Cambodia's south coast has more than 60 pristine tropical islands nestling in the sapphire waters of the Gulf of Thailand. Easily reached from the coastal centres of Sihanoukville, Kep and Koh Kong, they're largely undiscovered with tourism taking its first tentative steps. If you stick to the local or small ex-pat run concerns, the Cambodian islands offer everything from palm fringed deserted beaches, traditional village life to the peaceful beach shack living found in Thailand 20 years ago.
Best for day trips from the mainland: Koh Ru
Approaching from Sihanoukville, the long gold beaches of Koh Ru (Bamboo Island) take the breath away. One of the first islands to capitalise on tourism, you might not be the only one on its two beaches, but you certainly won't be sharing with many. There's a small path through the middle of the island so you can hop between the two in only a few minutes should the crowds of 10 or so overwhelm you. If you decide you'd rather not drag yourself away at sundown, there are a few bungalows on both sides of the island, but it's better to reserve in advance as these can get booked up.
|(Cambodia) - Koh Ru Island|
Stay at: BimBamboo Bungalows, pretty turquoise painted bungalows on the beach (double rooms $12 (£8.65) a night) or Coaster bungalows (double rooms $10 a night). Koh Ru Bungalows on the south side have the added bonus of being quieter and it's the place to be for watching spectacular sunsets (double rooms $10 a night; email@example.com).
|(Cambodia) - Koh Ru Island - Bungalow|
Getting there: Ana's travel agency in Sihanoukville will pick you up from your hotel ($15 for a day of island hopping including Koh Ru) or Coasters boat leaves every morning at 9.30am from Ochheuteal beach in Sihanoukville ($10 return to Koh Ru).
Best for diving and snorkelling: Koh Tang
The waters around the uninhabited Koh Tang island are known as the site of the infamous Mayagüez incident of 1975 in which the Khmer Rouge captured a US ship. They also offer world-class diving, unspoilt by crowds. Five hours from the mainland and best visited as part of a live-aboard trip, divers are rewarded with a stunning diversity of corals and rocky reef dives where you're likely to see barracudas, octopus and seahorses. Nearby Koh Prins has two wrecks to dive. If you don't fancy a live-aboard, head to Koh Rong Saloem, much closer to Sihanoukville. Here you'll dive with kingfish, moray eels and a wide variety of nudibranch. The island is pretty enough to warrant a few nights of post-dive chilling.
|(Cambodia) - Koh Tang Island|
Stay at: The sumptuous Lazy Beach (doubles rooms $25 a night) on Koh Rong Saloem for total relaxation or Eco Sea Dive has simple bungalows (double rooms $30 a night; +855 12 606646).
Getting there: Several tour operators based in Sihanoukville offer overnight trips. Try the friendly Dive Shop which has a stunning new live-aboard boat or the long established Dive Cambodia (Full day trip with two dives costs about US$85 (GBP41 or Euro58).
Best for traditional village life: Koh Sdach
Koh Sdach (King's Island) is a bustling fishing community off the coast of Koh Kong on the Thai-Cambodian border. Mostly made up of Khmers and Vietnamese, the village is centred around the rickety wooden dock you have to hop on to from the ferry. You can wander around the ramshackle town made up of huts on stilts or sit and watch the fishermen head out to sea in their long tail boats - and then enjoy their catch at one of the restaurants in the town. There's also some great snorkelling from the beaches.
Stay at: Mean Chey Guesthouse (double rooms $5 a night; +855 011 788 852).
Getting there: The Koh Kong to Sihanoukville ferry costs $20 and leaves every morning at 8am, stopping halfway at Koh Sdach (departs Sihanoukville to Koh Kong at 1pm).
Best for beachside bungalows: Koh Tonsay
Only 20 minutes by boat from Kep, Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island) was Cambodia's premier resort in the 1920s, and is now inhabited by only half-a-dozen Khmer families who run the beach-side huts and restaurants. The two palm-fringed beaches both have shallow waters perfect for snorkelling and there's nothing more demanding to do all day but swing in your hammock with a cold beer. Generator electricity is available only between 6pm and 9pm, but that's all the better for listening to the night cicadas and gazing at the starry skies.
|(Cambodia) - Koh Tonsay Island|
Stay at: Nyan Voyet Mai bungalows (double rooms $5 a night; +855 (0)12 893 102). Guesthouses in Kep also arrange stays at the island, try Botanica Guesthouse (double rooms $10 a night) or the pleasant Kep Lodge (double rooms $30 a night).
Getting there: Boats leave from Koh Tonsay pier in Kep for $10 return.
Best for a deserted island experience: Koh Rong
If you want to be literally the only person on the beach, then head to Koh Rong. Two-and-a-half hours by boat from Sihanoukville, it's arguably the most magnificent island off the coast. Dumbbell shaped with a dense jungle interior, Koh Rong is a pristine island rarely visited by other travellers. The beach on the southwest side is known as "Snowdrift Bay" and for good reason, its talcum-soft sand squeaks under foot and goes on for miles. There's no path to it, however, so get dropped off there or charter a boat from the fishing village where there's a shop to stock up on supplies.
|(Cambodia) - Koh Rong Island|
Stay at: There are no guesthouses on the island, so take a tent, torch and provisions.
Getting there: Charter a boat from Sihanoukville ($50-$80 depending on bargaining skills) or hitch a ride with a dive boat ($40).(Guardian, Beach Cambodia)
|(Cambodia) - Koh Rong Island|