The Best Islands in Cambodia to Visit

Published Categorized as Cambodia Travel, Asia Travel, Destinations, Travel Blog
BEST ISLANDS IN CAMBODIA
BEST ISLANDS IN CAMBODIA

Are you looking for the best islands in Cambodia for an island hopping holiday?

Often overshadowed by the bigger, more developed Thai neighbours over in the Andaman sea, Cambodian islands offer stunning sunsets, beautiful blue waters and white-sand beaches to those who make the effort to visit. Give yourself plenty of time and do not expect anything to happen quickly and they are well worth a stop when you are in the Kingdom of Wonder.

So, if you are planning a Cambodia island hopping trip, read on to find out the best islands in Cambodia to visit.

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Did You Know?

  1. The word “koh” is the khmer word meaning ‘island’ and can be found in the names of islands in Cambodia.
  2. The Koh Rong archipelago is still relatively undeveloped compared to Thailand’s Koh Chang to the north, and Vietnam’s Phu Quoc to the south. As such, the islands offer the type of deserted beach getaway that’s hard to come by these days.
  3. Lonely Beach on Koh Rong is considered to be one of the best beaches in Southeast Asia

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“Everyone knew that all islands were worlds unto themselves, that to come to an island was to come to another world.”

– Guy Gavriel Kay –

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BEST ISLANDS IN CAMBODIA

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Where to Go and Which Cambodian Island to Visit?

While there are islands in Koh Kong Province and off the coast of Kep (plus the disputed Phu Quoc island), if you want an overnight getaway, you go to the islands that lie off the coast of Sihanoukville. You have two main options to consider:

  • Straight off Sihanoukville pier lies the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem, around an hour (ish) speed boat ride away depending on weather.
  • Off the Ream peninsula you have options like Koh Ta Kiev, Koh Thmei, Koh Russey and Koh Krabey (not to be confused with Krabi province in Thailand that is also home to beautiful beaches). These islands are much closer to the mainland, only a 15-20 minute speedboat ride from the Ream peninsula.

If you are arriving by bus from Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, you’ll end up at the centre of Sihanoukville, so those wanting to travel from Ream will need to plan in an additional journey, or go straight there by private vehicle.

BEST ISLANDS IN CAMBODIA - KOH RONG
One of the many beautiful beaches on Koh Rong

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Technology Detox, Luxury, or Boozy Weekend

The islands off the coast of Sihanoukville offer something for everyone. Most of the accommodation options are rustic to say the least, without air-conditioning or hot water, and mobile reception on the islands can be frustratingly limited. Despite this, low comfort does not mean low prices. Expect to pay up to 35 USD a night for a shack – extortionate compared to the mainland. For some however, the basic amenities are the reason to go and places like Crusoe on Koh Ta Kiev promise a digital detox where you wake from a bungalow, tent or hammock to the calming sound of waves, away from the non-stop notifications of our digital world.

If you’re looking for a back-to-basics escape on a beautiful beach where you can take the kayaks out and relax under the palm trees with a good book then Cambodia has you covered. Almost every guest house and resort on the islands offer plankton viewing, kayaking, and snorkelling, but don’t get too excited. While there are coral reefs and mangroves, the area is heavily overfished and while there is talk of a Dolphin Marine Sanctuary, think of the snorkelling as a pleasant bonus, rather than the main draw. It simply won’t compare to snorkelling in the Andaman or the Coral Triangle.

BEST ISLANDS IN CAMBODIA - PALM BEACH BUNGALOW RESORT, KOH RONG
Palm Beach Bungalow Resort – Koh Rong

For those who prefer not to be left to their own company, Koh Rong has a well-known party scene that even Covid-19 couldn’t completely stop. Head to Koh Touch, where (Pre-Covid at least) twice weekly beach parties and full-moon nights on the nearby Police Beach promise a great night out with plenty to drink. Pre-covid the backpacker scene exploded here, and around Koh Toch pier you’ll find convenience shops, bars and a handful of restaurants for a semblance of civilisation.

