The best islands in Cambodia

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Updated on 25th January, 2013. First published 29th April, 2011

Sihanoukville is Cambodia's premier beach destination, popular with locals, backpackers and expats alike. But despite massive amounts of recent development, the town can still be disappointing for those who come expecting a Thailand-like beach experience.

Sihanoukville's beaches just aren't very impressive, and the child beggars and crusty sexpats only add to the feeling of seediness that the place exudes. Luckily, though, Sihanoukville proper can just be a pit stop on a trip to a true beach paradise.

The sunsets get tedious after a year or so

In recent times the islands off the coast of Cambodia have become a tourist destination in their own right with new accommodation being built on nearly all of them. Despite this, though, they are still marvelously untouched and possess a serenity not easily found elsewhere.

Koh Rong Saloem

If you've been to one of the islands off Sihanoukville before this year, Koh Rong Saloem was probably it. Lazy Beach has been the accommodation of record for the Sihanoukville islands for more than six years now, and the island is still just as lovely and lazy as ever. Every night Lazy Beach guests relax with a cocktail on the porch to enjoy stunning fuchsia sunsets. The most recent development on Koh Rong Saloem has been the opening of the Freedom Beach Bungalows on the other side of the island in Saracen Bay, where one should be able to see an equally beautiful sunrise.

Outside Lazy Beach On Koh Rong Saloem

The island is quite large, and covered with interesting opportunities for visitors, including coral reefs that can be visited by even the most novice snorkellers and diving with a new diving outfit that has recently set up shop. Run by James Mostert, who was previously a dive instructor for Marine Conservation Cambodia on the island, Angkor Dive Cambodia (T: (016) 337 488) is a conservation-focused dive shop that offers fun dives and PADI courses. Although Koh Rong Saloem is the most well-known of the Sihanoukville islands, it's still an excellent choice for a relaxed weekend.

Places to stay on Koh Rong Saloem reviewed on Travelfish.

Koh Rong

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.

Just another crummy beach on Koh Rong ;-)

Although Koh Rong has long had bungalows managed by a diving shop in town, at the end of 2010 and early 2011 the number of bungalows on the island multiplied, and now eight places offer accommodation on the island. The new bungalows have definitely put Koh Rong on the map — the name is on the lips of every backpacker in town and two daily boats chug over to the opposite side of the 78 kilometre-square island.

Koh Rong pier

Despite this, and the major development project that is said to be in the works, Koh Rong is still remarkably pristine and undeveloped — there are no roads, all transport is by boat and the only electricity is from generators. That's certain to change, so try to visit Koh Rong before the hordes arrive.

Places to stay on Koh Rong reviewed on Travelfish.

Koh Ta Kiev

Koh Ta Kiev is the widely-ignored little brother of the island group. Koh Ta Kiev Resort has been in operation for a few years but many travellers have passed it by, perhaps due to the "resort" moniker (which for a collection of simple but sturdy bungalows is soundly undeserved). Recently new accommodation has taken up residence where Jonty's Jungle Camp used to be. Ten103 Treehouse Bay is nestled deep in the jungle and offers delicious daily specials by professional chefs.

Koh Ta Kiev beach scenes

Koh Ta Kiev itself is beautiful, and is one of the closest to Sihanoukville's mainland. It takes less than an hour to get to one of the three yellow sand beaches surrounded by pine trees &8212; from there, trek into the jungle where more than 100 species of birds make their home as well as some other interesting types of wildlife such as the carnivorous pitcher plant. Snorkellers will also get their fill, and can see giant mussels that aren't found at all of the other islands.

Places to stay on Koh Ta Kiev reviewed on Travelfish.

Koh Russei

Koh Russei is still living under the shadow of its former self, as a package tour and backpacker hangout with dirty beaches. But these days, the island has renewed itself after a major bulldozing by the Cambodian government eliminated all but one set of bungalows and a small cafe.

Boats ashore at Koh Russei

At less than an hour from shore, Koh Russei, or Bamboo Island as it's known, is the best island to visit if you're pressed for time. The island is still popular with backpackers, but local expats and other visitors also find pleasure in the golden beaches and island barbecues. It's worthwhile to stay overnight at long-running Koh Ru, which is on a quiet beach on the part of the island never visited by the tour boats. It offers simple beach bungalows and dormitory beds year-round.

Accommodation to stay on Koh Russei reviewed by Travelfish.

Koh Thmei

The most pristine of all of the islands, Koh Thmei is part of the Ream National Park and doesn't even have an entire village to call its own. Last December the Cambodian government granted a German couple the right to build an eco-friendly lodge there, complete with solar panels and natural water filtration system.

