Full disclosure: this post comes from a place of deep and bitter resentment towards Koh Rong. As I sit here on my shitty hostel bunk in my fifth day of food-poisoning related pain, which germinated on said bedraggled isle, I can’t help but wonder whether my appraisal of Koh Rong would be as poor if not for my current stomach cramps and leaky bum.
So, the two islands. Of course, there are many more islands off Cambodia’s coast – but these two are the ones I visited. There is the popular, larger and better known Koh Rong. Additionally, there is the smaller, lesser known and lesser visited sister – Koh Rong Samloem. The difference between them is stark.
Koh Rong – a balding, overweight middle aged man
Koh Rong is the more developed of the two, and it is filthy. It’s loaded up with twinked out partiers who care not for the natural environment. It is strewn with bottles and other rubbish all over what would have once (in the not so distant past) been a pristine beach. It’s loud. It’s grubby. It’s full of LA-style mouthy promoters trying to sell you their shitty tourist attractions. But most of all – it is rife with contaminated food and water.
Numerous friends, as well as the internet, warned me about the water and food on Koh Rong. Consequently, I was careful. I really was. I (usually) only brushed my teeth with bottled water. I ate vegetarian (normal for me). I avoided ice at all costs. I scrutinised my food before letting it pass through the holy gates of my throat. After all, our body is our vehicle and who the hell wants to drive through their holiday in a broken down vehicle? Not I.
Food poisoning à la Koh Rong; hell on Earth
Despite all the precaution, my friends and I did get sick. Very sick. For me, the culprit was a scrambled egg on toast. I know what you’re thinking – IT’S AN EGG. How the hell can an egg (that didn’t smell or taste off) give me wicked foul food poisoning that has (thus far) lasted five days? I know not. It could be the sanitation practices of whoever prepared the food. Could be the egg. Could be anything at all. My friend got the same illness as me from a vegan sandwich. Yup, you heard right. It. Was. Vegan.
So that night was pretty yuck. We were tandem puking basically all night. I found I have an unexpected penchant for puking over balconies. There’s more theatre to it, or something, than there is to doing a polite spew in the toilet. At times, I even had an audience! Lucky them.
Koh Rong Samloem – a beautiful female gymnast in her prime
Now, this is an island I can get behind.
Firstly, it is pristine (for now). The water is stunningly clear. There’s virtually no rubbish anywhere. The sand is alabaster. There’s less people than on Koh Rong. The people who are there seem to have a respect for the beauty around them, and appear to clean up after themselves. There’s still parties and such, but they don’t seem to leave the mess behind that Koh Rong parties do.
Oh, and in light of my current shit-uation (get it?), I must mention this positive – the food and water on Koh Rong Samloem is CLEAN! At least, it didn’t make me ill, and it doesn’t carry the scorching reputation for food poisoning that its sister island does.
The tandem tragedy of the two Koh Rongs
Koh Rong is an effigy to what it once was. It has been raped and plundered by developers and party planners, to the point where it is now a stinking, gross turd of an island which I hope never to return to. Rubbish on the sand, in the sea. 20-somethings hopped up on drugs trying to make their island experience something great. I feel sad when I think about the fact that only 10 years ago, it would have looked just like its little sister, Koh Rong Samloem, does now.
The über tragedy to all this is that I bet in ten years, Koh Rong Samloem will be what Koh Rong is now. Her stunning clear waters befouled by manmade plastics and waste. Her beaches corrupted. Nature-loving visitors replaced by idiotic thrill-seeking kids on pills. It’s tragic.
Maybe when humanity has destroyed literally everything beautiful in the world in its mad hunt for profit and “progress,” then we will destroy ourselves too. That is really what was on my mind after spending a few days on each of these drastically different islands. It was a stark comparison of what we as humans do to a natural wonder – we monetise it. And then it’s not what it was any longer, but the people still come and the profits still roll in.