Everything you’re reading here will be obsolete in a year or less so if you have the time and money (and by money, I mean at least drawing welfare), catch a plane to Cambodia, and then a boat to the semi-deserted island of Koh Rong, a destination that has the capability of becoming the next Ibiza in the world…
if things go according to plan.
I arrived in Koh Rong determined to stay for a few weeks after criss-crossing the world the past few weeks on various performances and projects. For those that would like to soak up a bit of culture before diving head-first into the sin (foreshadowing) to come in Koh Rong, try flying into Bangkok first and then taking a bus from there to Siem Reap, Cambodia and then from there down to the country’s capital Phnom Penh. By the time you reach Koh Rong, you will be ready to relieve yourself of the daily grind of saying ‘no no no‘ to all of the people clamoring to sell you trinkets, food, and other items.
Arriving in Koh Rong in and of itself is an adventure. If you take the speed boat there, prepare for a wild ride, and if you take the slow boat, prepare for an interesting one, to say the least. Luckily, my own trip to the island was relatively painless, although once on the island I heard several stories of people crying as they feared for their lives on the tempestuous waters, vomit fests on the boat with no escape for hours, and five-plus hour boat rides that should have been two. So I considered myself lucky to have arrived in a relatively short one and a half hours. As soon as me and my entourage (one Israeli guy and one German girl) got off the boat, our designated tour guide took us all aside and gave us an introduction into the island that put the fear of God in many in attendance.
Her spiel went a bit something like this:
On the island, there are lizards, sand flies, mosquitoes, possible dengue fever, and some very un-funny monkeys. In other words, try to survive your stay. With words of encouragement like that, no wonder you can buy bottles of rum for two dollars.
Who wants to be sober when they die?!
After that woeful welcome, it was every man for himself as the new people on the island all clamored for rooms in the few guesthouses located on the small island. Since most of these accommodations are not accessible online for reservations, it literally meant running from place to place to find out who could give the best price. On Koh Rong, there is no such thing as a definite price tag, so be prepared to haggle, as I was.
After a series of near misses and almosts, I finally found the place for me and my crew: Ponleu Pich, located directly at the pier. For the grand total of $12 a night split three ways, we were treated to a small room with two beds and in the process became neighbors with one of the biggest (and loudest) clubs on the island, Coco’s. Since Coco’s was basically an outside bar, we had the grand distinction of sharing a wall with them. Of course, when no one goes to bed before two in the morning, this isn’t likely to pose a problem.
Once unpacked, we got down to the business of doing what we came to do at Koh Rong:
And since the beach was literally right there, it did not take us long before we were lying out on white sandy beaches surrounded by beautiful, young people from all over the world. For you won’t see any old people on the shores of Koh Rong for one simple fact: they would die if they were to stay there.
No, the old people are smart enough to know that they should stay on the mainland in Sihanoukville, where there are luxuries like toilets that can withstand the tide of toilet tissue, a police presence, and doctors. You won’t find these things on Koh Rong, so if you are inclined to violence and prone to sickness, you might want to go elsewhere. This is the semi-hippie island of love, peace, and drug-induced happiness. If you are not here to chill the f*ck out, then go to Bangkok!
Although the intent of the vacation was to R&R, we decided to not be total beach potatoes and on the third day, we took a trip to the other side of the island, a remote section known as Long Beach. Reaching Long Beach in and of itself is quite a workout and is one of the reasons why it remains typically bare of tourists once you arrive on the other side. The trail to reach Long Island is spotty at best, with the only markers being red paint and abandoned sandals. At a few points during the journey, we were not exactly sure which way to go and made a few roundabouts before we were on our way again. We did the hike barefoot and in sandals but shoes are definitely advised, since there are many parts that are truly off any beaten path. But once you arrive, you feel like you’ve actually done something and look forward to the view, which is indeed beautiful to the eye. In a few years, you can totally forget about the view I am describing, however.
So for now, we enjoyed it and were glad to be able to see it before it gets raped of its natural beauty. On Long Beach, there isn’t much to do but lie on the beach and relax because there is not much on the other side save for a guesthouse or two. But to get away from the craziness of the other side for a day is a great escape from the escape, so to speak. To get back to the the civilized portion of Koh Rong, we had two options: hike back through the jungle for another hour or pay for a small ferry ride back. Not wanting to encounter any un-funny monkeys after sunset, we chose the latter, of course.
Once back on the island, we headed to our favorite restaurant on the island. And by ‘favorite restaurant on the island’, I mean the one least likely to cause a case of explosive diarrhea. For if you are on the island of Koh Rong and never get a case of severe booty betrayal, you must contact us and tell us how you did it. Nam Nam Restaurant, run by a Canadian named Jay, became our top spot, the place where everyone knew our names…or at least our drink orders. And with drinks this cheap, we always ordered a slew of them. In fact, getting drunk on the island is an absolute must and almost impossible not to encounter. Besides, having a bit of vodka in your system decreases the amount of bacteria swimming inside your organs as the night drags on.
