Cambodia: Koh Rong Sanloem

After the moped-based bustle of Phnom Penh, we decided to hit the beach. Destination number two of my travels: Koh Rong Sanloem. It’s an island off the south-west coast, supposedly comparable to what the now party islands of Thailand (Ko Samui, Ko Pha-Ngan etc.) used to be like – rugged and beautiful. That it was, though we had to work for it…

A driftwood picnic bench on Koh Rong Sanloem

We woke up early to road-closure chaos in Phnom Penh due to the water festival. Apparently the street our hostel was on is owned by the Cambodian mafia, who decide whether or not tuk-tuk drivers are allowed to be there, so it was going to be luck of the draw as to whether we could get one to the bus station or whether it’d be a sweaty 2km trudge. Luckily, Mr Tuk-Tuk came up trumps. We got to the bus ‘station’, a dusty yard with a donut seller and a ticket office, and this was also chaos due to the movement of people in and out of the capital for the water festival national holiday. Managed to elbow our way onto the bus and find our seats, and we only left 20 minutes late – which is early for Asian transport.

The roads had other ideas. It took us about 2 hours to get out of Phnom Penh, by which time we were due to be half way to Sihanoukville (the jumping off port city for the Southern Islands). To help pass the time, the driver ‘treated’ us to some Cambodian karaoke videos – which looked like awkward school discos with a lady singing on stage, stepping gingerly side to side, out of time. I swiftly found my earphones and tried to drown this out with a podcast, and then noticed the time. We’d booked the last ferry of the day at 3pm, and we were already running 2 hours behind schedule. As an answer to this tardiness, the driver stopped for a full sit-down lunch and a coffee. Welcome to Asian time; enough to give any Londoner a nervous twitch.

We arrived in Sihanoukville almost 3 hours late, and 15 mins before the last ferry. We did a tuk-tuk dash down to the port, got our tickets stamped – and as luck would have it, the ferry was actually half an hour delayed. Phew. Blood pressure returned to normal. Tip one: book at least one bus earlier than you think you need to if you have onward travel booked…

The ferry was due to be a 45-min hop from Sihanoukville over to Koh Rong Sanloem via Koh Rong (a bigger, busier, boozier island if you’re looking for a party), but it took that long to even load the boat. We suspect the main culprit was the hoard of Chinese with several colossal wheelie bags for luggage. The journey wasn’t too rocky but it did take 2 hours rather than 45 minutes, so that’s probably just as well.

A large Chinese tour group jostle to get their luggage onto the ferry at Sihanoukville…

When we finally arrived on the island, it was dark, and we discovered we were on the opposite side of the island to our hostel. We were told it wasn’t possible to get a boat round to the right bay that late, and as it turns out, even the boat schedule during the day wouldn’t have allowed us to spend more than a night there without missing our return ferry. Slightly disheartened, we found an alternative place to stay. This bay was still beautiful and undeveloped, just not as backpackery in its visitors.

The pier in Saracen Bay

We spent two days relaxing in the sun/cloud (through which I still managed to go piggy pink), being basic b*tches on the sea swings, sampling some delicious local cuisine (the Khmer chicken soup is a winner) and making friends with the island’s doggos.

Khmer chicken soup; lunch of champions
Fifi, the hostel pooch

Tip number 2 for solo travellers on Koh Rong Sanloem: stay in M’Pai bay – and check with your hostel which ferry company to use to get there! This is where we were supposed to be staying based on reviews and recommendations. However, the hostel directions hadn’t made clear there are multiple ferry companies, and when you Google it, weirdly only one company comes up – which doesn’t stop at M’Pai. Where we actually stayed in Saracen Bay was quieter; more couples and some families. Still a lovely few days, just not quite what we’d had in mind. Better luck next time.

Swingin’ about on the beach

City time and beach time, tick. Next up, history time…

Until then,

Number of strangers I’ve spoken to today: 4. Favourite of these the lady in the island ‘shop’ (read: one shelf of random groceries), who spent about 5 minutes trying to remember the word for ‘peanut’ after I’d asked what something was. Should have learned my lesson in the market in PP.
Interaction was: like a game of charades neither of us was ever going to win.

One Woman and her Backpack x

Follow me on Instagram @ellielfield

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