Hippie’s Paradise – Mad Monkey Koh Rong Samloem

Cambodia isn’t well known for its beaches. Thailand has its world-famous Phuket and ultra sleazy Pattaya, while Indonesia has Bali and Lombok. Cambodia is still known as the land of Indiana Jones temples. Angkor Wat is so majestic that it attracts so much attention around it, leaving other parts of the country relatively unknown to most tourists.

When AirAsia started flying to Sihanoukville, I jumped on the chance to explore Cambodia’s beach offerings. While Sihanoukville itself isn’t a remarkable place (no joke, it’s hideous and tacky), I had the best experience at Koh Rong Samloem, a small island 40 minutes off the mainland.

Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem

The two islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem are only accessible via speedboats from Sihanoukville. A return trip to either of the islands is priced at about USD20, which isn’t very cheap for Southeast Asian standard. Good thing is, you can get on a bus right at the Sihanoukville jetty to Battambang and Phnom Penh, which means that you don’t have to spend so much time at the port city before or after your island excursion.

My speed boat took me right to a jetty at Koh Rong Samloem – from there, the staff led a few of us on the boat to a catamaran that took us to Mad Monkey Koh Rong Samloem.

The boat ride!

The resort is owned by the Mad Monkey group, which operates a string of hostels in Cambodia. I’ve been to their hostels in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and had a really good time, so my expectation was quite high.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

Upon arrival, our group was greeted by the friendly staff who walked us to the registration area at the bar. It’s really sandy, so bring your crocs or plastic thongs! The bar is really hippie and a very social place, with music playing until late. The frontline staff are mainly locals, managed by some Australians.

I booked a private bungalow. There’s no air-conditioning, but at least the place is clean. The bed is alright, with some basic pillows – it’s not 5-star hotel quality but for USD25 per night, you really get what you paid for here. I wish there was a chair though, it’d be nice to lounge at the spacious balcony that faces the beach. The bungalow is a wooden structure, with many small cracks and holes on the floor and the wall, and its location right next to a tropical jungle means that there are many bugs and insects. Fortunately the mosquito net does its job well.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There’s no wifi or mobile phone reception on the island, and there’s no restaurants, shops, not even a village nearby, so you’re basically stuck in Mad Monkey throughout your stay – which is not a bad thing, since the quiet, unspoilt beach will keep you occupied. There are beach hammocks and swings that you can use.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The remoteness of the place gave rise to a friendly culture. While it felt a little awkward at first since I came alone, I ended up making new friends throughout the three days I was there. Everyone’s friendly, so as long as you’re open-minded, non judgmental and friendly too, you’ll have a really good time there.

The bar is where the socialising is most of the time. Drinks are quite cheap there, for Malaysian standard, and there are happy hour prices too. The restaurant, which shares its space with the bar, serves alright food. It’s a hit-or-miss. The menu is rather extensive, covering western, Thai and Khmer cuisines. Throughout my 3-day stay, the food ranged from the delicious creamy seafood tomyum and yummy fish amok to the passable breakfast of omelette and terrible Khmer-style fried noodle. The morning coffee is good though!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mad Monkey Koh Rong Samloem shares the space on the tiny island with the military, so the bar stopped playing music at midnight. However, after the music ended, everyone headed to the beach for a tipsy dip. The water was surprisingly warm, considering that it was past midnight, and it was a perfect opportunity to see luminous planktons. These planktons are only visible underwater, and there’s snorkelling equipment that you can borrow.

After three days, when it was time to leave, I felt like I wasn’t ready to. I had a massively good time, and left with no regrets – except for one. I should’ve applied insect repellent on my body more frequently than twice a day. Sandfly bites aren’t cool; my whole body felt so itchy for three days after I got back in KL!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Some travel advice:

  1. Mad Monkey Koh Rong Samloem is a party hostel, so if you’re looking for a very quiet destination, this place is probably not for you
  2. Bring coconut oil – it works better than normal insect repellant in protecting you from Cambodian sandfly bites and I learnt this trick too late
  3. Bring USD – the island has no ATM or the internet connection needed for the credit card machine to function. The tab system works here, and you’re expected to settle everything before you leave
  4. Be friendly and kind to the staff – and they’ll be extra nice to you, which helps!
  5. If your budget allows for some splurging, choose the bungalows. Dorms are much cheaper, but facilities are really basic there. The whole resort is sandy, so it’s nice to have your own ensuite bathroom and a little bit of personal space in the bungalow

Speak soon!

