Silkworms, bucolic scenery and a beach
Just a short bike, boat or moto ride away from the hurly-burley of Phnom Penh, Koh Dach (often referred to as Silk Island) offers a peaceful, pastoral respite, and the chance to pick up some choice silks and cottons.
Sitting in the powering waters of the Mekong Delta, we’re actually talking about two islands here—the larger Koh Dach to the north and, just across a narrow (though bridged) body of water to the southeast, Koh Oknha Tei—when we refer to “Silk Island” we are referring to Koh Oknha Tei. While both islands are home to silk production and weaving, Koh Oknha Tei is where you are most likely to be taken on a tour or tuk tuk. Why? Because there is a one–stop–shop set up there which includes a good and informative tour. The northern tip of Koh Dach is also home to Koh Dach beach, a sala and beach relaxation spot not dissimilar to Kien Svay to the southeast of Phnom Penh.
Up until a few years ago both Koh Dach and Koh Oknha Tei were in Kandal Province, then Koh Dach was rezoned into Phnom Penh. We were told by locals on Koh Dach that this change was to facilitate Chinese construction investment on the larger island. There has been talk for some years of a bridge being built to the island from the Phnom Penh side of the Mekong, and while we saw no evidence of that, it seems the island may be losing some of its bucolic image sooner than later.
Silk Island (Koh Oknha Tei) is home to a silk weaving village and silk centre, where you can see how the whole silk production process works from beginning to end, from mulberry-chomping silk worms through to their golden cocoons through to the complex manual loom weaving process, which requires a dexterity and memory that would be the envy of many. The guide explains the entire life cycle of the silk worm, from the eggs through to its brief life as a moth and, if you have never seen this kind of thing before, it is fascinating.
The main silk weaving centre is just a kilometre away from the ferry drop off point, and is home to a collection of traditionally constructed houses under which weavers patiently weave at their looms, turning out simple but finely crafted silks scarves and skirts. There is a small shop at the end of the row of houses where you can buy the silk scarves and skirts, as well as cotton scarves and kramas, which are also woven here. Prices are not unreasonable, starting at as little as $5. While we would not say there is tremendous pressure to buy, there is a bit of gentle suggesting that buying something would be a nice thing to do. Admission to the centre is US$1 and the guide has grown to expect a tip at the end—a few thousand riel should suffice.
Once you are done with the silk village, a typically trip takes you back over onto Koh Dach proper where you’ll pass through a couple of villages as you make your way towards the north of the island—keep an eye out for the looms under the village houses, more often than not working turning out more silk scarves and cotton cloth. Midway along the way you’ll pass an old ruined temple, slowly toppling into the river. Walk around to the back of it (take care as at least in January 2019 it was still very much in the process of falling into the river) and look downriver for views of the Phnom Penh skyline.
Continuing north, you’ll reach the village of Kbal Koah which is home to a small market, temple and two guesthouses—Villa Koh Dach Guesthouse (from around $12) and a little more to the north, the more expat–orientated Le Kroma Villa (from US$35). The latter has an infinity pool and quiet smart rooms—apparently it is a hit with French expats in Phnom Penh who swing by on weekends when the pizza oven is going—we just stopped for a coffee and found it to be a friendly and sleepy spot. There is a third guesthouse on Koh Dach, Red House, on the southwest coast of the island, we didn’t have time to swing by, but there is a review of it on Move To Cambodia.
Suitably caffeinated (or pizza–stuffed if you’re here on the weekend) the next stop heading north is Koh Dach Beach—a north–facing promontory of sand that has a whole bunch of wood and bamboo salas built on it. You can relax here in the shade and enjoy some cold drinks or a bite to eat—and even swim in the river if you want (inner tubes can be hired for a float). Similar to Kien Svay, the only thing missing is the hammocks. You could easily lose a few hours here and, if visiting on a weekday it is likely to be very quiet—weekends however can be very busy. Regardless of when you visit, be careful not to leave any valuables in your tuk tuk as theft is apparently a bit of a problem here.
Once you are done at the beach, it is simply a matter of making your way back to one of the ferry crossings on the west coast of the island (there are at least four crossings) for the ride back to the mainland and then back to Phnom Penh.
If you didn’t stop to see it on the way to the island, do make the time to stop at Wat Kean Kleang (often referred to as the Golden Temple) as it is well worth ten minutes of your time and it is located right on the road back to Phnom Penh.
To get to Silk Island, tour operators organise boat tours to the island, you could take a tuk tuk, or you could cycle out—the entire trip is flat as a pancake. If you’re hiring a tuk tuk for the trip, expect to pay the driver $20 and allow at least half a day.
There is a route that avoids much of the traffic of Route 6 if you cross over the Japanese Bridge—which will certainly get your heart pumping—and go all the way around the roundabout on the other side of the bridge so that you come back in the same direction you came from only under the bridge rather than over it. You’ll find yourself immediately on a road which takes you straight to the river, and then turns north.
Follow the road along the river (it veers inland after about for four kilometres) for a total of about 5.5km, at which time you will get to a T-junction. Take the right turn which will lead you directly to Route 6. Here you need to cross the dual carriageway, turn right (south) and then left (any left will do), following through till you hit the river, where you turn right and so riding south, back towards Phnom Penh (the river should be on your left hand side). Continue south for around 1.5km (you’ll pass a temple on your right at the 1km mark) and you should hit the boat landing for ferry crossings across to the island.
If you’re on a bicycle, the ferry will charge you 700 riel per person to cross, or 1,000 riel on a moto. If you’ve hired a tuk tuk the charge is 3,000 riel. The short crossing brings you to the southwest side of Koh Dach. From there, simply follow the road away from the dock, take the first right, cross the iron bridge, then take the first left. Continue along here for just one kilometre, and the Silk Centre is there on your left. From Street 108 in Phnom Penh, the whole journey is just over 9 kilometres to the southern tip of Koh Dach.
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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