Last update: August 2022
You have seen the highlights of Cambodia and you are ready for more. Koh Kong as a destination might not be as popular as let’s say Angkor Wat. It does however, still receive its share of domestic and foreign tourists in the know.
Moreover, Koh Kong will take you to the real Cambodia. Maybe not completely off the beaten path, but mostly undiscovered and exciting. It’s noticeably less crowded while still having an adequate tourism infrastructure in place and guaranteed interactions with the local population.
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Finding Koh Kong on the map is kinda confusing. There’s Koh Kong province, Koh Kong Island and Koh Kong town, with the latter actually named Krong Khemara Phoumin. Stay with me ok? Wherever I mention ‘Koh Kong town’ I’m referring to Krong Khemara Phoumin.
Koh Kong province
Koh Kong province is famous for its wonderful nature and abundant wildlife. The Cardemom mountains cover more than 70% of the province and it has the largest national park of Cambodia, Botum Sakor. Sadly, the province is also known for rampant illegal logging and poaching.
Koh Kong Island
For years, access to the Island was restricted to the beautiful beaches only. Organized day tours with overnight camping were allowed, but the army guards made sure that no one wandered off inland. Unfortunately some of the tour operators left a lot of garbage behind on the beaches. Currently, the restrictions are lifted and development is taking off with the construction of huge resorts aimed at the Chinese tourist market. Koh Kong tourism will get an enormous boost once the new airport opens in the second half of 2022.
Koh Kong town
This is a typical border town. Once known for smuggling, prostitution and gambling and nowadays, ….well I guess it’s pretty much the same. As gambling is prohibited in Thailand, there is still a large influx of Thai tourists that come for the casinos. Likewise there’s another influx from Western expats that make their periodical Thai visa run. The town isn’t particularly photogenic, au contraire, it’s actually quite ugly, although I’ve seen worse. Still, it’s a friendly, decent and relatively safe place to visit for a day or two. Even more so if you use the town as a jump off point for adventures in the surrounding nature.
Reasons to visit/avoid Koh Kong
3 Reasons to visit Koh Kong
- Your first reason to visit should definitely be the wonderful flora and fauna. The Cardemom mountain area that covers most of the province is one of Cambodia’s last nature strongholds with luscious jungle, abundant wildlife, mangrove forest, mountains, rivers and spectacular waterfalls. Snorkeling, hiking, diving, trekking, kayaking and canyoning are just a few of the activities on offer;
- The Koh Kong Island beaches are some of the most pristine in the world. For now that is, since major development is on it’s way. Don’t miss out before it’s too late;
- If you’re an expat in Thailand, consider to make your visa run(s) to Koh Kong Kong instead of Poi Pet to the North. The journey might take a little bit longer, but Koh Kong town is so much more relaxed and interesting than sleazy, hectic and scammy Poipet. I mean, since you have to travel anyway, why not make the best out of your obligatory trip?
3 Reasons to avoid Koh Kong
- Located in a far corner of Cambodia and not exactly on the obvious travelers “trail” for South East Asia. Getting there and getting back on the trail will take some serious transport time. So only visit if you’re sure to have sufficient time in your itinerary;
- For now, this is Cambodia’s least developed province. Yes, there are resorts being build on Koh Kong Island with some already finalized and there is some tourism infrastructure in place, but it’s lagging behind Siem Reap, Kampot and the likes. Even though Koh Kong town is used to receiving short stay visitors from Thailand for gambling and visa runs, it still remains a small town with hardly any night life and/or tourist facilities. Of course, this can be a good thing if peace and quiet are what you are after. However, if you came looking for a vibrant atmosphere, this is not the place;
- I always say that a bit of rain shouldn’t stop you from discovering unique locations. On the other hand, to visit the area in the rain is a tough challenge. You don’t want to spend your Koh Kong Island beach time in the rain do you? Likewise, it’s no fun kayaking the mangroves or wandering through the jungle in the rain. Maybe avoid Koh Kong in August/September/October as it can rain a lot during those months. Unless of course, you are completely into waterfalls.
Healthcare in Cambodia is hopelessly underdeveloped. Any serious injuries or ailments will most likely result in medical transport to either Bangkok or Singapore. A costly event and payable upfront if you lack proper insurance. Better have your family on speed dial.
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A huge mangrove forest in Paem Krasaop National Park just 7 km out of Koh Kong town features the 1 km long ‘mangrove walk‘. Access is Khr5000=$1.25. It’s also possible to kayak through the mangroves and visit a small, but interesting fishing village and buy some fresh fish to have it prepared for you on the spot.
The surroundings are suitable for canyoning, jungle trekking with possible wildlife observation, fishing trips, camping, diving and snorkeling and even dirt biking if that’s your thing. We went for a multiple day jungle trek with Ritthy Adventure Tours, but apparently he is no longer operational. I remember seeing tour operator offices on practically every streetcorner in town so you won’t have a problem finding one. Or else just ask around at your guesthouse or hotel.
Besides kayaking in the mangroves there are more boating pleasures to enjoy. The Tatai river has a few great waterfalls that can be visited by boat. Or climb on board one of the longtail boats heading for Koh Kong Island to catch some beach time. Book your boat at one of the many tour offices.
