The Cambodian Coast – Heading to the Coast

This is the first article in a four-part series about the Cambodian Coast. This post is about the drive from Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, on National Highway 4 toward Sihanoukville, the country’s largest port. Upcoming articles will feature coastal Highway 48, the Cambodian wilderness, and Koh Kong, a coastal city in eastern Cambodia near the Thailand border. This series is meant to be a resource for those interested in driving the Cambodian coast.

When my family and I drove from Bangkok, Thailand to Cambodia in December 2012, we entered uncharted territory. Few visitors do self-drive tours in Cambodia. We learned through trial, success, and error that it’s possible to drive a 1,500-kilometer circuitous route from Bangkok, Thailand through Cambodia and back to Bangkok. Possible but not easy. Our 2.5-week road trip in the Khmer kingdom was a fascinating but trying experience with bad traffic, uneven roads, and routes that led to unknown places with sparse GPS coverage and meager route information in English.

Driving a right-hand drive (RHD) vehicle from Thailand, where you drive on the left side of the road, complicated matters in right-side drive Cambodia. My family acted as spotters to help me spot oncoming traffic in our RHD vehicle. Cambodia does not typically permit these vehicles in country, and enforcement can be haphazard. You may want to rent a left-hand drive (LHD) vehicle in Cambodia instead of entering the country with a car rental. If you don’t have experience driving in a developing country, you might consider hiring a car and driver that could make your vacation more enjoyable and less nerve-wracking.

Cambodia trip

We met adventure head-on in the coastal region of Cambodia. One of the least populated areas of Southeast Asia, the beautiful area is truly a wilderness frontier. Internet research yielded little information about the region and whether it was possible to navigate a passenger car through the area. It is, as we learned along the way.

The drive along the Cambodian coast is now easy to do compared to the logistical challenges it once was. The Royal Cambodian government with international assistance improved National Highway 4 between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville on the coast as well as National Highway 48 heading northwest from Highway 4 to the Thai border (see map for reference). The paved roads have been improved, and most significantly, concrete bridges now span five rivers that flow south into the Gulf of Thailand. It’s a major improvement over the five ferries that once took hours to transport cars across these wide waterways. As of 2011, it was possible to drive along the Cambodian coast from Phnom Penh to the Thailand border in 4.5 hours without taking a single ferry ride.

A drive along the coast is well worth the trip. It’s a place rich in beauty and diversity explored by few outsiders. Home to the second-largest wilderness in Southeast Asia (the largest is in Burma/Myanmar), the region boasts one of the largest native forests remaining in Southeast Asia. Wildlife inhabits the forests and wetlands along the coast; although most are hard to spot from the highway, there are birds aplenty.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Hwy 4 (1)

To drive to the Cambodian Coast from Phnom Penh, head southwest on National Highway 4. The 140-kilometer drive to the junction of Highway 48 takes about 2.5 hours depending on weather conditions, traffic volumes, trucks, buses, tractors, cow crossings, potholes, speed bumps, toll booths, bad drivers, motos, and pedestrians. The highway is a free-for-all with anything that moves using it as a thoroughfare. With few passing lanes, drivers will try to pass no matter whether it’s safe and may occasionally force your over to the shoulder when they misjudge the distance between oncoming traffic. The road is generally good despite potholes and curves that decrease visibility and make drivers more daring. This is one highway where it’s better to be safe and drive slow than be sorry and end up in a local hospital.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Hwy 4 (2)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Hwy 4 (3)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Hwy 4 (4)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Hwy 4 (5)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Hwy 4 (6)

Although the drive can be frustrating, the great views make it more bearable.

2012_12_31 Cambodia Hwy 4 (7)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Hwy 4 (8)

2012_12_31 Cambodia Hwy 4

Stay tuned for more travelogues about driving the Cambodian coast. For more information about driving in Cambodia, contact me at

More About the Cambodian Coast

Driving the Coast (National Highway 48)

The Cambodian Wilderness

Koh Kong City and the Cambodia-Thailand Border

Map picture

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    • mgedwards

      Thanks for your comment! Cambodia and Laos are amazing. You’re right about the massages…Thai massage is the same way. Foreigners think it sounds exotic, but it’s really like 10 rounds in a wrestling match!

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