Night swimming with bioluminescent plankton, adventurous jungle treks, delicious freshly caught seafood and rustic secluded beaches with the most vibrant pink and gold sunsets. The islands in Cambodia are without a doubt some of the most magical places we’ve visited on our travels.
Due to Cambodia’s turbulent past, the country has only recently encouraged a tourism industry, but thanks in part to the amazing island hopping experiences you can have here, it is now rapidly becoming the new backpacker hotspot in South East Asia. In a developing country hindered by much of the landscape in the west being littered with landmines left over from vietnam war, the south west coastal region is very safe.
Despite a surge in development of hotels and restaurants in most major towns and cities during the last decade, Cambodia’s islands have remained relatively untouched. Showcasing a natural and undeveloped appeal with a chilled out and refreshing vibe, the slower pace of life along gorgeous beaches on Cambodia’s coastline is a must on your South East Asia backpacking trail.
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With over 60 Cambodian Islands to choose from it’s hard to know which tropical paradise to hop to first and during our time along Cambodia’s coastal region we didn’t manage to visit anywhere near as many of them as we would have liked. But here’s our pick of the best Cambodian Islands both from our own experience and from the advice of other backpackers we met whilst we were travelling there.
Cambodian Island Hopping
Probably the busiest of the Cambodian islands, it is simply breathtaking and as soon as you set foot ashore, there’ll be an instant ‘ah-haaaa’ moment as you realise with your own eyes why it is so popular. The 43km of white sand beaches and turquoise water look like something straight out of an exclusive honeymoon destination brochure.
A relatively large island, there are lots of activities on offer including diving, snorkelling and trekking, mountain biking and kayaking. It has also earned a reputation amongst the cohort of Cambodian islands as ‘the party one’. But don’t worry if this isn’t your scene as this is largely centered around Koh Tuch beach while the rest of the six bays on the island still maintain a dreamy tropical paradise feel.
Accommodation options start from as little as £4 for beach huts or tents on the quieter beaches or dorm rooms in hostels along Koh Tuch. There are plenty of bars and restaurants serving both traditional Khmer dishes and western food options. The island is accessed from Sihanoukville where there are speed and slow boat options with multiple crossings per day. The cost is £15-20 for an open return.
Koh Rong Samleom
Koh Rong’s lesser developed little sister, this island has much of the same natural landscape but less of the infrastructure. The eastern side of the island along Saracen Bay has blindingly white sand beaches and thus the most accomodation on the island. For a more rustic experience head to the western side of the island where the sleeping arrangements are of a more simple variety.
We stayed at a remote hostel called Driftwood on Clearwater Bay, recommended if you want a super relaxed experience of chilling in hammocks by day and chatting with new friends round a campfire during the evening. The dorms here are just £3 per night. The mermaid in you will love this island. During the daytime, snorkel beneath the waves amongst the colorful coral reef and at night swim amongst the stars with millions of bioluminescent plankton lighting up the sea with glitter.
This island is also accessed from Sihanoukville pier and the speed boats drop off here before heading over to Koh Rong. There are also slow boat options. Expect to pay £15-20 for a return ticket. Be sure to check which beach the boat will be dropping you at as you probably don’t want a 45 minute jungle hike to your accommodation the other side of the island whilst carrying your backpack.
Koh Ta Kiev
Our favourite of the islands we visited, this dream like haven has three stunning yellow sand beaches; Long Beach, Coral Beach and Naked Beach. We stayed in £2 per night hammocks at Last Point, which also has the option to camp, but visited the other 2 of the island hostels and their stilted wooden beach huts were equally delightful accommodation options. The food at Coral Beach is exceptional.
Koh Ta Kiev is the closest to the mainland and only a 30 minute boat ride away, accessed from Otres Beach which is a 10 minute tuk-tuk ride from Sihanoukville. The wilderness feel of the island is likely to change very soon, as whilst we were there a huge posh resort was in the process of being built on the north of the island and a road had unfortunately already been begun to be sliced through the jungle interior.
But for now you can sleep amongst the stars and trek along the winding jungle paths through the centre of the island like an intrepid explorer to the other beaches. It’s a small island so it’s an easy walk between each of the beaches and accommodations and at night the fireflies will light the way. There’s also a tiny fishing village where a local family will make you lunch, we trekked there and then got a ride back around the bay with a fisherman.
