Once known as the Khmer Empire, the Kingdom of Cambodia has a long maritime history going back many centuries when seafaring merchants followed the coast from India to China to the port cities along the Gulf of Siam and on to Cambodia.
At varying times Cambodian culture also absorbed Javanese, Chinese, and Thai influences. The fascinating cultural history of Cambodia dates back many centuries and was heavily influenced by India; in turn, Cambodia greatly influenced Thailand and Laos and vice versa.
Cambodia is now one of Southeast Asia’s best-kept secret cruising destinations, a pristine coastline country nestled between Thailand and Vietnam in the east of the Gulf of Thailand, offering 32 beautiful islands. With some 100 nautical miles of tropical coastline with unspoiled bays, these islands stretch from Koh Kong in the north to Koh Wai in the southern outermost islands, most still untouched; making them perfect for exploring from the comfort of a luxury motor or sailing yacht.
This safe, accessible and relatively inexpensive country is home to mostly unpopulated white sand beaches lining the mainland and offshore islands. A Gulf of Siam cruising trip of exploration can take you from the tropical island vibe of Koh Samui, the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and on to Cambodia’s diverse culture for adventure to explore mysterious islands and experience the tranquility of ancient Angkor Wat.
Cambodia is one of the world’s newest cruising grounds and although it requires a little effort to access the result is a truly amazing experience. Decades of turmoil have delayed the counties development, but this is now changing and the Cambodian people are starting to create a modern society with a solid infrastructure. The lack of development means that their coastal Islands have remained virtually untouched, resulting in some of the region’s most pristine cruising.
While there are two clearance ports in Cambodia, Khao Kong and Sikhanoukville, yachts have had difficulties clearing into and out of the country at Khao Kong if not departing to Thailand. The main anchorages in Cambodia are Sihanoukville and the Koh Rong Group
MAIN PORT CITY – SIHANOUKVILLE
The main port city of Cambodia is Sihanoukville, surrounded on three sides by Thailand and the provincial capital, sprawls over the top of Victory hill down into the Kampong Saom commercial port to the north. In a land with thousands of years of history, Sihanoukville is a colourful but tragic upstart.
A mere 60 years ago, French-Cambodian construction carved a camp out of the jungle and started building the first deep-sea port of a newly independent Cambodia. Even after Pol Pot’s regime was driven from power, the bumpy highway to the capital was long notorious for banditry and the beaches stayed empty.
Peace returned in 1993 and in the ensuing years Sihanoukville has been busy picking up the pieces. Now Cambodia’s principal deep-water maritime port is a perfect base for exploring the lush islands nestled in the blue-green waters just off the coast and the laid-back, bucolic atmosphere of this diminutive village is a joy. Two major Islands just off the coast near Sihanoukville are Koh Rong and its neighbor, Koh Rong Samleon.
KOH RONG GROUP
Koh Rong is the second largest island group in the country behind Koh Kong at the Thai border. The main island has four small villages: Koh Tuich, Dam Dkeuw, Prek Svay and Soksan.
The island of Koh Rong is its own ‘Sangkat’ (local district) and is located 25 kms off the port town of Sihanoukville. It covers approximately 78 Sq. kms and boasts 43 kms of pristine beaches with four village communities within the boundaries of Koh Rong, namely Koh Touch, Doeum D’keuw, Prek Svay and Sok San.
The Royal Sands Koh Rong, a 5-star resort with stand-alone villas offering a break of luxurious relaxation and interesting activities and surroundings, offers anchorage at their luxury yacht pier. Cambodia remains one of the diving world’s best kept secrets and Koh Rong’s crystal-clear waters offer many reefs, providing dozens of shallow dive sites with little or no current – making the island’s waters some of the safest on earth. The resort has its own PADI Dive Center and easy access to an abundance of marine life include coral, sponges, specialist flat worms, colorful nudibranchs and a dizzying array of tropical fish.
The island’s interior of jungle, mangrove and savannah is well worth exploring by kayak or while fishing. In fact, the areas surrounding Sok San Bay are completely untouched by commercial fishing, providing a rewarding experience. There’s also paddle boarding, or biking /trekking to the island’s hidden treasures such as The Waterfall, Chnee Cheeb Bay and Koh Touch and more.
Vegetation ranges from dense jungle to savannah, which dominates the interior and many tree species are to be found, including native Teak, Tamarind, Fig and the mythical Banyan – all supporting a huge variety of animals including monkeys, birds, snakes and even buffalo – with the surrounding waters teaming with tropical fish and coral.
KOH DEK KOUL ISLAND
Koh Dek Koul Island is an exquisite jewel resting in the tranquil waters of Siam Bay, rich in Khmer culture and cuisine offered in a setting of tropical opulence. A small island in the Gulf of Thailand located about 7 km off the coast of Sihanoukville city in southern Cambodia, it’s thick with jungle and teeming with marine life, a destination well-suited for outdoor enthusiasts.
10-Day+ Itinerary Sample
The following suggestions from Kevin Tremor have been enjoyed by motor and sailing vessels handled by APS Cambodia, such as Equanimity, Y Nut Coco Nut, Runaway Bunny, Tiara and Nonni ii.
Starting your cruise from a side too berth in the Bangkok River after arrival from Koh Samui or the international airport, guests can spend an afternoon spent exploring this exciting city. With so much accessible from the river Bangkok is known as the ‘Venice of the East’.
A simple overnight cruise from Bangkok takes you to the beachfront town of Pattaya, offering some peaceful offshore Islands and an active nightlife.
Koh Kut, Thailand
Another short passage east will take you to the eastern borders of Thailand and the Island of Koh Kut, from where you can get an early start for your Cambodia journey.
