Updated August 13th, 2018.
Take a boat ride from the seedy Sihanoukville to explore any one of the dozen gorgeous islands offshore. Away from the bars and dirty old men with questionably young girlfriends, you’ll find a very different scene.
Boat trips depart from Sihanoukville every day and can be booked from many guesthouses and travel agents in town. Mostly undeveloped and unspoiled (although this is set to change – and in some cases, sooner rather than later), some of the islands have very few facilities in the way of hostels or resorts (and we repeat – YET!).
Traditional fishing villages, beautiful beaches and some unexplored dive sites await discovery! All these islands are easily accessible from Sihanoukville and can be factored in as part of a day trip. A popular three-island trip comprises of a short stop at two places for a spot of snorkelling, with Bamboo Island for lunch neatly sandwiched in the middle.
1. Koh Rong
Well worth the two and a half hour boat trip from Sihanoukville, one of the most beautiful things about this island is that most of the bungalow operations (bar one) are built on Sunrise Beach. What can be better than waking up bleary-eyed, opening your bungalow door then settling straight back down in your hammock to watch it emerge?
As the largest and most famous island off the coast of Cambodia, it’s feared that Koh Rong will be the first island to bite the dust in terms of Chinese development. Rumours of an airport and a golf course to be built on the island within the next 5 years threaten to destroy the traveller vibe. Backpacker beach bungalows have already been knocked down to make way for luxury resorts, clearly the type of tourism that the government of Cambodia prefers.
Where to stay on Koh Rong?
There are loads of great choices on Sunrise Beach, from budget dorms to flashpacker resorts, even “sea view” tents at both Coconut Beach Bungalows and Bunnan Bungalows for $8 USD. Two of the best backpacker dorms are Suns of Beaches and Reef on the Beach. A great mid-range option is Monkey Island, as well as Tree House Bungalows.
If you stay on Sunrise Beach, it’s well worth doing the 45-minute trek over to the aptly named ‘Sunset Beach’ via the jungle. Word of warning though – it’s definitely more of a trek than a walk, so wear sturdy shoes (they’ll come in handy – as we wish we’d known – for the short periods you’ll be semi-abseiling down rocks). Also, don’t forget your torch for the journey back (unless you’re like us, conveniently misplace it and have to opt for a taxi-boat back instead).
2. Koh Rong Sanloem
The smaller Koh Rong Sanloem is fast becoming a backpacker paradise with cheap dorm-room accommodation and all-night parties, as well as a Full Moon Party! If you’re on Koh Rong, there’s a party boat that leaves for Samloem at 4.30 pm and gets back at 8 am the following day. No doubt there’s a similar trip from Sihanoukville itself.
The island is tiny. Just 9km by 4km and 1km at its widest point and it really has the feel of a lost paradise (for now). Don’t miss walking along the shoreline as your footsteps light up the bioluminescent plankton as the waves lap around your feet. It’s one of the most magical experiences in Southeast Asia!
Where to stay on Koh Rong Sanloem?
One of the most popular places for backpackers to stay on Koh Rong Sanloem is Mad Monkeys Hostel with dorms from $9 USD per night. You’ll never be lonely here with loads of travellers, events, drinking games, lots of alcohol and Western food. The facilities are top notch and they also have very nice private rooms for $40 USD.
For a more rustic, cheaper option try Driftwood Hostel & Bungalows located in a secluded spot right on the beach.
3. Koh Ta Kiev
Another breathtaking island that’s yet to be destroyed by foreign investment, Koh Ta Kiev is just one hour away from Sihanoukville by boat and close to Ream National Park. It’s delightfully unspoilt and even though it’s the closest Cambodian island to the mainland retains that castaway island feel. At the moment, there are no ATMs on the island so make sure you stock up on cash before you leave the mainland if you want to spend the night here.
Where to stay on Koh Ta Tiev?
There are only a few bungalow operations available: Ten 103 Treehouse Bay is a good option for flashpackers and Crusoe Island Beach Camping & Bungalows (which offers the nice touch of everyone eating dinner together at 7pm).
4. Koh Russei (Bamboo Island)
A tiny little gem, you can visit Bamboo Island from Sihanoukville as part of a three-island trip. It’s less than an hour away from Sihanoukville, and after visiting three islands, you arrive back on the mainland at 4 pm. It’s a pleasant boat trip, but we’d heartily recommend staying at least one night at the only bungalow operation on the island!
Where to stay on Koh Russei?
A 15-minute walk through jungle over to the other side, Koh Ru offers basic but clean bungalows with the all-important hammocks outside, and a great communal space to chill, eat and practice your poi! The staff put on a fire poi show every night at 10 pm.
UPDATE: One traveller recently told us that if you walk to the back of Bamboo Island it’s a plastic rubbish tip. Go now as we fear the worst environmental fate is coming. It’s very sad.
5. Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island)
Just a 25-minute boat ride from the old colonial beach town of Kep, the sight of it as your longtail boat approaches – all fringed with palm trees swaying in the breeze, and speckled with hammocks on the shoreline – is sure to be a highlight of your trip to Cambodia. Picture-perfect with warm, gentle waters, Koh Tonsay is usually pretty secluded (don’t expect any mad parties here like on Koh Rong Sanloem!).
Where to stay on Koh Tonsay?
Accommodation-wise, expect a choice of basic bungalows on stilts for anything between $5-$10 per night for a double. The food – particularly the seafood – is gorgeously fresh (don’t forget to add a generous helping of that famous Kampot pepper!). There are two beaches, plus some good hiking to do here, too – although I don’t think anyone would blame you for deciding to stay in your hammock for just… one… more… hour…
Have you visited any of Cambodia’s Islands? Let us know if they’ve changed recently!
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