While the majority of accommodation choices are quite rustic, there are a few exceptions for those who want an escape where they are pampered at every turn. Most notably both Song Saa and Six Senses resorts, which each sit on their own private islands, or the Royal Sands on Koh Rong at Sok San Beach.

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When to Visit the Islands in Cambodia – Sun, Sea and Monsoon Rains

While you can technically visit the islands any time of year, it’s important to consider the weather. As in the rest of Cambodia, you have two main seasons: dry and wet. The dry season lasts roughly from November through to May, and the wet season lasts from May to October. While the rain itself isn’t too much of a problem – most of it happens in short, sharp bursts – the seas do get significantly rougher during the wet season. This not only makes your journey over there a little bouncier, it also means snorkelling and diving are off the table due to low visibility as the sediment is all stirred up. Personally, I would avoid the islands in August and September. In these two months it can rain for hours at a time, sometimes even the whole day, making that beach getaway a little bit of a bust, especially considering the lack of alternative amenities.

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There and Back Again – An Ever-Changing Schedule

There are several speed boat ferry services that run to and from the various piers on the islands. GTVC, Buva Sea, and Speed Ferry Cambodia are all reasonably good, but the best way to choose an operator is to ask your guest house or resort which boat to book for the fastest trip. Each company visits the ports on the island in a different order, and you don’t want to be the last stop on the ferry or you will be in for a very long ride. Many of the more luxurious island resorts run their own private boats, and for the islands off Ream, you’ll often need to book a private long-tail boat through your accommodation.

BEST ISLANDS IN CAMBODIA - FERRY FROM SIHANOUKVILLE
Ferry from Sihanoukville

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Survival Strategies for Smooth Sailing

There are a lot of tips for the islands flying around like how to avoid sandfly bites, how to rent a motorbike to get around the island, or that you should bring plenty of snacks to deal with the lack of restaurants and shops, but the best advice I can offer is this:

  • Expect everything to take twice as long: The ferry schedules are, at best, hopeful. If the boat is late to get to the island, it will be late to get back from the island, and so on throughout the day. I’d like to say the ferry is more punctual first thing in the morning, but it really isn’t. Just assume things will take much longer than you plan, especially if you are going back from the island and catching a flight from Sihanoukville airport on the same day.
  • Buy your own ticket: Whether you arrive by bus, plane or private car, you will get assaulted by friendly people who just want to help you get a boat ticket. Decline the offer for help, walk to the office of the ferry you want, and buy a ticket directly. It is all too easy to end up with a ticket for a different company otherwise, one that stops at your pier last.

I’ll share my routine for reference: I go to Sok San beach on Koh Rong and stay at Ryta or Long Beach Resort, where the sunsets are just spectacular and the beach is pure white. I take the night bus from Siem Reap to arrive first thing in the morning, go directly to the boat office (last time GTVC) to buy my ticket for the 9am (ish) boat, and then stop at Yasmine Cafe by the Sihanouvkille pier for an excellent breakfast of French Toast and coffee while I wait for the boat.

BEST ISLANDS IN CAMBODIA - KOH RONG SANLOEM
Koh Rong Sanloem

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Overview of Best Islands in Cambodia

N.B. In Alphabetical Order

Koh Krabey

Ideal for an eco-friendly luxury stay

  • private island resort
  • 15 minutes by speedboat from Ream National Park’s pier in Sihanoukville
  • home to the uber-luxurious Six Senses Krabey Island Resort

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Koh Pring

Diver’s paradise

  • 8 hour ferry ride from Sihanoukville
  • limited power and Wi-Fi
  • all dives must be booked at the Dive Shop located in Sihanoukville or on Koh Rong island
  • whalesharks are spotted here around December and in May
Whalesharks
Whalesharks can be spotted in the waters surrounding Koh Pring in December and May

