The southern coast of Cambodia is home to a bounty of beaches and islands so memorable that wherever I am in the world all I need do is close my eyes to find myself back in paradise…
The gentle sea breeze as I stroll along golden sands, taking a boat to visit a beautiful and undeveloped island, renting a bamboo hut on the beach at the island’s only resort, watching a crimson red sunset transform the sky and the sound of waves gently rolling off the ocean at sunrise the next morning…
Whether you desire a coastal getaway with a historic or modern vibe, somewhere affordable or exclusive, undeveloped or basking in the lap of luxury there’s a beautiful beach in Cambodia that is waiting for you.
1. Kep Beach, Mainland Kep
Kep was established as Cambodia’s first coastal retreat in 1908 by French colonialists seeking to capture the spirit of the French Riviera. It soon became known as the “Saint Tropez of Southeast Asia” and despite being a one beach town continues to flourish as the stylish, more relaxed alternative to the country’s larger beach resort Sihanoukville, which is only an hour or so away.
Kep Beach is a quaint one-kilometre stretch of white sand with picture perfect views, not to mention an iconic statue of a Kep Crab that stands a hundred metres into the sea as a reminder of the delicious seafood for which the province is best known.
Fortunately, Kep’s renowned fresh crab market is close by so after enjoying the sea and sand this is where to head to feast on crab plucked right from the ocean then fried in Kampot Pepper sauce at restaurants on the pier.
While there isn’t a heavy concentration of bars or shops, for most visitors, it is the lack of commercialisation combined with a peaceful atmosphere that’s the key attraction.
2. Koh Tonsay Island
Koh Tonsay, or Rabbit Island, is another excellent beach option if you visit Kep. Located less than five kilometres off the coast, this petite island makes for a great day trip. Jump on a boat at Kep Pier for a 15-minute cruise to get there. A round trip can cost as little as $5 a head depending on the size of the group and your negotiating skills.
At around two kilometres square you can walk around the entire island to take in the unspoiled mangrove forests, ocean views and rock formations within a couple of hours. Alternatively, spend your time making the most of the white sand beaches and calm seas by going for a swim or a rewarding snorkeling experience. It is also worth considering staying the night in a bungalow on the beach for a bargain $10 or $15. There are no televisions on the island, leaving you no choice but to relax and enjoy the scenery.
3. Koh Rong Island
If you can’t find that perfect spot on the mainland or are seeking a tropical paradise as far from the tourist scene as possible then try exploring the many islands off the coast of Sihanoukville. Most are barely developed at all with beachside bamboo huts or small resorts accounting for the majority of places to stay.
Koh Rong is one of the largest islands and is a great place to kickback and enjoy the island life and pristine coastline. It takes about 45 minutes from Sihanoukville depending on the boat you take. Most people visit for a few days at least. There are a mix of guesthouses and bungalows available to stay at and plenty of things to do such as diving, snorkeling or relaxing on the beach. It is getting increasingly popular so be sure to check the most recent reviews before booking or deciding on anything.
4. Koh Thmei Island
The island of Koh Thmei is very close to Ream National Park and is currently the best bet to experience a virtually undeveloped island where you can really appreciate the natural environment and peaceful settings. There are only a handful of wooden bungalows available at the Koh Thmei Resort with the rest of the island is undeveloped. There may be plans to build new resorts there in the future so try to make a visit while it still remains almost untouched by the modern world.
5. Song Saa Island
Song Saa is actually made up of two islands which are linked together by a wooden boardwalk. Song Saa means “sweetheart” in the Khmer language and is the word used by locals to describe the closeness of the two islands. Without doubt it is the most expensive resort in Sihanoukville, with a single night in one of their luxury villas costing over $800. However, there is no doubting the amazing indulgence, luxurious service and outstanding pleasure that a visit will provide. Importantly, the resort invested a lot back into preserving the surrounding marine environment and mangroves. Though for most of us, a $10 a night bungalow available on one of the other islands is likely to prove a more affordable option.
6. Koh Kong Island
Koh Kong Island is not only the largest in the country (it’s roughly the same size of Hong Kong) but also has the benefit of being among the least populated areas in Cambodia. Located right next to the edge of the Thai border it can be reached by boats on the mainland of Koh Kong City in little under an hour. Although a large number of hotels, casinos and golf courses are in the planning stages it is not yet developed which, for the more adventurous traveller, is really the main attraction right now.
While the island’s impressive natural scenery is an excellent reason to visit, the lack of facilities and remote location should be taken into consideration, so make sure you bring everything you might need so you can have a brilliant time at the beach.