People usually think of Cambodia as the place to visit if you're into ancient temples
Most people know Cambodia for its majestic Angkorian temple ruins in Siem Reap, and remnants from the tragic history of the Pol Pot regime in Phnom Penh.
And since beach destinations like Bali, Boracay, Koh Samui, and Lombok are pretty mainstream already
There’s a lesser-known beach paradise in Cambodia that’s off the beaten (commercial) track
Not many people know that Cambodia is actually home to some of the most beautiful islands in the world - and Sihanoukville is the gateway to these island paradises.
It's like Boracay, but not as crowded :)
Where is Sihanoukville and what's the place about?
Sihanoukville is located about 250km away from Phnom Penh, an approximately 5-hour bus ride away from the capital.
The coastal town has always been the local's go-to place for beach holidays, especially for the rich and famous. Unfortunately, the town was partially destroyed during the civil war and fell into ruins. People stopped visiting it for a long time, but tourism started growing again in the early 2000s.
Today, Sihanoukville is a favourite among backpackers and those who love water activities.
What's there to do in Sihanoukville?
You go to Sihanoukville for the sun, sand, and sea. There are lots of water sports for you to try out, ranging from the usual snorkelling, to kayaking and jet-skiing. It's the perfect place to be if you just want to chill and relax by the beach.
There are many restaurants and pubs by the beach that you can dine at. Sunsets on Serendipity Beach is especially romantic and intimate, since it's not as crowded with tourists as other famous beach destinations like Kuta in Bali and Station 2 in Boracay.
There are also two beautiful islands nearby that you can visit
Koh Rong is the bigger of the two islands situated near the mainland. It's 25km away from Sihanoukville, about an hour's ride away on a speedboat ferry. You can also get there via slow boat, which is the cheaper option, but the journey can take as long as two hours.
The island is an ideal destination for any traveller who is looking for the 'untouched island paradise'. The water is crystal clear (you can still see your feet even when the water is at chest height) and parts of the island are so quiet that you'll feel as if you're on your own private beach!
Most people who visit Koh Rong will opt to spend a night there. Day trips are possible but can be a little rushed as the first boat departs Serendipity Beach Pier at 9am, and the last boat departs Koh Rong island at 4pm. You'll also need to be at the port at least 30 minutes before departure.
Koh Rong Samloem
Commonly referred to as just Samloem, this is the smaller island compared to Koh Rong. It's also about an hour's ride from the mainland via speedboat ferry.
Samloem is said to be the best diving area in Cambodia. There's also an old lighthouse and some waterfalls if you're up for some exploring.
The first ferry to Samloem departs Serendipity Beach Pier daily at 9am and the last ferry back departs the island at 4pm.
Both Koh Rong and Samloem have really good beachside restaurants that serve superb seafood barbecue and affordable drinks. Most guesthouses and hostels are run by foreigners, some of the backpackers also work as waiters while on holiday on the island.
You can find budget and mid-range accommodation on both islands. Not all hostels come with air conditioners, so you should definitely do some research on the place before booking.
Remember to bring enough cash before you hop on the ferry to the island as there aren't any ATMs around.
The months between November and March are the best times to visit Sihanoukville
This is the dry season in Cambodia, with minimal rain so your water and beach activities won't be affected. Temperature starts to increase in March till April, so that's the time you should avoid if you don't want to get sunburned.
As November till March is the peak season, you might want to book your hotels in Sihanoukville or on the islands a few months before.
Accommodation in Sihanoukville
For those looking for an intimate beach holiday, Otres Beach area has some of the best hotels with sandy white beaches and clear waters. It's also the quieter part of Sihanoukville as it's situated further away from town, about a 20-minute tuk-tuk ride away.
Sokha Beach and Serendipity Beach are the best places to stay if you're on a budget and want more choices when it comes to food.
Accommodation in Koh Rong
If you're willing to splurge, Long Set Resort (from RM306 per night) is the best hotel to stay on Koh Rong. All rooms come with air conditioner and private bathrooms, some even have a hot tub for you to relax in after a long day on the beach.
For something more affordable and rustic, Paradise Villas (from RM109 per night) and Coconut Beach Bungalows (from RM172 per night) have nice wooden bungalows with room enough for four.
Sihanoukville is only less than two hours away from KL via direct flight
It's pretty convenient to get to Sihanoukville now as there's a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur by AirAsia, which is about RM289 for a return trip.
There's a shuttle bus at the Sihanoukville International Airport that you can take to any part of town, most of which are more than 20km away. The price is currently fixed at USD6 per person (RM25).
To get to the islands, your best bet is the Speed Ferry Cambodia. You can purchase the tickets online and collect them later at the pier, or you can buy them at the pier when you're there. It's best to get your tickets at least one day before your chosen departure date during peak season. Return tickets to Koh Rong and Samloem are USD20 each (RM85.33).
Now, bring on that beach holiday