(BEGODI) – Southern Cambodia boasts some of the most spectacularly untouched coastal destinations in Southeast Asia. It is less developed than its Thai and Vietnamese neighbours, but this is actually where its beauty and appeal lies. The beach towns of Cambodia are less populated and commercialised. Unique and underrated, these seaside towns carry a captivating spirit that remains embedded in its stunning landscapes, waiting to be discovered.
Once a flamboyant retreat for the Khmer and foreign elite, Kep is now a subdued seaside town that is pleasantly traditional. Remnants of its opulent hey-days remain somewhat eerily in some deserted plots and villas that still dot the coastline. Despite its reputation of being a bit of a ghost town, it is slowly and boldly coming back to life. Its tranquil shoreline makes for an enjoyable getaway from the bustling city of Phnom Penh.
Kep beach may not be the pristine stretch that you seek for a day of sun tanning. However, it offers abundant scenes of local life. The Crab Market is a worthwhile place to visit to watch the fishermen emerge from the waters with baskets of fresh catches. The area famously boasts the best seafood in Cambodia. Gorgeously picturesque at sunset, stilt restaurants and homes silhouette the seaside landscape.
The surroundings of Kep are incredibly lush, with tropical flora and fauna wildly inhabiting the region. Sites such as the salt fields, pepper farms, markets and the national park are all superb attractions to visit. You can also hop on a boat to Rabbit Island, a serene floating land of turquoise water and hammocks hanging between palm trees. The island is just a 30 minute ride away. With a careful balance of excitement and calm, Kep is a great off the beaten track destination. It is well suited for young couples and families who want to dip their toes into the quiet cultural pool of Cambodia.
A touch more effervescent than neighbouring Kep, Kampot nevertheless retains a sleepy atmosphere of run-down beauty. Tourism is picking up in this riverside town, encouraging a greater presence of trendy eateries and cafes to line the quaint streets. With its crumbling colonial architecture and dreamy atmosphere, it is a wonderfully entrancing place to spend a few blissful days. Picturesque sights of salt and pepper plantations languidly line the outskirts of the town.
Water sports enthusiasts will find the estuary of Kampot particularly agreeable. SUP, kayaking, wakeboarding and even waterskiing are popular activities in the town’s expansive river. You can also enjoy a daily swim to refresh from the Cambodian heat, or hire a boat and go river-rafting or fishing. The promenade along the river is hot spot for visitors and locals alike to enjoy a scenic walk or cycle. Many quaint restaurants and bars line this stretch as well.
Kampot is also the best base from which to explore the thriving Bokor National Park. Located at the abandoned Bokor Hill Station, it is a 1-2 hour drive outside of the town. This misty ruin was once a thriving resort site for French royals almost a century ago. It feels somewhat mystical in its neglected stature, inhabited only by nature.
The national park became famous for being home to indigenous wild elephants and tigers, as well as plush evergreen vegetation. It is a great place to trek and see spectacular views from the top of the mountain. You may even stumble upon a waterfall during your hike. Temperatures are much cooler in this area than in the towns, so it is a satisfyingly fresh escape.
Perhaps the best-known beach spot in Southern Cambodia, Sihanoukville is the most developed and vivacious of the three seaside towns. Although it is not a pristine stretch of paradise, the islands that splay out from Sihanoukville rival the beaches of Southern Thailand. White sand, coconut palms and clear tropical waters constitute the landscapes of these isles.
The town centre of Sihanoukville is less than beautiful, but it is vibrant with roaring nightlife and backpacker culture. However, if you head 20 minutes out of the centre you will find the immaculate Otres Beach. With lush surroundings it is scenic and peaceful. It is also less known by most of the tourist crowds.
Even more off the beaten track is Sokha Beach, with sparkling shallow waters and fine untouched sand. This is definitely where you should spend your time if you seek a vacation of relaxing under the sun. You have to wade quite far into the ocean before it begins to get deep. For this reason it is also ideal for families with young children.
Travellers in Southeast Asia often fail to give Southern Cambodia any thought. But perhaps that’s what makes a visit to these sleepy towns so exciting and enjoyable. Underrated, unique and untouched, you are sure to be pleasantly satisfied after a trip to these seaside gems.
For accommodation in Kep, Kampot and Sihanoukville, get in touch with Begodi to make your Southern Cambodia travels a breeze.