Laidback Island Vibes in Cambodian Coastal Retreats

Cambodia

Nestled on the Bay of Thailand, the beach town of Sihanoukville is the perfect jumping-off point for island hopping and exploring the region.

First, before grabbing the ferry, I swing by Sokha Beach. It’s the best that Sihanoukville has to offer and one of my all-time favourites. Its white sands are the perfect place for a stroll and its shallow, calm water is perfect for swimming.

Next stop, a paradise island. Just 25 kilometres from Sihanoukville lies the tranquil Koh Rong Island, home to one of the best and longest beaches in Cambodia—Koh Rong Beach—and a population of only 1,100 people.

For $27 you get an open return on a fast ferry. The trip takes around 90 minutes and boy, is it worth it. This is the stuff of picture-perfect postcards: white-sand beaches, turquoise waters and bright blue skies.

The island’s four villages are dotted with guesthouses, many of them owned and run by expats. For as little as $20 a night you can kick back in a bungalow on the beach and listen to the ocean lapping the shore just beyond your doorstep. In the morning, the owners kindly throw in a free breakfast of fresh coconut, cut mangoes and watermelon.

Koh Rong Beach runs for five beautiful kilometres. At the southern end, just metres from the shore, there’s a collection of large boulders where snorkellers can get up close and personal with triggerfish, bannerfish and blue spotted stingrays.

Back in Sihanoukville, this time I take to the road. Two-and-a-half hours’ drive later, I arrive in Kep, a sleepy seaside village. Famed for its spectacular sunsets, Kep attracts a more mature crowd who prefer lazing in a hammock all day with a glass of wine and a good book than all-night parties. Its beach is small, but perfect. The charm of Kep lies in its tranquility—it’s a firm favourite with expats in Phnom Penh looking for a peaceful weekend retreat.

Chloe Belford is one such expat: “I’ve been escaping here for just over three years,” says Chloe. “There is usually a gang of us that drive down from Phnom Penh on a Friday afternoon. We bring our own wine; a selection of cheeses and grab a spot on the beach. Some of us scuba-dive, but to be honest it’s good just to relax and do absolutely nothing. The sunsets here are unlike any other that I have seen.”

Over sunset cocktails I’m taken in by the cool 60’s vibe here. In the background someone puts on a Dean Martin CD and “That’s Amore” starts to play. Chloe says, “There is a guy in the market who sells nothing but 60’s music. It’s all we play when we are here and it somehow feels appropriate.” Yes it does.

Image: ©iStock.com/AlesIvanko

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