The length of Cambodia’s coastline may be dwarfed by its neighbours, but what it lacks in size, it makes up with the pristine conditions of its outlying islands. To date, the Kingdom’s southern islands have managed to largely escape the relentless march towards modernity.
As much unlike the main gateway to the islands that is Sihanoukville, the main tourist magnet that is the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, have managed to retain the clarity of the turquoise waters that surrounds the emerald strings that are the islands, as well as the laid-back vibe that attracts beach-going backpackers from all over the globe, as well as the nature-loving locals.
One may say that this is partly due to the fact that the islands are comparatively hard to reach compared to other beach destinations across the region. That said, as year-on-year tourist arrival figures are on the constant rise, compounded by the government’s commitment to develop infrastructure projects around Sihanoukville many can’t help but wonder; will the islands fall victim to allure of hard cash and foreign investments, just like Sihanoukville?
Unfortunately, there is evidence that the scythes of development has already made its mark on the last bastion of calm and peace across several spots in the quieter, more up-market island of Koh Rong Samloem. The rudimentary dirt track that connected Saracen Bay and beaches on the other side of the islands once evoked images of how life used to be on the islands. Now heavy machineries can be seen crisscrossing the rough terrain to make clearings for new developments – not only in the jungles but also around the secluded strip of coastline on Lazy Beach, where makeshift trucks can now be seen buzzing about.
As such, the future of the islands, are hanging on a really fine thread. Will it eventually turn into a hedonist mecca like Koh Phangan in Thailand, or will it manage to retain the laid back vibes the way the Gili islands in Indonesia has managed to do?