement when they (quite literally) ran into each other was incredible. Another girl joined our fire after explaining she'd be pitching a tent by herself that night. Another friend who joined us, a Slovenian free spirit who enjoyed lounging in a very small men's bathing suit, chatted with us about socialism and the havoc it created in his country. We found out later he was a well-known dentist in Slovenia. Who are these interesting, brave people and how did we get so blessed to meet them?

At night, we played our own version of Pictionary in the sand by the light of the bonfire and laughed so hard we wept. Swimming with the plankton was incredible and terrifying. I didn't go very far out as I'm not too keen on swimming out into the ocean in complete darkness. But watching the glowing specks cascade around my hands in the ocean water was magical. Of course Brandon was meters out with Jas, enjoying the spectacle.

On my way back to the hammocks, I encountered the largest hermit crabs I've ever seen in my life. These were not the hermit crabs that lived in Mrs. Hewitt's 1st grade classroom. These were softball size; with sharp edges that, had I stepped on them, I'd be in trouble. I had to put headphones and music on at night to cover the sound of their munching on dry sticks and leaves... at least I think that's what the noise was!

"It was unspoken but there was an overwhelming sense of happiness and comradery among our group while we were on that beach. In a few short days, we had become a family. Matt and Jas had become our brothers. We all knew what we were experiencing was going to change the way we lived our lives and how we viewed the world."

I got up early in the last morning on Long Beach and laid on the white sand dune to write letters to all of the people that mean the most to me in the world. The mornings there were shaded and comfortable. The sand was cool and the water was calm. I washed my hair in the ocean (a stupid idea, by the way, it totally doesn't clean anything). It was a moment of clarity, and I just remember thinking how lucky we were to be there.

Also, when we were finally ready to leave, I was packing up my hammock and a scorpion fell out. So there was that too...

"When Brandon and I left, Jas came back with us to get more supplies for the rest of the group, who planned to stay a few more days. We had to head out and get back to the main land as our time in SE Asia was coming to a close. Watching our camp disappear in the distance, I looked back longingly."

We finally had a chance to put together some of the footage from camp, and compiled it in the quick video above. It truly was one of the best experiences of our whole lives. Just a beautiful few days <3

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT KOH RONG:

  • The island of Koh Rong does not have ATM machines. The whole island! So it is very important to bring cash with you! We were forced to surrender our passports in order to get a cash advance. We know how risky that is and probably shouldn't have, but it was our only option at the time.
  • Hostels typically run $20+ for private rooms (in comparison to the $10-15/night rates we found elsewhere in SE Asia).
  • Fresh water on Koh Rong is scarce and water outages seem to happen frequently. You will more than likely pay more than a 'budget backpackers price' for a place that has consistent, pressured water.
  • If you do decide to camp on Long Beach, consider EXTRA water. We hauled two large containers and one caught a leak and we braved the harsh Cambodian sun for a 2-3 hour walk to get more.
  • Also, for camping, consider a tarp to provide shade, and/or a machete or knife if you can find one! They're fairly easy to purchase on the mainland. Also ants get to EVERYTHING on this island. Make sure any food you have is sealed well or you'll get an infestation!
  • Definitely try the nightly BBQs at the hostels that line the main beach near the pier. Some seriously delicious food there!!!

If you want more info about camping on Long Beach, Koh Rong, contact us! We can steer you in the right direction!!!