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Koh Rong

Great island for partying

  • Cambodia’s second largest island
  • 45 minute ferry ride from Sihanoukville
  • relax on the quitter beaches at Long Set Beach, White Beach, Palm Beach, and Lonely Beach
  • swim at night at Long Set Beach with the bioluminescent phytoplankton
  • offer affordable bungalow-style accommodation

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Koh Rong Sanloem

Backpacker paradise

  • 45 minute ferry ride from Sihanoukville
  • sister island to Koh Rong but smaller, quieter and less developed
  • famous for their Full Moon Parties
  • great snorkelling off Saracen Bay
  • offer affordable bungalow-style accommodation with thatched roofs right on the sand
BEST ISLANDS IN CAMBODIA - KOH RONG SANLOEM
Koh Rong Sanloem

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Koh Russei (Bamboo Island)

For those that love snorkelling and swimming at clean, beautiful beaches

  • private island resort
  • less than 1 hour by boat from Sihanoukville
  • part of Ream National Park
  • home to Bamboo Island Resort
  • ideal for a 1 day visit
  • visit Bokor National Park which is a collection of historic French colonial buildings dating back to the 1920’s

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Koh Seh

For those that love snorkelling and swimming at clean, beautiful beaches

  • approximately 1 hour by ferry from Otres Beach in SihanoukVille or Ream National Park
  • neighbouring island to Koh Ta Kiev (15 minute swim)
  • popular for those that love camping and sleeping under the stars in a hammock in nature

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Koh Ta Kiev

Great for those seeking a back-to-nature experience

  • 1 hour by longtail boat from Sihanoukville
  • smallest island near Cambodia’s coastline
  • popular for day trips
  • no ATM, very limited WiFi and electricity
  • no paved roads, tuk-tuks or bikes
  • limited accommodation options but there are some affordable bungalow-style accommodations on offer

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Koh Tang

Best island for wreck diving and night diving

  • Cambodia’s largest island
  • 90% covered by forests and relatively unexplored
  • very limited accommodation so plan and book well ahead of time
koh tang island cambodia dive sites 1 Small
Koh Tang Dive Sites (Source: kohtang.net)

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Koh Thmei

Best island for bird-watching

  • boat ride of just under 1 hour from Koh Kchhang fishing village (approximately a USD$25 taxi ride from Sihanoukville
  • part of Ream National Park
  • no ATM, very limited WiFi and electricity
  • only one accommodation option – Koh Thmei Resort

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Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island)

Ideal for relaxing in a hammock on the beachfront

  • 30 minute boat ride from Kep
  • one of the most easily-accessible islands to travel to in Cambodia
  • allow around three hours to explore the whole island and swim in all the bays along the way
  • amazing fresh seafood
  • amazing sunsets
  • no power after 10pm
BEST ISLANDS IN CAMBODIA - RABBIT ISLAND
Rabbit Island

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Koh Totang

Best island for a truly local getaway

  • The easiest way to get to Koh Totang is by road (taxi, local mini-van). Or, you can take a 6 hour boat ride from Sihanoukville and then organise for a pic-up by another boat when you arrive at Koh S’Dach.
  • Nomads Land is the only accommodation option on the island

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Song Saa

 For those seeking a luxurious beach holiday

  • private island resort
  • 40 minutes by speedboat from Sihanoukville
  • home to Song Saa private Island Resort

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In Summary – Best Islands in Cambodia

The Cambodian Islands may not be the most comfortable or accessible islands in South East Asia, but they are still worth taking the time to visit, especially when you need an escape from the bustle of Phnom Penh or Siem Reap.

Have you visited any of the abovementioned islands in Cambodia? Are you planning a trip and looking for the best island in Cambodia to visit? Post your tips and questions below.

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<<<Author Bio>>>

Josh Clayton loves to travel, firmly believing that conscious, ethically operated tourism can support a healthy environment and create sustainable livelihoods. Working and living in South East Asia, he sees both the best and worst of what international tourism can do. He loves to write, both professionally and creatively, and you can find more of his musings on his website: A World On A Page.

READ MORE FROM JOSH: COST OF LIVING IN CAMBODIA – SIEM REAP

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