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Exploring the Cambodian Islands: A Tropical Paradise

Article by Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah

Posted: March 16, 2023

Cambodia may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of island getaways, but this Southeast Asian nation boasts some of the most beautiful and untouched islands in the region. With over 60 islands scattered across the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, there is no shortage of options for those looking to escape the crowds and discover a unique side of Cambodia. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the top Cambodian islands and what makes them worth exploring.

Getting There

Getting to the Cambodian islands can be an adventure in itself, and there are several transportation options depending on your budget and preference. The most common way to reach the islands is by boat, which can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours depending on the distance and type of boat. There are several departure points on the mainland, including Sihanoukville, Kampot, and Koh Kong, each offering different routes to the islands. Flights are also available from Phnom Penh or Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, where you can catch a boat to the islands.

If you’re volunteering in Cambodia with GVI, you can get to the Cambodian islands from Siem Reap, which is where GVI’s base is located. You can fly directly from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville or travel overland to Phnom Penh and then catch a flight or bus to Sihanoukville.

Island Hopping

Once you arrive at the Cambodian islands, the real adventure begins. The most popular islands to visit are Koh Rong, Koh Rong Sanloem, Koh Ta Kiev, and Koh Thmei, each offering their own unique charm and activities. Koh Rong is the largest and most developed island, with a variety of accommodation options, restaurants, and bars. The island is known for its stunning beaches, crystal clear waters, and vibrant nightlife, making it a popular destination for backpackers and party-goers.

Koh Rong Sanloem, on the other hand, is a quieter and more secluded island, with fewer tourists and a more laid-back atmosphere. The island is home to several white sand beaches, hiking trails, and a marine reserve, making it a great destination for nature lovers and those seeking a peaceful escape.

Koh Ta Kiev is another hidden gem, located just a short boat ride from Sihanoukville. The island is still largely undeveloped, with limited accommodation options and basic facilities, but offers an authentic island experience with stunning scenery, snorkelling and diving opportunities, and a chance to disconnect from the world.

Koh Thmei is a small island located in the Ream National Park, offering a unique blend of nature and culture. The island is home to several bird species, monkeys, and other wildlife, as well as a small fishing village where you can experience the local way of life.

Panorama of Sihanoukville beach with beautiful sky cloudscape, Cambodia

Accommodation

Accommodation options on the Cambodian islands range from basic guesthouses and hostels to luxury resorts and villas. Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem have the most options, with beachfront bungalows, guesthouses, and backpacker hostels available at various price points. Koh Ta Kiev and Koh Thmei have more limited options, with basic guesthouses and camping facilities available.

Dining and Nightlife

Cambodian cuisine is a unique blend of flavours, influenced by its neighbouring countries of Thailand and Vietnam, as well as French colonialism. Fresh seafood is abundant on the islands, and there are plenty of local restaurants and street food vendors serving up traditional dishes like fish amok, lok lak, and num pang.

Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem offer a range of dining options, from cheap street food stalls to upscale restaurants and beach bars. Nightlife on these islands is also lively, with beach parties, live music, and fire shows happening regularly.

Koh Ta Kiev and Koh Thmei have fewer dining and nightlife options, with simple restaurants and bars serving basic meals and drinks. However, the tranquillity of these islands makes them ideal for relaxation and a more peaceful experience.

Tips for Visiting

Cambodia is a relatively safe country, but there are a few things to keep in mind when visiting the islands. Be respectful of local customs and traditions, and dress modestly when visiting villages or temples. It’s also important to be aware of your surroundings and belongings, especially in crowded areas or at night.

The best time to visit the Cambodian islands is during the dry season from November to April, when the weather is sunny and warm. However, this is also peak season, so expect higher prices and more tourists. If you prefer a quieter experience, consider visiting during the low season from May to October, when prices are lower and there are fewer tourists, but also more chance of rainy days.

Budgeting and money tips also come into play when visiting the Cambodian islands. Prices for accommodation, food, and activities vary depending on the island and the time of year, but overall, Cambodia is a relatively affordable destination compared to other Southeast Asian countries. It’s a good idea to bring cash with you, as most places on the islands do not accept credit cards.

Exploring the Cambodian islands is a unique and unforgettable experience, offering a blend of pristine beaches, stunning natural beauty, and local culture. Whether you’re looking for a lively party scene or a peaceful escape, there is an island in Cambodia for every type of traveller. From Koh Rong’s vibrant nightlife to Koh Thmei’s tranquil wilderness, the Cambodian islands are waiting to be discovered. So pack your bags, leave your worries behind, and embark on an island adventure like no other.

By Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah is a freelance writer from New Zealand with a passion for outdoor adventure and sustainable travel. She has been writing about travel for more than five years and her work has appeared in print and digital publications including National Geographic Travel, Conde Nast Travel, Business Insider, Atlas Obscura and more. You can see more of her work at petrinadarrah.com.
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