Traveling to Cambodia? Check the up-to-date entry requirements here.
Due to the many Thai visitors there are plenty of accommodations in town. If you are more into nature then there are a few really good options outside of town as well.
When crossing the border from Thailand into into Cambodia, do yourself a favor and book your Koh Kong accommodation ahead. Touts will jump you at the border promising you the world, including free transport to their hotel. Once you’re at the hotel there’s no going back. If you decline the room you’ll end up paying a hefty fee for the tuk-tuk that brought you there. I did book ahead and ah, the freedom and satisfaction to waive off all the touts was absolutely worth it.
These are my personal recommendations:
Apex Koh Kong Hotel
Dirt Cheap = up to $10
Not the best, but one of the cheapest whilst still offering value for your money. Rooms are basic, but clean and comfortable. The service is outstanding with staff taking time for explanations and/or directions. The nice pool proved to be very welcome on hot days. Beware of price hikes during festivals though.
Koh Andet Eco Resort
Mid Range = from $30 to $75
Definitely not the cheapest, but certainly the best accommodation in the Tatai river area. Floating bungalows with a high level of tranquility and luxury. Electricity and water supply can be unstable at times, but this goes for all resorts on the river. The vistas are unbeatable as is the wonderful staff.
To compare prices and read reviews check out Agoda.com. More than often, Agoda has interesting accommodation deals, especially outside of high season.
Some of my fellow travel/food bloggers seem to be very content with the culinary landscape in Koh Kong. I beg to differ. 90% of restaurants offer similar Western/Asian menus. That doesn’t mean that one can not eat well here. You just have to look a little harder.
Update August 2022:
Restaurants in Cambodia have taken a harsh beating because of Covid, especially in the tourist areas. My two favorites “Wood House” and “Joe & Boy” had to close permanently as they couldn’t cope with the relapse in visitor numbers. Fortunately, a few good quality restaurants did survive. These are my personal recommendations:
Where to eat in Koh Kong Town
Wildlife Cafe is situated right on the riverfront of Koh Kong town and offers simple, good, clean food. They serve a mixture of Western and local usual suspects, all executed with love and high quality. The local dishes are the better choice here and friendlier priced as well, though still more expensive than most other restaurants in town. The Thai Laab (well I think it was laab) was my favorite, well seasoned and with hints of lime juice. Complement your meal with a delicious fresh smoothie or a large tankard of beer on the rocks.
I Love Pizza The unavoidable pizza place in South East Asia. Good thing is that the owner/chef is Italian, so no compromise to authentic flavors. The pizza here is Napoli style, which means they are thin crusted with fluffy, airy dough around the sides. They do great home made pastas as well and all ingredients are authentic and imported from Italy. This probably accounts for the rather steep prices. Doesn’t really matter, the food is worth it!
On the corner of street 2 and 3 is the Dong Tong market. Lot’s of clothing for sale like any market in Cambodia. Also similar to other Cambodia markets is the presence of a food section. Be forewarned, since the market is not targeting tourists, it might be a bit daunting to order a meal there. The reward is big time though with excellent noodles and Kuy Teav for prices near to nothing.
Where to eat in Koh Kong Province
Thmorda Crab House is part of the Thmorda resort, overlooking the Kaw Bpow river estuary, offering spectacular sights. The former tiny crab house has now reached adulthood and has grown to be a full service restaurant boasting private tiki huts adding to the fairy tale atmosphere. Obviously the star of the menu is the curry crab and of course all seafood is fresh of the boat from the surrounding waters. Sure, prices are steep for Koh Kong, but still nothing compared to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Just 10 minutes by tuktuk from Koh Kong town.
Also read: 13 must eat Cambodian foods
Transport within Cambodia to Koh Kong is difficult in these Covid times. Many routes are temporarily suspended. Buses from Phnom Penh still leave several times per day for the 6 hour trip, but the popular route from Sihanoukville to Koh Kong is still out of service.
Likewise, the popular with expats route from Bangkok to Koh Kong town is not yet re-instated (August 2022). If you need to do a visa run, buses from Bangkok will only take you as far as the city of Trat, which is still a good 100km from Koh Kong. Your best bet is to find local transport in Trat to bring you to Khlong Yai where you will have to cross the border on foot. Once on the Cambodian side “Cham Yeam” it should be easy to find onward transport to Koh Kong town.
Transport Planning Tool
You can check the transport planning tool below from BookmeBus.com for routes that are still open and book online. Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). The tool is incredibly easy to use, just fill out your place of departure, your destination and travel date. It will show the complete schedule and ticket price of all related transport. Make your choice and book instantly.
Again, the routes from Thailand all the way to Koh Kong are for the moment non-existent. Try to find local transport in Trat, which I am sure is available, but can not be booked online. Whatever you do, don’t use the Khaosan road tour agents. Don’t be that guy that gets left at the border! by one of the many scammers!
Just for your information, currently test flights are ongoing at the new Dara Sakor international airport near Koh Kong town. The scheduled opening date is the second half of 2022.
The city center is easily by foot. If you do need transport, make use of the abundant moto taxis that charge about Khr2000=$0.50 for short rides. Tuk-tuks are about Khr4000=$1 for the same distance. Polish up your bargaining skills though as it’s for certain that the drivers will initially ask a higher fee.