While the fabulous islands of Thailand are more famous and well-recognized, the islands that belong to Cambodia occupy the same sea, the Gulf of Thailand, but are way less packed and be likely to be more reasonable, too. And while for a long time many of these 60-plus islands were hardly visited due to the conflict in the 1970s that Cambodia suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, the nation has completely recovered enough to entice tourists from backpackers to luxury sun-seekers.
The islands are most easily accessed by boat from Sihanoukville, which has enough of speed and slow boat choices with numerous crossings per day at a variety of price points (some hotels involve private boat transportation as well). Get to Sihanoukville from Phnom Penh or Siem Reap by bus, minivan busses, or local airlines (JC International Airlines, Cambodia Airways, and Cambodia Angkor Air are advised, though Cambodia Bayon Airlines is less reliable and hovers planes that are not permitted in Europe and the US). There are also several airlines that fly from cities in China, Malaysia, and Thailand straightforwardly to Sihanoukville.
Each island has its own DNA, feel and atmosphere; here’s the lot you need to know about the best ones.
Perhaps the most famous of the islands, Koh Rong is also the most established. But luckily there are still uncrowded areas of white sand beaches to uncover, like the pristine Long Beach. If you’re seeing for some action though, Koh Touch Beach has gained itself somewhat of a party repute. There are also plenty of corporations pushing water sports activities like diving, snorkelling, and kayaking there, as well as bicycle rentals.
Foodwise, there are numerous bars and restaurants providing both traditional Khmer dishes (try Chai Family Restaurant, the Moon, or Elephant Guesthouse) and Western food—for Italian check out Enocafe, Da Matti?, or Treehouse Bungalow, get burgers at Koh Lanta, and vegetarian food at the Rising Sun. Sea and Lake or Sigi’s offer strong Thai food. If you’re considering to test Koh Rong’s nightlife, try out Nest Beach Club, Skybar, Vagabonds, and Monkey Island. The island’s very first bar, Dragon Den Pub, is still moving strong.
When you’re prepared to get some shut-eye, there are a lot of alternatives at various price points. Most of the hostels are focused on Koh Touch, but there are lots of beach huts and resorts alongside the rest of the island. For reasonable hostels between $5 and $30, we recommend Sunflower Guest House, Unicorn Guesthouse, and Coconut Beach Bungalows. If you can spend a bit ($100 to $200), Sweet Dreams Koh Rong, Tamu Koh Rong, and Long Set Resort are well worth it. If you can spend a lot (like $500 and up), the Royal Sands Koh Rong is a complete-service resort with oceanfront villas.
Koh Rong Samloem
Koh Rong’s sister island is slightly small, calmer, and less established. Most of the foundation is focused on sunny Saracen Bay, thanks a lot to its sparkling white sand beaches. Best of all, snorkelling is amazing here, and the waters sparkle at night when millions of bioluminescent plankton brighten the water. You can also see some waterfalls and mangroves on the northern end of the isle, and there is an old-fashioned lighthouse on the southern finishing point.
Get breakfast at Seapony Bungalow Café and Sara Restaurant has a great status for Western and Khmer food with a view.
The best upscale lodgings have a small number of bungalows (some of which are quite contemporary) and consist of Sweet Dreams Samloem, Sara Resort, Pipes Resort, and Secret Paradise Resort. Other reasonably priced non-hostel hotels include Cita Resort, Moonlight Resort, and GreenBlue Resort, though Longvek Hostel and Easy Tiger Bungalows are very low-priced (about $10).
Koh Ta Kiev
There are magnificent resort plans for the northern part of this island, which has been rented by a French company who also rent out part of Koh Russey (and have now opened a resort there—see below), and production is already ongoing. A Chinese Malaysian corporation also rented a large band of land and have constructed a road that sadly cuts through the lush jungle. But for now, there are three yellow sand beaches that are largely unaffected, with just a few budget lodgings. Be sure to bring the whole thing you might need since there are no ATMs here and you won’t be able to purchase much once on the island. And don’t believe much in the way of electrical energy or WiFi—this is absolutely the place to unplug.
