Like most backpackers I’m always a bit concerned about visiting islands because I always seem to spend way more money than usual when I’m on them. Let’s face it, things are just more expensive on islands. Personally, I wasn’t sure what to expect price-wise when I visited Koh Rong in January. I’d heard that the accommodation is of notoriously poor value but when it came to food and activities, I really had no clue.
Because I’m the type of person who obsessively jots down every little thing I spend money on, I figured I might as well compile a little backpacker’s guide to Koh Rong. This way all of you budget travelers out there will have a better idea of what to expect. Aside from the accommodation prices (all of which is really overpriced for what you get) I was pleasantly surprised by how cheaply backpackers can travel on Koh Rong. I mean, this place is pretty much paradise….
A Backpacker’s Guide to Koh Rong…
Getting to Koh Rong:
The coastal town of Sihanoukville is the jumping off point for Koh Rong. Since I was coming directly from Phnom Penh, I booked an all-inclusive ticket (including a mini-van from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville and a round-trip ferry ticket) for $30. It would have been cheaper to take a big bus and book the ferry separately, but time was of the essence during my rushed 10 days in Cambodia!
If you’re already in Sihanoukville, ferry tickets should cost around $10-15 each way. Fast boats take about an hour while the slowest boats can take up to two hours. Make sure you’re actually getting the boat you’re paying for, as I’ve heard a lot of travelers pay the more pricey rate but get put on a slow boat. I booked my ticket through the Koh Rong Dive Center and had no problems.
What to expect from the accommodation:
The accommodation was probably the most disappointing part of Koh Rong. I didn’t mind roughing it in a little bungalow with scant electricity. But the price tag for most bungalows was a tad ridiculous.
I visited Koh Rong in January, which is the high season, so it’s likely that things get a lot cheaper during the low season. But from my experience it is definitely possible to do Koh Rong on any budget, even during the high season. Dorm beds are available for as little as $5, bare bones rooms are available for $10-20, and more private (yet still very basic) bungalows can be found from $30-70.
It’s important to note that almost all accommodation is of poor value. And the quality of rooms and bungalows totally varies so, if you can, explore your options before you settle on a room.
From the pier head right to find more pricey beach bungalows. If you’re on a budget there are some cheaper (but just as nice) bungalows to the left of the pier. Just head over the bridge and past the water buffalo.
Don’t book ahead:
Obviously, use your discretion. If it’s a holiday, a full moon or just a popular time of year booking ahead might be safer but considering many of Koh Rong’s hotels don’t even have websites you’ll probably find something upon arrival. If all else fails, you can always camp out on the beach! Just to be on the safe side, I booked one night at Paradise Bungalows and paid $40 (for two people) for a hillside bungalow. In Thailand or Indonesia $40 goes a long way but this is what it bought me on Koh Rong…
The next day, we set out to explore other options and I’m so glad we did. From what I saw the quality of bungalows really varies. For example, the room at Paradise Bungalows had a foam mattress, was illuminated by a single light bulb (which made it incredibly dark at night), had no outlets to charge gadgets and had no view (a beachfront bungalow comes with a higher price tag). At first I assumed this was par for the course.
But after a little hunting, I found there were much better options. I noticed a few bungalows high up on the hill and almost wrote them off thinking they must be out of my price range. But we walked up the hill to Highland Beach Bungalows. Not only were these bungalows way nicer but they cost $30 a night (for two people).
In our case it really paid off to look around because we were infinitely more comfortable. Not only did we have the best view in town but there was a clean bathroom, a real (and comfy) mattress and plenty of lights and outlets.
The food situation:
I can’t say that the food on Koh Rong is anything to write home about, but it is fairly cheap for being a touristy and isolated island. Breakfast doesn’t seem to be included in the price of any hotel, so you’re on your own. But there are plenty of western-oriented restaurants serving up eggs and toast, omelets, muesli and fruit plates for $2-5.
For lunch I typically purchased a $1 shake from a beachfront stall. For the most part, you can pick from a selection of fruits (red dragon fruit and mango is my favorite combo!).
The easiest way to save money is by avoiding the western-oriented eateries and eating at one of the restaurants that are clustered around the pier. They serve up cheap traditional Cambodian dishes (from noodles to seafood to amok) and even some western staples (like spaghetti and burgers) for $1-4. All in all, you can eat pretty inexpensively on Koh Rong.
Activities and tours:
Koh Rong’s a fairly small place but I was happy to find there were quite a few options in terms of activities. I’m not a huge fan of tours but Koh Rong offers some pretty good ones. And with a price tag of $5-7 I figured I might as well partake.
My favorite tour was going out to see the bioluminescent plankton – literally glow-in-the-dark plankton – that are found in the waters surrounding Koh Rong. If you’ve never seen this natural phenomenon before, this tour is a must-do. It’s a trip to jump into the pitch black ocean and be surrounded by millions of glowing plankton and looking up at the star speckled sky – it’s kind of magical and it only costs $5. Bring your own beer on the boat and you’ll save some pennies too.
A trip to Long Beach is also a must. If you’re on a budget (and up for a bit of adventure) I highly recommend doing the hike. It takes about 45 minutes and it does get a bit steep toward the end so heed everyone’s advice and wear shoes. You can also reach Long Beach via a boat, I paid $3 to get from Long Beach to the main pier.
Refill your water bottles:
As I mentioned previously, the trash situation on Koh Rong was something that really bothered me. Part of what makes Koh Rong such an amazing and special place is that it is so undeveloped. But the lack of infrastructure also means that there’s no real way to dispose of garbage.
One thing I always try to do when I travel is refill my water bottles. I always travel with a Nalgene and I buy the biggest water bottle I can find and refill it instead of buying multiple water bottles a day.
I was happy to find that most beach front restaurants and bars will let you fill up large water bottles for $.50. Not only is that a huge discount from the cost of buying a brand new bottle but it helps to reduce your carbon footprint – it’s a win win!
What’s your favorite tip for saving money on touristy islands?