Koh Thmei Resort

Koh Thmei is an exciting destination for nature lovers and wildlife spotters. More than 150 species of birds call it home and it's possible to see dolphins swimming off shore.

Koh Thmei Sunrise

The island is almost completely untouched — the only thing there apart from the Koh Thmei Resort bungalows is a shrimp fishery — and much of it is so thickly forested that it's only accessible by boat, making it the perfect island for a secluded weekend getaway.

Accommodation on Koh Russei reviewed by Travelfish.

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* If you're new to, you may assume the above is advertorial twaddle. It isn't. We pay our own way, every single time and have done so since kicked off back in 2004. writers do not take freebies. Ever.

About the author:
Previously, Lina has been based in Oakland, California, New York City, Dublin and London. Lina spends most of her time thinking about food, travel and synthpop. She's currently based in Siem Reap.

Read 13 comment(s)

  • Nice article about the islands. There are some secluded and magical beaches within easy driving distance of Sihanoukville, too, for those who are nervous about travelling by water. I just discovered one around the back side of Ream. I'm a little hesitant to share them, though. The best way to discover something new is to find it yourself!

    Posted by Rob on 1st May, 2011

  • Thanks Travelfish. I saw some photos of Ko Rong 6-7 years ago from a blog I happened upon. The author had hitched a ride with a fishing boat and camped. Any attempt at finding info floundered ("Don't you mean Rong Saloem?") and then I gave up when I read the island had been bought by a Russian compnay. Two boats a day you say, wow!

    I stayed at Otres beach: oraney sand and angry locals who had been displaced by resorts and rabbit island: OK, but as you say, not Thailand.

    Posted by Tennouji on 4th May, 2011

  • Been a regular visitor to Koh Russei but it's been almost 14 years since I got mistakenly left for a couple of nights on Koh Ta Kiev, almost started talking to coconuts a la Tom Hanks but have only fond memories, wasn't aware of the accom there now. Might be time for a revisit! I also enjoy Rabbit Island off Kep.

    Thanks guys, great article.

    Posted by shanewarmington on 5th May, 2011

  • Had great fun looking through all the accommodation and thinking of holidays but was pretty shocked at the volume of five to ten dollar-looking plain bungalows with shared bathroom going for twenty to thirty dollars!

    I know that the lack of regualar ferries means that fetching supplies means a high fuel bill but even so. Twenty to thirty dollars for a hut? In Cambodia? For comparison, a plain beach hut with shared bath costs twenty to thirty dollars in Japan.

    Is it because most of these places are foreigner run? Do they have a set price agreement?

    Posted by Tennouji on 6th May, 2011

  • Couldn't agree more with Tennouji.
    It seems a combination of greedy Capitalising expats and/or stupid barang throwing around too much money coz they don''t figure this is MORE than they''d pay at home!

    Posted by Doss on 10th December, 2011

  • You would be hard to please if you couldn't find a spot to suit with such a choice of beautiful beaches and islands. My pick would be Koh Thmei, I would love to see the dolphins. Very informative.

    Posted by travelyn on 2nd April, 2012

  • Win two days to one week in a double private, sea view room, looking out over the ocean to Koh Rong and Koh Rong Saloem. Two days for the best on-line review on Travelfish, Lonelyplanet and Tripadvisor. One week for the best video on Youtube. Competition closes on Dec 22, 2012. After which date, I might run it again. The judges decision (mine) will be final. Prize available any time in 2013.

    Posted by Big John on 23rd September, 2012

  • Just curious...why Philippines is not included in this site? I mean you have some articles of the rest of the South East Asian countries but The Philippines. Why is that?

    Posted by Ivy on 27th December, 2012

  • Hi Ivy,

    Philippines is not covered on TF because we've never been there. May change in the future :)

    Posted by somtam2000 on 27th December, 2012

  • Ah ok I understand... I wanna go to Koh Rong Island this coming Saturday or Sunday. Any tips how to get to the island? What time does the boat leave from Sihonoukville mainland? What time is the last trip going to Koh Rong Island? Thank you in advance!

    Posted by Ivy on 27th December, 2012

  • Hi, great article really cant wait to get to Cambodia.

    Just a few questions...

    We will be there early October - any ideas on what the weathers like on the coast at that time of year?

    And also do you have any info regarding getting a boat between the islands, would really like to stay on 2 or 3 if possible?

    Thanks in advance.

    Posted by Nic on 3rd August, 2013

  • only just started reading -but it's looking goooood

    Posted by heike flynn on 17th July, 2014

  • Cambodia is bast country

    Posted by samroonishaq on 26th October, 2014

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