While the legendary islands of Thailand are more popular and well-known, the islands that belong to Cambodia populate the same sea, the Gulf of Thailand, but are way less crowded and tend to be more affordable, too. And while for a long time many of these 60-plus islands were barely visited due to the strife in the 1970s that Cambodia suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, the country has finally recovered enough to attract travelers from backpackers to luxury sun-seekers.
The islands are most easily accessed by boat from Sihanoukville, which has plenty of speed and slow boat options with multiple crossings per day at various price points (some resorts include private boat transport as well). Get to Sihanoukville from Phnom Penh or Siem Reap by bus (book most companies here), minivan shuttles, or local airlines (JC International Airlines, Cambodia Airways, and Cambodia Angkor Air are recommended, while Cambodia Bayon Airlines is less reliable and flies planes that are not legal in Europe and the US). There are also various airlines that fly from cities in China, Malaysia, and Thailand directly to Sihanoukville.
Each island has its own DNA and vibe; here’s everything you need to know about the best ones.
Probably the most popular of the islands, Koh Rong is also the most developed. But thankfully there are still uncrowded stretches of white sand beaches to discover, like the pristine Long Beach. If you’re looking for some action though, Koh Touch Beach has earned itself somewhat of a party reputation. There are also plenty of companies hawking water sports activities like diving, snorkeling, and kayaking there, as well as bicycle rentals.
Foodwise, there are various bars and restaurants serving both traditional Khmer dishes (try Chai Family Restaurant, the Moon, or Elephant Guesthouse) and Western food—for Italian try Enocafe, Da Matti?, or Treehouse Bungalow, get burgers at Koh Lanta, and vegan and vegetarian food at the Rising Sun. Sea and Lake or Sigi’s offer solid Thai food. If you’re looking to sample Koh Rong’s nightlife, check out Nest Beach Club, Skybar, Vagabonds, and Monkey Island. The island’s very first bar, Dragon Den Pub, is still going strong.
When you’re ready to get some shut-eye, there are plenty of options at various price points. Most of the hostels are concentrated in Koh Touch, but there are lots of beach huts and resorts along the rest of the island. For budget hostels between $5 and $30, we recommend Sunflower Guest House, Unicorn Guesthouse, and Coconut Beach Bungalows. If you can splurge a bit ($100 to $200), Sweet Dreams Koh Rong, Tamu Koh Rong, and Long Set Resort are well worth it. If you can splurge a lot (like $500 and up), the Royal Sands Koh Rong is a full-service resort with oceanfront villas.
Koh Rong Samloem
Koh Rong’s sister island is smaller, quieter, and less developed. Most of the infrastructure is concentrated on sunny Saracen Bay, thanks to its sparkling white sand beaches. Best of all, snorkeling is stellar here, and the waters sparkle at night when millions of bioluminescent plankton illuminate the water. You can also see some waterfalls and mangroves on the northern end of the island, and there is an old lighthouse on the southern end.
Get breakfast at Seapony Bungalow Café and Sara Restaurant has a good reputation for Western and Khmer food with a view.
The best upscale accommodations have a small number of bungalows (some of which are quite modern) and include Sweet Dreams Samloem, Sara Resort, Pipes Resort, and Secret Paradise Resort. More affordable non-hostel hotels include Cita Resort, Moonlight Resort, and GreenBlue Resort, while Longvek Hostel and Easy Tiger Bungalows are very cheap (about $10).
Koh Ta Kiev
There are ambitious resort plans for the northern part of this island, which has been leased by a French company who also lease part of Koh Russey (and have already opened a resort there—see below), and construction is already underway. A Chinese Malaysian firm also leased a large swath of land and have built a road that unfortunately cuts through the lush jungle. But for now, there are three yellow sand beaches that are mostly untouched, with just a few budget accommodations. Be sure to bring everything you might need because there are no ATMs here and you won’t be able to buy much once on the island (think sunscreen, beach towels, bug repellent, and shampoo). And don’t expect much in the way of electricity or WiFi—this is definitely the place to unplug.
