By Lauren from our Cambodia team
When you’re planning a beach stay in southeast Asia, you might find yourself invariably drifting towards Thailand. Renowned for its clear blue waters encasing pearly white sand, Thailand’s coastline has grown rapidly in popularity and can be overcrowded. However, right on its doorstep lie Cambodia’s largely undiscovered beaches.
The Cambodian coastline is made up of several relatively undisturbed islands, each with one or two secluded hotels. You can stay on all the beaches I talk about below as part of a luxury Cambodia tour. Or, include them in a trip exploring Cambodia’s nature and communities.
What makes Cambodia a good beach destination?
Cambodia first reared its head as a beach destination when visitors started flocking to the ivory shores of Sihanoukville. However, this sleepy town quickly developed into a busy beach resort surrounded by skyscrapers and casinos.
I prefer to use Sihanoukville as a steppingstone towards Cambodia’s quieter, chalky white beaches and peaceful islands. Once you’re away from the country’s throbbing cities, you can feel the warm sea breeze against your face and enjoy top-class service at some of Cambodia’s boutique hotels and isolated, eco-friendly getaways.
Good for: eco-friendly luxury stays
When you arrive on Koh Krabey there’s almost no trace of its sole resort ― it feels like you’re the first person to set foot on the island. However, nestled in a massive swathe of rainforest is Six Senses Koh Krabey private island retreat.
Cloaked in peace and quiet, this island is both luxurious and intimate. The buildings have been purposely built to blend into the natural vegetation, which has attracted many birds and butterflies into the area. Its sweeping seascapes make up for the lack of beach compared to the other islands.
Where to stay: Six Senses Koh Krabey
Six Senses Koh Krabey have coupled natural materials, technology and luxury to create a retreat that’s sympathetic to its surroundings. I like how the resort only uses sustainable and eco-friendly products. They have also initiated a reef conservation project, among others.
Sheltering beneath the palms are a series of private pool villas. Each is encased in vibrant greenery and frames views of the sea and jungle. You can unwind at their world-class spa or attend a movie screening under the stars. Alternatively, visit the resort’s organic farm on a two-hour activity or gaze into the light-pollution-free night sky from its observatory.
Royal Sands Koh Rong
Good for: a traditional beach experience
Koh Rong is Cambodia’s second largest island, with vast expanses of sugary white sand hugging its coastline. Once just a few stilted wooden huts, the village of Koh Touch has become a lively destination popular with partygoers. But you can quickly remove yourself and play at being a castaway on the aptly named ‘Long’ and ‘Lonely’ beaches.
The island has set up its own group called ‘Friends of Koh Rong’ which focuses on helping local people adjust to the influx of visitors arriving on the islands. You can volunteer on the island by taking part in a beach clean-up or by helping teach locals conversational English.
Where to stay: The Royal Sands Hotel
Sprawled across a west-facing private beach, the Royal Sands Hotel is made up of a collection of beachfront and ocean-view villas. You can take part in guided tours along jungle-clad trails or turn your hand to water-based activities such as paddle boarding or snorkeling through the crystal-clear sea.
The hotel also run trips to see the bioluminescent plankton around the island. I love to watch the plankton appearing to dance between the gentle waves. The bioluminescence can only be seen where there is little light pollution, so a guide takes you to the best spots. You’ll see floating azure dots shining up at you, resembling the night sky.
Song Saa Private Island
Song Saa Private Island
Good for: a luxury beach stay
Linked by a small footbridge, Koh Ouen and Koh Bong form the deluxe resort of Song Saa. Built by local people using local materials, Song Saa is a tropical haven where you can explore protected white-sand beaches and a preserved coral reef. Their ethos is to balance conservation and social responsibility with the development of the resort.
Where to stay: Song Saa Private Island
Song Saa is made up of 24 private pool villas on one island and a collection of little sanctuaries dotted across the second. From lazing on unspoiled sands to hiking the island’s rainforest trails, I really appreciate how you can set the pace for your stay on the island.
You can explore the island on the Song Saa treasure hunt, taste their Kampot-pepper infused cuisine, or take part in meditation. You can also enjoy a private screening of your chosen movie, served with popcorn, from the comfort of your bed in one of the only over-water villas in Cambodia.
Good for: an undisturbed island experience
A half-hour boat ride from Sihanoukville, Koh Russey provides a striking contrast to the town. Although the beach is not as dramatic as Koh Rong, the islanders have strived to keep as much of the area as undisturbed as possible. I spent a lot of my time here armed with a mask and snorkel in search of angel fish and stingrays.
The blonde shores are encased by untamed, sprawling jungle and swooning palm trees. Dotted between the tangled vegetation you’ll find a few bungalows and luxury resorts.
Where to stay: Alila Villas
Sitting on a private beach, the Alila is a zen-inspired sanctuary made up of slate-grey, Cubist-inspired villas woven between the jungle’s vines. There’s a beach cinema, yoga classes and a spa. You can hop between local islands and mangroves on a boat trip.
The hotel has also worked hard to leave as little impact as possible on the island. Central to the design of its simple structures is protecting biodiversity, reducing soil erosion and using energy-saving measures. There’s a fishing exclusion zone around the property and the restaurant uses locally sourced foods to provide you with Khmer and French-fusion dishes using a farm-to-table approach.
Good for: a boutique seaside town
Kep is a traditional Cambodian seaside settlement where you can meander around markets and try its signature dish of peppery crab. Kep’s coastline is rocky, so if it’s soft sand you’re after, I’d recommend renting a local boat to explore the nearby islands.
The area rose to prominence as a French colonial getaway where the upper classes could escape the heat of Cambodia’s capital. Although the beach isn’t Kep’s main attraction, you can still drink in the sea air while exploring rows of abandoned Modernist villas and enjoying the generally torpid atmosphere. At the weekends, the town comes alive with live music and dancing.
Where to stay: Knai Bang Chatt
At Knai Bang Chatt, several colonial villas have been restored to create a boutique hotel showcasing New Khmer designs. The result feels like a mix of undeveloped southeast Asia and striking Modernist architecture ― with spectacular views of the sun setting over the water.
The hotel works closely with the local community, investing in improving health facilities and education, with a focus on funding university scholarships.
Cambodia's south coast
You can access the beaches mentioned in this article from Sihanoukville, a four-hour drive from Phnom Penh. Most of the hotels run their own transfer service from private piers, or you can access them via the public pier. The development of Sihanoukville’s airport has vastly increased accessibility. You can now easily add a stay on Cambodia’s beaches to a trip to Bangkok, Vietnam or other parts of Cambodia.
When is the best time to visit Cambodia’s beaches and islands?
The best months to visit are between December and March when warm, sunny days are often paired with clear moonlit evenings.
I recommend avoiding visiting these beaches between June and September as the islands are subjected to spells of heavy rain and the air is very humid. Also, the sea can become choppy, affecting your transport to the islands.