A true Koh Rong Party. We had been researching where to spend New Year’s Eve for months. Starting our Southeast Asia tour in Bangkok, the plan was to gallivant around Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia for 7 weeks. The million dollar question was where to spend that one night a year where you combine love, partying, and resolutions all into one.
Koh Rong Party Time
After deliberation, we chose to spend four days on the island of Koh Rong, the second largest island in Cambodia and apparently the new backpacker haven. We read articles and met travelers gushing about the white sand beaches, nightly plankton viewings, and secluded party atmosphere. It made us feel like we were going to join Leo on the mystery island featured in The Beach. Boarding the ferry among the other backpackers, we couldn’t wait for what was to come.
The first day and night was great – we met plenty of other travelers set to enjoy their NYE away in a foreign land. The beach was lined with sold out bungalows catering to young backpackers just like us. You had select cheap food and drink options, and the water was the brightest of blues. Almost everything was run by other backpackers cashing in on free room and food for a couple hours of work each day.
Everything then sorta started going…well… Koh wRong. The next morning we set out to explore the white sand beaches, looking for the perfect secluded place to enjoy some relaxation. About a half hour into our tanning session I started developing little red bumps on my legs. Looking closer, I finally saw the sand flies that lay beneath the white sand just waiting to feast their little jaws on my fresh blood. Okay fine, no big deal I will just lay in the numerous hammocks set up around the island. The beaches and views are still to die for.
We resorted to spending the rest of the day taking a boat around the island with a group to go snorkeling and fishing. At the end, we would cook the fishies on the shore while enjoying a cold one. I was skeptical, but our captain told us that eating the eyes of the fish was good for us. I still declined, but Cameron being the adventurous one went for it.
It was shortly after that one of our fellow passengers began to feel sick and ended up passing out at one of the local restaurants. We felt terrible, this island is not somewhere you want to endure illness. There was no convenience store to get medicine, hardly any running water, and a limited amount of toilets on the entire vicinity of Koh Rong. We wanted off the beaten track, and we got it.
Sickness entered our bungalow the next day. Cameron ended up having a stomach flu on New Year’s Eve morning. But it wasn’t just him, it was about 25% of the island! Everyone I talked to had a friend that was sick in bed. My first selfish thought was.
New Year’s Eve will be ruined!
My second thoughts centered around sickness and one of my favorite movies Contagion started replaying in my head. There was a serious lack of running water, the two toilets without toilet paper in our popular guesthouse, frequent electricity outages and I was now scared to put any food or drink into my body unless it was from a sealed plastic bottle. Thankfully, I never got sick but the rumor on the island was there was a bad batch of ice brought in. Since there were $1 fresh fruit smoothies being blended up everywhere it seemed plausible that a virus had broken out because of the ice.
As Cameron spent the day in bed trying to gear up for hopefully a little fun later, I ventured out to get some food for him. Returning with water and a baguette. As he nibbled at the bread, we laid down to watch one of the five movies I had downloaded onto my iPad. About 30 minutes in he asks me for more bread which had been laying right next to my head on my pillow. He instantly started screaming.
There was a rat right next to your head eating the bread!
In disbelieve and freaked out I started checking the bread. Sure enough, there were little nibbles taken out of the french baguette intended to settle Cameron’s stomach. Disgusted, I went down to the front desk and asked the Australian backpacker for a new set of sheets and a pillow.
We couldn’t wait to leave the island and started daydreaming about western luxuries.
Wouldn’t it be nice to go to a movie theater right now and see a new release and go out to a nice steak dinner?
It was Oscar season, and I had a list of potential nominees I somehow had to see. However, we were stuck on the island till the next day. There are two scheduled ferry times for the day, and we had missed both.
We ended up joining the party on the beach before midnight to ring in the new year. The bottle of vodka we had bought to celebrate went unopened, but the good news was that Cameron was feeling a little better. We had prepaid for our bungalow for two more days, maybe we can stick it out and enjoy the next two days on the beach?
Retiring relatively early we went to bed around 12:30 am. We went in and out of sleep due to the high number of sick and drunk guests occupying the only two toilets all night. Then we heard the squeaking. It persisted for a few seconds as we tried to ignore it and fall back asleep. The squeaking violently turned to hissing and more violent squeaks. (This is the best way I can describe rat sounds). We quickly turned on the flashlight on our phone and pointed it to the walls. There we saw it – our Koh Rong party partners – two rats going at it right next to our bed!
I panicked, half crying and half screaming. I know it’s just a rat, but we had had enough of the dirtiness and this was the tipping point. We didn’t know where to really go from there. It was late at night, and the only security we had was a mosquito net over the bed, so that’s exactly where we stayed until sunrise. Somehow I had developed either bed bugs or sand fly bites during the night, so instead of the popular stomach flu I would continue the rest of our Cambodian adventures scratching and bumpy.
Get me off this island!
We were so desperate to get back to the mainland that we even forfeited our last nights room in the guesthouse. Which for us cheap backpackers was saying something. We boarded the morning ferry back to Sihanoukville and continued onward to Phnom Penh.
Ultimately, we left disappointed with Koh Rong. It wasn’t the islands fault but our high expectations. It truly is a beautiful piece of land with stunning landscapes and picturesque beaches. Unfortunately, the virus that broke out limited us on the activities we wanted to do (like swimming with the luminescent plankton) and we left feeling dirtier than two backpackers without running water for days.
You really are secluded on Koh Rong, and that is definitely the appeal of traveling here. There are a number of friendly locals and backpackers intermingling. If you want to get off the beaten track give Koh Rong a try! Sadly, there are plans to develop the island into high-rise resorts in the upcoming years, so get there before capitalism rules the world.
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