Lara Dunston, The Guardian, January 31, 2014
Koh Thmei Resort, Koh Thmei
Part of Ream national park, which is a favourite with twitchers due its 150 different kinds of birds, Koh Thmei island is a 50-minute boat ride (often accompanied by dolphin sightings) from Koh Kchhang fishing village. It feels world's away from the rampant development of Sihanoukville on the mainland. The basic wooden bungalows are not far from the water's edge, ensuring there's little to get in the way of you and the panoramic sea views – aside from the visiting birds. There are just seven bungalows and little noise, except for the sound of the sea, so it can feel fairly isolated. If you can drag yourself out of your hammock, activities include snorkelling, kayaking, wildlife-spotting (not hard), and long leisurely walks around the island.
• +855 89 897 830, koh-thmei-resort.com, bungalows from £15 B&B
Kepmandou Lounge-Bar, Kep
Only a red dirt road and a lush paddock, dotted with horses and cows, separates this French-owned hostel and chilled-out lounge bar (with Rabbit Island views) from the sea. The basic accommodation, in a whitewashed house with green shutters, includes dorms and private rooms with mosquito nets, fans and bathrooms, and perhaps a table and chairs on a balcony or terrace. Although the location is serene, things can get noisy when there's a full sociable house. Most guests spend their time on nearby Kep Beach or swinging in a hammock in the treehouse-style lounge, then, come sunset, testing new cocktails at the bar or shooting pool with new friends. The friendly owner can organise bikes and activities.
• +855 973 359982 facebook.com/kepmandou.loungebar, dorm beds from £3
Rabbit Island Bungalows, Koh Tonsay
Most visitors to the tropical paradise of Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island) come on a day trip from Kep for the swimming (there's little else to do). But if you're up for some serious down time, it's worth spending a night or three in the simple bamboo bungalows, owned by Khmer families, which dot the palm-fringed waterfront. While the $20 return ferry ride (20 minutes) from Kep might stretch the budget of some backpackers, you'll spend little money while on the island. There are no shops – or roads or infrastructure of any sort; electricity is only on from 5-10pm each day – but you can eat fresh seafood with your toes in the sand at a few beachside restaurants (around £3 a meal) or join locals for a crab barbecue.
• Bungalows (from £3 a night) can be booked on arrival, but try calling ahead on +855 1 233 0132
Castaways Beach Bar & Bungalows, Otres Beach
Low-key, casuarina-lined Otres is the most laid-back and bohemian of Sihanoukville's increasingly busy beaches, and rustic Castaways is a real charmer. Owned by a friendly Khmer family, the sea-grass huts and green timber beach shacks have thatched roofs, grass walls, and shutters that let in sea breezes. There's little else other than timber-slatted beds with mosquito nets, table fans, and basic bathrooms with hot water. This is not the place to stay if you're not a friend of insects, lizards and other little creatures. Step out of your bungalow – within splashing distance of the sea – and you're on the sand, where hammocks, cane chairs, loungers and sea-grass umbrellas are strewn about to welcome you for a busy day of swims, cheap massages, scrumptious home-cooked Cambodian food, and fruit cocktails from the Castaways Bar.
• +855 97 861 785, [email protected], bungalows from £4
Tamu Hotel, Otres Beach
The first of its kind in Sihanoukville, this chic new beachfront boutique hotel is ideal for those looking for something in between basic bungalows and bland resorts. Rooms are minimalist, with polished concrete floors, retro-inspired furniture, and day beds on terraces overlooking the turquoise lap pool. There's a bar and restaurant on the sand, strewn with more stylish furniture and serving a crowd-pleasing menu of sandwiches, salads, appetisers, and seafood mains. There are plenty of loungers and mattresses, and when you're done with doing nothing, you can snorkel, kayak, kitesurf or take day trips to the islands.
