While often overshadowed by neighboring Thailand for its tropical islands and Vietnam for its natural beauty, Cambodia should not be overlooked on either count. Indeed, the fact that its gorgeous southwest coast is a little lesser known makes for a more tranquil retreat, away from the well-worn sunseekers’ trail. With the crystal waters of the Gulf of Siam massaging golden stretches of sand, fringed by coconut palms and sleepy fishing villages, Cambodia is the perfect choice for a coastal getaway that is truly an escape. Add to that the gentle arrival of luxury resorts – including one on a private tropical island – and the relative proximity of one of the Seven Wonders of the World: this is a destination that has it all.
Here are our top tips for a beach retreat in Cambodia:
Historically a favored holiday spot for the French colonial elite and Cambodian royalty, Kep was later the site of a number of battles as the country fought for freedom. Nowadays, Kep is a pretty seaside town with sleepy streets lined with colonial buildings, leading down to the beach, which faces southwards into the Gulf. The sands are shaded by palm fronds and rustic crab shacks, perfect for lazy oceanview lunches or delicious dinners of fresh seafood and locally-grown kampot pepper.
Sail out to Rabbit Island (Koh Tonsay) to explore the surrounding waters with snorkel or diving gear and get up close to the tropical submarine inhabitants. Hike into the jungled mountains that soar up beyond the town and visit the ruins of the once grand villa that Cambodian king Sihanouk kept for his frequent seaside holidays; watch out for the current incumbents – a contingent of curious monkeys. Get a glimpse of much more ancient history as you uncover Phnom Chhngok, a sacred Buddhist temple carved out of a cave that dates back further than Angkor Wat.
Head to Sihanoukville for rolling waves, long stretches of white sand and plenty to see and do. Spend your days soaking up the tropical rays, sampling delicious Khmer dishes and enjoying the hospitality of the locals. Facing west out to the Gulf, enjoy stunning sunsets as you sip on a refreshing cocktail. For a little more action, plunge into the waters for some adventurous diving; spend a night out on Koh Tang island and explore the depths to find ships wrecked during battles that took place before the area became the tranquil oasis it is today.
This busy port town was built to fortify and supply the country after it gained independence, and was given the illustrious name of the ruler at the time, King Norodom Sihanouk. As trade continues to flourish, the area maintains its traditional feel as well as its natural beauty. Take a walk into town to visit the traditional temple, Wat Chotyniec, to pay homage to a Cambodian divinity known as Yeay Mao and get a little sense of the local culture. Head a little way inland and discover the indigenous nature roaming wild and free in Ream National Park: meet the monkeys and rare birds who make a playground of the canopy and sail into the mangrove forests to greet the playful river dolphins.
For a perfect balance of barefoot living and world-class luxury, find your way to this idyllic, luxurious retreat, lying off the coast of Sihanoukville. Part of the Koh Rong archipelago, twin islands Koh Quen and Koh Bong are known as “the sweethearts” or, in Khmer, Song Saa. Just 35 minutes by boat from Sihanoukville’s bustling port, you find yourself in almost untouched beauty; a footbridge not only connects the private resort but also acts as protection for the surrounding reef and its tropical inhabitants. Among the undeveloped islands, Song Saa works in harmony with the environment to create a sustainable escape that doesn’t compromise on comfort.
Of the 27 palm-roofed suites, all with private pools and sun decks, the most magical are the glass-floored Overwater Villas, where you can gaze between your toes to see the colorful fish swim below. The furniture is crafted from driftwood and reclaimed timber and all water is carefully treated and reused to minimize waste. Dine on delicious Khmer cuisine prepared with western expertise, using locally-sourced, fresh produce; take yoga on the beach, get pampered in a spa set in the rainforest and get active with an array of watery pursuits including kayaking, sailing, snorkelling and diving to get a glimpse of turtles and seahorses in the surrounding warm waters.
Why not make your Cambodian beach getaway the start or finale to a full country tour and mix in a stop at the historic capital of Phnom Penh, home to many fascinating war remnants, or a trip to the incredible temples of Angkor, near Siem Reap. Get in touch with our Asia experts today and let us create the perfect journey to this tropical kingdom; reach us at email@example.com.