By Andrew Kolasinski
The boat swayed, more from the movements of the passengers than from the gentle waves of the Gulf of Thailand. In just over an hour we sighted the shores of Koh Ruessey, or Bamboo Island, one of Cambodia’s many island paradises. The captain cut back on the throttle, and steering with his foot, guided the 30 foot long sail boat right up onto the beach.
I climbed over the gunnels and jumped into the shallows. The white powder beach was fringed by flawless palm trees. It looked like paradise.
I had joined a group of Cambodians and ex-pats in Sihanoukville– Americans, Brits, Australians and Canadians– on an excursion to Koh Ruessey, one of the nearest islands. We disembarked and set off to find our individual paradises. Some went to explore the island’s interior, others to search for seashells, or to swim and snorkel, but most chose to find refreshment in the beachfront restaurant bar near our landing site.
Koh Ruessey is 20 kilometers from Sihanoukville. The island measures just one by two kilometers. As I found out when I hiked the trail to the opposite side, there is a small resort on the far shore. The interior is made up of jungle with a couple of low hills. There are meadowlands near both trailheads, remnants of agriculture from the 1950s. But Bamboo Island’s tranquility may soon be disturbed with a new resort development.
There are 100 Cambodian islands in the Gulf of Thailand, like a string of pearls just off the coast. They range from a few uninhabited acres, visited seasonally by fishermen, to Koh Kong Island at 105 square kilometers. Though it’s a big island there is only one small village, Alatang, and a navy outpost. Other islands are more populated. Koh Rong Sanloem for example, situated 25 kilometers off Sihanoukville, has several villages and tourist resorts.
The islands are laid out in five archipelagos. There are a dozen off shore from the city of Kep. There are six islands in front of Ream National Park. Eighteen lie off shore from Sihanoukville. The densest cluster of islands is near Koh Kong city. There are also half a dozen “outer islands”.
Each island has it own unique history, landscape, and ecology. Some still have abundant nature including monkeys, wild boar, squirrels, parrots, toucans, mynahs and other jungle birds. In the surrounding waters you can find squid, crabs, shrimp, sea turtles, and dolphins, as well as bottom fish and larger species like grouper, wahoo, barracuda, and cobia.
Koh Rong Sanlowm is very popular with tourists. It has a population of over 1,000 separated into four villages. The highlights are its dense jungle interior, its streams, waterfalls and lagoons, and its many beaches. The television series, Survivor, was filmed here taking advantage of the picture perfect backgrounds. Be warned though, Koh Rong Sanlowm is also the party island with 24 hour bars, thumping music, and crowds of revelers. The beach bars host notorious full moon parties.
Storied Koh Sdach off the city of Koh Kong has a fishing village on the eastern shore, and rustic guesthouses on the west side. There is a high-end resort on the south point. According to one legend there was no drinking water until the island’s king split a stone with his sword and fresh water poured out forming the many pure streams.
Koh Thmei is part of Ream National Park and consequently has the most abundant wildlife including monkeys, civets, and a unique cat that swims to hunt fish, plus jungle birds, lizards, dolphins and fish. There is one guesthouse with rental kayaks and snorkel gear. Access is by ferry from Sihanoukville.
The best island for scuba diving on coral reefs is Koh Tang. It is five hours by boat from Sihanoukville where dive shops organize tours. Koh Tang’s reefs host exotic life like sting rays and puffer fish.
After hiking back across Koh Roessey to catch the return boat, my time on the coast was coming to an end. I had only visited one of the islands. Seeing the other 99 is a great reason for me to return to Cambodia.
Born in The Hague, Andrew Kolasinski arrived in Canada as a small child riding in the luggage rack of a DC-7. Since then he has felt at home anywhere. As the publisher and editor of Island Angler, Andrew spends half the year fishing for salmon and trout, and in the off-season he travels the world looking for a story. This article was written on behalf of Tucan Travel, experts in adventure tours to Cambodia and all over Southeast Asia.