You’ve dreamed of that island holiday and you’ve heard the hype: Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem (often misspelled Koh Rong Samloem) are beautiful, untouched, almost mystical islets off the coast of Cambodia; unspoilt and perfect for a quiet holiday. But you might also have heard some cautionary tales about the island speed ferries to get there, or the jumping off town, Sihanoukville. Or you’re just entirely confused since there is so much conflicting information out there about from the mainland of Sihanoukville to Koh Rong, or its smaller sister, Koh Rong Sanloem. So, here is the ultimate guide to the Sihanoukville to Koh Rong ferry along with all the information you need on what is best to do on these amazing islands.
Getting from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong
If you’re a little confused about the journey, then you are not alone.
We were in your shoes and found the whole thing quite confusing and even a little bit disconcerting. Essentially arriving into Sihanoukville you’ll be provided misinformation and scams, and if you manage to navigate that, there’s even the chance that you’ll encounter disorganised chaos. So, we are going to provide you with as much information as we can to help you on your trip from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong or Koh Rong Sanloem.
Overview of the Sihanoukville to Koh Rong Ferry
The Sihanoukville to Koh Rong ferry takes between 30 and 45 minutes, covering between 25 and 30 km. There are four main island speed ferry providers between Sihanoukville and Koh Rong or Koh Rong Sanloem: GTVC, High Speed Ferry, Island Speed Ferry Cambodia and Buva Sea.
It’s worthwhile noting that these aren’t really ‘ferries’ as you’d expect to encounter in most developed countries. Nor are they anything like other more established Southeast Asia based routes. These are mainly speedboats or high-speed ferries. So be prepared even on relatively flat seas for a bit of a bumpy ride.
In terms of the advertised ferry duration, while most operators will publish this as 30 to 45 minutes.
But note that some providers can take far longer as they are often delayed, will take you out to other piers that can take an hour to reach (we will come onto Sihanoukville traffic in a bit) or may head to one island before crossing over to the other. Meaning that if you choose the wrong ferry operator you could be in for a journey that is much longer than an hour.
And, most importantly, don’t forget other hostels and bus companies are affiliated with (or sometimes even own) these ferry companies, so there is a good chance that you are not getting the best recommendation from them. Rule of thumb: take everything you hear with a pinch of salt, and always factor in more time.
The Sihanoukville to Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem Ferry Operators
There are four main island speed ferry providers between Sihanoukville and Koh Rong or Koh Rong Sanloem: GTVC, High Speed Ferry, Island Speed Ferry Cambodia and Buva Sea.
We actually took three of these services and so hopefully can provide you with real insights on service and what to expect from each of them. And without doubt there is only one operator that we would ever choose to use again.
There is no real cost difference between each of the operators. At time of writing it is approximately 22 USD for an open return ticket (17.50 GBP) and 14 USD for one way tickets (11 GBP). Note, you need to specify which pier you want to be dropped off at.
- On Koh Rong Samloem you’ll generally arrive into Saracen Bay pier.
- On Koh Rong they will go to Koh Toch, and Longset Beach pier and weather permitting Coconut Beach.
Sometimes you’ll need to change to a smaller local taxi boat to get to those piers. It’s worth checking with your accommodation as to which pier you need.
Which Sihanoukville to Koh Rong ferry company should you choose?
So, let’s start with our strongest recommendation. If there is availability, we would strongly suggest that you use GTVC Speedboat.
On speaking to numerous people on Koh Rong who own or run resorts, they are the only operator that generally sticks to their schedule (within 30 minutes which for Southeast Asia is practically early). They have the newest boats. They won’t make the crossing if it’s not safe. And not surprising given this feedback, these boats seem to be used by the locals…
Book your GTVC ferry in the useful tool below
The ferries only depart from Serendipity Pier, Sihanoukville, and so in bad conditions cannot leave port. From our experience, even if you are comfortable in very choppy seas then you won’t want to leave anyway.
Scheduled departure times:
From Sihanoukville to Koh Rong/Sanloem: 8.00am, 11.00am, 2.00pm and 4.00pm
Return from Koh Rong/Samloem to Sihanoukville: 8.30am, 11.30am, 2.30pm and 4.30pm
Speed Ferry Cambodia
They do have the largest ferry that does the crossing between Sihanoukville and the Koh Rong islands in a high-speed catamaran.
But we also encountered the worst boat crossing that we’ve ever had with Speed Ferry Cambodia. James in particular has worked in sailing and taken over a hundred ferries throughout Europe, the US, Africa, Asia and Australasia and he vowed never to use them again.
It’s not a surprise thinking back on it, they were the only company doing the crossing. Both Buva Sea and GTVC wouldn’t go, but we originally thought that as it was a bigger boat and catamaran that it would be relatively stable.
We lived to tell the tale, and hey that’s what travelling is all about, but overall it felt that this company would take risks, just to make money.
