boat on water with a Cambodian island in the background

Nestled off the coast of Sihanoukville in the south of Cambodia are the twin islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem. They are the lesser well-known paradise isles of Southeast Asia, but this, is in fact, what makes them oh so right.

Depending on your preference, you’ll find one or the other more suited to your bucket list needs. Koh Rong is the bigger and more developed island, with more hotels and guesthouses, nightlife, bars and general tourist amenities. Backpackers will find more of a crowd here, which might make it a preferable choice for a solo traveller looking to meet some companions with whom to enjoy the beach!

Sanloem, the little sister, is much less developed and although it has a few resort-style towns catering to higher budget travellers, it also has some very local spots that allow you to get away from, well, pretty much everything.

So what makes these islands so much better than any others in Southeast Asia? Here are 5 reasons:

1. Less people know about them

That is a winning point in itself, because the islands therefore aren't overrun, and you should be able to find your own private slice of paradise, especially on Sanloem. There’s nothing greater than an opportunity to find your own idyllic cove, or having huge stretches of white sand beach all to yourself!

2. You'll meet incredible fellow travellers there

No one travels across the world for a beach vacation on Koh Rong. The people who do travel to the islands are therefore the insiders, the long-term travellers, regional expats and connected tourists, who have done their research and scouted out this spot for its unarguable perfection.

Those people are not in the running to be the ones to spoil it for everyone else. As such, paradise retains its perfect status!

3. The locals are excited about visitors

And it's because they're usually not the unruly backpackers they loathe. They want to show people around their home, share stories with them and make them feel welcome. This means that there are plenty of opportunities for cultural experiences, and you won’t feel threatened at all during your stay.

Tip – try hiring a local fisherman to take you around the different beaches of Koh Rong Sanloem for the day!

4. You'll likely find something to match your budget

The islands cater to most budgets, as long as you are flexible in your expectations when it comes to the standard of accommodation. What they are probably lacking most is very high-end options, although there are some more swanky resorts opening up.

Most offerings are local and basic, but comfortable. Electricity and running water are limited on the islands, so don’t expect to have these available throughout the day and night without paying a price tag to match.

5. There’s plenty of untouched ground to explore

You can have a real adventure on these islands if you wish to do so, as there are still so many opportunities to explore without finding a small crowd who had the same idea.

Treks across the centre of the islands through the forest will show you a different side of paradise, whilst snorkel and dive tours off-shore will acquaint you with the incredible underwater world.

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If you’re sold on an opportunity to explore a more authentic version of Southeast Asia’s idyllic islands, here’s what you need to know before you go:

  • The islands are accessible from Sihanoukville, Cambodia. It isn’t easy to get there, as the coastal town is 4-5 hours from Phnom Penh by bus, and even further from Siem Reap. In Sihanoukville you will need to catch a ferry over, the fast ferries take 30-40 minutes and run around 3 times per day, depending on the season, whereas the slow boats will be cheaper but take several hours and depart less frequently.
    If you want to travel from Phnom Penh to the islands you will need to depart on the first buses in the morning to be sure to arrive in time for the final ferry departure, travel times are variable, so it is best to use an express service and allow much more time than you think you need.
    Tip: Be sure to also plan your return ferry several hours ahead of your connecting bus out of Sihanoukville, as the return trips from the island are often delayed. On the plus side, there is plenty of accommodation in Sihanoukville if you end up stranded for a night!
  • M’Pai Bai (23) Bay in Koh Rong Sanloem is where you want to be if you really want to experience authentic village life on the islands. This decision comes with a health warning though, as village life means basic conditions, so don’t expect luxury.
  • Be sure to take a stroll on the beach at night to look out for the bioluminescent plankton that can often be spotted in the breaking waves (it’s awesome!).
  • Respect local life on the islands and be more conscious of dressing conservatively when walking around to remain respectful towards the Buddhist culture.
  • Plan extra time, because once you get there, you won’t want to leave!!

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boat on water with a Cambodian island in the background

Image source: Author's own and

Have you been to Cambodia's perfect little islands? Did you have the same experience? Tell us in the comments below!