Cambodia is gifted with a generous section of the mighty Mekong, and with all the blessings it provides come hundreds of river islands. In our journey so far, we have showcased two of the most well-known among them–Phnom Penh’s Koh Dach and Kampong Cham’s Koh Paen. This time round, we want to take you up the Mekong to where another of these riverine treasures reside.
In the waters opposite Kratie city is Koh Trong («កោះទ្រង់»), a modest sand island (leaf-shaped, ~5km long, and ~1km across at its widest) that has abundant to offer despite its size. It has claimed its fame nationwide due to the juicy pomelo fruits it produces. But beyond the pomelos, the island’s laid-back, cozy landscape will leave visitors longing to return.
About Koh Trong
Koh Trong constitutes an urban administrative quarter of Kratie city, capital of Kratie province. The quarter is divided into two villages: Kbal Koh to the north and Chong Koh to the south. (If you recall from our Koh Dach article, these mean “upstream tip” and “downstream tip”, respectively). Most of the island’s 400+ families live along two main riverside roads, one each side of the island. Although the island is deemed to be and enjoys many privileges of an urban administrative unit, its rural landscape is perfectly preserved, giving the best of both worlds to inhabitants and visitors.
Exploring Koh Trong
Consider spending a whole morning going around the island; you will feel time slowing down. Along the riverside roads, stilted wooden houses lurk behind front yards of pomelo and other fruit trees. Opposite the houses and gardens are bamboos and large fruit trees, peppered by hay stacks, village food stalls and tea tables. The roads are mostly made of concrete, only big enough for two motorbikes, and are usually empty. Plus, there is no car on the island, so if you are up for cycling, the whole island is your track!
But don’t just stick to the riverside. A third concrete, running across the island at about three-fourths down its length, ushers visitors into the island’s agricultural heart. During the dry season and rice-harvesting part of the rainy season, crop fields extend on either side of the road as far as the eyes can see. In addition to neatly arranged paddies, you can find tomato gardens and other vegetables. During the rainy season, the lands on both sides are usually flooded as the road is built on a raised path. With the right water height, this gives commuters the feeling of driving “across” the water.
Koh Trong’s Pomelo–the best pomelo in Cambodia
As mentioned at the beginning, Koh Trong is very-well known for its pomelo ever since Sangkum Reas Niyum era. Its crisp sweet-sour taste and soft juicy texture have now made it as one of only three Cambodian products to earn Geographical Indication by the Ministry of Commerce (the other two being Kampot pepper and Kampong Speu palm sugar).
That’s why you can find pomelo in almost every household on Koh Trong. The soil on the island seems to be composed for these juicy pomelos, and the villagers keep planting this tropical goodness one generation after another. Pomelos on the island are sold at a higher price then those of other areas, ranging from $2 to $3.5 for one fruit.
The best time to get many pomelos at a good price is in November when it becomes abundant. We went to Koh Trong in January, and there are not many of them. Yet, we managed to bring a dozen home to share with our friends and family.
Koh Trong’s Beaches
It is unfair to the island’s land if we mentioned only the pomelos and not the beaches. Though we had known about the locals’ picnicking on the beach from the pre-trip research, we were astonished as we walked down the sandy slopes near the northern tip of the island and witnessed Koh Dach’s golden, silky beach.
For context, it was late in the afternoon, and the sun was slowly dimming behind us. The wind was gently blowing inland from the Mekong, and before us was sandy madness–smooth sandy beach wider and seemingly longer than any web had before seen. What’s most special, the surrounding was peacefully quiet, so it almost felt like we were at a private beach. 😊 It was subliminal.
We could hardly contain our excitement as we trotted towards the river, feeling the ultra-fine grains of glittering sand beneath our bare feet. Of course we took off our shoes! That evening, on the eastern beach of Koh Trong, was a moment we felt entirely immersed in nature.
There’s also a beach on the western side of the island, depending on the water level; however, the sand on that side doesn’t seem to have the same golden glow to it. For your information, though, the beaches can only been seen in the dry season when the Mekong is not filled up to the higher edges of the island. The beaches are, generally speaking, about 20 meters lower than the edges of the island during the rainy season!
Koh Trong, Tourist-friendly Island
If you have enjoyed the island so far, there are good reasons for you to stay a night or two. While not being overcrowded by tourists, Koh Trong is distinctly tourist-friendly. To begin with, the ecotourism community has been established about a decade now, and the local people are used to welcoming visitors. But there are more.
On top of having friendly local communities, Koh Trong is also very clean. Of the one and a half days we spent driving up and down the island, we could only see a few pieces of trash! It’s remarkable considering the island’s location and economic activities, and it got us curious about the islanders’ waste management. Maybe you can find out and let us know. 😉
Also, you don’t have to sacrifice comfort to unwind in a quiet environment on Koh Trong, because there’s electricity and clean tap water on the island. And if you can find the right place, lunch and dinner will be prepared from freshly-picked vegetables from the host’s family garden.
Accommodation on Koh Trong
Although there are not many accommodations on the island, you can find a range of choices from luxury option to home stay. We chose to stay at Home Stay I, one of the 5 homestay lodgings available on the island, because of the price and its atmosphere. Given limited time, it was a great way to get close to the locals and learn about them. The hostess’s husband, we found, is a teacher during the week and an active farmer on the weekends. We even visited his banana field and learned a few things about the different varieties he was growing. Indeed, meeting new people at the places we visit is one of the best parts of every trip. There’s no reason you shouldn’t try it.
Home Stay I has been operating for more than 10 years now. Recently, they have just built 2 new wooden houses, with 4 rooms for guesthouse-style option. We stayed in one these rooms, and had most of the meals at the homestay.
How to Get to Koh Trong
Koh Trong is located just across the Mekong river from Kratie town. From Phnom Penh, take a bus to Kratie, and tell the driver to drop you off at the ferry dock crossing to Koh Trong. We booked our bus (Phnom Penh-Kratie) via BookmeBus.
The small ferry costs $0.50 per person for a two-way trip and they usually collect the fee on your first ride. It only takes around 5 minutes to reach the island, during the dry season. During the rainy season, commuting time does depend on the river’s water level, and may take significantly longer.
Upon arrival on the island, the first place you will see is the the Community Center, a small wooden hut with many bicycles and a few motorbikes, just in front of the pagoda.