Cambodia’s been firmly on the travel scene now for about a decade. It’s not so long ago the Khmer Rouge finally lost their grip on the western part of the country, allowing Siem Reap, the jumping-off point for the stunning temples of Angkor, to safely attract tourists. Since then things have really taken off with more than two million visitors per year making their way to the area, according to government stats. Despite these numbers, venture outside Siem Reap or the capital Phnom Penh and it’s almost like entering another country entirely.
This is a boon for travelers who like getting there before the masses, charting new territory and setting where travel will go. The best part, there’s still time to hit a large swath of locales in this kingdom on the move before things really take off. Be it mountainous hilltribe communities, the Mekong River which passes through a large chunk of the country, hundreds of Khmer stone temples scattered across the nation or its largely undiscovered tropical south.
Few people think of Cambodia as a destination for the sea and beach, but not for long. Its southern reaches are idyllically situated along the Gulf of Thailand, with long silky beaches, lots of tropical coastline, and more open stretches than resorts and developments, something that’s surely set to change in the coming decade. We’ve become particularly enamored with four spots and recommend making them a firm part of your next holiday before everyone heads there too!
A former favorite of French and Khmer elite who came here for some respite from the capital in pre-Khmer Rouge times, today Kep is sleepy and extremely quiet. Abandoned, bullet-ridden art deco villas from war-time dot the hillsides, while locals do their day-to-day thing at an extremely leisurely pace, tropical winds blow off the Gulf of Thailand and delectable crab is served-up almost everywhere. The beaches aren’t very good, but ocean views abound, Rabbit Island and its inviting beaches are a short boat ride away and there’s a very comfy resort, Knai Bang Chatt – perfect for two or three nights of relaxing goodness.
About 45 minutes west of Kep by car is this very charming riverside town that’s most famous for its aromatic pepper. While seeing how it’s grown is of moderate interest, Kampot’s main drag is perfect for strolling and features some stylish shops, tasty restaurants, neat bars and The Rusty Keyhole, which arguably serves-up the best ribs you’ll have anywhere. Another highlight is hiring a boat to take you up-river to escape it all and enjoy a dip in its crystal clear waters. Renting a bicycle and pedaling communities south of town that farm salt is a neat way to get up-close-and-personal with locals and nearby Bokor Mountain towers above, rising to 1,077m, offering an exotic backdrop and a good spot for hiking.
Song Saa Private Island
Some big-dreaming Australians leased two tiny islands southwest of Sihanoukville, currently Cambodia’s only real beach town, and have created a world-class beach escape. Forget Fantasy Island, this is the real deal. Guests are whisked by luxury speedboat 45 minutes from the mainland to an out-of-this-world tropical experience where every need is anticipated and indulged. All Jungle and Over Water Villas feature a private pool, 24-hour room service and all the food and drink you can put away at this all-in resort. While the price tag is in a world of its own, it’s totally worth it.
4 Rivers Floating Lodge
Nestled along the Tatai River just 30 minutes from the Thai border in Cambodia’s southwest is this gem of a property. Twelve permanent tents are anchored along the edge of the river, a few kilometers from the nearest road, providing a delightfully unique and deeply relaxing travel experience. Working with local communities 4 Rivers turns-out tasty food, provides deluxe accommodations, offers kayaking, jungle trekking and trips to waterfalls, all while employing and benefitting locals. This is pretty close to a perfect eco-tourism business and definitely one for the bucket list.
- Kep/Rabbit Island photo gallery
- Kampot photo gallery
- Song Saa Private Island and 4 Rivers Floating Lodge photo gallery
- Podcast with Song Saa Private Island
- Podcast with 4 Rivers Floating Lodge