Enjoying the warm ocean breeze in Sihanoukville
Considered Cambodia’s top beach and resort area, Sihanoukville has earned a name for itself and is now frequented by thousands of travellers (of all sorts) every year. A warm ocean breeze blows through the sandy beachfront of Sihanoukville, perfect for holidaymakers.
The town was named after the former King Sihanouk. It was initially developed in the 1950s as a deep-sea port, which allowed Cambodia to trade internationally without passing through the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. While the main township continues to develop, this is set away from the beach area, leaving the beaches to those trying to earn an income from the steady flow of tourists.
The main beach area, Occheuteal Beach is lined with rustic bars and restaurants. Local ladies wander up and down the shores offering manicures, pedicures and massages. While this may sound lovely, the beach is quite polluted and the constant flow of people trying to hustle a few dollars out of you can be a bit frustrating. Also, Sihanoukville is growing as a destination for those on the hunt for a cheap party. A testament to this is the restaurants are choosing to stay open 24hours a day, hoping to catch the stragglers on their way home in the wee hours of the morning.
After getting barely a wink of sleep our first night, we travelled south to Otres Beach, well known for the cleaner waters and quieter crowd. While we may be accused of getting old, this quieter, more relaxed beach suited us much better. About 7km from Sihanoukville, I was surprised to find orange, dusty roads at Otres. So close, but quite a noticeable contrast to the well developed infrastructure found at Sihanoukville. Wandering up and down this dusty road, we were further surprised by the calibre of the resorts on one side of the road and the more budget beach shacks on the beach side. It won’t be long before the infrastructure catches up and all the modern conveniences are found at Otres too.
There is a clear division between the types of accommodation in Sihanoukville. There are beautiful resorts (with prices well outside of our backpackers budget) and average lodging for backpackers. While we stayed in private rooms, the prices were the same as Phnom Penh but the rooms weren’t as nice, something we struggled to compute. We did, however, stay in a beachfront bungalow at Otres, which was incredible.
Our first night in Sihanoukville we stayed at Monkey Republic. Well set up with a great pool and adjoining bar, we were initially pleased with our choice. Our room was great and suited our budget. Unfortunately the other guests were far from courteous. Arriving home at various hours of the early morning, slamming doors and yelling down the corridor, we struggled to get any sleep. I guess we must be getting old but it was infuriating.
After a relatively sleepless night at Monkey Republic we moved to the quieter Otres Beach and found ourselves a room at Moorea Beach. Literally on the beach, this tiny, circular bungalow suited us much better. The only downside was the shared bathrooms that were on the other side of the restaurant area.
Returning early from Koh Rong Sanloem, we stayed two nights at Chochi Guesthouse. Clean, tidy and full height walls (check out the Koh Rong post for an explanation), we settled in and enjoyed our time here. The grounds are lovely and quiet, however some noise from the beach bars can carry to the rooms.
With the touristy atmosphere, our main objective (sadly) was to eat within our budget, which wasn’t the easiest of tasks. Sticking with largely local foods, we continued to enjoy the Khmer curry and Khmer Amok. After a few weeks in Cambodia I finally tried a Lok Lak, a thinly sliced beefsteak with a gravy-like sauce, fried egg and steamed rice. Other travellers had raved about the dish and after seeing it on every menu at every restaurant I thought I had better try it. It’s not the kind of dish I would usually enjoy, so I delayed trying it until our last night in Cambodia. While there was nothing wrong with the meal, I would much prefer a curry or stir-fry.
ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONS
There are very few things to do in Sihanoukville. It is all about the rest and relaxation at the beach. Those who stay are usually searching for the party or staying at a flashy resort. Others use Sihanoukville purely as a stop over before they head to the islands.
For us, arriving on a bus later in the afternoon, we stayed three nights initially and two nights after we returned from Koh Rong. While 5 nights is a long time, we lost two days to travel, leaving two days at Otres and a day in Sihanoukville to soak up the sun. While we enjoyed our time, we both got a bit restless and went for lengthy walks along the beach and long swims.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
It was difficult to experience any culture here, aside from what we got from other tourists. It was fascinating watching people bake in the sun from morning till night, only moving for the occasional swim and to wave down locals for a massage. A completely different holiday to anything I have every experienced. While a couple of days in the sun is nice to relax and recuperate, anything longer than that and I get itchy feet.
We will head to Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem for a few days before heading to Vietnam. At this stage, our first stop will be Ha Tien in the south, before catching a ferry to Phu Quoc.
WHAT WE LEARNT
Without any specific activities or exposure to culture, it is difficult to have any true learning experience. It was interesting people watching and learning from the other tourists. Growing up on the coast has lead me to take advantage of the beautiful days I have spent frolicking in the ocean. It’s incredible for me to comprehend that some people live so far from the coast they may only get one or two weeks per year by the ocean.
We have stuck to our budget in Sihanoukville. Accommodation was around $20 USD per night and food around $4-5 USD per meal. As I mentioned earlier, I was surprised the prices were similar to those found in Phnom Penh, we were hopeful they would drop as we moved away from the capital.