Island Hopping in Cambodia

It’s like a small cruise ship wrecked on the island and no one wanted to go home so they settled down on the beach, says Ryan van Velzer…

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An insignificant green dot in the archipelago off the coast of Sihanoukville, Bamboo Island could easily be mistaken for a crumb on a map of Cambodia. It’s so small that its two beaches are separated by a mere ten minute stroll through the jungle, which is the entire width of the island.

The beach sand is a pale caramel, the water shades of azure and emerald. One side of the island has calm, clear water with deck chairs along the shore; on the other side, small waves curl onto the beach making the water a touch opaque. Only 8 km from the Cambodian coast, long tail boats taxi guests twice a day back and forth from the islands; an ideal getaway for a day-trip or a few nights stay.

One of many islands in one of the many island chains in the Gulf of Thailand, Cambodia’s archipelago separates itself with its unspoiled beauty. Scarcely populated, each island feels like a well-kept secret replete with jungles, waterfalls, coral reefs, clear water and sandy beaches.

Bamboo Island

On Bamboo Island, I stayed at Koh Ru Resort; a cluster of beach bungalows spread out over half of the 1km beach and the sole resort on this side of the island. It’s an intimate setting that’s perfect for both couples and backpackers that averages only about 50 guests a night during high season.  There are a variety of rooms available, from beachside bungalows with patios complete with hammocks, to dorms and bamboo huts with shared bathrooms. There’s one central building that acts as a hangout, restaurant, bar and front desk for the resort. The staff is a mix of locals and Westerners, laid-back beach types that act like a small family.

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In the daytime, the resort has fishing, spear fishing and snorkeling in addition to the regular beachside activities. In the evenings, people get together to play volleyball. There’s also a sunset cruise offering both fishing and a happy hour with champagne and hors d’oeuvres.  At night everyone gathers for dinner and drinks with occasional spontaneous dancing and karaoke.  There’s even the obligatory acoustic guitar perched behind the bar waiting to be played.

Koh Rong Samloem

There’s a 5km white sand beach in a bay off the coast Koh Rong Samloem. During high tide the crystal clear water gently laps against the shore while beachgoers relax in the shallow water drinking cocktails and taking pictures. At low tide the water recedes nearly half a km revealing shimmering pearly white sand as the sun sets behind you.

The second largest in the island chain, Koh Rong Samloem boasts five beaches, a bay and is located roughly 20 km from the coast. There are mountains, waterfalls freshwater streams that spill into the ocean. There are only four resorts on the beach, all built within the last year. I stayed at The Beach Resort, a brand new, beachside resort that had opened only three weeks earlier. Located right in the middle of the bay, the resort offers terrific views, a beachside bar playing classic rock and comfortable beach chairs.

For accommodation, there are dorms, beach bungalows and unique citadel-styled bungalows. Unlike any bungalow I’ve stayed, the latter style was two stories high. The first floor has a bathroom and shower surrounded by round cobblestone walls, the second is made of wood with a thatch roof, a queen-sized bed and mosquito net.

The tranquility of the beach lends itself well to honeymoons and romantic getaways, but every full moon there’s a party fit for backpackers, travelers and beach bums.

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Koh Rong

The largest and most populated of the islands, Koh Rong, is 78 sq km and home to around 2,000 people. With mountains, valleys, rivers and waterfalls, the island’s large enough to keep travelers entertained for days without even seeing the beaches, which by the way, are picturesque.

It’s beyond me to describe the beaches without using a list of clichés: white sand that squeaks beneath your feet, palms swaying in the breeze over your head, pristine water that looks more like glass than the ocean. Basically, it looks like a beach from a Corona beer commercial.

While the original inhabitants belonged to a small fishing village, it has since grown into a small beach resort town with three bungalow resorts, 17 restaurants and a handful of bars and shops. It’s like a small cruise ship wrecked on the island and no one wanted to go home so they settled down on the beach.

Perhaps best known a popular destination for divers, it’s one of the few islands with internet access (the only one I encountered) making it a great place to relax and recharge on the beach without losing touch with the outside world. That said it’s just as well to turn off your computer, turn off your phone and forget there’s anything outside the wind, surf, sun and sand.