Nicknamed ‘Rabbit Island’ due to its shape rather than being overrun with furry bobtails, this one is much further south than the others and is accessed via a 30 minute boat ride from a small town called Kep. Again still undeveloped for the time being, there are only basic facilities. Unfortunately we didn’t make it this far as we only took a day trip to Kep from Kampot, but we have it on good authority that the sunsets on this island are out of this world.
Best visited on a weekday when it is less busy with weekend trippers. You can hike around the entire island in around 3 hours but aside from that don’t expect to do much expect lounge in the hammocks beneath the palm trees and eat your fill of the incredible seafood on offer in this region. We sat on the mainland bay eating some freshly caught crab and they were simply divine.
Snorkelling is rumoured to be very good here, with lots of colorful fish and shallow warm waters. Nearby are also the interestingly nicknamed Snake and Mango islands of Koh Pos and Koh Svay that can be visited on day trips. Koh Pos has a fishing village and good snorkelling while Koh Svay is simply a vast mango orchard with a panoramic vantage point in the centre.
Cambodian Island Facilities
Internet on the mainland and on Koh Rong is pretty decent, but non-existent on the other islands, you may get some phone reception if you have a local SIM. Aside from Koh Rong, the other islands have very limited electricity and run from generators or solar panels. If you need your phone or camera charged you’ll have to ask for the bar to do it as your sleeping quarters likely won’t have power - take a torch. Don’t expect hot water either, not that you’ll need it.
Aside from Koh Rong, there are no ATM’s and no card facilities on the islands so be sure to take enough cash out before you leave the mainland. Again, other than on Koh Rong there are no medical facilities or pharmacies on the islands, you would need to get a boat back to the mainland in an emergency. There can be a problem depending on the tides with rubbish washing up, but the accommodation workers do a good job with daily clear ups.
Cambodian Beaches Travel Costs
Cambodia deals in US dollars and Khmer for smaller change so prices are often just rounded up to the nearest dollar. For example a coffee would just be $1 rather than the Khmer equivalent of 60 cents, but nevertheless prices are still very reasonable. Beers are as low as 50p each during 2for1 happy hours and you can pick up a bottle of wholesale rum in one of the local shops on the mainland for as little as £7. We’d recommend taking one or two with you. Average costs per meal are $5-6 but there are cheaper options on Koh Rong and the mainland if you seek out local places.
Mainland Beaches in Cambodia
Just a bit of information about the beaches on mainland Cambodia. If you are planning on spending time here, head down to Otres Beach instead of staying in Sihanoukville town centre. Although Sihanoukville does have some popular central beaches in Serendipity and Ochheuteal and there are lots of eating options and late night bars, it really isn’t so much of a pleasant place come nightfall. Between the sex tourists and child beggars there are certain parts of the town that have a seedy and unsavoury feel about them.
Otres Beach, a little further down the coast and around $5 in a tuk-tuk ride, is however lovely and has a very chilled out bohemian vibe going on along its golden sandy shore. The area has drawn a large expat community who manage many of the bars and hostels literally right on the beach. We spent a few nights staying at ‘Wish You Were Here’ hostel and paid around £10 for a private double room with a shared bathroom. The bar is great for hanging out and we whiled away many an hour here hanging out with new friends.
When To Visit Cambodia’s Coast
November to March is high season, with peak period in December and January. Throughout the low season much of the accommodation on the smaller islands closes down due to the storms that descend. Many leases of land are also continually being sold off by the government to hotel development companies, so the tourism industry on these Cambodian islands will undoubtedly grow. The time to visit these rustic and tranquil slices of paradise is now, because if the building in Sihanoukville is anything to go by, it might not be the most sustainable or well planned out.
Cambodian Island Critters
Despite having the best beaches in Cambodia, unfortunately these islands also have their fair share of unwanted animals and insects. The sand flies are crazy, trust us do not go near a beach after dusk unless you are loaded up with some good quality insect repellant. The bites are so itchy and way worse than mosquitoes. Be careful if you are doing some jungle trekking because there are some poisonous snakes, scorpions and centipedes on the islands.
Some of the islands have also had rat problems so be sure to not leave food in your backpacks if you don’t want any nibble holes. The hostels will keep things in their fridges. When you’re in the sea on certain beaches do keep your eye out for jellyfish and sea anemones too, we only saw a few on the most remote beaches so there’s no need to be over cautious about it.
If you have any other favourite Cambodian Islands or further tips for visiting the ones we’ve mentioned do tell us details in a comment? Or if you want anymore information on anything get in touch and we’ll do our best to help. And if you go, please let us know if you enjoyed the places as much as we did!