As Cambodia’s largest and most developed island, Koh Rong tends to get all the attention, with the majority of travellers heading straight to Koh Touch. However, peace remains easy to find, thanks to the island’s 28 beaches. Long Beach (also referred to as Sok San Beach) is undoubtedly one of its finest, with the seven-kilometre (four-mile) stretch of blindingly white sand that crunches beneath your feet flanked by deliciously clear waters. A true tropical paradise, the coastline provided the setting for the 32nd season of the reality TV show Survivor. It is home to a sprinkling of guesthouses, upmarket Sok San Resort and the recently-opened, luxurious five-star Royal Sands Koh Rong.
The clue is in the name, with Lonely Beach sitting at Koh Rong’s isolated northern tip. Development is yet to hit the area and there remains only one resort there, meaning guests pretty much have this secluded paradise to themselves. If you’re lucky, a late-night dip may light up the waters, as bioluminescent plankton like to hang out here. Make sure you remember to pack all the essentials because there isn’t a shop in sight.
While the island of Koh Rong Samloem is a long way off from becoming over-run by tourists, if you truly want to escape, then head to Lazy Beach. Situated on the west side of the island via a 40-minute walk through the jungle — or, Lazy Beach resort guests can take a speedboat from Sihanoukville — from the main tourist beach of Saracen Bay, the long stretch of pristine beach provides the perfect prescription to follow its namesake: kick back, relax and immerse yourself in tropical island life.
Koh Ta Kiev remains the perfect — almost — untouched paradise, with palms gently wafting in the breeze, desolate beaches interrupted only by battered wooden fishing boats, the odd cluster of bamboo huts and crystal-clear waters tempting visitors to swim. Coral Beach is one of the most scenic, with several places offering accommodation and food and drinks. The views make trading in modern life for back-to-basics facilities and limited WiFi and electricity well worth it.
Although undoubtedly still a quieter alternative to Sihanoukville’s other offerings, Otres is becoming increasingly built-up, with concrete accommodation that includes swimming pools and AC. These buildings almost outnumber the bamboo huts that line the sand. Boasting a chilled-out vibe, Otres attracts the more laidback traveller. The beach is edged by shacks selling food and drinks, as well as cheap places to rest. On the other side of the dirt track sits more upmarket accommodation and even more bars and restaurants.
Despite Otres retaining much of its charm, the rapid pace of development is causing some travellers to turn to the tranquil shores of neighbouring Otres 2. Packaging itself as a more boutique version of Otres, the accommodation, drinking and eating options on this stretch of sand are more flashpacker than backpacker, with a smattering of mid-range options thrown into the mix. It is about a 30-minute walk along a desolate part of the beach from Otres — not advisable to walk at night — or about five minutes away in a tuk tuk.
Koh Tonsay, or Rabbit Island, sits about a 20-minute boat ride from Kep. Development is sparse on the small island, with accommodation in the form of a few basic wooden huts on the shoreline. Most visitors stop off at the island for the day to splash in the shallow waters, feast on the local food served from the few basic restaurants and relax in the hammocks that swing beneath the palm trees.
The sleepy coastal town of Kep is a popular getaway with the Cambodian crowd and will often be packed on weekends, with families picnicking in the shade, splashing about in the sea in their jeans and T-shirts and gorging on freshly caught crab from the nearby market. Starting as a small stretch of beach, it underwent an upgrade in 2013 when white sand was shipped in from other parts of the country. A shaded promenade is peppered with small stalls, selling food and drinks and hiring swimming tubes, parasols and seats.
Situated slightly off the beaten track, Sner Beach boasts isolation and wild beauty, away from the masses. Mainly used by Cambodians, the strip of sand is kitted out with hammocks to laze the day away on. There are several beach shacks and small eateries serving the catch of the day, as well as fresh prawns, crab and fried squid, dished up with piles of rice and vegetables. Seafood barbecues can be seen sizzling along the shore at sunset, washed down with beer available from one of the beach huts.
Okay, okay, so technically this isn’t a beach, but it’s such a beautiful spot, we didn’t want to leave it off the list. Plus, there’s a makeshift beach at the resort that lines a small stretch of the river, complete with sun beds, tables and chairs, so we’re not entirely cheating. Since opening in 2017, Sabay Beach has become a popular spot to take in the tranquil riverside life that’s just a few kilometres (about one mile) out of town along the Kampot River. Take a boat trip through the mangroves, go paddle-boarding, take a dip in the river or simply relax on the “beach” and enjoy the panoramic views.