I spent a lot of time figuring out which island of Cambodia to choose for our February vacation and after deciding to go for Koh Rong Sanloem (which is supposed to be quieter and less crowded) I was totally confused about how to get to the island. A lot of blogs, forums and official information from ferry services can be found on this subject, however to manage all the logistics seemed quite a challenge. First of all, you need to decide which ferry service to pick, second you need to know your timings (flight arrivals, departures, time to get to the airport and back etc…) and at last but not the least, you need to book your boat ticket online… or maybe not? In the end I decided to buy the ferry tickets in Sihanoukville just one hour before the departure and I was lucky. So let me make it easier for you and explain everything you need to know about how to get from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong Sanloem (or Koh Rong, which is actually similar procedure).
First, choose and island and your accommodation
No matter which island you choose, I suggest you search for your accommodation first, because you need to know where to get off. Both islands have a few piers and you can save yourself a lot of trouble if you get off at the right one (for example Koh Rong Sanloem has 3 pier pick up – drop off points). Cambodia’s climate is hot and humid and dragging your luggage for a mile or two on the sand (there are no roads!) is not something you want to do unless you plan to stop at every bar on the way. And, because of the jungle, it is impossible to reach other places if you get off on the wrong side of the island. If your accommodation is not near those piers, contact them to find out how to get there – most of “isolated” resorts offer boat transports and this was one of the reasons I chose to stay in Pearl resort. Their staff is amazing; they offer free pickup and drop off rides, plus 3 additional free rides per day from the resort to Saracen Bay.
Carefully check your flight schedule
You will probably arrive to Sihanoukville by air, which means you need to consider your arrival and departure time. Here is the tricky part: a lot of flights get cancelled or delayed, so you need to be very lucky to get by smoothly. I know this is painful but I recommend you to take at least one hour of space for such inconveniences. This is your estimated time schedule:
- If you are on a local flight you don’t need to go to immigration, and since the airport is rather small you should have your luggage with you in around 15 – 20 minutes. For international arrivals add around 10 minutes more for visa and passport inspection. Buy visa online, to make it easier and faster for you!
- At the exit you will find “Taxi service” booth where you get your ticket (there is a fixed 20 USD taxi rate from Sihanoukville airport to the city) and the taxis are usually available immediately.
- The ride from the airport to the Sihanoukville port takes around 40 minutes (depending on traffic jams).
- If everything goes well you can board on your boat within 1,5 hours from your arrival at Sihanoukville airport.
Do I buy a ticket online or on the spot?
The big question is which ferry service to choose and whether to buy ferry ticket online or at the spot. There are 4 main “fast ferry” services between Sihanoukville and Koh Rong Sanloem, each taking approximately 40 to 50 minutes to get to the island (depends on which pier you get off). All ferries leave from the Serendipity pier in Sihanoukville and the rates are all 22 USD. This means that you are more or less flexible about which one to choose, depending only on their departure times. It is logical that the companies promote online sales “to make sure you get your seat” and I was hesitating to the last minute whether to go for this option, but then I thought what if the flight is delayed or something goes wrong… So I decided to take my chance and buy the ferry ticket on the spot. The taxi driver was kind enough to suggest stopping on our way in a sales booth (there are also booths at the pier of course), where everything was done smoothly, no queues, and we knew exactly how much time we had before the departure. Honestly, I would do it again – if by any chance the ferry you choose is full, you go for another one 30 minutes later (by another company).
Note: all tickets from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong Sanloem are sold as “open return”, which means that you can return anytime you want; you just need to report the return date 24 hours before departure. Ask your hotel to help you with this confirmation; they do it all the time. And don’t lose your tickets of course!
Saving tip: there are also a couple of slow boat services to Koh Rong Sanloem that take 2 – 3 hours. For example the “supply boat” for the islands also heads to Saracen Bay. It costs $5 each way. It leaves from Sihanoukville Pier 52. For the return trip the boat leaves Saracen Bay at 2 p.m. to head back to Sihanoukville. Tickets can be purchased from the Koh Rong Dive Center office on Serendipity Beach Road.
We took Speed Ferry Cambodia and everything was fine and more or less on time. The other 3 services are Island Speed Ferry, Buva Sea and GTVC Speedboat. Keep in mind that all services have only a few departures per day and the last one is usually around 4 pm, so don’t plan to get to Koh Rong Sanloem in the evening! Also, check the schedules of your ferry departures, depending on your flight time. A lot of logistic questions, I know…
Where to sit on the boat
When booking online you need to choose your seat – I am not sure if anyone even checks this, but if you do wonder which seat to book, I suggest you go for the middle ones. First of all, the windows are blinded so you cannot see much through them unless you open them. Second, if you open them, you have a great chance of splashes in your ace, as the sea can get rough even during a fine sunny day. If you want to watch your arrival to the island you can always stand up and go outside in the last minutes when the boat slows down. And by the way, if you have a sickness issue, it is better to sit in the front because the ferry is wider and more stable there.
With all that said, let me wrap it up for you: to get from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong Sanloem is pretty easy, the only challenge is the time and possible transfer delays. I suggest you buy the ferry tickets on the spot, to communicate the departure time with your accommodation provider and to prepare yourself to lose half a day in one direction because of the logistics. We were very lucky with everything and a huge thanks goes to the manager of Pearl resort, Mr Ruz!