So, if you value your safety, maybe only choose them if the seas are flat!
Scheduled departure times:
From Sihanoukville to Koh Rong/Sanloem: 7.30am, 9.00am, 11.30am, 1.30pm, 3.00pm and 4.30pm
Return from Koh Rong/Samloem to Sihanoukville: 7.00am, 10.00am, 12.30pm and 4.00pm
And onto the recommendation of the ferry operator we would never use again, Buva Sea.
To try and cut a very long story short, they scammed us and quite a few other fellow travellers, advising us that they would be making the crossing, but they would not. So, they happily took our money and wouldn’t offer anyone a refund.
When the weather is bad, they will use an alternative pier, about an hour across town by tuk-tuk. This pier is filthy and as you can see from the photo below, a great example of the terrible environmental impact that tourism can have on what was once a stunning location.
We did eventually take a ferry with them the following day. And even with relatively rough seas, the journey was pretty good. And we were happy to arrive into Koh Rong Sanloem – which happened to be their first port of call for the day.
Scheduled departure times:
From Sihanoukville to Koh Rong/Sanloem: 8.00am, 11.00am, 2.00pm and 5.00pm
Return from Koh Rong/Samloem to Sihanoukville Port: 7.00am, 9.00am, 2.00pm and 3.00pm
Island Speed Ferry Cambodia
One of the operators that we haven’t used (apparently there is also Angkor Speed Ferry, but not even sure they are still operating), Island Speed Ferry, also sometimes referred to as Island Speed Boat Cambodia.
They operate 3 ferries each way, every day and offer a high-speed catamaran style ferry which is also one of the largest ferries, so are more likely to operate in heavier seas.
Scheduled departure times:
From Sihanoukville to Koh Rong/Sanloem: 9.00am, 12.00pm and 3.00pm
Return from Koh Rong/Samloem to Sihanoukville: 10.00am, 1.00pm and 4.00pm
Location of Serendipity Pier in Sihanoukville
Location of Community Pier on Koh Rong
Sometimes the ferries will go on to Sok San Port, but this is weather dependent.
Location of ferry drop offs in Koh Sanloem
Travelling to Sihanoukville from Phnom Penh?
A lot of people coming from Phnom Penh will not arrive into Sihanoukville until much later than the stated time.
The traffic getting into Sihanoukville is horrendous. Everyone we spoke to experienced the same. They advertise a 4 to 5-hour trip, but 7 hours is far more realistic. Over the last couple of years Sihanoukville has seen 30+ casinos pop up, and with another 30 being planned, the once sleepy seaside paradise is now a very sad sight. You have been warned…
So, it doesn’t matter whether you’re on a minibus or bus. They arrive late every day (read the reviews if you don’t believe us), which can mean missed ferry crossings and often resulting in a need to stay at least one night in the Sihanoukville area, especially in the rainy season…
We took the Giant Ibis bus from Phnom Penh, which was comfortable and the safest way to get to Sihanoukville. We’ve taken a lot of minibuses in Asia and they may be a touch faster, but they aren’t the safest.
For bus and minibus options, have a look at Bookaway.
There are also options if you’re coming from Siem Reap (overnight bus) or Vietnam, you may want to fly straight into Sihanoukville airport from the likes of Phnom Penh Airport.
Check out the flight options with Skyscanner.
Sihanoukville to Koh Rong Travel Tips
With all that said, travelling to the Koh Rong islands is well worth the effort, these islands are still idyllic, so with that in mind here are a few tips.
- Be flexible on your bookings, the roads are terrible and you’ll more than likely arrive into Sihanoukville late, regardless of published times or what the company has promised you
- Have a backup plan of a night in Sihanoukville, ideally a one-night booking that you can cancel a few hours before (trust us – you don’t want to be left with the ‘dregs’ available since this is not a pretty town with many good options)
- Plan for the worst… if you have an onward flight or bus to catch, leave the islands much earlier than you think you need to – even if that means staying a night in Sihanoukville
- Keep an eye on weather forecasts, they’re a good indicator on whether the ferries will run. You need to consider rain and wind, since both have an impact on ferries
- Make sure that your accommodation in Sihanoukville or Koh Rong books you onto the ferry ideally at a specific time, this is especially important in high season since they get very full
- If you get seasick, don’t forget to take your meds!
What to do in Sihanoukville
Relax on the beaches
While Sihanoukville is no longer the beach haven of yesteryear, it does still boast a number of beaches you can visit. Most visitors will want to head slightly out of town to Otres Beach, which also boasts most of the high-end hotels still left in the town. Other options include Independence Beach or Serendipity Beach, although the latter suffers from being next to the pier, so not the most relaxing of experiences!
