Suggested Itinerary: Coastal Cambodia

ITINERARY SUMMARY 

Phnom Penh – Koh Kong – Sihanoukville – Koh Rong – Koh Rong Samloem – Sihanoukville – Kampot – Bokor Hill Station – Kep – Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island) – Phnom Penh

Too many travellers rush through Phnom Penh or give it a miss altogether. That’s a shame as the city has plenty to offer. For the first time visitor there are must-see sights like the Royal Palace and Tuol Sleng Museum (although we think the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek have become over commercialised) and for people like us, who have visited the city several times, there is always something new to discover.

Koh Kong is the best base for exploring the untamed jungles and mangroves of Cambodia’s southwest but don’t stay in the city if you can help it. Being situated on the river is far more rewarding. Sihanoukville justifiably gets a bad rap but it’s the jumping off point for several of the islands and besides, it’s not all bad. $3.00 fish suppers and $0.50 draft beer aren’t to be sniffed at and the beaches at Occheuteal and Otres (in particular Otres 2) are still pretty nice. It’s gotta be said, we slipped into island life with relative ease the minute we landed on Koh Rong. The main beach, Sok San, goes on forever (well 7km but that’s enough!) and when you get bored of lazing around, there are quite a few activities available including kayaking among mangroves and snorkelling at a nearby reef.

If you want to get to Koh Rong Samloem without backtracking then you will have to charter either a speedboat or a long-tailed boat for the journey (about 1½ to 2 hours by long-tailed boat). Otherwise, you will need to return to Sihanoukville and transfer to the island from there. Koh Rong Samloem’s Saracen Bay is a gorgeous horseshoe-shaped beach with crystal clear water that is perfect for swimming and relaxing.

The island is paradise and we didn’t want to leave but eventually we returned to the mainland and headed along the coast to lovely, lazy Kampot. Ramshackle and full of French colonial-era architecture, the town is great for a day or so of idle wandering, plus it is also the best base for exploring Bokor Hill Station. We spent the night on top of the mountain, which we would recommend as it gives you longer to look around, but Bokor can be visited as a day trip also.

It only takes an hour to get to Kep if you take the direct route but, hiring a Remok (tuk-tuk) for the day means you can get there via the back route which passes through some sublime countryside and takes in places such as Secret Lake and the caves at Phnom Ch’nork and Phnom Sorsir. Kep isn’t as instantly appealing at Kampot, in our opinion, but to grows on you and is a great place for getting stuck into fresh seafood and tracking down abandoned colonial-era villas.  Chilled-out Koh Tonsay, better known as Rabbit Island, offers yet more serious lazing on the beach time and when it’s time to leave, there is regular transport back to Phnom Penh from Kep’s central bus stand.

Number of countries: 1

Number of UNESCO sites: 0

Best time to travel: November to March

Recommended duration: 3 weeks

Best places to slow the itinerary down:  This is predominately a beach itinerary so take your pick between Koh Rong, Koh Rong Samloem and Koh Tonsay. Koh Kong and Kampot are also great places to take it slow

Mode of transport: Buses and minivans

HIGHLIGHTS

Eating fresh seafood at the Crab Market in Kep

Watching the parade of fishing boats leaving Kampot to go out to the Gulf of Thailand around sunset

People-watching in the late afternoon/early evening at the waterfront in Phnom Penh

Kayaking through mangrove swamps on Koh Rong

Wandering around abandoned villas in Kep

Phnom Penh’s distinctive architecture

Lazy Kampot – one of the nicest places in Cambodia

OPTIONS FOR EXTENDING THE ITINERARY

There are several low-cost carriers flying into Phnom Penh, with Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok being the most competitive routes

From Kep, there is regular transport across the border to neighbouring Vietnam. The obvious place to begin exploration in Vietnam is the Mekong Delta

See more of Cambodia. We have a suggested itinerary that will take you via the little-visited provinces of Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri to the temples of Angkor near Siem Reap

FURTHER READING

OTHER TRAVEL PLANNING RESOURCES

Depending on our itinerary and destination, sometimes/often we find our accommodation as we go, particularly in smaller places. In big cities, for slightly longer stays, during peak season or just when we’re being a bit more organised, we tend to make a reservation in advance using Booking.com. Generally in Cambodia, you’ll be fine booking guesthouses on the go, but for a routing like this one, it would be sensible to do some forward planning, particularly in high season.

There are a few guidebooks to Cambodia available but we’ve always used Lonely Planet and it’s hard to change a habit of a lifetime! With the tourist infrastructure changing so rapidly at the moment, it’s hard for print guidebooks to keep up so we tend to use our LP for historical information and facts and an online resource like Travelfish or Thorntree for information on accommodation, transport and visas…

Cambodia on Travelfish

Check out the latest offer on Lonely Planet’s guide to Cambodia here and consider picking up a South East Asia phrasebook to try a few words of the lingo.

And if you need a few more reasons to follow this itinerary…

Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

Tatai River, Koh Kong

Saracen Bay, Koh Rong Samloem

Otres Beach, Sihanoukville

Sok San Beach, Koh Rong

Kampot

Bokor Hill Station

Crab Market, Kep

Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island)

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