In the third of his travels through Cambodia, Mark Bibby Jackson takes the coast road from Koh Kong via Sihanoukville to Kampot.
Although this road trip is along the coast, the likelihood is that you will start and finish it in the capital. You might of course commence your road trip in neighbouring Thailand entering Cambodia at Koh Kong, in which case you can simply skip the first section.
Phnom Penh to Koh Kong Province
The worst part of this road trip is the leaving of the capital. The slog pass the airport can be arduous to say the least and then you have national road 4 – my least favourite in Cambodia to navigate. However the new Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville expressway has cut travel time considerably which should improve things once you get out of the capital.
Eventually you will arrive at the junction with national road 48 heading towards Sre Ambel and you really are transported into another world where vehicles are much more likely to stay on their side of the road without overtaking on blind bends.
If you want to break up the journey then we suggest you branch off for Kirirom National Park shortly before the turn to Sre Ambel. Inside Kirirom you will discover Chambok, one of the first community-based ecotourism (CBET) projects in the country. You can also trek through the forest – it’s not that dense – to Thmor Loy panorama with its views over the Elephant Mountains from Kirirom’s Hanging Rock. We also recommend the Rubbish Coffee from Coconut School, which provides kids with an education as well as recycling rubbish – and don’t worry the coffee doesn’t taste rubbish. You can easily do Kirirom as a day trip from Phnom Penh.
National Road 48 passes over a serious of bridges before reaching Ta Tai – the fourth bridge. This is a beautiful river with a great waterfall. From here you can continue by road to the town of Koh Kong or if you are really adventurous you can take a boat trip through the most amazing mangrove forest.
Koh Kong itself is a pleasant enough border town, but its main appeal is to take a walk or boat ride though the mangroves, or eat seafood on the pier.
Koh Kong Province to Sihanoukville
If you wish you can continue up country towards Pursat and Battambang (see my Northwest Cambodia: Phnom Penh to Battambang road trip), or head back on the road you have just travelled.
The good news is this allows you to stay at the excellent eco-resort Cardamom Tented Camp, which is accessible only by boat along the Prek Tachan river. The pick up point is near the third bridge (if coming from Phnom Penh) on national road 48, near Trapeang Rung.
Once you reach the dreaded national road 4 then turn right and you will eventually find yourself entering the mini-Macao of Sihanoukville.
Many people feel that Sihanoukville has been ruined by the dramatic explosion of casinos in recent years, but in truth the main coastal town in Sihanoukville was ruined years ago. Having said that you can now take a pleasant stroll along the new promenade by night.
However, the main reason for coming to Sihanoukville is to visit the islands off the south coast. You can take the Sihanoukville to Koh Rong ferry or the same ferry from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong Samloem – they tend to make multiple stops at both islands. The ferries leave from either Serendipity Pier or the port area depending upon with which ferry company you book. To discover what you can do on the islands read our Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem guide. You can find the Sihanoukville to Koh Rong ferry times here.
Sihanoukville to Kampot Province
Having spent a few nights discovering your inner di Caprio on the beach, you might be very reluctant to take the boat back from Koh Rong to Sihanoukville. We suggest you head out of dodge as quickly a possible and take the road from Sihanoukville to Kampot Province.
The bad news is that the stretch of national road 3 leading from Sihanoukville to Kampot is currently in a bad state, so allow plenty of time and be prepared for bumps – if you hear that the road has improved then please inform us in the comments box below. The good news is that along the way you will pass Bokor Mountain, one of the most beautiful places in Cambodia. This former hill station still possesses lots of its charm despite recent developments, and is well worth the drive up, either en route or as a half-day trip from Kampot.
Kampot itself is an enchanting town set on the river, which draws Phnom Penh expats to it most weekends. It also has the best pepper – Kampot Pepper – in the world. We recommend that you spend plenty of time chilling here, drinking the great coffee, and exploring the local attractions, such as visiting a pepper plantation, taking a Kampot river cruise, or cycling to the nearby caves at Phnom Chhngok and Phnom Kbal Romeas. There is quite a lot of construction going on in Kampot at the moment, so our advice is to visit the town before it is ruined.
Kampot to Kep Province
The final stretch of our coastal road trip can be taken as a day-trip from Kampot. The road from Kampot to Kep is good and relatively flat – you can hire a tuk tuk to take you there, or cycle.
Kep is a special place. Former King Sihanoukville had his holiday home overlooking the bay. The setting with the mountains in the background and sea to the fore is breath-taking.
Fortunately, there are a number of quality places to stay in Kep, including the excellent Knai Bang Chatt, arguably the best resort in Kep province, so you really have no reason not to stay.
Rabbit Island is just across from Kep, so it is easy to get a boat from Kep to Rabbit Island for the day, or stay the night. Alternatively, Kampong Trach is a cave close to Kep, and well worth a visit. You can even do some bird spotting nearby.
However, the real draw of the place is to visit the local crab market and eat some seafood in one of the restaurant shacks overhanging the sea. We recommend you have crab with Kampot Pepper. Apart from that Kep has a municipal beach where you can hang around like the locals and contemplate a journey well travelled.
Kep to Phnom Penh
You can exit Cambodia to Vietnam via the Prek Chak to Hà Tiên. If you enter the country from Thailand via Koh Kong you could become the first traveller to go through Cambodia (apart from visa runs) without visiting Phnom Penh or Siem Reap.
Alternatively, you can return from Kep to Phnom Penh directly via national roads 31 and 2, although I have to admit I have not used these roads for a while – please inform us on the state of these roads in the comments below. Most people however, return from Kep to Kampot, and then take national road 3 from Kampot to Phnom Penh. The road – at least initially – is pleasant before you enter the urban sprawl of the capital, and it is means you do avoid having to return on the dreaded national road 4.
The Other Way Round
Obviously you can drive this route the other way around going from Phnom Penh to Kampot, and then Kampot to Kep; or even Phnom Penh to Kep, and then Kep to Kampot; followed by Kampot to Sihanoukville, and Sihanoukville to Koh Kong. Whichever way you decide to go, we suggest you use our Cambodia Map to guide you.