Overview

General overview

saracen bay wreck fishing boatThere are more than a dozen islands still open for guests – others aren’t anymore. National security comes first – some islands are taboo for civilians, others are subjected to exclusive leases and are closed or unsuited for unrestricted public visits. Luckily, the biggest are accessible for the (hopefully responsible) travailleur. All islands are off-road areas, no motor vehicles here…still! No ATM’s, no banks, super markets, post offices, land line power supply…although the guest houses are well organized and know/have/offer all things of concern. Just in case…Ferries go (at least once) daily – hence, you wait (theoretically) a maximum of 24 hours for an order of an extra commodity. Phones have 99% of the time good coverage – international calls can do. All this applies to the inner and central islands. There are a few small – outer – islands ( 5-8 hours by boat), that have, apart from diver’s outposts, no accommodation and tend to have greater military significance. Visits are individually organized, usually by the local dive bizes. They have all the overnight – live-aboard stuff going, with basic dorms for snorkelers, divers and friends of nature. There are occasions (e.g. the Full Moon Party) with ticket check and escort of marine military police. These officers are all very nice, unassuming and lovely people, who regard this procedure as a necessary administrative evil while trying to maintain an easy atmosphere, with enough room for everyone’s dignity. . Our pages go into more detail – in one way or another.

Choose

There are plenty of beautiful guest houses to choose from. It is important to realize, that every single island has its unique infrastructure, that includes the mode and the length of transport there, the number of guest houses and villages, are there beaches or not, waterfalls or not, laundry service or not, internet access or not… Make sure you pick a place that suits your personal requirements – there are places that (in some cases quite deliberately) are rather basic – without ventilation, private bathroom, grocery store around the corner, etc. Most resorts run booking offices in town and/or rely on on-line/phone bookings. Actually all guest houses have their own web page and/or have posts, articles and reviews on collective pages, such as ours. Guests of the smaller islands are (in some cases) being picked up individually. Pick ups and transport work very well, though. This is a lovely Cambodian feature – although lots of businesses have been on the spot for many years now, development of infrastructure remains very slow. People like and really appreciate that.

Ferries

speed ferry operators Cambodia islandsThere are daily scheduled ferries to and from Koh Ta Kiev and Koh Ruessey (Bamboo Island) – 1 hour. Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem have two main ferry operators with at least 4 scheduled daily rides. Snake Island is now connected to the mainland by a bridge. Koh Sdach and Koh Totang are approached via Koh Kong. The outer islands have no regular public ferry transport.

There are of course local people and fisher-men, who do regular, unannounced shipping. You can, if you happen to hang out on any of the piers, talk to people, who seem to be getting ready to cast off. Cambodians are always open for a chat a proposal and a little side-deal. Language could be a problem – most younger folks speak respectable English, though.

Prices

Prices vary considerably. Cambodia has few resources, fuel, energy and processed commodities are particularly expensive – Angkor Wat has been mortgaged for a reliable gasoline supply. A simple amenity, such as a fan can be a great logistic achievement and often has its price. This is all the more true for the islands. Koh Rong businesses were lucky when the Royal Group had the island connected with the main internet, pulling a cable through the gulf (some 30 km). There is now 24/7 WiFi – but it costs a lot. Although guests surf for free, eventually it affects room prices. Check carefully, there are really cheap and OK-ish dorms and tents from US$ 3.00-4.00 a night…..a reasonable bungalow with sufficient privacy is available for around US$ 20.00- 25.00…. It makes sense to check the number of beds of a particular type of bungalow, though. For bigger parties, there can be real bargains going. For instance, the Paradise Bungalows (Koh Rong) has a house with 8 beds for around US$ 60.00, which is quite reasonable for the individual guest.

Conduct

Cambodia is one of the few places left, where you can smoke a DECENT!!!!! joint on the beach, without fearing to be – physically and financially – decapitated, if caught. Herein lies the whole idea for the rest of it and presumably you know it all anyway. Still, weed is illegal here and any official can use it against you, if he doesn’t like you. For most of the people, likely culpability ends here and you will soon enjoy Cambodian tolerance. BUT – For your own safety and security, the country’s face is not the result of legions of safety officials who scan every last corner of a super market, like in the West. Pointy things jug out here, roads just end there – for no obvious reason. Reason in general must be differently applied or should be approached from another perspective than in Canada or Spain. But this is one reason why we come here and why we love it. And we do not know everything better, we only might suggest something once in a while… Remain decent and friendly, do not create risky situations. The “lose face” thing is as real for Cambodians as it is for all Asians.

In case you get caught, remain calm and co-operative. Most local and individual officials have a certain freedom to apply – let’s say – exhortation. That means, if they charge you, this might be the easiest and cheapest way to have the issue solved. Once matters are being processed to higher levels of administration, delays are inevitable, laws are implemented stricter and the costs will rise accordingly. This applies to issues, where it is clear, that you are the culprit. In cases where you are certain, there is injustice going on, get legal support from your embassy or cultural institutions. This, though is almost impossible on the islands, since you are part of a community, where people desire harmony more than anything else. Your host and his family, the team and staff guarantee control here and will quickly check any overambitious official.

Cambodia sea view from Bokor Mountain

panoramic view from Bokor Mountain (from left to right: Phu Quoc, Koh Seh, Koh Thmei)

Emergency

This is frankly, a justified concern and you should address your chosen host about the matter, whether there are proven and verified procedures to follow, whether there is trained personnel at hand etc. That was the gloomy part. On and around the islands are dive schools and operators, either running shops there or have a least an outpost with first aid equipment, Western staff with the proper know how and – crucially – the means to get you rapidly to the main. There is a clinic that has specialized on snake bite treatment.

Papers

Just make sure you have your passport with a valid visa. Visa can be extended on short notice, when you on the islands. Just tell your host.

Hygiene & Food

Trade in and provision of groceries is (all over Cambodia) very individualistic – Western style super markets with imported commodities are usually run by Chinese families. Effects that deserve remarks are: Basic foodstuffs remain unprocessed – the majority of domestic food can be labelled as organic, this includes the food on the islands.

On the other hand, most imported articles, apart from tobacco products and alcoholic beverages lack in variety and recognition and appreciation of quality. They are(often) too expensive and are at times even in an unacceptable condition and/or exceed their expiration date. Many fake or copy products from Vietnam and China do not contain the necessary ingredients and are in extreme cases just inedible. A good example are alleged chocolate products with 1-5% chocolate in it and the rest is colored cocos fat. We wish to point out, this is not the rule and there are products to be found, that evoke exactly the opposite – to sum it up: the Western idea of brands with guaranteed and standard quality is not the norm.

Considering the location, some sea food is relatively expensive. But, as mentioned earlier, the country has very little to offer on the international market. The best marine delicacies (e.g. rare tiger fish) of the area end up in Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai. The remainder goes to Thailand and Vietnam, gets canned and is resold to Cambodia. This was a bit drastic, still there are long established trading connections, that want to be maintained, while – clearly visible – the local Snapper is – on average – smaller by every year. The island guest houses keep their food fresh with mostly block ice from the main land, some have gas fridges, too and the bigger places have electric fridges.

Koh Rong beach sunset