The waves crashing against the shore echo off the blackboard menu behind the bar while the stray kitten that we have appropriately named Roach, plays with my bare feet. I step around him making espresso martinis for 3 regulars– shirtless British men covered in tattoos– as they casually discuss their days. A Cambodian man drives up on his motorbike, maneuvering through the sand that leads up to the entrance, and walks into the bar with a bag of ice. He throws it in the beer cooler as I give him the $2.50 for payment. People walk by in bathing suits, other restaurant staff wave “Good morning” as they pass by and Khmer women walk around with baskets of freshly made treats balanced on their heads. The bartender from next door asks me if I have any change. I ask him if we can borrow a carton of orange juice. The stray dog that has also adopted us as his family wanders into the bar after a late night of partying with the other dogs. His name is MD, after MDMA. He passes out on his back under a table, his legs spread wide and his tongue sticking out, but not even a cooked piece of chicken will entice him to wake from his slumber.
Welcome to Koh Rong, Cambodia
The plan was to stay a couple of days, bum it at the beach and head out to enjoy the rest of Cambodia. But travel isn’t just about hopping from place to place, seeing the sights, and taking some pictures. As I am always saying, traveling is about spontaneity, testing the waters, realizing what makes you happy and going for it because otherwise you’re on the next bus to the next country and you’ll never know what kind of story you could have told had you taken that small opportunity to slow down. Koh Rong seemed like the kind of paradise I was ready to settle down in and discover, get to know people and live a peaceful life for a bit. Why not?
The island itself is run by people from all over the world: America, Britain, Australia, Germany, of course, Cambodians and so much more. Some people stay for a short time, others stay for years and build up their own businesses. Half the people have lost their shoes, but who needs them when everything is covered in sand? Ice is scarce as there is one man on the island who makes it and delivers it to the rest of the island. Two times a day, the power goes out for 5 seconds– a thrill for visitors, but simply routine for the locals– so that the electric company can switch generators to power the island.
Do I need to describe the oceans in detail? What more do you need to know except that they are an unbelievable color yet clear enough to see your fingers spread beneath the surface?
After splashing through the water and finding white sand in places that sand shouldn’t be I knew that Koh Rong would be a place that I could settle down for some time. It’s a world of its own. An alternate reality that makes you forget about the troubles of the rest of the world, of the responsibilities that we sometimes have to take on. I don’t swap Facebooks with anyone on the island. When I see someone I know, I say hello and stop for a chat. Sometimes I have full conversations with people because it’s my day off and I have nothing more to do but engage in meaningful conversation with interesting people, runaways, vagabonds, adventurers all with stories from their travels. When the Koh Rong staff aren’t working for their accommodation, they’re sunbathing, selling tickets for pub crawls, for boat trips, anything to make a couple of bucks.
The second day of visiting the island I searched for a job. It was right between Christmas and New Years and there were “Staff Wanted” signs posted in front of almost every bar/hostel. I work for free accommodation, food, and drinks, but to be able to wake up to the ocean and the hustle and bustle of Cambodians and other friendly people every morning, it was a steal. So I stayed.
And you can too with these simple steps.
- Take a boat from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong Island (you can also work on Koh Rong Samloem if you please)
- Hop off the boat (literally, sometimes the steps are too high up) and find a guesthouse to crash at for the night.
- As soon as you wish, search for the “Staff Wanted” signs. Many of the businesses have them posted outside along the beach walkway so it won’t be hard to miss. If you don’t see a sign, walk in and ask anyway. Most jobs will pay you in food, drink, and accommodation, but certain businesses do pay, you just have to find them.
- After about a month of working you will have to either get a visa extension or leave the country. Most people extend their visa.
It’s that easy.
There are plenty of things to do on the island: kayaking, zip lining, blobbing, and so much more, but the real attraction of the island is the chill vibes. If you have the time when passing through Cambodia, you should definitely take on the experience of living and working on Koh Rong Island.
While the island is a gem, though, there are a few things some people don’t realize before arriving, so read my article on 5 Things to know before you go and their solutions.