Koh Rong Sanloem 11.7.16

At each destination I tell myself I will have the opportunity to return if I wish. With this attitude I avoid the sense of worry brought on when the goal is “to see everything.” My visit to the island Koh Rong Sanloem about 16 miles from mainland Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand was the first time I felt I might never see a place like this again.

The Cambodian islands, unlike more well known islands in Thailand, are a new tourist destination. The first structures on Koh Rong Sanloem were built within the last 3 years and settlements began in Koh Rong starting in 2000. Previously, the islands were used by the Cambodian military. The island I visited has no roads, is not connected to the power grid, does not have ATMs or banks, has slow internet service only via satellite, and water only through wells. Every building material, item of food, and piece of furniture is transported from the mainland via boat to the island. Some beaches are accessible only via boat because the jungle is so dense.

I imagine if I return to Koh Rong Sanloem, this place may no longer feel untouched and wild. Plans are underway to build guesthouses with 40 or more bungalows. There is talk of bringing an ATM to the island and I saw construction in three sites in Saracen Bay. For now, the water is clear and the land feels mostly unspoiled. I could see the pollution from construction sites and garbage in some places but nature is still winning.

Wearing my MBA hat I wondered, what will this island be like in the future? It is a real prisoner’s dilemma, especially given the lack of a government presence. Only if all the property owners on the island cooperate (a challenge given the diverse cultures, languages and nationalities of this group) can they monitor for inappropriate behavior from day-trippers, limit and regulate future construction, and ward against regular requests for payment to support island police. However, if one owner does not trust the group, she may profit handsomely by continuing to prioritize her own self-interests for island development.

I believe this island will remain a tropical beach paradise. I have a feeling the paradise could look more like Phuket and less like what I enjoyed.

The ferry ride to the island.
My first glimpses of blue water and white sand in Saracen Bay.
I joke about the small privileges backpacking at 29 affords. AKA – the perks of being a flashpacker. One of these perks is the occasional fancier accommodation at places like Cita Resort. Cita is owned by a Chinese and Italian couple. There are 5 bungalows on the property. It was divine!
From my bungalow I could see the ocean from bed. There was a second floor balcony and first floor hammock facing the bay. I am becoming a pro at the mosquito net tuck-in.
Other properties on the island.
Pure bliss!
I found irony in the wine label advertising organic, eco-friendly production practices. These values of western/developed world consumers are not the same values as in a place where the average annual income is less than $1000 USD. Survival is still a constant priority for most people in Cambodia.
I hiked 8km one-way through pristine forest to a light house built by the French.
These are the views of the island and Gulf of Thailand from the lighthouse.
Another day I hiked 3km one-way to Lazy Beach. This beach is on the ocean side of the island and has only one accommodation option. There were even fewer people here!
Paddle boarding in Saracen Bay. The bay is more than 3km long, sandy, shallow, warm and great for swimming too.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Linda Woessner says:

    Loved the cover photo and ALL the photos. Pristine beaches – how fabulous. So glad you had an amazing time there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was excited for you to enjoy those beach photos!


  2. Raven says:

    Sigh. Looks like paradise!

    Liked by 1 person

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