Koh Rong Sanloem (otherwise spelled Koh Rong Samloem) is exactly the kind of place I could have easily stayed for weeks.

Alas, my trip was drawing to a close. With only four days to spend on the Cambodian island, I tried to make the most of it. In this case, “making the most of it” meant spending as much time as possible lazing in hammocks and floating in the warm tropical waters.

Koh Ron Sanloem is just my kind of island. Developed only sporadically, this is the perfect place to relax and get away from digital distractions.

I was staying in Clearwater Bay, also known as Driftwood Beach. At the time of my visit, this beach only had one place to stay: the Driftwood Hostel & Bungalows.

Oddly enough, there were three separate locations: a restaurant and reception in the center of the bay, a few bungalows at one end, and several dormitories at the other end. It was as if the owners had desperately tried to call dibs all over this still wild stretch of beach.

The Driftwood Inn was – understand it – built almost entirely from driftwood. It was a very rustic business and mostly run by volunteers which meant the level of service was pretty basic.

After checking in, I noticed that my bed was without a pillow. “Uh, I think an Israeli couple took it,” one of the staff told me. It was then entirely up to me to find this couple and recover my legitimate pillow.

But whatever. I was only paying $ 4 a night, which is pretty much free. If that means I have to free my kidnapped pillow, that’s just a small price to pay.

Unlike the other beaches on Koh Rong Sanloem, there was no internet. Electricity was also limited at certain times of the day. I liked being free from modern distractions.

Oh hai! I developed a slight fascination with these little creatures living on the beach, studying them carefully. Yes, I was quickly becoming something of Tom Hanks in Castaway.

At night I saw a few locals with flashlights moving around. They were digging the holes and grabbing crabs just with their hands and putting them in a bucket. They were making crab stew. So, how are you. Goodbye, my little crab friends.

There was a real beachcomber vibe on the beach. I enjoyed seeing these bottles, although I have no idea what is in them. Is this a crazy collection of jellyfish ?? We will never know.

I went for a hike to the northern tip of the island. A small rinky-dink town can be found in M’Pay Bay, also known as M’Pai Bei and sometimes written as “23” (apparently this makes more sense in Khmer).

Once a simple, lonely fishing village, it now boasts numerous guesthouses, shops and restaurants. It has an easy going charm, although the adjacent beaches are not as beautiful as elsewhere on the island.

Although M’pay Bay is a popular place, if you are looking for a place to stay in Koh Rong Sanloem I would say it is probably best to stay in one of the other bays. I enjoyed visiting it because it had a little more life and activity than my Robinson Crusoe beach.

I don’t want to pretend that the island is totally idyllic though. There is a lagoon on the outskirts of town that totally looked like a sump, filled with trash and old mattresses and who knows what else. Not very nice. While I don’t find it too difficult to look away, it does take away from the charm of the city.

Apart from the sandy beaches you will also find the usual styrofoam and plastic soup sandwich. It’s a problem that plagues any island anywhere, doubly in Asia, so it’s nothing against Koh Rong Sanloem in particular. Seeing so much garbage is a constant reminder of how badly we treat the oceans.

Eco-resorts around M’Pai Bei employ cleaners to keep beaches free of litter, and the Clearwater Bay Inn offers free beers for any bag of litter collected. As a result, the beaches are thankfully spotlessly clean.

Ugh, back to the pretty pictures! Please enjoy this alternate view of M’pai Bei, which is much more representative of Koh Rong Sanloem. The bay overlooks a small uninhabited island called Koh Koun, seen on the right side.

I was in Koh Rong Sanloem during the New Years period. I was hoping for a fun New Years celebration, but nothing too wild or over the top, and that’s exactly what I got.

My hostel had a good mix of ages and I met a small bunch of great people there. For New Years, our beach had a small improvised dance floor with driftwood and string lights. At midnight, someone pulled some symbolic pieces of fireworks into the sea. I loved the intimate, small-scale nighttime celebration of a bonfire.

I didn’t originally plan to be in Koh Rong Sanloem for New Years, but it went really well.

It was a fun but also vaguely symbolic moment, as five years ago I celebrated New Years in Sihanoukville right across from where I stood now.

When I looked out to sea and saw distant fireworks over Sihanoukville, I reflected on where I was then and where I was now as a traveler more aged (and, hopefully, slightly wiser). I started the new year with a big smile on my face.

Goodbye, Koh Rong.

Who knows… maybe I’ll be back in five years, again as a different person.

For travel tips and the best places to visit, don’t miss my Cambodia Travel Guide.


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