Check out a local Cambodian market
If you’ve been anywhere in Southeast Asia you’ll know exactly what a Cambodian market entails: a mix of fragrant street food, loads of trinkets for sale but also some slightly odd wares geared towards the locals. The best bet for a market in Sihanoukville is Phsar Leu Market – you’ll find traditional food, lots of clothing for sale and definitely friendly hawkers wanting to strike a deal!
Take a cooking class
Khmer food is absolutely delicious – fish amok, chicken curry and banana flower salads just being three of the mouthwatering meals we miss from our travels there. Take a slice of Cambodian cuisine home with you by doing a cooking class!
The best one is town is run by Sinuon, a chef who will spend 4 hours teaching you a three course meal!
Things to do on the Koh Rong islands
Hike to Long Beach
Speaking of Long Beach, one of the must-do activities for any self-respecting visitor to the Koh Rongs is to hike from Koh Toch to Long Beach. It’s a jungle trek so make sure you have good shoes (no flip flops advised!) – if you really don’t want to hike back, there are often longtail boats waiting to ferry you home.
Go scuba diving or snorkelling
The two Koh Rongs offer some of the best diving and snorkelling in Cambodia. From scorpion fish to stingrays and even the lesser-spotted cobia fish, you’ll have amazing marine life to marvel at. Worth visiting at Rocky Bay, Secret Garden and, if you’re a nudibranch nutter, then Nudibranch Heaven.
Relax on the beaches
Most travellers flock to the Koh Rongs for one of two things: beach bumming or partying the night away. With lilywhite sands and postcard perfect blue waters, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to beautiful beaches scattered around the island – there are 28 on Koh Rong alone!
Like Koh Toch, one of the beaches near the ferry landing, the spectacular Sok San beach resort or even Long Set, which we talk more about below. Just pack some sunscreen and probably all the snacks you need, since most of these beaches don’t offer much in the way of food and drink for sale!
Explore the jungle
What you might not expect nestled in the jungles of Koh Rong is a world-class rope course, the Koh Rong High Point Rope Park! Strung between 21 trees in the towering jungle, there are suspension bridges, walking wires, floating platforms and enough ladders to make you dizzy (with either fear or delight)!
Party the night away
If you’re keen on the backpacker party scene, you’ll fit right in on Koh Rong. Whether it’s a pub crawl (yes, really!) or a host of beach bars, you’ll find cheap beer in steady supply. Try the original, Dragon Den Pub, or head to the happy hour at Nest Beach Club. For the really raucous, you have to do the Police Beach Party zone – it’s akin to Koh Phangan’s famous Full Moon Party, although runs even more regularly!
Hire a kayak
Yes, more watersports – but how could you not with such an incredible ocean before you? While on Koh Rong, hire yourself a kayak and paddle out to some of the more distant beaches like Police Beach.
Check out the plankton at night
Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem boast a pretty unique experience: bioluminescent plankton! This naturally-occurring phenomenon can only be seen after dark – bright blue plankton floating in the water as you wade on through. It’s the experience of a lifetime and, for us, reason enough to go to Koh Rong.
Accommodation options in Sihanoukville and the Koh Rong islands
Where to stay in Sihanoukville
Sahaa Beach Resort (Otress beach) – although we booked this last minute and a bit of a drive out of Sihanoukville, the rooms and WiFi were great. A lovely pool and good food. And the staff were super helpful. If you get stuck in the city there are a lot of worse options!
Where to stay in Koh Rong Sanloem
Tube Resort – tranquil and with great rooms. This beach front resort would be our pick for Koh Rong Sanloem.
Where to stay in Koh Rong
Ariya Resort – we stayed here for 6 nights. And if we were to head back we’d only stay here. They have built their own beach, and have access to untouched beaches in the lagoon only 10 minutes away by kayak – which you can use for free. And there is a great tree house to watch sunset. The manager Aleksander is super helpful and will pick you up from Longset Pier.
We hope that your trips are smooth and this information is helpful, but do get in touch here or leave a comment below if you have any questions or if any of this has changed since we were there!
And, if you’re looking for a more detailed itinerary for Cambodia, check out our 10 days in Cambodia article with loads of recommendations on what to do or drop us a note as we’d be more than happy to provide you some suggestions!
What camera equipment and other gear do we use?
We’re living proof that you don’t need the most expensive gear to travel the world and take good photos. Here are some of our must have items that make it into the packing list for all our travels.
- Main Camera: Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
- Drone: DJI Mavic Air – Fly More Combo
- GoPro: Hero 7 Black
- GoPro Dive Case: Go Pro Housing
- GoPro Case: Smatree GoPro Carry Case – Small
- Packing Cubes: Eagle Creek Packing case
- Backpack: Osprey Farpoint 70
- Powerbank: Anker Powercore
- Phone: Xiaomi Mi 9
- Hard drive: Transcend Slim Storejet 2TB
- Laptop: Lenovo IdeaPad 720s
- Headphones: Bose Quiet Comfort 35
- Wifi Hotspot: GlocalMe G4
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