Photo: River exploration out of Koh Kong.

Eat and meet

For a town of its small size and relative tranquility, Koh Kong has an unexpected number of options for the hungry and thirsty. Most of it is driven by the Thai sexpat market making visa dashes across the border, hence there is an unhealthy tilt towards the kind of stodgy food that is required to sustain optimum beer guttage — we have never seen so much schnitzel and mash. Overall though, the quality is pretty reasonable, with some stand outs.

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Cafe Laurent is pretty fancy by Koh Kong standards, and local expats claim every single time that it’s overpriced, but with mains averaging $5 to $7, it’s actually not bad value. They have an extensive Western menu with plenty of pizzas and pastas. The Asian menu is equally broad, featuring Thai, Chinese and Khmer dishes. Even if your budget doesn’t stretch to that, this is a gorgeous spot to catch a sunset in the evening over a beer or glass of wine. The outdoor area is a shaded wooden walkway out over the water, and it’s a lovely blend of local rustic-ism with a classy edge. There’s also a less rustic indoor bar area, for knocking back a cocktail or two. The service was practised and polished.

Sunset at Cafe Laurent.

Sunset at Cafe Laurent.

Seta Ice Cream Restaurant on the riverside overlooking the local food stalls and fishing boats was one of our favourite food spots. Once known as Bob’s Ice Cream Restaurant, Seta took over the establishment when Bob left town to go home. He has a wide menu of Khmer, Thai and Western dishes with prices ranging from $2.50 to $6 for breakfasts, salads, burgers, sandwiches, noodles and rice dishes. Their pad Thai was delicious, ditto the tom kha gai. Recommended. They also have Boncafe coffee, which is important to know for those who need an extra assist with their mornings. And, of course, they also have ice cream.

An instant and very firm favourite of ours, Wood House is a very sweet spot in a traditional Khmer wooden house painted blue and run by a young French-Khmer couple. They are tremendously welcoming without being in your face, and despite the lack of a view, this is a really pleasant spot to while away an evening. The short menu offers Western dishes including salads and burgers around the $5 mark, and there are also a couple of Khmer and Thai dishes too. If it’s busy, service can be a little slow, but we found it impossible to hold this against them because 1) they advised us in advance that there would be a delay, and 2) they were such lovely people. The house wine was good too. The easiest way to find them is to turn towards the river at the roundabout that links Street 3 with Chicken Farm Road — they are on the first block along there. Highly recommended.

At the riverside food market.

At the riverside food market.

The perfect place for relaxing in the afternoon, the Crab Shack is on the Koh Yor beach on the western edge of the peninsula on the other side of the Thai Bridge. All the moto drivers will know it, but just in case you’re under your own steam drive over the bridge and through the toll, turn left at the Buddha roundabout, then follow the road until it stops at the sand. The Crab Shack has beach loungers, tyre swings and chairs and covered tables directly on the same. Try the crab or enormous prawns glazed in honey — they’re delicious. The seafood is great value and large portions so you’ll definitely be able to get your fill. This place is also great for catching sunsets.

On the same side of the bridge as The Crab Shack, Thmorda Crab House is also strong on crabs, but also has a huge menu of largely Thai, but also Khmer and Western dishes. We’re allergic to seafood, so tucked into a chicken and cashew dish that was second to none. The setting is gorgeous. At the end of a red dirt lane, a bamboo marina extends out over the waters of the Kah Pov River, and looks on to the Cardamom Mountains beyond. Flanked on each side by a narrow bay, the sense of seclusion is delicious, and you can work up an appetite by canoeing and exploring the area, or diving in for a swim. Enjoy dinner or a beer at the bar — where you’ll likely meet the Thai owner, Lisa, whose company is as good as her food — or take it on one of the waterway salas that dot the marina. A very special spot. Highly recommended.

Crab shack views.

Crab shack views.

Fat Sam’s sits on the Chicken Farm Road side of the roundabout connecting that road with Street 3, and is managed by a wandering Scot who has a lot of local knowledge. His name is not Sam though. Nor is he fat. Here you’ll find a big menu, with lots of fairly heavy food, including some British favourites like fish and chips (and yet more schnitzel), as well as some Khmer and Thai dishes. This is a decent chill-out joint, and has good people-watching potential as you observe the ebb and flow on the street outside. They are especially proud of their wines, so do not be afraid to indulge. This is a great spot for picking up local information, and they can also organise tours. Motorbikes can be rented here for $5 a day.

If you want fresh crab, grilled squid, tasty chicken legs, steamed clams and boiled chicken eggs as well as a few assorted odds and ends and cheap beer, then you could do a lot worse than head for the food stalls that line the river road. Although they are all pretty much the same, the one across from Ritty’s Retreat and Seta’s Ice Cream Restaurant looked extra promising — a top spot to sit and watch the sunset while having a truly Koh Kong evening. Open daily, from dusk until about 22:00.

Get your Vitamin C hit at the market.

Get your Vitamin C hit at the market.

Lim Mohaleap is a locally-owned and run restaurant with a keen eye on the foreign market. The menu offers plenty of Khmer dishes, as well as a wide range Western favourites from burgers to filet mignon with mushroom sauce ($3.50), and is written in English. They also have Boncafe coffee, in case you find the local brews a little too strong. We tucked in to a breakfast pork and rice here (“bye saik chrouk”), that was cheap and delicious and just $3.50 with juice and coffee. If you fancy something closer to home, they also offer, inter alia, an American Breakfast with juice, fruit, eggs, bacon, bread and coffee, for $5. The restaurant is on the corner of Street 3 and Street 6.

The name outside isn’t in English, but it’s called Sok Pannha and it’s just opposite the 99 Guesthouse, a little down the road towards the river. A red Anchor beer sign graces the entrance. If you go nowhere else in Koh Kong, do yourself a favour and take a turn in here for the beef claypot (“kaw saik goh”), it’s insanely good. The menu is in Khmer, but the staff we spoke to had good English. We liked this place a lot.

Cafe Laurent: Riverside, next to Koh Kong City Hotel. T: (011) 590 168; (016) 373 737; open daily 10:30-23:00.
Seta Ice Cream Restaurant: Riverside, Koh Kong; open daily 07:00-22:00.
Wood House: Street 7. T: (010) 456 061; open Tues-Sun 08:30-whenever the last person leaves.
The Crab Shack: Bak Klong Beach. T: (035) 644 0111, (097) 990 2045
Thmorda Crab House: Paklong Commune. T: (035) 690 1252; open daily 07:00-22:00ish.
Fat Sam’s: Chicken Farm Road. T: (097) 737 0707; open daily 09:00-21:30 (Sundays from 16:00).
Lim Mohaleap: Junction of Street 6/Street 3. T: (087) 666 966; open daily, 07:00-22:00.
Sok Phanna: Street 6. T: (095) 333 266; open daily from 07:00.

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