Koh Rong gone Wrong?

Our Responsible Tourism Intern Iwona Grala (Poland/UK) shares her experiences of tourism that tarnishes natural beauty of destinations from her latest adventure in Cambodia.

Stories from the Field

My name is Iwona and I am a travelholic. My desire for adventure has taken me around the world, giving me a chance to taste the thousands of flavours it has to offer. Sometimes sweet and sometimes bitter ones.

Cambodia_Island_Koh_RongA case study from Koh Rong, Cambodia

I want to tell you about my experience in Koh Rong, the second largest island of Cambodia, located about 25 kilometres off the coast of Sihanoukville.

Tempted by my friend with the vision of an unspoiled island getaway with turquoise-green waters, white beaches, endless palm trees, and only a handful of beachfront bungalows I followed her footsteps and in February 2013 I have arrived to Koh Rong. Leaving behind the hub of nightlife in busy Sihanoukville, I was hoping to live out my Robinson Crusoe fantasy for a few days.

Sadly, the reality of Koh Rong disappointed me rather than amazed me.

Despite the fact that the number of bungalows has increased significantly since my friend last visited the island in 2009, I had a lot of trouble finding a place for the night, which only confirmed that the island is struggling under the weight of its own popularity.

Research reveals that between 2011 and 2013 a number of new operations have opened and even with increased boat service to the island the ferries are struggling to keep up with demand.

Koh Rong C Iwona GralaKoh Touch beach on the island is very popular with backpackers and its popularity has resulted into the loss of ‘desert island’ feeling. For example, I viewed piles of decomposing litter with chickens, dogs, and even children running around it. Plastic bottles and bags, even glass, were littered across the beach and in the water. The white sand was dotted with litter that the locals threw off boats and debris washed up on the beach every day.

Most concerning, numerous pipes from the stilted wooden houses deposited directly to the sea which was supposed to indicate a working sewerage system.

I recently discovered that in 2010 the Cambodian government sold Koh Rong to an investment group based in Cambodia, whose goal is to change Koh Rong into the world’s premier eco resort island armed with an airport, a casino and several five-star resorts. Apparently sustainability will be at the forefront of design and development.

Nevertheless, this much is certain: Koh Rong is still a stunning island that could be the highlight of your trip to Cambodia. How long it will stay this way is another question. If you want to experience it as it is, do so sooner rather than later.

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Take Action on your Holidays

For many years Wild Asia has been championing responsible tourism in destinations across Asia. We do this by recognising leaders and providing an international platform to inspire businesses through our annual Responsible Tourism Awards. We also support tourism operators through dynamic training programmes to improve sustainability practices.

But guests can play their part too! Here are some tips to help you have a responsible holiday:

  • Follow local cultural etiquette by discovering appropriate ‘do’s and don’ts’ for your destination – here’s a great example for Cambodia
  • Search for responsible accommodation providers – stay with one of our past Award winners or look for certified hotels, such as Travelife accredited businesses
  • If you see something you don’t like, don’t stay quiet. Speak to the business that’s upsetting you and point them in the direction of a more responsible approach.


(Photos: header and lower, credit Iwona Grala; centre image taken from kohrong-islandtravel.com)

Do you have a story?

Have you witnessed something on your holiday that has disturbed you or amazed you? We’d love to hear your own experiences. If you’ve been exposed to travel experiences that have left you feeling something’s not quite right here, get in touch. Equally, we love hearing about inspirational tourism that’s doing wonders for local communities. Share your travel story by emailing it to, rt@wildasia.org 


  1. says

    Hi Iwona,

    This is really disturbing.

    We own and operate 4Rivers Floating Lodge with very strong ethos and commitment to preserve our pristine location.

    Hope you could pay us a visit and let me know what you think about our hotel practices and it’s spectacular setting.

    Hope to hear from you soon!


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