Posts Tagged ‘Koh Sdach’

The Best of the Rest of Cambodia’s Islands

Friday, December 13th, 2013

It’s not only Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem that offer idyllic island escapes. There are another two dozen or so islands off the coast from Rabbit Island near Kep to Koh Kong Island, the largest of the kingdom’s islands.

Koh Kong Island, Cambodia

Koh Kong Island, Cambodia

Starting out in the west near the border with Thailand, Koh Kong Island holds huge potential as the country’s largest island. However, it has remained somewhat impenetrable to hospitality and tourism developers due to a rumoured lease to exiled Thai business interests and military control of the area. Day trips to the island have long been possible, taking in the several beaches that line the western coast of the island. However, there is now one hotel on the island in the shape of Koh Kong Island Resort, offering rustic beachfront bungalows in the US$50 to US$100 range.

Moving further west along the coast, visitors arrive at the tiny Koh Sdach archipelago of islands. Located off the southern tip of Botum Sakor National Park, this cluster of islands offers a mixed bag of accommodation for intrepid beachcombers. Hanuman clients should make for Belinda’s Beach, a Belgian-run bungalow operation on Koh Sdach itself. While it lakes the quintessential tropical beach, it does have the best bungalows this side of Koh Rong and the hosts whip up some excellent cuisine, handy given how far it is to the nearest restaurant. However, the island pricing still applies, meaning rates pushing US$150 per night are considerably higher than one would pay on the mainland. Other accommodation options in this area include the very basic Mean Chey Guesthouse on Koh Sdach and the eco-friendly resort of Nomad’s Land on nearby Koh Totang, but both are a touch too rustic for Hanuman travellers.

Belinda Beach, Koh Sdach, Cambodia

Belinda Beach, Koh Sdach, Cambodia

Directly off the coast of Sihanoukville are several smaller islands with a range of accommodation available, but none quite fits the bill for Hanuman at this stage. A large part of Koh Russei and Koh Ta Khiev islands is leased by French investment firm Citystar, with plans in the pipeline for a 5* Alila Resort on Koh Russei, including a 150-room hotel and one/two/three bedroom villas. Spread over 25 acres, this promises to be a significant development on the Cambodian coast with rooms starting from around US$200 and villas from US$400. However, hold your breath, as it is unlikely to be ready before 2015 at the earliest.

Elsewhere options are similarly thin on the ground. Tiny Koh Pos just a few hundred metres off Sihanoukville, now has a splendid bridge but it leads to nowhere, as the Russian investors haven’t actually built any of the planned villas. Some observers suggest it might have been better to build the villas first rather than the bridge. Another Russian-owned resort looks like something out of James Bond, the lair of Scaramanga, and is known as the Mirax Resort. It might work well of Russian billionaires seeking something different, but Hanuman prefers to recommend Song Saa Private Island for a luxury escape. Other islands have one or two options, but they are predominantly aimed at backpackers looking for some peace and quiet. Koh Thmei, part of Ream National Park, has the German-run rustic Koh Thmei Resort. Further afield, islands such as Koh Tang and Koh Prins don’t yet offer any accommodation, but it is possible to visit as part of a liveaboard dive trip or even camp on the beach.

Scaramanga's Hideaway? Or the Mirax Resort, Sihanoukville

Scaramanga’s Hideaway? Or the Mirax Resort, Sihanoukville

The final small group of Cambodian islands lies off the coast of Kep. Here the sophisticated resorts are all found on the mainland with very little development on the islands. Rabbit Island has a cluster of ramshackle bungalows on the beach, but these are backpacker crashpads and not really suitable for Hanuman guests. The island has been leased to a major Asian developer and there are plans to create a resort complex at some time in the future.

There ends a snapshot of the Cambodian coastline in 2013. Koh Rong remains the best all-round island with everything from ultra-luxury Song Saa Private Island to rustic resorts of Koh Tui. Koh Rong Samloem is another fine option for an island escape, including long-running Lazy Beach and the up and coming resorts of Saracen Bay. Elsewhere the choice is more limited and it’s really all or nothing once you have selected your resort. Belinda Beach on Koh Sdach and Koh Kong Island Resort are the best of the rest, but it might be smarter to opt for Koh Rong or Koh Rong Samloem with room to move if the accommodation doesn’t fit the bill.

