The most relaxed, lush part of the country, Southern Cambodia is blessed with dazzling white-sand beaches and richly forested national parks. Faded Colonial architecture, lively beach bars, and beautiful virgin islands are on offer in this sparsely populated region. Visitors can engage in a variety of activities, from jungle treks and boat trips to snorkeling and diving.
Stretching from the Thai border in the southwest to Vietnam’s Mekong Delta frontier in the southeast, Southern Cambodia is a region of myriad attractions. In the north are the relatively inaccessible Cardamom Mountains, a supremely biologically diverse range. Until the late 1980s these mountains were one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge, whose presence, coupled with the difficult terrain, deterred loggers. The amazing variety of wildlife in the Cardamom Mountains includes elephants, sun bears, tigers, pangolins, Siamese crocodiles, and primates.
The biggest draws of the area are its pristine beaches and virgin islands. Sihanoukville, with its mix of ramshackle buildings and fancy hotels, continues to draw visitors despite its lack of urban planning. The town’s fine-sand beaches and turquoise waters are a haven for watersports enthusiasts. A number of tour operators and diving companies, which can assist travelers with planning activities, operate in the town. Several uninhabited and sparsely populated islands lie just off the coast of Sihanoukville and make for excellent day-trip options. Apart from tourism, the main sources of income in the coastal areas remain agriculture, fishing, and salt production.
The region is also home to several wildlife preserves. Ream National Park envelops a vast swath of coastland, with mangrove forests and coral reefs, in contrast to the expansive pine forests of Kirirom National Park. The rain forest preserve of Botum Sakor National Park is home to elephants and hornbills, while Bokor National Park has an old French hill station and the ruins of a Catholic church. Other attractions include the tiny town of Kep, with its crumbling Modernist buildings, and the captivating temple ruins of Phnom Da in Takeo province.