If you still haven’t had your fill of beaches, then an outing to one of the offshore islands (a couple of which lie within Ream) could be just the thing, especially if you’re planning on staying a couple of days. Cambodia’s coastal waters are peppered with hundreds of tropical islands lapped by clear, balmy seas, many graced with white-sand beaches. Offering stretches of sand that are infinitely more peaceful than those on the mainland, the spattering of rustic accommodation (or an outrageously luxurious hotel in one instance) makes the islands great places to get holed up in for a few days and drink in the idyllic surroundings.
There is trouble in paradise, however. Since 2006 the government has leased at least seven islands (though there are rumoured to be as many as 22) to international companies for the development of luxury hotels and golf courses instead of the fragile communities of wooden bungalows. So far, fourteen five-star resorts and a staggering eighteen golf courses have been mooted, and a Russian company, which has leased both Hawaii Beach and its off-island, Koh Pos (Snake Island), is in the process of building a bridge between the two.
On the upside, these developments will provide much-needed employment for Cambodians, but it would seem that the downsides are greater, with the money spent by tourists going directly to the overseas corporations, and the resorts adding a further drain on resources such as water, which is already severely limited (in the summer months it’s not unknown for Sihanoukville to run out of water for several weeks).
For now, a few stalwart bungalows and huts are weathering the developers’ storm blowing through this southwestern corner of Cambodia, but time is of the essence if you want to visit the islands before their humble tranquillity is obliterated entirely.
Much underrated, diving Cambodia’s uncharted waters is a colourful experience, all the better for the lack of other divers. In places visibility reaches a staggering 30m, and, with a wealth of islands to choose from, operators can offer itineraries ranging from reefs encased in coral to an almost over-abundance of marine life, including barracuda, puffer fish, moray eels, giant mussels and parrot fish. Closest to Sihanoukville, Koh Rong Samloem is the most popular day-excursion; it is two hours out, allowing time for a couple of dives, a lazy lunch and a bit of beach-combing on its uninhabited sands between dives. Further afield, more experienced divers might prefer Koh Tang and Koh Prins (a 6–8hr boat ride away) which are dived on over night trips, with reefs, a wreck or two and good visibility in their deep waters.
The enthusiastic Scuba Nation (Serendipity Hill t012/604680, wwww.scubanation.com) is fully insured and the only five-star PADI centre in Cambodia; it offers a four-day Open Water course, day-trips ($75) and overnighters ($195) – including night dives – on their tailor-made boat. Chez Claude (between Sokha and Independence beaches, t012/840870) pioneered diving in Sihanoukville and runs superior trips for experienced divers. Eco Dive between Golden Lions and Serendipity Hill, (t012/654104, wwww.ecoseadive.com) runs PADI courses, fun dives, day- and overnight trips, plus a three-day exploration of the waters around Koh Rong Samloem and Koh Tang. Getting further off the beaten track is now possible thanks to Koh Kong Divers, a professional and recommended English-run company that has started PADI courses and diving excursions in the coral-filled, crystalline waters of the Koh S’dach archipelago. The islands are a two-hour journey by express ferry (or 6hr night ride by fishing trawler) from Sihanoukville.