• +855 1525 8340, tamucambodia.com, doubles from £45 B&B
Sea Garden, Otres Beach
A favourite with backpackers young and old, this is one of only a few properties with bungalows slap bang on the beach at this serene end of Otres (most other accommodation is across the road) and takes advantage of it with a beach bar and plenty of loungers and cushioned cane chairs on the sand. Holidaying families love being able to watch their kids swim with a drink in hand. The sparsely furnished wooden bungalows, owned by two older couples, may be basic (no air-con or cold showers) but they have small private verandas and some sea views. Music is kept low and the bar shuts early. Swimming, fishing, cooking classes, boat trips, backgammon, and the nearby night market keep guests entertained. If you want air-con and hot showers, try the nearby Secret Garden (secretgardenotres.com), which feels like an upmarket version.
• +855 96 253 813, sea-garden.se, bungalows from £3
OC Boutique Hotel, Ochheuteal Beach
Not to be confused with the older OC Hotel behind, the OC Boutique Hotel is the first stylish boutique accommodation at Sihanoukville's Ochheuteal Beach, just two blocks from the sea. The sleek, white, compact building has light-filled, minimalist rooms overlooking a swimming pool lined with vibrant red recliners and shaded day beds with billowing curtains. While the hotel's Umbrella restaurant is more in keeping with the style of the older building, the happening OC's Beach Club, right on the beachfront, is in chic new style, with lots of sofas and loungers as well as mixologists showing off their cocktail skills, movie nights on the beach, DJs and live bands.
• +855 12 239 333, ochotel.asia, doubles from £42 B&B
Palm Beach Bungalow Resort, Koh Rong
Swimming, snorkelling, kayaking, slow strolls to a nearby fishing village, exquisite sunsets and seafood barbecues have most visitors here wishing they'd stayed longer. The unspoiled island of Koh Rong is the most stunning in Cambodia, if not south-east Asia, with squeaky white-sand beaches, skirted by palm trees and crystal-clear turquoise water. As a result it's been earmarked for future development, but fortunately the idea is to follow the example of small, barefoot-luxury properties, such as Song Saa Resort, just off the island, rather than the big, ugly resorts defacing the Sihanoukville's coastline. There are 20 or so places to stay on the island; Palm Beach has beachfront timber bungalows on stilts, big balconies, plus proper toilets and showers, striking the best balance when it comes to comfort, quality and price. A continual complaint of travellers is that Koh Rong's bungalows are comparatively more expensive than those elsewhere – that's the price of fame, sadly.
• +855 81 500 632, palm-beach-koh-rong.com, bungalows from £18
Nomads Land, Koh Totang
Idyllically set on serene little Koh Totang – a virtually deserted, undeveloped piece of paradise that's part of a 12-island archipelago in Koh Kong province – a stay at this eco-friendly guesthouse is strictly for travellers looking for a Robinson Crusoe-like experience. Pack your electronic devices away: internet isn't guaranteed and there is no electricity or running water. Solar panels provide energy, while the cold water for showers comes from rain tanks. There are also no flushing toilets – these guys take their environmental practices seriously so expect dry compost toilets, a spade, and sawdust. Plastic water bottles are forbidden, a flourishing organic garden grows fresh produce for the restaurant, and free-range chickens run around the place. Each of the five beachfront bungalows has a private balcony with brilliant views, floor mattresses and mosquito nets. Three have private bathrooms. There's a one-off $2 charge for filtered water throughout your stay and the rate includes one boat transfer.
• +855 1191 6171, nomadslandcambodia.com, bungalows from £20, including full board and one transfer, excluding alcohol/drinks
Knai Bang Chatt, Kep
The lovely coast of Kep and its luxuriant hinterland were hugely popular during Cambodia's Golden Age, in the 1950s and 1960s, when wealthy Khmer locals had beachfront and hillside retreats designed by the hot architects of the time, including their beloved Vann Molyvann. Most fell into disrepair after being abandoned in the 1970s, when the Khmer Rouge regime marched their owners off to work the rice fields. The 18 stylish, understated rooms at intimate Knai Bang Chatt, one of Cambodia's most beautiful boutique resorts, are spread across three large restored modernist villas built from 1962-65 by protégés of Molyvann, and two newer villas. There's a striking infinity pool by the sea; fishing, meditation and yoga classes on offer; and excursions to the surrounding area, including colonial Kampot. It's also possible to visit some of the spooky old villas. Dinner on the waterfront at the laidback Sailing Club is a must.
• +855 78 888 557, knaibangchatt.com, doubles from £110, B&B
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk