Tune out from the modern world and get way off the beaten track at the Cambodian island of Koh Rong Samloem, where time seemingly stands still.
WE’VE ALL FELT THE NEED at some point in life to bury our heads – or feet – deep in the sand, escape the clutches of modern life, and get away from it all. The Cambodian island of Koh Rong Samloem is the perfect remedy, boasting heaps of rustic charm, lonely stretches of powder white beaches, a rugged interior of untouched jungle, and stacks of the warm hospitality that Cambodia is famed for.
Don’t expect the amenities or infrastructure that you find on the region’s more developed islands, such as Thailand’s Phuket and Koh Samui or Vietnam’s Phu Quoc. Currently, no roads cross the compact 24-square-kilometre island, meaning the only way to get from one side to the other is trudging along small tracks that snake through jungle or aboard one of the colourful fishing boats seen bobbing on the island’s bays.
The main beach areas take in the more exclusive Saracen Bay – although several business owners were recently booted out to pave the way for two large tourism developments, so change is tinkering on the horizon – where several boutique resorts overlook dazzling white sands tickled by azure waters. Elsewhere you can switch off your phone and sink into simple island life true Robinson Crusoe style at Sunset or Lazy beaches.
Our favourite spot is the charming fishing village of M’Pai Bay. While it may be the liveliest place on the island, life remains chilled. A small drag of guesthouses, restaurants and bars sit among gently wafting palms that fringe the shoreline. Behind sits a lazily growing collection of eating and drinking spots, cafes, and places to stay.
Home to about 180 families, M’Pai Bay is where you’ll experience Cambodians’ warmth and abundant curiosity. Cute kids scream hello! as they dash along the sand, fishermen flash smiles as they board their boats, and villagers are happy to swap stories about life. If you want a moment or two alone, then a five-minute walk away sits locally named Long Beach, where you can enjoy the piercing white sands pretty much to yourself.
If you’re into snorkelling and scuba diving, then there are plenty of dive sites that sit off the coastline. Colourful coral reefs brim with more than 600 species of marine life, including clown fish, rays, seahorses and pufferfish. Another incredible experience is an evening boat trip, with the waters that surround the island home to bioluminescent plankton that light up like a twinkling sky as you cruise through them.
No matter where you are on Koh Rong Samloem, the ultimate deserted tropical island experience is never far away, with the island’s rim freckled with isolated postcard-perfect beaches where the sand is as soft as snow crunching beneath your feet and inviting clear waters abound. So, if you fancy experiencing desolate stretches of sand to yourself and warm inviting waters, Koh Rong Samloem is raw beauty at its finest.
Koh Rong Samloem isn’t five-star luxury. Rather, you’re going for cozy and castaway here:
My Way M’Pay Bay is a charming three-bedroom beach house, complete with kitchen and living space. www.airbnb.com; US$52 per night.
Bar Bok Bowie is a cliffside bar perfect for sunset—and it serves excellent gin and tonics. www.facebook.com/bokbowie
A 40-minute speed boat departs from Sihanoukville, on Cambodia’s southern mainland, for Koh Rong Samloem three times a day. www.gtvcspeedboatcambodia.com/en/transit/pages; US$25 roundtrip.
Images courtesy of Marissa Carruthers.
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