Cambodia has emerged in the last decade as a popular travel destination for foreign travelers. Once viewed by many tourists as simply a quick extension trip from a neighboring country to see the incredible temples of Angkor, it’s now rightfully seen as a destination unto itself, worthy of an entire vacation. Its capital, Phnom Penh, is a fun, vibrant Asian city, the temples around Angkor stunning, and the hilltribe communities in the NE are intriguing, but the missing ingredient until recently has been the beach.
Despite having many islands off the SW corner of the country, resorts have been few, access limited and integrating it in to an overall holiday a bit tough. But that’s all changing and Cambodia’s beach scene will be an entirely different world in another decade. For those wanting an unspoilt beach experience, you better get there soon. On this episode we’ll explore Cambodia’s emerging beach scene, where to go and how to get there.
Some of the things we’ll discuss today are: Where to go for beach bliss in Cambodia: the top beaches, islands and areas, what they are like; How to get to the beaches/islands, how long to spend there; How they compare to other beaches in the region; Rough costs; and How to make beaches the completing part of your Cambodian holiday.
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Scott & Trevor introduce the episode talking about their first-time experiences and impressions at beaches and islands in Cambodia. Scott talks about how, during the reign of the KR (1975-1979), everyone was ordered off islands, so it’s little wonder that development on islands is quite behind that of their neighbors Thailand and Vietnam.
Most of Cambodia’s really good islands and beaches are in the Southwest of Cambodia, in the Gulf of Thailand, essentially much the same environment as many of Thailand’s beaches and there’s huge potential.
The beach has been the classic part of the puzzle missing from the full Cambodian holiday: You have incredible temples and culture, a vibrant city, secondary sites like Kampot/Kep, Mondulkiri and now emerging beaches. What’s really been needed were some good air connections from the SW to other SE Asian cities or Cambodian cities and that’s already happening.
Getting to/from Sihanoukville:
By Air: Currently you can fly to Sihanoukville, the main city on the coast, from HK, HCMC, and KL. Rumors are that Bangkok Airways and AirAsiaX will offer service from Bangkok in November. Otherwise, flying to/from Siem Reap is huge (40min). And flying to Phnom Penh (35) is sooooo much better than 5-8 hour ground travel.
By Train: Seven hours to/from Phnom Penh on the train is likely much nicer than same time or longer on bus. Only on the weekends, but should be an option, even to/from Kampot.
By Van: Going in Mekong Express was a nightmare. It’s very dangerous: not recommended! Other than flying or taking the train, people should go by private coach and drivers should be vetted for safety.
By Bus: Not recommended unless people are on a budget.
Getting to/from Koh Rong/Koh Rong Sanloem: There are boats that go directly to both islands and to one island and then the other. There are 3 piers on KRS and 1 each on Koh Toch and Longset Beach. Different boats service different piers. Island Speed Ferry is the largest boat and services south pier near The One, Moonlight, Sol Beach. The baggage handlers hit me with a suitcase. GTVC is a speedboat that seats maybe 30 and services Longset. Nice to have option to sit up front: outside. Most hotels inspected have private skiff from pier to hotel. There are two piers on Sok San Beach, one for each hotel, with private service from the mainland (not sure about Sok San actually: they may just do transfer from Koh Toch.
Top Beach Destinations: Sihanoukville
Ochheuteal beach still has a nice stretch of sand, but the water quality is diminished and there is lots of debris on the beach. The town itself has gone downhill dramatically, primarily catering to a Chinese clientele. Now only really recommended as a launching point to the islands.
