Sandy bliss awaits travelers off Cambodia's south coast. Whether you like being glued to some hammock upon a remote shore, or fancy slothful days recovering from all-night raves, Cambodia has an island for you.
Lapped through the crystal-clear waters from the Gulf of Thailand, the scattering of islands in Cambodia's south have hugely diverse beach scenes. But all come with a jungle-clad interior, swaths of sand and also the nightly magic of bioluminescent plankton. Almost all are also shadowed by the cloud of future big development – time to go has become.
Koh Rong Sanloem: hip romantic getaway
On Koh Rong Sanloem, the wide sweep of sheltered Saracen Bay just might be the perfect beach idyll. At least 12 (with more on the way) small-scale bungalow resorts, built of wood and palm thatch, sit in harmony using the dense jungle that hugs the shore. Intimate Cita Resort has two-tiered bungalows with open-air bathrooms and hammock porches, while the bungalows of Secret Paradise exude effortless beach-casual glamour.
For a more secluded getaway feel, head to the island's west for sand-between-your-toes living. Koh Rong Sanloem's oldest resort is Lazy Beach, a hideaway (around the beach of the same name) about hammock-swinging and sunset cocktails. Further north is Sunset Beach, with just a few simple places on the sand.
Koh Rong Sanloem's beach scene is usually pricier than other islands, but Saracen Bay comes with a few excellent budget options (such as the stilted open-air dorm at Beach Island Resort). For something different, intrepid travelers should visit M'Pai Bay around the island's northern tip, where wallet-friendly basic digs (take a look at Easy Tiger and also the Chill Inn) have exposed within the friendly fishing village. Don't expect gorgeous sweeps of white sand here – this really is more a beach break having a true local vibe.
Koh Rong: party island
The now-fabled party stop among backpackers doing the southeast Asia loop, Koh Rong is really a tale of two halves. There is the Koh Tuch village area, where all the action happens; after which there's the rest of the island, which, despite development plans, remains almost untouched aside from a number of remote resorts along with a handful of itsy-bitsy fishing villages. Even Koh Tuch Beach is long enough to provide a feeling of solitude. Alllow for Treehouse Bungalows around the headland to flee the crowds. Whether it's dance-to-dawn parties and Mekong whisky buckets you're after, though, the rudimentary crash pads of Koh Tuch village are where it's at – just don't expect to obtain much sleep.
During hours of sunlight, the greater active can exercise their primate instincts by swinging with the treetops at High Point Rope Adventure. But aptly named Long Set Beach may be the real island highlight, meandering for any good 7km along the island's western shore. Throughout the day, half of Koh Rong sets out for boat trips to Long Beach, offloading only at that sweep of soft sand for swimming, sunbathing and fishing fun.
Koh Ta Kiev: to basics
Tired of older travelers talking about the great past of southeast Asia's rustic island living? Put Koh Ta Kiev on your radar; it may just be the opportunity to grab that have yourself. Only a handful of budget resorts straddle the west and southwest shorelines, with possibilities to doss in hammocks or under canvas, as well as dorm and basic hut options. Ten 103 and also the Last Point are a couple of of the greatest for seriously back-to-basics communal beach-bum life.
The fingerprints of massive development are fast appearing here, with a road sliced with the thick jungle interior to service a planned luxury resort around the north shore. Actual construction seems to have been placed on the backburner for the time being. Nevertheless, if you wish to sample an old-school-style sandy haven, the best advice is to get here sooner rather than later.
Koh Totang: eco-chic isolation
Blink-and-you'll-miss-it Koh Totang, within the Koh Sdach Archipelago, is castaway cool with serious eco-credentials. The island's solo resort, Nomads Land, sits in splendid isolation upon the shore and flies the flag for sustainable chic. The five quirky and colorful bungalows really are a bohemian beachcomber's dream, strung with hammocks and plentiful cozy deck corners for chilling out – yet solar energy provides electricity, h2o comes from stored rainwater and bathrooms have composting toilets and bucket showers. Nomads Land proves that you don't need to sacrifice style to reside life from the grid.
Koh Thmei: nature-lover simplicity
If the profusion of bungalow pads on other islands causes a decision-making meltdown, why don't you limit the search for an island where there is no choice. Between mangrove forests, the almost uninhabited island of Koh Thmei sits off Ream National Park, with only intimate, ecologically minded Koh Thmei Resort gracing the shore. This can be a stellar island option for nature fiends – the beach is littered with exotic shells, there is a coral reef for snorkeling just offshore and the jungle interior hosts more than a hundred species of birds.
Make it happen
Ferries depart for both Koh Rong's Koh Tuch Beach and Koh Rong Sanloem's Saracen Bay and M'Pai Bay a minimum of three times daily (schedules change seasonally) from Sihanoukville, with journey time under an hour. For otherwise, you have to take private boats supplied by the resorts.
November to March is high season, using the peak period in December and January when places fill up fast and prices are at their highest. From June the rains descend, but if you don't mind contemplating storm clouds brewing on the horizon from your porch, you get the power of snagging a bungalow bargain.
Don't forget your island essentials: enough cash to last (no islands have banks or ATMs), sunscreen, insect repellent for the fiendishly fierce sandflies along with a flashlight.