Bird observers will love spotting the more than 150 species that fly around the island and extraordinary orchids and carnivorous pitcher plants can also be discovered here. There are a few routes marked in the jungle and one will take you to a small fishing village where you can purchase a newly caught fish or crab lunch, while another takes you to Naked Beach on the south side of the island. There are a couple of places to rent out a kayak and most hotels have snorkel gear. Or rent out a boat to Elephant Rock and hop from the top of a 26-foot tall cliff at sunset. Then go for a night swim among bioluminescent plankton.
For the best nature experience, bring or rent out a hammock or tent and set up camp near one of the resorts (be sure to ask first). Or Else, lodgings are constrained to a few bungalows and beach shacks: Koh Ta Kiev Bungalows, Ten103 Treehouse Bay, Crusoe Island, Kactus, and the Last Point.
Part of Ream National Park, this untouched island of 15 square miles is only residential home to a small fishing village of about 200 people and a few small lodges. Though the government permitted foreign companies to buy long leases of several parts of the park in 2010, so expect resorts to come here soon—and perhaps a bridge to the mainland.
When you dock at the pier there’s a beach occupied with sparkling seashells and the eastern beach has golden sand. There are numerous mangrove forests and tons of bird species, as well as a few endangered animal types like the brahminy kite, fishing cat, and wetland feline. There are numerous marked paths through the jungle and the centre of the island has two peaks on it. There are several local guides offering low-priced (about $10) tours of the island and there are also bikes for rent. Like Koh Ta Kiev, you won’t be able to purchase anything here and there is no WiFi or much electricity.
Presently, the only place to spend the night on the island is the Koh Thmei Resort, which has a private beach and garden along with clean but tidy bungalows that use solar energy for electrical energy
Private Island Resorts: Koh Russey, Koh Krabey, and Koh Ouen
Each of these islands features only one luxury resort and cannot be accessed unless you are a visitor of those resorts.
Literally meaning Bamboo Island, Koh Russey used to operate as an outpost for the Cambodian navy. Nowadays, there’s only one location to stay on the isle, the architecturally remarkable Alila Villas Koh Russey, which launched in November 2018. The luxury resort, which merges seamlessly into the nearby nature, offers private pool villas and suites, some rainforest facing and some oceanfront. The copper sand beach is clean and quiet, and the resort’s eateries serve top-quality Khmer, Thai, and Western food choices—be sure to order a fresh-squeezed juice or cocktail by the Angkor Wat encouraged pool. While this resort is a bit of a splurge (suites start at $280), you’d be hard obliged to find private island lodgings at this price point in Thailand or anywhere else in Asia for that matter. Conveyance via private boat to the island is comprised and excursions to various parts of the mainland like Kampot and Bokor National Park are offered. Non-electric watercraft are complementary and boat rides and have a picnic can be arranged. The spa includes private bungalows and there are a yoga studio and fitness centre.
Koh Krabey became the home of Six Senses Krabey Isle in early 2019. The health-focused posh resort includes 40 pool villas, a huge spa, a sunset bar, two restaurants, an ice cream parlour, lap pool, outdoor fitness circuit, oceanfront boardwalk, beachfront sundeck, open-air cinema, and sky laboratory. Encounters range from water activities, boat trips, and personally customized wellness programs. Conveyance to the island is comprised of your stay and is just a 15-minute boat ride.
Koh Ouen is house to the country’s very first luxury private isle resort, Song Saa. Spread across two nearby islands, the high-end eco-friendly resort comprises of 27 ocean-view villas, each with its own pool as well as an open-air spa, fitness centre, infinity-edge pool, yoga pavilion, over-water eatery, and beachfront bar. Events for visitors include snorkelling, kayaking, and picnics. Incorporated in all guests’ stay is a visit to a regional village on the island and visits to the island’s waterfalls are also accessible. At night, a speedboat can take go for swimming in bioluminescent waters.