The provincial capital of Koh Kong is the arrival point for many foreign travellers en route to Cambodia due to the international border crossing with Thailand which lies a short distance from the town. A pretty dusty old affair, Krong Koh Kong (the city of Koh Kong, but usually just called Koh Kong) sits on the western bank of the Kah Bpow River — a wide flowing river which is spanned by a spic-and-span Thai-financed bridge that you’re welcome to drive across for a 1,200 riel moto toll or 4,800 riel for cars.
Koh Kong is a sleepy riverside town and there’s not much in the way of tourist attractions within the town itself. However, it’s a handy base for boat trips, waterfall and beach excursions. The town has also become a hub for eco-tourism trips and jungle trekking.
For a town of its size, it has a disproportionate number of western-managed bars which are primarily aimed at Thailand- based expats on visa runs. One Koh Kong city regular describes the local expat scene as “rather Monty-Pythonesque”, but regardless of your opinion, there’s certainly not a shortage of places for a refreshing drink and expats to talk to.
Koh Kong province retained a Khmer Rouge presence longer than other more central tracts of Cambodia and Thai military and private “investors” took advantage of this to extract vast tracts of timber and other valuables. The Chi Phat area in particular was know for rapacious logging, slash and burn and poaching. Ironically, through the involvement of Wildlife Alliance, many Chi Phat residents have been retrained and now work at the vanguard of one of Cambodia’s more promising ecotourism initiatives.
With an overnight stay in Koh Kong you could visit a waterfall in the morning and an outlying beach in the afternoon before catching transport out of there the following morning — that would be sufficient for many, though with more time, there’s no shortage of beaches worth exploring or jungles to be trekked — just bear in mind the cost of getting to the beaches can get prohibitive if you’re travelling alone.
Along with the bars there’s an ample supply of guesthouses in Koh Kong, both in the centre of town and down towards the river. Prices are competitive.
Cham Yeam International border crossing
A moto either way between Koh Kong and the border costs US$3 or 100 baht and includes the 1,200 riel toll. Cars cost double. The Cham Yeam International checkpoint is open between 07:00 and 20:00.
The actual price for a tourist visa is $20 and a “normal” visa costs $25. In practice, immigration officers ask for between 1,200 and 1,600 baht respectively. Many tourists using this border crossing report lots of extra charges, fees and requests for cash on the Cambodian side — however, with some perseverance you should be able to get through without paying extra.
Have American dollars in the correct denomination ready before you cross. You can ignore the “health check” desk — having a health check is not a requirement. Do not let anyone take your passport and fill out your visa forms or carry your bags, they will expect to be paid for these services.
They will try and tell you that you’re about to miss the bus to encourage you to cough up the cash, and it’s likely that your moto driver will be in on the scam. If you want to avoid the extra charges, budget extra time for this, it can take ten to thirty minutes of standing around insisting that you don’t want to pay any more than the actual $20 visa fee, but eventually they will let you through. The easiest solution is get your visa in advance so as to not have to purchase one at the border.
Ignore anyone that tells you that you need to change your Thai Baht before crossing or that there aren’t ATMs across the border. There are, and you’ll get better exchange rates in town compared to the extortionate ones at the border.
Depending on the business, prices will be quoted in Thai Baht, Riel or US Dollars. It’s generally best to pay in whichever currency is quoted, because the exchange rates are usually unfavourable. There are at least a dozen money-changers on the outskirts of the market who offer surprisingly good rates, but unlike the old days, you can manage a trip to Koh Kong and get by without having any Thai baht. Currently, there’s only one ATM in town and it only accepts cards with a Visa logo, although a Canadia ATM is being built that will accept both.