My First Tropical Island - Koh Rong Island, Cambodia

For someone who travels as much as I do, it might seem strange that I had never been to a tropical island. But that was exactly the case until several months ago. I finally visited my first tropical island, Koh Rong Island, off the coast of Cambodia.

Tropical islands are a hot spot for a lot of people in the United States because of the proximity to the south coast and the travel deals associated with them.  A lot of people also honeymoon on islands in the Caribbean, so of all the places Americans travel, and let’s be honest, it’s not that many statistically, tropical islands tend to be one of them. I had somehow escaped this particular type of travel, probably because I have trouble sitting on a beach or by a pool for too long. The heat and I just don’t really get along. (Yes I know I was in Southeast Asia for three months in the heat.)

About two and a half months into the Southeast Asia Leg of this journey, I finally made it to a coast and saw some ocean. It was worth the inland wait. To get to Koh Rong, you have to catch the ferry from Sihanoukville, a coastal city in the south of Cambodia. For me Sihanoukville was nothing more than a stop-over and I was happy about that once I saw it. It’s shabby and the whole place just feels icky. There is a lot of sex tourism and it’s not the kind that hides behind closed doors. I stayed one night in Sihanoukville because I couldn’t make the ferry in the same day as I arrived. The place I stayed was nice and had a lovely pool, however, once I started reading the materials in the room, I realized that it was a place where sex tourism was, I don’t know how to phrase it, tolerated, perhaps, maybe even encouraged.  

Koh Rong is known for being mostly undeveloped. There are rumors that someone has bought most of the land for development with the intention of creating a ring road but it is either untrue or held up in red tape. No one seems to know for sure. Frankly, I think it’s a good thing if it is held up in red tape because it allows time for more people to enjoy it in its near natural state.  Right now, there‘s basically the dock area, where the boats come in, guesthouses, bungalows and restaurants and bars.  It is a small strip and once you move off of it there are basically just beaches and a few bungalows.

I randomly found a place that was out of the main town and essentially had its own private beach. Well I guess it technically wasn’t private but there was no one there.  My getaway was called Pura Vita, and I was lucky enough to call when they were answering the phone to get a booking for three nights. It is on the pricier side for Cambodia but it was worth every penny to me. There is nothing around so the restaurant at Pura Vita is the only place to eat. I didn’t leave the area except for a long beach walk. It was bliss. I found it to be a wonderful break from the backpacker scene on the other side of the island.

My bungalow.

The heat was intense on the beach and even a dip in the clear turquoise water didn’t help. You could only be on the beach earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon/evening, otherwise you roasted. I went out for 15 minutes without sunscreen and I got a really bad burn. There’s plenty of shade, benches, hanging seats and picnic tables to get of the sun. Each bungalow was also equipped with a porch and double papasan chair, which was easily shaded.

Because of the timing, I was in the family bungalow which was larger and closer to the restaurant. I was given the option to change to a different bungalow that the owner claimed was nicer, but I really thought they were all the same so I stayed in my original bungalow. At night I could hear the waves crashing and they lulled me to sleep. I had a moonlight nightlight that glowed past the shades in my room and in through the floorboards. It was incredible. If you’re not going to see a tropical island until 31, then that was the way to do it!

A few notes on Pura Vita, it’s not a resort. It’s a string of bungalows practically right on the beach. It is hard to get to, they pick you up in a very small dingy from the dock and bring you over to Pura Vita (apparently it’s only a 40 minute walk into town but I never bothered to find out). Because of its isolation, it’s very quiet, trash disposal is a problem and the food is a bit expensive, but delicious. There is only power from 6pm to 10pm at night via a generator. Obviously this means there is no Internet. It’s a true retreat. The owner is absolutely wonderful and was chef in Canada for a while. She has taught her staff the ways of her kitchen and treats her staff like family. Everyone genuinely seems to be enjoying themselves and each other. At times it felt more like a home stay than a bungalow hotel. I would recommend a stay there any day.

As I was leaving an advance crew for TV show Survivor was trying to book with her. They were apparently filming nearby and wanted to use it as a base. She was very hesitant. She said she would rather have different guests for two months than the same guests for two months because it’s better for the referral part of the business. She also seemed skittish about the whole TV part of it. I was glad to hear she wasn’t just going to do it for the money. She clearly loves her place and works hard to make it paradise for everyone who passes through. 

---- A few friends I made ----