Cambodia’s Offshore Islands | Part 1

This is the first part of a two-part series about Cambodia’s offshore islands. In part one, the islands visited are Koh Kong, Koh Rong, and Koh Rong Samloem. Part two will take a look at some of the less and some of the rarely visited islands.

Cambodia’s Offshore Islands | Part 1

Have you ever thought about island hopping Cambodian style? You may come to the country for the world-famous Angkor, but what is a surprising alternative is its less known Cambodia’s offshore islands. The country has many, and quite a few offer a pleasant destination for a visitor to the Kingdom.

There are some 60 islands in Cambodia’s coastal waters. They include 23 in Koh Kong province, 2 in Kampot province, 22 in Sihanoukville and 13 in Kep city. Most islands are, apart from the two small groups of outer islands, close to the coast and readily accessible.

And there are extremes on the offer from idyllic white sandy beaches and aqua water to all night parties of drinking, music and carousing. Some of the best snorkelling and diving in the region are also available. For the best visibility, corals and fish, then the best diving and snorkelling are at the further out islands. Also, mountain biking and hiking are options.

And the appeal, the islands are off the well-worn tourist track and offer another side to what is this country called Cambodia.

Let’s dive in and take a peek.

Koh Kong

This island is a real gem. It’s Cambodia’s largest and towers over seas so crystal-clear you can make out the grains of sand in a few metres of water. On Koh Kong’s eastern side, half a dozen forested hills, the highest more than 400 metres above the sea, drop steeply to the coast. There are rugged rock formations that create waterfalls and rivers that drain the mountains then end in freshwater estuaries and countless lagoons, all flanked by scenic beaches. There, the small streams are lined with coconut palms and lush vegetation. At one beach, a narrow channel leads to a hidden lagoon. The island has seven beaches, all of them along the western coast.

The island is situated about 20 kilometres southwest of Koh Kong town, or a 2.5-hour boat trip on one of the local’s longtail boats. On the way, you travel past the floating village, the Bak Klang fishing village, and the mangroves of Paem Krasaop Sanctuary. As you head to the island you might spot a school of Irrawaddy dolphins.

The island is only accessible during the dry season. It’s forbidden to explore the island’s thickly forested interior at any time of year. However, when you visit, it is possible to have a 700-metre long beach all to yourself, and the snorkelling is lively with plenty of fish to be seen. The sand on the beach squeaks when you walk on it.

And rubbish. Unfortunately, the beaches are becoming increasingly polluted as irresponsible tour operators fail to dispose of waste properly.

The only settlements are small fishing villages. Alatang is on the southeast corner, which is a Venice-like fishing village with stilted houses and colourful fishing boats and faces the Botum Sakor National Park. There is also Phumi Koh Kong on the west coast and Phumi Thmei on the east coast.

A strong military presence on the island means access is tightly controlled. You must visit on a guided boat tour out of Koh Kong or Tatai. There were two hotels on the island, but one is now closed. However, camping is possible on a tour.

Koh Rong

The fabled party island for backpackers travelling Southeast Asia is definitely a place not to kick back. If you’ re in search of partying until the sun comes up, buckets of beer and gallons of Mekong whisky then this is the place for you. Having said that, the island does have its quieter side.

The island is situated 26 kilometres west of Sihanoukville. Koh Rong is the biggest of the islands of Sihanoukville province, but despite its size it is only home to about 1,000 residents. Keep in mind that there is a $2 environment tax levied on all visitors.

It is well worth the 2.5-hour boat trip from Sihanoukville. There is now a good ferry service between the mainland and Koh Rong. Most of the bungalows are built on Sunrise Beach.

The first thing you notice when the ferry docks at Koh Rong’s pier is how undeveloped the island is. Koh Rong has undergone years of individually undertaken development. Unfortunately, during recent years rapid development has wiped away some of Koh Rong’s idyllic charm. Despite the very moderate infrastructure, visitor numbers have risen quickly, and Koh Rong has also been declared a stop on the “Banana Pancake Trail”.

Often described as an “island paradise”, it’s known for its sandy coves and coral reefs, like those around Koh Rong pier. It is a predominantly hilly island with an interior that has a dense jungle terrain dotted with coconut palms and waterfalls. The hills provide water for creeks, lagoons and estuaries. In the south are Jewel Orchids; a small zoo home to butterflies, snakes, and birds; and lively Police Beach, a party spot. High Point Rope Park has suspension bridges, rope walks and zip lines.

The main tourist beach is Koh Tuich and with lots of hotels, bars and night clubs creates a vibrant party atmosphere. The quiet, less-busier beaches, such as Long Set Beach, Lonely Beach, and Palm Beach beckon more relaxing destinations.

And the beaches really are as picture perfect as everyone says.

But Long Beach is really something special. Long Beach is located across the island from Koh Tuich Village. You can take a boat there or walk through the lush jungle. When you emerge from the forest before you is a flawless strip of meandering white sand and turquoise water that stretch for seven kilometres.

Beware of sand flies which plague Koh Rong and seem to enjoy feasting on people.

Koh Rong, particularly Koh Tuich Beach, is a must stop on any Southeast Asia itinerary.

Koh Rong Samloem

This is a Cambodian island that is off the grid. It hasn’t been affected by the party culture of its big brother Koh Rong or the town of Sihanoukville, but it is a place to enjoy a laid-back atmosphere. This means floating around in the calm water, laying in a hammock, or quiet days of doing nothing. So, be prepared for quiet days and even quieter nights under a starry sky.

Koh Rong Samloem is one of those places that you want to run out and tell the world about, but at the same time keep it a secret.

Also, be prepared for rustic living, as it is still very underdeveloped. This is an island where electricity runs on generators at certain times of the day and don’t even think about Wi-Fi.

On arrival, you’ll be surprised at the sheer lack of people. It takes time to transition to the quiet pace of island living.

It’s a tiny island and is situated eighteen kilometres due west of Sihanoukville and is south of Koh Rong. It has beaches on the west and east coasts. Marine life around Koh Rong Samloem is very diverse, as such, there are many diving spots and is a popular choice for snorkelling and diving. There are a few diving shops on the island.

For non-divers, the island doesn’t have much to offer in terms of activities. You can walk across the island, through the jungle and explore the beaches.

The island is covered in dense forest and is generally flatter than some other islands; although there are some sizable hills. A great draw card is the amazing bio-luminescent plankton that makes the warm waters glow at night.

Its beaches are extraordinary. The wide sweep of sheltered Saracen Bay just might be the perfect beach with its white sand and dense jungle that hugs the shore. Further north is Sunset Beach and M’Pai Bay on the island’s northern tip which has a friendly fishing village. All have different levels of accommodation.

There is a well-functioning ferry network between Sihanoukville and Koh Rong Sanloem. It is reachable in about fifty minutes by fast ferry or two hours using one of the slower converted fishing boats depending on the conditions.

Next: Cambodia Offshore Islands – Part 2