Bird watchers will enjoy spotting the more than 150 species that fly around the island and rare orchids and carnivorous pitcher plants can also be found here. There are a few paths marked in the jungle and one will take you to a small fishing village where you can buy a freshly caught fish or crab lunch, while another takes you to Naked Beach on the south side of the island. There are a couple of places to rent a kayak and most guesthouses have snorkel gear. Or rent a boat to Elephant Rock and jump from the top of a 26-foot tall cliff at sunset. Then go for a night swim among bioluminescent plankton.
For the ultimate nature experience, bring or rent a hammock or tent and set up camp near one of the resorts (be sure to ask first). Otherwise, accommodations are limited to a few bungalows and beach shacks: Koh Ta Kiev Bungalows, Ten103 Treehouse Bay, Crusoe Island, Kactus, and the Last Point.
Part of Ream National Park, this unspoiled island of 15 square miles is only home to a small fishing village of about 200 people and a few small bungalows. However, the government allowed foreign companies to purchase long leases of several parts of the park in 2010, so expect resorts to arrive here soon—and possibly a bridge to the mainland.
When you dock at the pier there’s a beach filled with iridescent seashells and the eastern beach has golden sand. There are several mangrove forests and tons of bird species, as well as a few endangered animal species like the brahminy kite, fishing cat, and wetland feline. There are several marked trails through the jungle and the center of the island has two peaks on it. There are some local guides offering cheap (about $10) tours of the island and there are also bikes for rent. Like Koh Ta Kiev, you won’t be able to buy anything here and there is no WiFi or much electricity.
Currently, the only place to spend the night on the island is the Koh Thmei Resort, which has a private beach and garden along with simple but clean bungalows that use solar energy for electricity.
Private Island Resorts: Koh Russey, Koh Krabey, and Koh Ouen
Each of these islands features only one luxury resort and cannot be accessed unless you are a guest of those resorts.
Literally meaning Bamboo Island, Koh Russey used to serve as an outpost for the Cambodian navy. Today, there’s only one place to stay on the island, the architecturally impressive Alila Villas Koh Russey, which opened in November 2018. The luxury resort, which blends seamlessly into the surrounding nature, offers private pool villas and suites, some jungle facing and some oceanfront. The copper sand beach is clean and quiet and the resort’s restaurants serve top-quality Khmer, Thai, and Western food options—be sure to order a fresh-squeezed juice or cocktail by the Angkor Wat inspired pool. While this resort is a bit of a splurge (suites start at $280), you’d be hard-pressed to find private island accommodations at this price point in Thailand or anywhere else in Asia for that matter. Transportation via private boat to the island is included and excursions to various parts of the mainland like Kampot and Bokor National Park are offered. Non-electric watercraft are complementary and boat rides and picnics can be arranged. The spa features private bungalows and there is a yoga studio and fitness center.
Koh Krabey became the home of Six Senses Krabey Island in early 2019. The health-focused posh resort features 40 pool villas, a huge spa, a sunset bar, two restaurants, an ice cream parlor, lap pool, outdoor fitness circuit, oceanfront boardwalk, beachfront sundeck, open-air cinema, and sky observatory. Experiences range from water activities, boat trips, and personally tailored wellness programs. Transportation to the island is included with your stay and is just a 15-minute boat ride.
Koh Ouen is home to the country’s very first luxury private island resort, Song Saa. Actually spread across two neighboring islands, the high-end eco-friendly resort consists of 27 ocean-view villas, each with its own pool as well as an open-air spa, fitness center, infinity-edge pool, yoga pavilion, over-water restaurant, and beachfront bar. Activities for guests include snorkeling, kayaking, and picnics. Included in all guests’ stay is a visit to a local village on the island and visits to the island’s waterfalls are also available. At night, a speedboat can take you for a swim in bioluminescent waters.