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; un-spoilt 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 it’s smaller sister, Koh Rong Sanloem.
You are not alone. We were recently in your shoes and found the whole thing quite disconcerting. Essentially arriving into Sihanoukville you’ll be provided misinformation and scams, and if you manage to navigate that, you are likely to 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.
Secondly, 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 SE Asia based routes. These are speed boats. So be prepared even on relatively flat seas for a bit of a bumpy ride.
In most places it is advertised that you’ll get from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong or Koh Sanloem in 30 to 45 minutes. That may be the case if you are lucky. 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 on to Sihanoukville traffic in a bit) or may head to one island before crossing over to the other. Meaning that you are in for a journey that can be much longer than an hour.
And most importantly, don’t forget other hostels, bus companies etc… 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 Operators
There are three main island speed ferry providers between Sihanoukville and Koh Rong or Koh Rong Sanloem: GTVC, High Speed Ferry and Buva Sea. We actually took all three of these services and so hopefully can provide you with actual 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. It’s approx. 22 USD return and 12 USD one way. 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.
Who to choose?
So let’s start with our strongest recommendation. If there is availability, we would strongly suggest that you use GTVC. 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). They have the newest boats. They won’t make the crossing if it’s not safe. And not surprising given this feedback, most boats seem to be used by the locals…
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.
Office location: Kampong Thom Rd 6, Sihanoukville
Scheduled departure times:
From Sihanoukville to Koh Rong/Sanloem: 8.00am, 11.00am, 2.00pm and 4.00pm
Return from Koh Rong/Sanloem to Sihanoukville: 8.30am, 11.30am, 2.30pm and 4.30pm
Speed Ferry Cambodia
One word to describe this outfit. Cowboys.
They do have the largest boat 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. We always believe that you can tell that things are fine by looking at the crew. When they look nervous then it’s time to panic.
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. Boy were we wrong. It felt that this company would take risks, just to make money. So if you value you safety, maybe only choose them if the seas are flat!
Office location: Koh Rong Dive Center, 18200, 18200, Ochheuteal Street 500, Krong Preah Sihanouk
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/Sanloem to Sihanoukville: 7.00am, 10.00am, 12.30pm and 4.00pm
Now where do you start with Buva Sea. Maybe the guarantee that they will run late. Maybe that they will take a risk if they can. Or perhaps that they’ll take you to a pier that’s 8km from town (or 45 mins in Sihanoukville traffic).
Nope, let’s start with the scam. We arrived into Sihanoukville at 4pm. Later than the scheduled 2.30pm arrival, more on that later… So when we arrived at the Buva Sea office in town, we were excited that we could still take the 5pm ferry. We expected that the ferry would be departing from the Serendipity Pier, literally just down the road. As it was pissing with rain, we were okay to take the tuk tuk to the pier as we also thought we were in a rush to get onto the ferry (well speed boat). However, we quickly realised that we were headed in the other direction.
Advised by our tuk tuk that it was ok as the ferry went from another pier when the weather wasn’t too great. Time ticked by, and the notoriously bad Sihanoukville traffic meant we only arrived at the pier at 5.30pm. We rushed along a filthy pier and harbour to be met with amusement by the crew, who advised that the ferry was never running.
We met with some other travellers who were sold the same story. And after much negotiation, were provided with a ‘free’ tuk tuk back to the office that we’d left earlier. On arriving back at their office, the other travellers did get a partial refund after a good 15 minutes of arguing the toss with them. We were then guaranteed that there would be an 8am boat the next morning and we would have a free pick up at 7am from our hotel.
Oh yes, we were now stuck in Sihanoukville for the night. And at 7.30pm started to scramble and see what was available. Not a lot in this terrible town. But we did find something out towards Otres Beach. If you have to stay in Sihanoukville we suggest trying out that way.
The next morning, 7am passed, and at 7.30am we asked the hotel to call Buva Sea to check on the pick up. Guaranteed that it was on the way and traffic wasn’t great, we waited just a little longer and were picked up at 7.45am. At that point, we thought there was no chance to make the 8.00am ferry. However, it turns out that there was no 8.00am. And we headed back to the company office to collect more confused looking travellers. A little after 9.00am we arrived back at the dirty pier across town. And happy to say that the ferry left shortly after.
Saying that, 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.
Office location: Serendipity Beach Street (502), Krong Preah Sihanouk
Scheduled departure times:
From Sihanoukville to Koh Rong/Sanloem: 8.00am, 11.00am, 2.00pm and 5.00pm
Return from Koh Rong/Sanloem to Sihanoukville: 7.00am, 9.00am, 2.00pm and 3.00pm
Coming from Phnom Penh
A lot of people coming from Phnom Penh will not arrive at the stated time. So the best advice is not to book a ferry until as late in the day as you can. And if it’s bad weather, you can bank on a nights accommodation in Sihanoukville.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re on a minibus or bus. 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. The delayed buses and minibuses occur every day (read the reviews if you don’t believe us) and that has been the case since the building of all the casinos… the roads are just full of construction trucks. So we have no idea why they just don’t update the timings on their websites.
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.
So here are a few tips to bear in mind.
- Be flexible on your bookings, the roads are terrible and you will arrive into Sihanoukville late, regardless of published times or what the company has promised you
- Have a back up 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
- Don’t purchase return tickets with one company if you have to make a flight or bus. You may just need to jump on the first ferry that you can and you definitely won’t get a refund
- 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!
Saying all that, the islands are stunning and worth the effort (even when most of your days on the island are washed out). Swimming at midnight with bioluminescent plankton on Koh Rong Sanloem or having your own private beach for the day on Koh Rong are experiences that we’ll never forget.
Then again, getting from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem also provide memories of their own too. 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.
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!
Some Accommodation recommendations
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!
Koh Rong Sanloem
Tube Resort – tranquil and with great rooms. This beach front resort would be our pick for Koh Rong Sanloem.
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.
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