Koh Dach – or Silk Island – may be a short way from Phnom Penh, but its a world away from the capital’s hustle and bustle. We look at the best ways to explore Silk Island, and what to do while you’re there.
Located just a 45-minute tuk-tuk or moto drive and short ferry journey away from Phnom Penh, a visit to Koh Dach is a great way to escape the humdrum of capital life while discovering rural Cambodia.
The cooling calm of the island is not only a great respite: it’s also a fun way to learn more about Cambodia’s silk weaving history, stroll through quiet villages, relax on the river or go for a dip.
Cambodia has a lengthy silk-weaving history that stretches back to pre-Angkorian times. While the art is dwindling, countrywide efforts are being made to rekindle the craft. Koh Dach is dotted with weaving communities.
Visitors can learn more about the process, from the plumping up of the silk worms with mulberry leaves, spinning the yarn and dyeing techniques to seeing the final product.
The main silk weaving centre is about 1km from the ferry landing. It houses a series of stilted wooden houses, where weavers sit with their handmade wooden looms and create patterned silk scarves and traditional Khmer skirts. Free tours of the centre are available – a $1 or so tip for your guide will be very well received.
While the tour doesn’t take long, a great way to round it off is at the centre’s café, on the banks of the River Mekong. Here you can kick back on a bench with a fresh coconut or snack, or hire a hut for a few dollars and chill with food and drinks. The centre has also created a safe spot for swimming in the Mekong.
For those wanting to continue on their silk discovery, a silk weaving village sits close to the centre. Here, you can watch women at work on their looms and buy products – remember to put your haggling hat on to bag a bargain.
The best way to tour the island is by bicycle. The road around the island is about 40km, and passes sleepy villages and pagodas, paddies and farms.
Bikes can be rented at the ferry drop-off point for the day for a couple of dollars, or you can hire one from the mainland and cycle there (or take it in a tuk-tuk).
Several tour operators also put on cycling tours of the island, with Grasshopper Adventures’ half-day tour being a popular pick with visitors. It is about 20 to 25km on and off paved roads, and costs $45.
If the thought of cycling in Phnom Penh freezes you with fear, then hitting the islands roads is a very different story. Apart from a handful of cars and a few motorbikes, otherwise the roads – think single lane tracks – are quiet and safe. And they are studded with small stalls selling drinks and snacks for you to stop off at for a break.
Koh Dach’s oasis of calm is addictive, and once you’re there you may never want to leave.
Thankfully, in the last few years a few guesthouses have cropped up. They range from simple homestay style accommodation to private apartments and swimming pools.
Le Kroma Villa comes highly recommended. Owned by a Khmer woman and her French husband, the resort comes complete with tropical gardens, an infinity pool overlooking the river, and fresh modern rooms, equipped with AC, hot shower and terrace. If you’re there at weekends, tuck into the oven-fired pizzas. A restaurant serves Khmer food throughout the rest of the week. The pool at the resort and the bar are also open to non-guests.
Many tour operators offer day trips to the island, where transportation is organised as part of the package.
Alternatively, you can make your own way there by getting a tuk-tuk or moto across the Japanese bridge and driving along Road 6 to the ferry terminal.
The ferry costs about 3,000 riel for a tuk tuk, 1,000 riel for a moto and 700 riel for a bicycle. Expect to pay between $25 and $30, depending on your negotiating skills, for a tuk-tuk for the day.