Located 25kilometers and a 40minute ferry ride from the port of Sihanoukville, are the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem. Made famous for their picture post card scenery and recent featuring on the American reality program ‘Survivor’.
The famous French 19th century explorer Henri Mouhot once wrote, “I soon forgot the miseries of our voyage, and was amply recompressed by the shifting scenes of beauty presented to us by the group islands we were passing.”
The islands themselves however didn’t change much since Mouhot’s expedition, with establishment only occurring by the turn of this century.
With regular full moon parties and most nights going through until the early morning. It becomes clear that Koh Rong is the antithesis of it’s once described ‘secluded getaway’.
Along with the heavy drinking is the even heavier use of illicit substances, with marijuana being the main drug of choice. Groups of heavily stoned and dreadlocked backpackers listening to Bob Marley on repeat litter the sand of the main beach.
As prolific are the backpackers so to are the large swarms of young children and wild dogs, both of which roam the island, with a ‘Lord of the Flies’ hierarchy.
It is to note that like many other developments in Cambodia the Government has leased out the land to local and foreign business, in this case The Royal Group. Originally operating out of Australia they currently hold a 99-year lease on the island and is the countries largest diversified conglomerate.
The group also owns the exclusive rights in Cambodia to distribute all Samsung and Siemens products, HBO, Disney and Cinemax, KFC and Pizza Hut (due to contractual agreements all McDonalds are banned). Further more they have business holdings in the countries rail services and ANZ Royal Bank .
That said, volunteers and business owners have attempted to give back to the local inhabitants that have called the islands home by establishing a non-for profit organisation called ‘Friends of Koh Rong’.
However, a bit of investigation into the quasi-NGO and observations of the day-to-day workings, show the impact of their efforts appear to be overall inconsequential. The sight of school age children playing in rubbish, whilst well-intentioned westerns paint signs, sums up a lot the regions ‘voluntourism’.
From experience some of the best fun to be had is a boat ride off the main island, with many reasonably priced day trips on offer. Comprising of fishing, barbeques and a night-time swim with the florescent plankton, it is a definite for anyone wanting a bit more than beers and joints on the beach all day.
Next Stop: Siem Reap