Nights that can possibly drag on forever are not outside the realm of possibility on Koh Rong island, despite the fact that between two in the morning and eight there is no electricity available. That’s what generators are for and a few of the clubs – Coco’s, Mango’s, Bunna’s – are in possession of them, which has led to them being referred to as the top party destinations. This reference is warranted, however, and there were many a night out that we were the usual suspects at either one (or all) of these clubs. Since Koh Rong is not yet Ibiza, however, expecting quality music is pushing it. So we went with the flow and ignored the start/stop action of the DJ sets and just drank more to forget that we’d heard the same song at least five times in the past hour. If you want David Guetta, head to Ibiza. He won’t be in Koh Rong for at least another five years.
One thing that Koh Rong does have on the island is a pharmacy. Thank the heavens for that, because with all the young and beautiful people flailing around all day and night, it is a given that bumping pretty uglies is par for the course. If you are not keen on purchasing Cambodian prophylactics, however, be sure to bring your own and use them.
Just remember: Koh Rong is only one street and not even that. Anyone you hook up with, you will see out and about so keep relations cordial or you’ll be forced to hide out in the jungle until you leave. Take it from someone that has been around the block. Not in Koh Rong, however.
There is no block.
For those that like to have their vacations sprinkled with Studio 54-like powders and residues that could be a resi-don’t, fret not because the island does manage to supply those as well. Not sure where they originated from, but smoking grass casually – among other things – was not frowned upon and was actually encouraged.
It’s an island, after all.
Scams on the island are not the norm, but of course, it is bound to happen, and that’s what happened to us when we decided to be slightly adventurous on the island and go on a tour of all the neighboring islands courtesy of our guesthouse, which arranged it all.
You never know what you’re going to get when you order anything on Koh Rong and that extends to travel packages as well. Initially booked on a small boat, we ended up on a slightly larger boat with eleven other people and were taken to a small reef to snorkel. The only problem with the snorkeling was that many of the snorkels in question did not work, so that was out.
Next, we were taken to Koh Rong Samloen, the smaller bastard sister of Koh Rong that is desolate now, but working on becoming a true contender to its big sister. For now, it is just a stop for people staying on Koh Rong to get away from it all for a couple of hours. After walking around Koh Rong Samloem for a half hour, we were back on the small boat and battling huge waves that had many on the boat screaming about movies like Castaway, The Perfect Storm, and of course, imminent death. The boat took us back to a spot we’d already been to – Long Beach – and it certainly wasn’t any livelier the second time around. But the highlight of the trip, the piece de resistance, was the night boat back to Koh Rong, where we stopped off to jump back into the water and swim with the plankton, which lit up the waters as we swam around. Was it worth the twelve bucks they scammed us for?
But then again, it was only twelve bucks for the entire day. Try getting anything in Ibiza for twelve bucks these days!
And from the fourth until the twelfth day, we did just about the same thing every day:
get up, beach, drink, eat, drink, dance, flirt and make out with not so random (at least not anymore) strangers, and then to bed after the last club switched off their generators and closed. In other words: rinse and repeat!
Highlights during that time included being awakened daily to Christmas music that featured all of your favorites like Bing Crosby, Nat ‘King’ Cole, and perennial favorite Mariah Carey. The true stars of the island? The water buffalo, which most never actually saw, but when they did make an appearance, cameras came out and those buffalo might as well have been Brangelina with half a dozen kids in tow. My entourage was certainly guilty of a few snaps or two when we saw one being led down the beach one afternoon. A bit of a let-down was Sky Bar, which was the big club all the way up in the sky looking down on the beach. In theory, it should have been the meeting place, but it turned out not to be. The reasoning was simple: who wanted to or was even sober enough to navigate all those stairs to get to the top?! Until Sky Bar gets an elevator?
The best aspect of Koh Rong, presently, is the ease in meeting other people from other countries. Aside from a few wayward (and habitually drunk) Russians, everyone was friendly and there was no pretense to be found. After speaking with Koh Rong’s resident masseur (who strangely resembled Jesus), we learned that in less than six months, the island had already experienced excessive inflation and he opined that the feeling felt now would be gone in less than a couple of years. Indeed, we were lucky to have experienced it when we did, because the beauty of the island is what leads to many to stay for weeks to months. But for us, we decided that two weeks was enough and decided to hightail it out of there after getting a case of the boreds. Because although we all claimed to want to be lazy, at the end of the day?
Not so much.
So if you are reading this, know that Koh Rong is about to undergo a dramatic transformation, essentially making this article obsolete before the end of 2015. A word of advice is to get there before the fat Americans do because that is a sure sign that it’s over. We enjoyed our Christmas celebration there, but never again will I venture to this island, so intent I am on retaining this slice of heaven and experience printed indelibly in my head forever.
My prediction is that the island will become transformed into an enclave of mini-Ibizas, with all the fat Brits, Germans, Americans, and any other rich countries that you can fit on it – all there with their 2.5 kids, attitude, and busted hips.
So act fast!
Go get Koh Rong-out now!