Koh Rong island in Cambodia – this isn’t Thailand

I had changed my plans after a disappointing night in Sihanoukville and was heading to the much-anticipated Koh Rong, which I had heard was an incredibly beautiful backpackers party paradise, like ‘Thailand thirty years ago’. I hoped I would have more luck there.

After my afternoon ferry to Koh Rong was cancelled, I took the option of jumping on the slow boat instead with many other travellers who took that option, as the next fast boat was going first to Koh Rong Samloem meaning the slow boat would presumably arrive first. I ended up on a transfer van with the same revellers from my first night in the Mad Monkey at Siem Reap, drinks in hands; but it transpired that they were heading to the Mad Monkey on Koh Rong Samloem instead. I thought that was odd, as I understood Koh Rong to be the ‘party’ island.

What none of us who ended up on the Koh Rong-bound boat realised, however, was that this slow boat was also the supply boat. It was thus mostly filled with food and supplies for the tiny island, intermingled with our bags and backpacks. We were all sitting around the outside of the boat, so people on the other side of me got very wet; and there almost certainly weren’t enough life jackets to go around.

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Finally, I arrived – and the island was not the paradise I had been led to expect. My thoughts again were of a less developed, less tidy and more ramshackle version of a Thai island. Although my room was clean and comfortable and its owner absolutely lovely, I had a sense of foreboding as I wandered down to find something to eat. At the beach front bars there was no excited vibe. Rather, families and couples were sitting around having a quiet drink. Even the crazy party hostels about which I had read countless glowing reviews were merely mellow and unremarkable bars. I would have guessed it was only a low season thing, but there were actually plenty of people around – there just wasn’t much of a vibe. I had to assume things were better in the sunshine, but the beach front was not exactly beautiful where I was in the built up area.

Some friendly French people invited me to join them and explained that they were heading to a late night rave somewhere further down the island at midnight. Unfortunately, even if the music had been more my type (I’m not into electronic music that isn’t vocal or commercial), I couldn’t muster any energy as three days in a row of early mornings, touring and travelling had well and truly taken their toll.

As I ate noodles for dinner in a restaurant near my guesthouse up a side street, I had mentioned to an expat that the place was not like I had expected. He laughed and said ‘well it isn’t Thailand!’

My thoughts began to turn. I still had 10 days left before my flight home via Kuala Lumpur. In my opinion, that was going to be too long for this place, or for Sihanoukville, or for what I understood of Phnomh Penh. I had already been to Siem Reap. If this wasn’t like Thailand, perhaps I should just… go to Thailand?

The wheels began to turn faster when I discovered that the full moon party that only happens once a month, and causes backpackers from all over South-East Asia to descend upon Koh Phangan and Koh Tao (my favourite Thai islands) was exactly eight days from now. Further calculations yielded a completely doable itinerary of Phnomh Penh –  Bangkok – Koh Tao before making it to Koh Phangan in perfect time two nights before the full moon party. I booked buses and flights on my iPhone at the beach bar that night and the next morning at breakfast due to the wonder of a SIM card with data (I can’t fathom that backpackers usually travel without one).

As I waited for the morning ferry, watching local children play, eating my ridiculously cheap egg and bacon breakfast and sipping a cocktail (hey, I was on holiday); I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Would I ever be back? Was this much-lauded place better in high season? Was I making a mistake changing all my long-thought-out plans, pulling up the proverbial anchor and heading to Thailand?

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