Day 4 – 5
Koh Rung, Cambodia
Clearing out from Thailand, you now head into Cambodian waters and the pristine islands at the entrance to Chhak Kampong Saom, central of which are Koh Rung and Koh Rung Samlem.
Approaching from the North the first anchorage would come off the twin beaches, located on the North Western End of Koh Rung. The 5-star Royal Sands Koh Rong has good anchorage at its pier and plenty of depth off Koh Rong Bay. The all-villa resort on Cambodia’s second largest island spans a 550-metre stretch of pristine, soft white sandy beach descending into crystal-clear turquoise water.
Snorkelling at Sok San Bay offers a stunning underwater panorama and an exclusive treasure trove of coral and tropical fish at the Blue Lagoon. A magical secret cove is set in a protected marine area with shallow snorkelling amidst swathes of mesmerizing anemone.
South West Coast, Cambodia
A short cruise south offers an amazing 5 kms of sandy white beach on the South West Coast. The water surrounding is crystal clear, providing the perfect opportunity for diving and snorkeling.
The beach has only a few local buildings on its western extremity, providing acres of space for exploring. Should the weather turn on you the island offers several excellent anchorages on the eastern shore. Ashore you will find a few local villages to explore as well as a couple of small chalet style resorts.
Koh Rung Samlem & Kas Tang, Cambodia
To the South, Koh Rung Samlem offers more idyllic anchorages, crystal clear waters and virgin forests to explore. Anchoring off deserted beaches, there are numerous islands to explore and opportunity to visit some amazing resorts and beaches, including Saracen Bay, Lazy Beach and M’Pai Bai (a Survivor filmed island) for snorkelling and kayaking.
Further offshore you will find the Island of Kas Tang (Koh Tang), surrounded by protected bays and pristine beaches offering snorkeling and diving opportunities. The outer Island of Koh Tang is about 30 nm off the coast and the site of the last major battle in the Indochina War.
There are more islands but closer in and another dive location in this area is Condor Reef.
Day 8 – 10 & onwards
Angkor Wat Archaeological Park (Siam Reap)
A helicopter pick up from the beach followed by a brief flight will take you to the world famous historic ‘Angkor Wat Archaeological Park’ in Siam Reap. The Park offers 5 Star accommodations for those desiring to spend a couple of days to really explore the many temples that make up Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat is one of the most famous sites in South East Asia and the ‘7th Wonder of the World’. The largest religious monument in the world, on a site measuring 162.6 hectares (1,626,000 m2; 402 acres), it was originally constructed as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire. It was gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century as such it is also described as a “Hindu-Buddhist” temple.
Angkor Wat is a miniature replica of the universe in stone and represents an earthly model of the cosmic world. The central tower rises from the center of the monument symbolizing the mythical mountain, Meru, situated at the center of the universe. Its five towers correspond to the peaks of Meru. The outer wall corresponds to the mountains at the edge of the world, and the surrounding moat the oceans beyond.
Even though Angkor Wat is the most photographed Khmer monument, nothing approaches the actual experience of seeing this temple. Frank Vincent grasped this sensation over 100 years ago. “The general appearance of the wonder of the temple is beautiful and romantic as well as impressive and grand it must be seen to be understood and appreciated. One can never look upon the ensemble of the vat without a thrill, a pause, a feeling of beauty, a pause, a feeling of being caught up onto the heavens. Perhaps it is the most impressive sight in the world of edifices.”
Listed in ‘World Wonder List’ for its grandeur, history, beauty and state of preservation, it is the largest monument of the Angkor Group and also the best preserved. This is an architectural masterpiece and one of the finest monuments in the world.
Another monument, one that remembers the country’s brutal past, is that of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh.
The capital and largest city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh is located on the banks of the Mekong River and known (as well) for its beautiful and historical architecture and attractions. Phnom Penh was once called the “Pearl of Asia” because of its French influences and overall popularity and is still the heart of Cambodia economically, politically, and culturally. The city offers a mix of the exotic and Indochinese charm and a trip to historic Phnom Penh can be arranged at the beginning or end of your visit.
Cambodia is an experience like no other with much in the way of adventure, wildlife and nature excursions and cultural and historical discoveries.
Further Notes from APS:
- Helicopter Cambodia and Asia Pacific Superyachts can arrange transfers to / from Helipad locations to /from any location (Phnom Penh, Military Apron, Siem Reap International Airport, Koh Pich, The Royal Sands Koh Rong Helipad and Sihanoukville International Airport).
- A large Navy dock can be used for short periods of time, providing secure berthing with direct access to the town.
- Customs and Immigration can be quickly dealt with and a short drive takes you to the local airport, which is large enough for most private jet use.
- The coastal region’s best season is November through to about May (Dry Season) with prevailing wind typically Northerly to nor Easterly providing calm cruising and clear skies.
- Yachts can stay up to 6 months in Cambodia. Whilst there are two clearance ports in Cambodia, Khao Kong and Sikhanoukville, there’s been challenges clearing into and out of the country at Khao Kong if not departing to Thailand. Note it is mandatory to use the state shipping agency in Sikhanoukville for clearance.
- Visiting yachts’ experiences indicate that the fees requested vary greatly and not all officials are familiar with the paperwork involved with visiting yachts. Entrance and exit fees vary depending on the size of the yacht and negotiating skills. Your yacht agent is a great asset in planning your trip and ensuring the smoothest arrival and departure at the best fees with authorities while meeting all your needs.
Photo Credit: tourism Cambodia & Asia Pacific Superyachts Cambodia & one photo by a person.