Which Cambodian island is right for you?

Which Cambodian island is right for you?

First published on 14th July, 2013, last updated 25th February, 2015

Off the coast of Cambodia’s Sihanoukville, picture-perfect islands attract travellers seeking long dreamy beaches, diving and natural environments. Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem are a short speedboat ride away from the mainland, where soft yellow sand and brilliant white beaches appeal to both party-goers and serenity seekers alike. Koh Thmei requires a little more effort to get to, but as some clever Chinese man once said, “The journey is the reward.” Koh Totang is little known, but one of our favourite hangouts across all of Cambodia’s islands, while Koh Ta Kiev is popular among day-trippers. How do you choose the island and the accommodation that’s right for you? By reading ahead, dear readers.

Just the two of you? If you’re prepared to pay a little more for a few added comforts, check out Nomads Cambodia on Koh Totang. Rustic beach chic combines with decent snorkeling and excellent food. Another great flashpacker option is Lazy Beach on Koh Rong Samloem. The bungalows are well spaced, the sunsets are top billing and the beach is never busy. Get cosy in the softly lit wooden restaurant for dinner a deux with a bottle of wine.

On the other side of the island, Saracen Bay Resort‘s superbly constructed bungalows will have you oohing and aahing from the moment you step onto the beachside veranda, or splash out at Secret Paradise further down the bay. Across on Koh Rong, fulfil your desire to fall asleep in a treehouse to the sound of lapping waves. Who says romance is dead? If you’re splashing out on a honeymoon don’t be fooled by Belinda Beach Resort – it’s not worth the splurge. True luxury can be found, however, at Cambodia’s first private island resort: Song Saa Private Island. Expect your own private infinity swimming pool or glass-bottom floor in your living area. Unsurprisingly five-star indulgence comes with an equally notable price tag.

A hammock made for two.
A hammock made for two.

If your trip won’t be complete without dancing all night with sand between your toes, Koh Touch on Koh Rong is the place to be. Despite the fact everywhere else on this island is very mellow, this particular cluster of accommodation has earned the entire island a reputation as ‘the party island’. Koh Touch, at least, is worthy of the label – but we think you’ll still find a more hardcore party scene in Thailand. Backpacker guesthouse squished next to backpacker guesthouse, little space on the sand here is wasted. This patch appeals to a young crowd and music blares out till the early hours. If you need to strike a balance, the accommodation furthest away from the piers is the quietest. Alternatively, The Beach on Koh Rong Samloem runs monthly full-moon parties. The Party Boat runs from Sihanoukville to the island returning the next morning, but we’d recommend staying a couple of nights to recover and making the most of the white beach at Saracen Bay.

Show-off sky.
Show-off sky.

Sunset seekers should choose the correct side of each island to be sure of the best views. On Koh Rong Samloem, Lazy Beach provides skies that Michaelangelo would be proud of. The bay next door, home to Robinson Bungalows and Huba-Huba, is imaginatively named Sunset Beach. The quick-minded will also spot the cleverly disguised marketing of Sunset Bungalows, at the north of Koh Rong Samloem by M’pai Bei village. On nearby Koh Rong, sky-gazers should head for the 7km beach which has Sok San Bungalows and Angkor Chum Bungalows at one end. Should you not be positioned for sunset, it is worth remembering sunrise exists. So, if you’re partying on Koh Touch on Koh Rong island, you just have another excuse to stay up till the wee hours.

Every beach needs a swing.
Every beach needs a swing.

Family friendly
For adventurous families, a few days on a tropical island should come high on a list of to-do experiences. Koh Thmei Resort (on Koh Thmei, unsurprisingly) is geared up for kids with a family-sized bungalow, plenty of games and toys, and a beach with a fine selection of shells for collecting. Their 24-hour electricity and above-average bathrooms also make life easier if you’re travelling with ankle-biters. Although getting to the fishing village for the boat transfer is a little tricky, the 45-minute boat ride through mangroves and along the island’s coast gives ample opportunities for bird and island spotting, and not much time for sea-sickness.

Another alternative is Nomads Cambodia on Koh Totang, where the friendly hosts are happy to cater to families. One bungalow, The Dive Inn, caters to two adults and two kids. If you’re prepared to pay for a taxi, it’s also relatively painless to get to from the mainland and followed by a very short boat ride.

Tanks for everything!
Tanks for everything!

If your beach bum could do with some exercise, there’s plenty to get you off your towel and into nature. There are excellent dive options on Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, with snorkelling if you prefer to keep in touch with the surface. Palm Beach Resort on Koh Rong has kayaks for hire if you want to stick your oar in. Jungle trails ranging from a pleasant 20-minute stroll to a few hours of effort crisscross Koh Rong and neighbouring Koh Rong Samloem. A guide is not essential but sensible shoes and plenty of water are a must. For those comfortable on two wheels in rough terrain, mountain bikes and motorbikes are available for hire on Koh Rong, giving you access to the interior of the island. For something less strenuous, bird watching is a popular pastime on Koh Ta Kiev, with more than 150 species of birds to keep twitchers happy.

Rustic seclusion
Any island stay brings you up close and personal with a bit of nature, but some places are more wild than others. Longing to lose the WiFi and truly escape? Adventurers who like their location untouched and untamed will enjoy Robinson Bungalows and Huba Huba on Koh Rong Samloem, falling asleep to the sound of monkeys and geckos and exploring the under-subscribed beach. On Koh Ta Kiev, get back to basics sleeping in an outdoor hammock at Ten 103 or pitching a tent on your chosen spot of paradise at Crusoe Island. Palm Beach on Koh Rong ranks well for its location (less so for food and service) where the ratio of the small number of bungalows to the length of the private bay makes this place a perfect get-away-from-it-all setting.

Tiny shorts optional.
Tiny shorts optional.

With friends
For a memorable mates’ break, hanging out on tropical beaches sipping cocktails is something to tell the grandkids about (well, maybe). Head to Palm Beach Resort on Koh Rong for kayaking, volleyball and lazy beachside barbecues. On the island’s main beach, Monkey Island has a good selection of accommodation and a spacious shady restaurant deck designed for drinks and storytelling late into the night. For a cheaper option, your crew can bed down in Ten 103’s dorm on Koh Ta Kiev and wake up to sparkling sea views in a jungle setting. Fancy something fancier? Book out all five bungalows at Nomads Cambodia and bag yourself a private island.

... and relax.
... and relax.

Day trips
While we’d strongly recommend a few nights on your chosen island, travellers on tight schedules can still get an island experience on a day trip. Thanks to the introduction of speedboat services, Koh Rong Samloem and Koh Rong can both be reached in 40 minutes or so. Alternatively the Party Boat heads to the former in less than two hours, giving you a few hours of impressive white beach time. Don’t forget your toothbrush in case you decide you can’t possibly leave the same day. Closer to land, Koh Ta Kiev is less than an hour’s boat ride away.

Reviewed by

Caroline swapped the drizzle of Old Blighty for the dazzling sunshine of Siem Reap and she spends most weekends cycling the temple-studded terrain that she can call her backyard.

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