Unspoilt islands, pleasant rural scenry
At a glance
Cambodia's south coast has tremendous potential, yet despite it clawing its way onto the backpacker trail, this potential remains largely unrealised. While better infrastructure and an excellent road connection to Phnom Penh have brought with it tourists and weekenders alike, issues such as corruption and unclear land-title issue are holding back all but the most well-connected or risk-taking developers.
The focal-point of the Cambodian beach scene in Sihanoukville, a relatively new town, carved out of the coast during the Indochinese wars to give Cambodia a deep-water port. Named after King Sihanouk, the area was originally known as Kompong Som, and most Khmers continue to refer to by this name. Today the port is one of Cambodia's main windows to oversea trade and, as the road has improved, so the containers have moved from train to truck. Travellers planning on taking the train will be hard-pressed to find one running now -- the trains run very infrequently.
Freight aside, tourism and gambling are the big moneyspinners in Sihanoukville. Casinos, luxury hotels and a great collection of guesthouses are all complemented by a selection of attractive beaches and a fun but low-key nightlife. Most beaches have at least some accommodation -- on some beaches you can stay for free, while on others you can pay over US$100 a night -- there is something for most budgets.
East of Sihanoukville lies Kampot and Kep, two true Cambodian gems in our opinion. Kampot is the launching point for the spectacular Bokor National Park where you can waltz on the bombed out veranda of the 1920's era Bokor casino. The town can also be used to explore nearby salt farms, caves and for taking a boat trip along the river which Kampot faces onto. A sleepy low key destination, Kampot it a refreshing breath of sea air.
Further along the coast, Kep is the archetypal Cambodian beach resort, where the emphasis is on watching the sun go down, eating fresh crab ($1 a bucket) and drinking. There's a bunch of great little traveller hideaways and while the beach is very ordinary, Kep remains nevertheless a fine destination -- take a few good books with you.
Don't make the mistake of leaving your beach break for Thailand, be sure to sample the Cambodian beach scene first.
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