Otres I & II Beaches. Otres I is still reasonably nice. Where the park is, is still very popular with locals, there are garbage cans and it’s reasonably clean. North of the park, where the hippie backpacker places are, is the cleanest stretch of beach on the coast. They must all pick up the garbage. So Sahaa Beach Resort, which is right behind the hippie places has the best beach area along this coast, hand’s down. Rumor has it that, soon (perhaps after elections) the hippie places will go, the road will stay, and a beach walk will run along the coast. That’s great for Sahaa who will be right across from the beach. Otres II is no longer the best beach along this coast. Trash all along the beach and the run-off from the river is polluting the water. The resorts there are nice. Late November – early April, when there is no rain, the water quality may still be good because there will be less run off. Also, the resorts there have private sunbathing areas which are quite nice. Great for pool people or those just looking to get some sun and don’t need to swim in the sea.
Ream National Park… Monkey Maya
Day trip Islands: if you are staying on the mainland. You really need to do an island tour by longtail boat to experience nice sand and clean water. The nicest of the lot that you can visit on one of these tours is Koh Ta Kiew. There a a couple super simple hippie guesthouses there on the island. Otherwise, there are some near shore islands that, later this year, will see the opening of a new Six Senses Resort. And Alila Villas.
Koh Toch Beach: This is the main beach where most ferries come from KRS and the mainland. The village here has really grown and the entire length of beach is wall-to-wall guesthouses. Aside from the unsightly mess of bungalows, the beach itself is still quite nice, as is the water. Apparently this is only true through the high season months. Once the winds shift in July/August the beach gets lots of debris throughout the monsoon months.
Long Set Beach: Just around the corner from Koh Toch, this beach is far less developed, with the resorts spread much farther apart. Even with no one (apparently) cleaning the beach, it was almost entirely free of plastic and other waste. Furthermore, this is the best beach for swimming as the water drops off to more than 2 meters within 20 meters from the shore. Most of the “resorts” along the beach offer simple fan bungalows and even camping. The lone resort with air conditioned rooms lies at the center of the beach, near the pier from which speedboats from the mainland arrive and depart. It also has slips for the Longset Resort skiff to shuttle guests to/from the pier at Koh Toch.
Sok San Beach: Royal Sands and Sok San share a big long beach, but it’s much nicer at the Royal Sands end and best north of the pier: south of the pier, the beach and water are not cleaned by the resort. In front of their property, Royal Sands does a pretty good effort cleaning up the beach and trying to disrupt sandfly breeding. The beach at Royal Sands is far superior to the mainland. At the Sok San end of the beach it’s not quite as good because of proximity to the village and the far end of the bay where wind and currents push debris: still it’s far superior to the mainland. Walk 10-15 min south of Sok San and the swimming is much better.
Song Saa has a tiny beach and the water is super shallow. Their reef is nice though. Decent snorkeling but only for people who can swim that far. There is no water access on the reef side of the island. You can kayak or SUP to Koh Rong (20 minutes) and there is a nice long beach there guests can swim or take long walks. Guests can also swim directly from over-water villas: just beware that it’s very shallow, although there is a sandy bottom.
Koh Rong Sanloem
Saracen Bay is the main beach on this island. This beach is serviced by 3 piers: one towards the south and two towards the north. This beach is very long: you can barely see the northern piers from the southern one. Consequently, the nicer villas, which are located towards the center of the beach, have small motorboats to pick up and drop off guests at their piers. Some guests may choose to have their bags taken by boat and walk along the beach as it is spectacular. The water here recedes greatly at low tide as the bay is very shallow. This makes it great for kids. There is also almost no swell as the bay is protected from wind most of the year. For this reason there is very little trash on the beach and the water is very clean.
The other beach is Lazy Beach…
Kep: Scott explains how there’s not really a good beach here – Rabbit Island is very so-so for an afternoon. Scott and Trevor then talk a bit about each one, pluses, minuses, who it’s suited to, costs, etc: Who these beaches/islands are good for and who should not go.
Kampot… Same kind of overview for Kampot: Trevor talks about kite surfing and SUPing on the river and on the Kampot Coast. Talks about a nearby beach he got stir-fried pepper crab on the beach and then jumped into the water to clean off.
Outro: Scott and Trevor talk about what the coming five years looks like for Cambodian beaches and islands.
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