Sandy bliss awaits travellers off Cambodia’s south coast. Whether you favour being glued to a hammock upon an isolated shore, or fancy slothful days recovering from all-night raves, Cambodia has an island for you.
No less than sixty Cambodian islands dot the azure Gulf of Thailand. Easily accessible from Sihanoukville, Kep and Koh Kong, a growing number house rustic bungalows for overnight stays. They may not have roads, cashpoints or mains electricity, but this is a small price to pay for squeaky-white beaches, warm translucent seas and an escapist, easy-going vibe.
Lapped by the lapis-hued waters of the Gulf of Thailand, the scattering of islands in Cambodia’s south have hugely diverse beach scenes. But all come with a jungle-clad interior, swaths of sand, and the nightly magic of bioluminescent plankton.
Koh Rong is the star of the islands off Sihanoukville. With white sand beaches and turquoise waters, Koh Rong is a dreamy tropical paradise and one of the loveliest islands in the Gulf of Thailand. Apart from sunning on the miles of white sand, there's also diving, snorkelling and trekking paths for visitors.
Not too long ago Koh Rong's only tourist amenities were a handful of bungalows besides miles of dense jungle and gorgeous white sand beaches. There's still amazing hiking and trekking on the island in the parts of the jungle that loggers haven't destroyed, but in the last few years dozens of cheap accommodations have been built and the place has become a backpacker Shangri-La.
Though Koh Rong remains surprisingly undeveloped, at least by Thai island standards, its business owners are notoriously party-friendly, bringing in generators to keep the music going until the wee hours and offering live DJs and free-beer happy hours.
Koh Rong Sanloem has long been a favourite of expats in Phnom Penh, who head to the quiet island for weekends at Lazy Beach, once the only accommodation option here.
The western side of the island boasts three gorgeous yellow sand beaches of which Lazy and Sunset beaches have accommodation. These two are also accessible on foot via jungle paths from the eastern side and are perfect for watching the deep pink sunsets every evening.
Koh Rong Sanloem’s oldest resort is Lazy Beach, a hideaway (on the beach of the same name) all about hammock-swinging and sunset cocktails. Further north is Sunset Beach, with just a couple of simple places on the sand.
The eastern side is heart-shaped Saracen Bay, named after a British ship that once sailed there. This is the most developed bay on the island and the beaches are an eye-blinding white, with a fast-developing choice of accommodation from eco tents and circular huts to swish romantic bungalows.
Many islands claim to be untouched paradises. Cambodia’s Song Saa actually lives up to the definition. It is beautifully natural and completely remote – exactly the kind of tropical island perfection you have been seeking but have never been able to find before.
Surrounded by the Gulf of Thailand’s warm waters and ringed by white sand beaches, Song Saa offers a private island experience that manages to find the ideal balance between nature and luxury. The 27-room resort offers Cambodia's most exclusive island experience, starting with the bottle of champagne awaiting you at check-in.
The resort is helping the local community develop education and waste management programs and has embarked on several conservation efforts, including a marine reserve covering 50,000 square meters around the islands.
Located inside Ream National Park, Koh Thmei is home to monkeys, civets, lizards, more than 100 different species of birds and several threatened species, including the fishing cat, a wetland feline than makes its home near streams and mangrove forests.
The only current accommodation is the eight wooden bungalows that comprise Koh Thmei Resort. This is a stellar island option for nature fiends – the beach is littered with exotic shells, there’s a coral reef for snorkelling just offshore, and the jungle interior is home to more than a hundred species of birds.
Koh Ta Kiev is the widely-ignored little brother of the island group. It is also considerably closer to the mainland than the others. The island is home to three lovely yellow-sand beaches shaded by pine trees are accessible on the island, and coral reefs make for excellent snorkelling.
The secluded beaches of Koh Ta Kiev are probably the last place you'd expect to find an absinthe bar, let alone a distillery. Yet this is where you'll find Syn Absinthe, a one-man operation that makes five types of hand-crafted, small-batch absinthe.
Trekking paths meander through Koh Ta Kiev's jungle if you're feeling adventurous and would like to do a bit of wildlife-spotting and bird watchers will be happy to hear that more than 150 species call Koh Ta Kiev home.
Located about five hours from the mainland, Koh Tang was the site of a 1975 clash between U.S. forces and the Khmer Rouge, the last official battle of the Vietnam War.
A small drop in the ocean at only 1.3 kilometres by 500 metres wide, Koh Totang is one of the 12 tropical islands that make up the Koh S’Dach Archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand. Midway between the Thai border and Sihanoukville, Koh Totang is somewhat out of the way of Cambodia's main island hotspots.
It's now uninhabited save for a small outpost of Cambodian military personnel, resulting in clear coastal waters with excellent visibility and undisturbed marine life, making it and nearby Koh Prins the perfect islands for diving.
The island's eight popular diving sites offer coral reefs and a wealth of underwater creatures, including fantastically coloured nudibranchs, poisonous pufferfish and dazzling stingrays with electric blue spots.
Visitors will be forced to take a much-needed break from email because there's no Internet on Koh Totang. But because the bungalows are solar powered they don't have any noisy generators, either.