This is the second article in a four-part series about the Cambodian Coast. This post is about the drive along coastal Highway 48. The first article featured the drive on National Highway 4 from Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, toward Sihanoukville. Future posts will focus on the Cambodian wilderness and Koh Kong, a coastal city in western Cambodia near the border of Thailand. This series is intended to be a resource for those interested in driving the Cambodian coast.
During my family’s drive through Cambodia in December 2012, we headed from the capital Phnom Penh to the coast via National Highway 4 (NH4). After a nerve-wracking drive filled with an assortment of traffic – trucks, cars, motos, buses, bicycles, tractors, pedestrians, cows, chickens, carts, and anything else that moved – potholes, speed bumps, toll booths, and bad drivers, I was more than glad to turn off onto the secondary National Highway 48 (NH48). It wasn’t just quiet – it was too quiet. We passed a few trucks, cars, and bicycles but not much else. It was as if this road newly accessible to the world had yet to be discovered as an alternate route from Phnom Penh to Thailand.
One of the least populated areas of Southeast Asia, the coastal region of Cambodia wedged between the Gulf of Thailand and the Cardamom Mountains is a true wilderness with virgin forests, rolling hills, and wildlife that mingles with the few locals, mostly farmers and fishermen, who live along the coast. If you have time during your Cambodia trip after requisite stops in Siem Reap (Angkor) and Phnom Penh, consider adding the coast to your itinerary. Botum Sakor National Park, Peam Krasaop Wildlife Corridor, and the surrounding region offer a view of Southeast Asia you rarely see.
This coast is an as-yet unspoiled gem protected by years of remote isolation. The only highway in the area, NH48, was built in 2003. The notoriously slow ferry crossings across wide rivers that hindered travel in the region were replaced by five concrete bridges in 2011. The bridges made the coast much more accessible, and tourists can now easily tour the area by car or bus.
The drive from NH4 to Koh Kong, a city on Cambodia’s southwestern border with Thailand, takes about 4.5 hours in good driving conditions. If you’re planning a trip to Cambodia’s coast, the photos in this travelogue will give you an idea of what to expect. These photos were taken in December 2012. Note that road conditions are subject to change.
For the first half hour of the drive, NH48 is tarred and sealed with rock chip and in good condition from the junction of National Highway 4 to the Srae Ambel River crossing. Traffic was light with some trucks hauling heavy freight and cows wandering on the side of the road. The concrete bridge was solid. The countryside in this area offered beautiful views of low-lying mountains to the northeast. A Buddhist temple and monastery just off the highway reminded me that I was in Southeast Asia.
For the next hour beyond the Srae Ambel River, the road showed signs of aging and the affects of the rainy season with warping, pavement chafing, and potholes – nothing unavoidable if you drive at a prudent speed. The landscape was flat with some picturesque scenery that included some quaint bungalows, rice fields and fish ponds interspersed with wild foliage.
The road quality was fair as I drove west on NH48 toward Koh Kong and passed the second new concrete bridge crossing a river that flowed into Kampong Som Bay on the Gulf of Thailand.
About 1.5 hours into our journey, we arrived at the town of Andong Terk and crossed the wide Preak Piphot River not far from the mouth of the Kampong Som Bay. This large, brand-new bridge spanned the river in a high arch that allowed fishing boats to pass below. We stopped on the bridge and took some great photos of the gorgeous river and delta that spread out below in all directions.
We drove on through the foothills of the Cardamom Mountains along the northern edge of Botum Sakor National Park. While we didn’t spot much wildlife, we did see some beautiful views. At this point our GPS loaded with Cambodia maps failed and could not pinpoint our location. We knew then that we had really gone off the beaten path! Considering that there was just one paved highway in the area, we were confident that the road would bring us to our destination, Koh Kong. Eventually.
The road was in poor condition through the national park with severe warping and some axle-bending potholes. Our vehicle had to creep through some place where the highway had become a washboard. To make matters worse, the road grew winding and traffic volumes increased as trucks slowed down to navigate their way around the tricky potholes and curves.
The road condition improved after we passed the fourth bridge across the Khlang Yai River at the small town of Trapeang Rung. The Cardamom Mountains offered stunning views in this area. Although the road surface was better here, the highway wound through the mountains in sharp curves. With dusk approaching and another 1.5 hours to drive, I had to consider both the road condition and the fact that driving in the dark on an unknown route was difficult. It turned into a race between sundown and reaching Koh Kong.
An hour later, we arrived at the Tatai River, our final crossing before Koh Kong. This was the most picturesque location on our drive. Pointing at the stilt homes with rusty corrugated roofs along the river’s edge and the tropical forest beyond, I told my wife, “We’re definitely in Southeast Asia! Look at this view.” The colorful houses and boats persuaded me that despite the frustrations along the way – the traffic, roads, driving into the unknown – the trip was worth the effort.
We drove the final half hour to Koh Kong on battered roads. As the sun set, the light faded to gray, and the dim light cast a rose-colored hue before the shadows and darkness set in. I wanted to enjoy the view but had to focus on reaching Koh Kong before nightfall. The twinkle of city lights in the valley beyond the Cardamom Mountains assured me that we would arrive before nightfall. And we did.
For more information about driving in Cambodia, contact me at email@example.com.
More About the Cambodian Coast
M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, and a short story collection called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. He also wrote and illustrated Alexander the Salamander and Ellie the Elephant, two books in the World Adventurers for Kids Series. His books are available in e-book and print from Amazon.com and other booksellers. Edwards graduated from the University of Washington with a master’s degree in China Studies and a Master of Business Administration. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.
For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.
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