On some days, at the height of the dry season, there’s nothing more appealing than a long dip in the water.
There’s no shortage of options for hot and bothered expats in Phnom Penh, with a wealth of swimming pools at hotels and fitness clubs that are open to casual visitors.
Sometimes, however, the only real way to satisfy the urge for a swim is a wide, empty beach, a cold drink and a lazy float on a gentle current.
Fortunately, there’s an easier alternative to the four-hour drive to Sihanoukville.
The island of Koh Dach sits right in the centre of the Mekong River and is only 15 kilometres from the centre of Phnom Penh.
In the dry months, the river recedes, leaving a large sand bar at the northern tip of the island. Locals in the area rent out comfortable stilted huts that are carried out into the river on request.
Despite its proximity to the capital, Koh Dach beach is often deserted during the week, and as few as four expats and tourists will be spotted on a typical weekday. This rises considerably on the weekend, when it is also a popular spot for the island’s locals.
Foreigners are charged 4000 riel to access the sandbar. Food and drink on the beach is plentiful, but don’t expect a bargain unless you’ve mastered your Khmer bargaining skills.
Rice and chicken meals are about US$5 per head, and the usual touted goods are in abundance.
Further back from the water are a few restaurants in the same price range with idyllic views of the villages across the river.
After a morning at the beach, visitors can make a day of their trip by taking a drive around the island. Koh Dach’s five villages are built on a single road that follows the island’s per-imeter, and its houses are on stilts in the traditional fashion of rural Cambodia.
The island is famous for its silk trade, and locals are often happy to show off their work at the looms underneath their homes and sell their homemade scarves at rates comparable to those sold Phnom Penh’s markets.
A day trip to and from Koh Dach will involve an hour of transport each way. Hiring a driver for the round trip journey from Phnom Penh should cost about $10 on a motodop, and $15 on a tuk-tuk.
Given the distance and the quality of Koh Dach’s roads, visitors may prefer the more expensive and time-consuming tuk-tuk journey to a sore posterior. It may also be tough to find a driver who knows the journey, so be sure you know where you’re headed before you leave.
To get there, travel out of the city over the Japanese Friendship Bridge and onto National Highway 6A for a few kilometres. There are two main ferry crossings to the island on the right, leaving from the villages of Kdey Chas and Bach Kheng.
Kdey Chas is easier to spot, with a signposted turn-off at the Chinese temple, while the Bach Kheng ferry will drop passengers further south and offers a more picturesque run along the island’s dirt road.
If you’ve hired a driver from Phnom Penh, he’ll join you for the ferry ride to your final destination. The ferry should cost 2000 riel for each passenger, and double if you’re on a tuk-tuk.