Not knowing what to expect from Koh Rong, I only decided to go at the last minute but I’m glad I did because it was one of the best places I have ever visited. In many ways it fit my fantasy of a remote island; although only two hours from Sihanoukville, it was undeveloped in the extreme and very few tourists visited. By my estimate, there could not have been more than two hundred foreigners when I was there.
There were no roads, ATMs, hot water or medical facilities on the island; though strangely enough, wifi was widely available. Electricity was limited to the night when the generator was turned on. Chickens and young children roamed freely on the main beach where the strip of bars and budget accommodations was located. I even saw an ox wandering around on occasion.
Like most backpackers on the Southeast Asia circuit, I read The Beach a few years ago and I have to admit I am a little obsessed with it. But it wasn’t on my mind the night that a Norwegian guy and a French guy invited me to trek with them to a secluded beach on the other side of the island. I was sceptical when Eli, the French guy, described it as a beautiful beach that we would have to ourselves but I thought it’d be nice to trek through the jungle and told them I wanted to come.
We started the trek the following morning. It wasn’t long before I realised why so few people attempted it; not only was it very strenuous but there was no clear path. The only way to know that you were going the right way was to keep an eye out for trees and stones that had been painted red but these only appeared very occasionally. But Eli assured us he knew the way from doing the trek the day before and when we met two Dutch girls who had spent the past hour wandering the jungle after taking a wrong turn, he told them the same thing.
After half an hour, we reached a cliff. There was no way around it and Eli continued to assure us that this was the right way. It was a six or seven metre drop but the others climbed down with relative ease. Watching them sort of reminded me of Richard jumping off the waterfall in The Beach but I didn’t want to risk spraining my ankle if I took a fall so when it was my turn, I gripped onto some branches to lower myself down.
I’d had my suspicions early on that Eli was bluffing but it was abundantly clear that we had gone the wrong way once we were over the cliff. Now there was no path at all; instead we had to pick our way down some rocks which were covered in slippery leaves.
Clearly pissed off, the Dutch girls picked up their pace and disappeared as soon as we cleared the steep incline. Funnily enough, I felt strangely calm; I guess I was just relieved that we had reached flat land. But I could see why the girls would be annoyed considering they had already been lost for an hour when they met us.
We continued to walk in the same direction for another half hour until we got to the beach. It was exactly how Eli had described it – it was the most beautiful, pristine beach I’ve ever seen. Although there was some bungalow accommodation nearby, we only saw twenty-five other people. We spent the afternoon there and paid a local to take us back in a longtail boat when it got dark. It was perfect.