 

 

 

Koh Rong, Cambodia’s Tropical Island Paradise

Monday, December 9th, 2013

In the first of several profiles on Cambodia’s emerging islands, the Hanuman team takes a look at Koh Rong, the most developed of the many islands off the coast.

Koh Rong Island, Cambodia

Koh Rong Island, Cambodia

Koh Rong is the second largest island in Cambodia and offers some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. After years of minimal development, the island was leased to the Royal Group (Mobitel, ANZ Royal and many more companies) who laid out some grand plans to create the next Koh Samui, including an airport and ringroad. However, as the global economy imploded, these plans were put on hold and the island has begun to develop in a more traditional, organic sense, with lots of small backpacker pads and bungalow resorts springing up on the island. Hanuman looks at the best of the current crop of accommodation.

Koh Touich (small in Khmer, sometimes spelt Tui) is the main focus for accommodation on the island, with a range of family homestays, backpacker bungalows and a couple of, well almost, flashpacker resorts. It’s a place with a slightly hippy trippy vibe, with backpackers camping out in tents or slinging hammocks between coconut palms during the peak season months of November to February. However, it is an active local community with friendly fishing families resident in significant numbers. Turn left from the main piers to arrive in the heart of the thriving local community, turn right to discover some quieter bungalow resorts and relatively deserted beaches. Between the two piers lie most of the popular backpacker crashpads and small bars.

The best of the Koh Tui accommodation is also some of the longest running. Treehouse Bungalows sits on its own stretch of beach about 1km from the pier area and offers some rustic accommodation, including some stilted ‘treehouses’, plus a relaxing restaurant with wood-fired pizzas. Monkey Island is another veritable veteran on this stretch of sand and some sturdy bungalows, some right on the sand, plus a lively restaurant-bar by night. However, the smartest accommodation on Koh Rong proper (excluding ultra-luxurious Song Saa Private Island nearby) is Paradise Bungalows. This expanding resort has a wide range of rooms, including some of the only air-con options on the islands. There is also a family bungalow available and this would be the accommodation of choice for adventurous Hanuman guests wanting an island escape.

Elsewhere on the island, small resorts are scattered about the bays and beaches. The west side of the island is home to Long Beach or Sok San Beach, a 7km stretch that is picture perfect, but has a reputation for sandflies. There are several bungalow resorts in this area, including Angkor Chum Guesthouse, Broken Heart Resort and Sok San Bungalows, but none of these would be considered comfortable enough for the average Hanuman guest. Formerly a popular Italian-run resort near Koh Tui, Pura Vida has reopened as Pura Vita and offers a romantic hideaway for those wanting to escape from the development in Koh Tui village. Up on the far northeastern tip of the island lies Lonely Beach, a small backpacker hideaway, but once again rather too basic for mid-range or top end travellers.

One thing to remember about all the Cambodian islands is that the beachfront bungalows come at a premium compared with accommodation on the mainland. Depending on the season, prices run from double to triple those found in Sihanoukville or Kampot and are more in line with prices on Otres Beach in Sihanoukville or Kep. Some visitors prefer to stay on the mainland and make a day trip to the islands. This used to be a bit of a challenge, as the only boats running out to Koh Rong were fishing boats or converted dive boats, taking about 2hrs 30m each way. However, this has all changed with the launch of the SEA Cat, a new fast boat running between Sihanoukville and Koh Rong four times daily. Promotional prices are reasonable and will eventually settle at around US$20 one-way, taking just 45 minutes.

When it comes to activities on Koh Rong, it is mostly about relaxing on the beach. However, snorkelling and diving trips are popular and can be arranged on the island. When it comes to choice, there are more dive operators based on the mainland, including long-running professionals Scuba Nation. Other activities include fishing trips, sunset cruises and the possibility of jungle walks through the island’s forested interior.

Forthcoming profiles include Koh Rong Samloem and the Koh Sdach archipelago. Watch this space to keep up with the dramatic pace of change off Cambodia’s coast.