Known locally as Koh Dach, Silk Island is an island in the Mekong River. Just North of the capital of Phnom Penh, it’s an easy day trip destination that offers insights into rural Cambodian life without having to travel too far from the busy city. Named due to its traditional silk-weaving communities, there’s a lot more to enjoy on the island in addition to the chief silk-related activities.
The island of Koh Dach sees relatively few tourists. Those who do make the visit, however, will likely feel as though they’ve ventured far away from the tried and trodden track to a land that time forgot.
Where is Koh Dach? How to get there from Phnom Penh
You’ll need to catch a ferry across the water to land on the shores of the islands. Tours run along the river from the heart of Phnom Penh, some visiting riverside communities and other islands on the way, and some including lunch and other activities.
There are boats that make the journey to the island from Phnom Riverside, though you will usually need to charter a vessel and negotiate a price for the return trip. Travelling in a group helps to keep the costs down. As a rough guide, you should expect to pay around $10 per person with a group of ten, although prices can vary depending on your powers of negotiation and the time of year. The ride takes around an hour. Do note that you will need to arrange local transportation to maximise your time on the island tuk-tuks will be waiting where the boats dock!).
Short ferry crossings are also available from closer to the island. Mainly used by locals, the fares are really cheap; it costs about US$1 for a one-way ticket. The ferry terminal can be reached by crossing the Japanese Bridge and following Road 6. If you have your own transportation, it’s an easy route to follow. It is also possible to cycle to the ferry and then take your bike across to the island with you. Alternatively, you can catch a tuk-tuk or motorbike taxi.
I recommend taking a Tour with Get Your Guide and Cambo Cruise!
It’s much easier to go ahead and book a tour. I booked through Get Your Guide and travelled with their partner ‘Cambo Cruise’ and it was excellent. For just $30 they supply the guide, local transport, entry to the weaving community and food and a complimentary drink on the boat.
Oh, and watch out for the ‘sand bag staircase’ when you arrive on the island….safetynisn’t always a priority in Cambodia!
What to do on Koh Dach
There are many things to do on Koh Dach silk island, but the main things that people come to see are the weaving communities and the stilted houses.
Due to the annual flooding that occurs in September and October every year, most houses on the island are stilted – some more picturesque than others.
There are some beautiful ones in and around the weaving centre. Above you can see that the design of the house allows for sleeping upstairs and weaving underneath.
Silk Weaving Village
Cambodia has a massive history of weaving, with people excelling in the craft since before the times of the mighty Kingdom of Angkor. As in many places, machines have led to the weaving industry going into a sharp decline. A lot of effort is being made to preserve this practice around the country, and Silk Island is home to many weaving villages. Even though the island is known particularly for its high-class silks, cotton is also woven.
Koh Dach Weaving Centre
The weaving centre is just a couple of minutes’ drives from the ferry landing. You can learn all about the silk production process, from silkworms chomping on mulberry leaves, to the fine thread being spun, dyed, and finally woven to create soft fabrics for an array of garments and other textiles.
How Silk is Made
I loved learning about how the silk was made. Our guide Veng told us all about the process from start to finish. They keep back 20% of the moths for breeding to reproduce the next batch. So, of course, the first stage is silk moth breeding. It’s what Veng described as ‘happy hour! But no wine, no party, happiness couple!’
The silk worms start off as lavae and after 9 days they hatch out and chomp on the mulberry leaves.
There are several days of ‘eating, pooping, pooping, eating!’
When the worms are ready to go into their cocoons they begin producing silk. The male makes 400 meters and the female makes 700 meters of silk per cocoon. This is what cocoons look like…
Once the cocoons are hatched, they then take the cocoon (silk) and put it in boiling water to start to separate the threads. We saw them using bicycle wheels to complete the first stage of putting the silk onto a spool.
Once on a spool, the silk can then be taken by one of the weaving women to be made into material on the loom. Each family has it’s own unique pattern that only members of that family know how to weave. It can be a long process, taking 8 hours to weave one metre of fabric. That means two full days of weaving to make a scarf and 10 days to weave a skirt. This time can easily double if it’s rainy season.
The women, mostly in their 30’s and 40’s are continuing a family tradition that could potentially die out within the next 10 years due to mechanization and the younger generation being educated in the city.
Weaving Stores and Shopping on Koh Dach
Travelling around the island, you’ll come across other smaller weaving centres and stores. Unsurprisingly, there are plentiful opportunities to purchase locally made products. With everything from bed linens and table runners to gowns, scarves, shirts, and ties, you’ll find an assortment of colours and sizes. Remember to haggle for the best bargains, but also keep in mind that people are trying to make a living for their families and the time that it takes to make a single scarf can be up to a whole week.
Soaking up the Atmosphere
The atmosphere on Silk Island is very peaceful and the views are truly scenic. Exploring the island and seeing the local homes surrounded by lovely agricultural land is really quite captivating. Cattle graze in the fields and chickens peck at the earth.
Kot Dach Pagoda
The lovely yellow Koh Dach Pagoda is a nice sight and well worth a fast photo stop, and you may also see a few traditional boats that are moored at the water’s edge. See fresh produce at the local markets and pick up an assortment of tasty snacks.
Restaurants and Cafes
There are multiple riverside restaurants and cafes where you can chill out with a local meal and a soft drink or cool beer. Mainly crafted from wood, many riverside eateries have floor seating with conventional cushions at low tables. Some also have enticing hammocks where you may be tempted to linger for a while as you relax. By the time you’ve managed to have your fill of handicrafts, you should go and enjoy the heat as well.
During the dry season, you can check out the beach and potentially go for a swim. On the way there, expect to go through a tollbooth which charges foreigners $1 for entry. Once you’ve arrived at the beach, you will see thatch huts that are lining the shore. If lounging in one of those huts over the water suits your fancy, just pay another dollar to be carried out royalty style. The owner of the hut will provide you with drinks and plenty of ice. Be aware of the health risks involved in swimming here!
Fancy Staying the Night on Koh Dach?
There are many guesthouse options as well, for those wanting to extend their stay. Red House, which is near the ferry terminal, offers the chance to stay in a beautifully decorated traditional wooden house and sample authentic Cambodian food. At the northern end of the island, the French-owned La Kroma Villa provides a diverse experience, with spotless modern rooms and a view of the Mekong and a small swimming pool, while a wood-fired pizza oven will bring some European options to the menu.
What to Pack for Cambodia
Take light cotton tops, long comfortable trousers and maxi dresses that cover your shoulders. Thailand is a conservative Buddhist county and you are likely to be refused entry to top sites like the Phnom Penh Royal Palace and Angkor Wat with shoulders showing and shorts or short skirts. You can pack shorts and vest tops for hanging around your hotel or the pool.
Pack a water bottle because many guest houses are eco friendly and have a refill and reuse policy to cut down on plastic waste. The drinking water is fine and many hotels supply cold purified drinking water.
Bugs bite particularly in the evenings in Cambodia and so a bug repellant is essential. Also the sun can get hot – this Christmas and New Year temperatures were exceeding 32 degrees and so sun screen is another essential.
Further Reading on Cambodia
- What to do in Phnom Penh
- Phnom Penh Royal Palace Guide
- Phnom Penh Killing Fields Tour
- Backpacking Cambodia – Top Travel Tips
- Phnom Penh Tours