The South Coast
Heading south of Phnom Penh, you reach the towns of Sihanoukville,Kep and Kampot.
Each of these towns has a different allure - Sihanoukville is a coastal town with nice beaches and great day trips available. Nearby is Ream National Park where mangrove forests, a diverse selection of wildlife, and tranquil nature await. Kampot is a riverside town with colonial buildings and nearby caves and waterfalls. Still undiscovered, Kep is a favorite Global Travel & Tours destination. A quiet beach, lush hills, and delicious seafood make Kep a great place to ‘get away from it all’ especially if you take a trip out to nearby Rabbit Island.
One of the great false myths of travel in South East Asia is that you need to leave Cambodia to enjoy a visit to the coast, although we do recommend more than just a traditional tropical beach stay on this diverse coastline.
Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s premier resort and named after the country’s king to celebrate independence, this port town is a bustling tourist attraction with five contrasting beaches. The long Ochheuteal Beach is in the heart of the back packing area but the many beach bars and restaurants are a great place to spend an evening sampling some of the coastlines famous seafood. The southern end of the beach is still relatively undeveloped – although that is changing rapidly – and a walk over the small headland takes you to Ostres Beach, an idyllic stretch of sand that feels a million miles away from Ochheuteal.
Independence Beach and Sokha Beach are private beaches owned by the hotels of the same names, The Independence Hotel and Sokha Beach Hotel, 10 minutes out of town. For those on a tighter budget, the nearby Chez Claude has a fantastic restaurant with wonderful views of the surrounding coastline. For those looking to do more than relax on the white sand, boat trips can be arranged to one of the many islands off this coastline, providing great snorkelling and an opportunity to experience a tropical beach paradise.
Kampot and Kep
Kampot is a charming riverside town, rich in French colonial-era architecture and a popular place for river trips. It is a good base to explore Bokor Hill Station and atmospheric colonial seaside town of Kep-sur-Mer. There are also several cave pagodas in the area, including perfectly preserved brick temples from the pre-Angkorian period. Kep was Cambodia’s first seaside resort, founded by the French in 1908. After many years in hibernation, it has once again taken off, with new boutique hotels and resorts offering comfortable, atmospheric accommodation and delicious food. Nearby islands such as Koh Tonsay are popular for day trips and local crab and fresh seafood is a popular lunchtime treat. Bokor is a one of the most atmospheric places in Cambodia, a 1000m-high plateau of steaming jungle, shy wildlife and abandoned buildings. Built by the French as a hill station in the 1920s, it was redeveloped by Sihanouk in 1959 as a casino resort before being abandoned to the elements in 1970. Off limits until recent years, the empty buildings and majestic views give it a haunting, romantic quality. Nearby Popokvil Falls are impressive in the wet season. It is currently only accessible during public holidays, as the old hill station is currently under redevelopment.
A couple of hours east of Sihanoukville is the colonial resort of Kep, a favourite with the French colonialists and the Phnom Penh elite in the years after Independence. Abandoned during the civil war years, and only opened up at the turn of the century, it is now being revived to its former glory. This is a town of fascinating contrasts, from the wonderful style of the restored Knai Bang Chatt to the eerily abandoned villas that are scattered about the town. Veranda Natural Resort is nestled in the hills overlooking the sea and is a great option. The beach at Kep does not compare to most in South East Asia, but the crab market, surrounding hills and remote islands are sure to keep visitors interested.
Nearby is the colonial market town of Kampot with its real sense of stepping back in time. The town itself is unremarkable but there are some lovely riverfront bars, restaurants and hotels which create a real colonial feel and are an atmospheric spot to enjoy a cocktail as the sun sets over nearby Bokor Mountain. Rikitikitavi is a simple hotel but has a great location and offers some great food and the excellent Nataya Coral Bay Resort is also found here.
The Bokor National Park is one of the countries largest protected area and a hideaway for endangered species. Main tourist attractions are an abandoned French hill station, which is a collection of buildings constructed by the French authorities in the early 1920s. Bokor Mountain offers a spectacular view of the coast, cooler weather. The national park is heavily jungled and jungle trekking or a trip to the two-tired Popokvil Waterfalls, allowing the tourists to swim in the rainy season, can be arranged.
Koh Kong is becoming an increasingly popular gateway to Cambodia for overland travellers. It is emerging as a new centre for ecotourism, with several protected areas and community tourism projects established in the area. There are two major waterfalls north of the town which can be visited by road or boat. The Peam Krasaop mangroves include a wooden walkway to explore and are home to diverse bird and sea life. The nearby village of Koh Kapi includes stilted houses built over the tidal flights of the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Kong Island is the largest in Cambodia and the west coast is flanked by beautiful white sand beaches. Chipat is a community-based ecotourism project that is drawing adventurous backpackers to explore the surrounding area. We have visited several times, but feel the homestays are still a little too undeveloped for our average guest. Accommodation in the Koh Kong area includes the new 4 Rivers Floating Ecolodge and the rustic Rainbow Lodge.
For nature lovers there is also the Four Rivers Eco Lodge in the picturesque Cardamom Mountains. This provides a stunning setting to unwind and relax with nothing to disturb you or be a little more adventurous and explore the waterways and forest that surround this resort. As it is close to the Thai Border and the Thai Islands of Koh Chang and Koh Kood this is a great way to combine Cambodia’s famous cultural heritage and Thailand’s more remote islands.
Takeo and Angkor Borei
The region of Angkor Borei is one of the main sites of pre-Angkorian Cambodia. Several temples were built in brick by King Rudravarman of Funan in the 6th Century in an area about 20km east of Takeo town. Vishnu was his patron deity and many Hindu statues from this site have survived the centuries, the best of which can be viewed in the National Museum in Phnom Penh. Copies of these statues are on display in a small museum in the town of Angkor Borei. The principal shrine at Angkor Borei is Phnom Da, a holy mountain with four caves carved into the north-east wall as shrines. There is a small brick temple atop the summit of Phnom Da. Getting here involves a speedboat trip along an ancient Angkor canal. A sea of water in the wet season, in the dry season you will find yourself skimming between lush green ricefields.
Kirirom National Park
Kirirom is a beautiful, mountainous area of pine forests and waterfalls. It is the most accessible of Cambodia’s national parks, about 140km south of Phnom Penh, and sees many day-trippers from the capital. Short treks are possible, including a hike through pine forests to Phnom Dai Chivit or End of the Life Mountain. Last time we explored here, we were lucky enough to stumble upon two Asian black bears. There is even a smart alpine style lodge here for families looking for a different experience, including kayaking and a zipline.