FH

A short island hop: Bunga Raya Resort, Gaya Island

A few friends and I was in Sabah last weekend – we were there for Glenn’s farewell, plus Falah was in Malaysia for a month, so a getaway was what we needed.

It was a short trip so we didn’t have much time to spend at the beach – but since we were in Sabah it would be sacrilegious not to do so at all, so we figured out, a day trip would be nice.

And we had a good time: Here’s a short daytrip itinerary to Gaya Island that you guys could probably follow as well.

There are several islands that you can choose to go for a daytrip; Manukan, Sapi, Mamutik, Suluk, Gaya…

We decided to take up a half-day package at Bunga Raya Island Resort – a secluded 5-star property, complete with a private beach.

We headed to the Jesselton Point jetty right after a breakfast of Sarawak laksa (yeah KK has that too!). The boat left at 1030am, and payment for the trip had to be made prior to boarding.

It was about RM170 per person, for a 4-hour excursion at the Bunga Raya Resort. This is all-inclusive, which means that boat ride, lunch, pool access and facility rental is all covered.

The jetty is equipped with basic facilities, there are also stalls selling run-the-mill snacks and packed meals, in case you want to bring some nasi lemak and mihun goreng to the island. Nothing fancy, but adequate.

The washroom stank, however. As Falah described it “poops everywhere”. Quite embarrassing, considering that the facility caters to tourists – the management needs to do something about it.

The boat ride took us about 20 minutes. It’s a very scenic ride to the island – the weather was fantastic that day. The five of us shared the boat with a group of French tourists.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We reached Bunga Raya Resort and I was pleasantly surprised at how quiet the place is. It’s perched nicely atop a gentle bay, surrounded by forested hills. We were given a short brief and access to the facilities – there are kayak and paddle boats for those who fancy something more adventurous. There’s also facility for snorkelling.

There are of course plenty of lounge seats and gazebos where you could just sit down, relax and enjoy the sea breeze.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Bunga Raya Resort has a limited number of accommodation units available. It prides itself as an eco-friendly resort, so the chalets and villas are all designed to blend seamless with the natural setting – non-obstructive architecture.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Given the remote location, 4G worked wonderfully here – so if your idea of travelling includes taking plenty of Instastories, you’ll be happy here.

There’s a beach bar there for those who fancy a tipple or two – drinks are unfortunately (yet understandably) not included in the half-day package tab, so be prepared to pay premium prices here. A coke costs RM19, while a cocktail, RM40.

There’s no ATM machine, so it’s probably safe to bring some cash with you.

Lunch is included in the package – it’s a 3-course meal, with soup of the day, two choices of salad and three choices of main course – between fish & chips, lamb shank and chicken wings. Be prepared to wait though – we waited for 40 minutes to get our order served. The wait was quite unfortunate as we only had 4 hours to enjoy on the island, so time is precious lol.

The lamb shank came, it’s delicious. Worth the penny and the calories of course.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Right after lunch, we just lounged at the beach and took a dip in the infinity pool. There were some drinks involved too, so it was perfect. We had the whole pool to ourselves, with the exception of a couple of guests who came for a short dip. We also saw a gay family enjoying a vacation at the resort – nice to see an idyllic scene of fathers watching their children play at the beach.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We stayed there until half past three – walked to the pier and felt quite sad to leave. If you do feel like treating yourself with an expensive vacation, you can choose to stay overnight at the resort. A room costs upwards of RM1,000 during off-season, so be ready to splurge.

More pictures below. Enjoy!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.