Koh Rong Samloem: Sunsets, beaches and plastic

How rubbish and plastic pollution are littering Koh Rong Samloem and Koh Rong’s beaches and destroying these Cambodian islands


For a tiny island, Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia’s newest base for backpackers and hedonists, boasts a lot of beaches. Most of them are accessible only by boat and offer a refuge for those looking for complete and utter isolation. The island has been labelled ‘the Thailand of 20 years ago’,  before the influx of resorts and package holiday goers. There are no ATMs on the island, limited wifi and little stress. There is little of any outside intrusion here, apart from rubbish.

Many of the island’s idyllic beaches have been polluted with litter.

‘Don’t go on that beach, it’s full of rubbish’,  that’s the general consensus about a lot of the islands’ central beaches. Tragically, it’s no exaggeration, and it’s not just the odd bottle that’s causing a fuss. Some beaches are covered in piles of trash, particularly plastics, that have been washed up. The resorts on the islands main stretch, Saracen Bay, do a good job at keeping it clean, but head over to the more isolated bays like Lazy Beach to see the true extent of the issue.

Cambodia has got a massive problem with plastics. As a developing country, it lacks infrastructure and education to recycle properly. New statistics show that Cambodians use more than 2,000 plastic bags per year. That’s 10 times more than the average in China and The EU. The government is now looking at taxing plastic bags, but help is still needed to clean up the damage that has already been done, and the situation is critical. A new study from The Asia Foundation has shown that if things continue, Cambodia will run out of landfill space in as little as five years time.  On the islands, it’s not just a question of aesthetics. Each year 100,000 marine mammals die from plastic pollution, causing havoc to the biodiversity in the ocean.

Plastics are just the start of the problem in Cambodia. A lack of basic sewage disposal means that the island’s waste is pumped right out into the ocean via large sewage pipes running over the sand. This problem isn’t just limited to go Koh Rong Samloem, it’s even worse on neighbouring Koh Rong. Once the more popular island, most of its beaches now contain unmanageable volumes of rubbish. Furthermore, its frontal waters have been so heavily contaminated by sewage to the point that its inadvisable to swim in. The island is becoming a no go zone among backpackers, a fate that Koh Rong Samloem is surely set to suffer if things don’t change.

Dealing with the environmental issues on the Cambodian islands is no mean feat. It transcends beyond picking up the litter that already lines the beach, but it’s a start. Plastic pollution is a ticking bomb. If things don’t change now, Koh Rong Samloem looks set to become just another wasteland, and an example of how we’re destroying our planet, one place at a time.


  • If you want to help, there are a number of volunteer projects available on the islands.
  • Frontier run a few projects on Koh Rong Samloem, where you can assist on a range of projects, from beach conservation, island community development and marine conservation. www.frontier.ac.uk
  • Marine Conservation Cambodia are a small conservation group, based in Kep on the mainland. Interns or volunteers can help assess the health of marine life, log species and assist in community development projects. This is good for those who already have a PADI license, but they also offer training. https://www.marineconservationcambodia.org
  • Save Cambodian Marine Life is an NGO charity based on Koh Rong Samloem. They offer a variety of projects, running from one week, upwards. There are opportunities to help with marine projects such as building a coral nursery, along with other tasks like increasing the company’s social media presence. https://www.savecambodianmarinelife.com


Plastic pollution in Cambodia is a serious issue and it needs to be addressed now. Please share this post so we can raise awareness before paradise really is lost forever. 

Read more about my adventures in South East Asia here: Asia


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