Chill out, local style
With a beautiful river-side setting, dozens of floating bamboo salas to choose from, and plenty of cheap beer and food, Kien Svay makes for a terrific lazy lunch and afternoon away from the big smoke of Phnom Penh.
Kien Svay, also known as Koki Beach, is just 15 kilometres out of Phnom Penh down National Route 1, just over the border into Kandal Province. When we visited there was no beach to speak of, but rather a brackish body of water, covered in a mix of floating raft houses and water hyacinth with no shortage of large jumping fish.
We visited one early afternoon midweek and largely had the place to ourselves, the weekend scene can be considerably different though as the raft houses are packed with young Khmer students and families relaxing by the water over icy cold drinks and grilled chicken. If you do visit on the weekend, expect to be repeatedly approached for photos and conversation—if this kind of thing bothers you, aim for midweek. Regardless, expect to be the only foreigner in attendance.
Raft houses come in various shapes and sizes, some big enough for a football team, others sufficient for just two or three people. The restaurant will supply a roll out mat for you to sit on and their are ample hammocks strung to make yourself comfortable. They’ll also give you an esky with ice stocked with beer or water of whatever you want to drink—options are limited and we think they would probably struggle much beyond water and beer.
Once you’re all settled in, you can order food (if you want) or just enjoy some cold drinks by the water. We ordered an entire grilled chicken with sides of rice and some fried vegetables, which came in at around $10. Beers were 3,000 riel, the esky full of ice 1,000 riel. Not the cheapest afternoon out for a single traveller, but if you can rustle up a couple of like–minded souls, this isn’t bad value at all. Do be sure to check prices beforehand—little to no English is spoken. Your sala should have a telephone number on it somewhere should you need to order more beer or grilled chicken and can’t face the trek back to raft house HQ.
Once you have finished stuffing face, expect boatmen to float up offering to take you for a paddle around the river. We didn’t take them up on the offer, but this could be an interesting way to use up thirty minutes or so. Vendors also floated up offering mango and noodle dishes—so don’t worry, you won’t starve.
Depending on the time of year you visit (we visited in January), look across the water and you’ll see the building are up on tall stilts. This is to allow for the rise of the Mekong River as it bloats with the monsoon wet seasons upriver—it is a very visible indicator to the power of the river.
Also depending upon the time of year, the water may be quite clogged with water hyacinth, an invasive species of plant that some bright spark though would be a good idea to bring over from South America because the pale lilac flowers are pretty. It has been clogging waterways and destroying plant and marine life ever since. We would not recommend swimming here at any time of year though, as analyses that we saw carried out at a similar location on the Tonle Sap found quite high levels of E-coli and more in the waters. You will see locals taking a dip though.
A visit to Kien Svay is similar to the beach area at the northern tip of Koh Dach (for Silk Island) and, to be fair, Koh Dach does offer more, as you’ll get a couple of ferry trips in, a temple and market visit, and of course the silk farming. Kien Svay has none of these, which, in its own way, is half the charm. Got enough time? Try both.
Kien Svay is about 15 to the southeast from Phnom Penh and is most easily reached by tuk tuk. They should know where it is, though be sure to specifically ask for Kien Svay as there are a number of similar spots on rivers elsewhere around the city. The trip should take around 45 minutes from downtown depending on traffic. We paid $20 for a tuk tuk there and back including waiting time (during the waiting time the driver happily joined us for a few beers and some chicken). PassApp quoted us $8 each way without any allowance for waiting time.
If you’re travelling by bicycle or other means, follow National Road 1 for about 15 km and on your left you’ll see a blue sign marking the beginning of Kandal Province and Kien Svay District, turn left here, then turn right at the T–junction and follow the road along till you see a steel bridge on your left. From here you should be able to see the raft houses out to your right. You could conceivably also get a bus from Phnom Penh and jump off and hike in—the steel bridge is about a kilometre from the turn off.
Address: Around 15km to the southeast of Phnom Penh, just off National Road 1.
Coordinates (for GPS): 105º2'20.8" E, 11º30'51.19" N
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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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