SIHANOUKVILLE: WHAT TO DO, WHAT TO SEE AND HOW TO BLOODY PRONOUNCE IT
Sihanoukville (see-a-nouk-ville) is a popular favourite with backpackers and flash-packers alike boasting impressive beaches, an abundance of activities, easy to access islands and of course a banging bar scene. Not unlike the south of Thailand before it was ruined, this coastal town is comprised with several beaches and plenty of options to suit everyone. Despite the recent boom of resorts, restaurants and bars, Sihanoukville remains relaxed and slow paced, in true Cambodian style. Made up of four main beaches : Otres, Occheuteal, Independence and Seredipity; the latter being where most of the backpackers make camp, you can choose your surrounding depending on what type holiday you’re after. If you fancy your hand at island exploring you will be knee deep in hammocks, beach bbq and booze buckets within a few short hours by boat.
Making camp for the night
With quite a few solid options to choose from, we went with Otres 2 for a few nights and then Otres 1 for another week, needless to say it was our preference. All beaches have good budget options and some super luxury resorts if you want to blow your budget however most beach front bungalows are pretty basic and raw, despite what you pay.
Serendipity beach is a few minutes walk down from the main town, which is where the majority of accommodation lies. Due to the huge volume of accommodation you’ll get a good price and an even better one if you haggle. Having recovered from it’s 2013 fire, Monkey Republic is back to being the number one choice for backpackers, prices are fair and they have an impressive bar/restaurant area to made friends. (Dorms are $10, privates $20-$30) Utopia is another good option with a swimming pool and hot tub although god knows why you’d need to warm up in the heat. It’s a party place so if you’re keen on lots of sleep reconsider (Dorms start at $1-$6)
Otres 1 is far away from all raucous partying, instead opting for a more chilled out approach to beach life (if that’s even possible) Things die down about 10pm on Otres 1 so it’s really an oasis for those wanting to just escape and relax. We stayed at the amazing Pappa Pippo, which boats an impressive array of beach front huts set amongst chairs, hammocks and lounges. With such a firm reputation and the best Italian food you’ll find in Asia, the rooms are on the higher end of the backpackers scale, starting at $18-$35 depending on the season. Rooms aren’t anything special but will be cleaned on request, you’re really paying for the location. Food is decent considering the quality and the size of the pizza. Another great option is Chez Pauowhich also boasts beach front rooms for a modest price of $12- $20 for a private bungalow. The food was also tasty here and the staff where very friendly, a great budget option if you’re on a tighter budget. Wish you were here Guest house andDon’t Tell Mama also offer good priced dorm rooms and prime locations, although they’re across the road from the beach.
Otres 2 is even quieter again, offering super chilled hippie communes with beach front bungalows mixed in with a few luxury options. The beach is pristine on Otres 2 but you’re limited for food and drink options, it’s a 30 minute walk to Otres 1 or a $3 tuk tuk. We stayed at Golden View River, neat rooms with TVs and en suite bathrooms, they need a bit of love and a good clean between guests but they’re good value. Tamu is a beautiful and pricey resort right on the beach if you’re looking to spoil yourselves, prices are between $50-$80 depending on the season.
Passing away the hours
Passing away the hours comes naturally in Sihanoukville. After rolling out of bed, a refreshing swim in the ocean is the best way to start your day, followed by the tough decision on what to eat for breakfast, followed by another refreshing swim. A word of caution: Jelly fish inhabit the clear waters on the beach and although they are not deadly, they can give you a nasty sting. If you’re unlucky enough to get stung we were told to put lemon on the wound. Laying about on sun lounges is a great way to get some Cambodian sun and have the overall “holiday” experience. This also puts you in the front line of beach hawkers selling wrist bands, tours, massages, sunglasses and other various services. Having being told how hairy my back was several times by these hawkers (this is Conno writting now!), I gave into their magical threading techniques and I’m happy to say my back was as smooth as Sean Connery. Talking to the Hawkers gave us some more insight to the Cambodian way of life and was interesting, although don’t fall for all the stories, they’re trying to sell to you after all.
If lazing by the beach is too stagnant for you then get walking and explore the stretch of beach for a while, it’s a great way to see other resorts if you’re not keen on yours and it’s good exercise. It does get hot so pack on some sunscreen and bring a dollar or two for a bottle of water.
For the adventure seekers out there you will be in heaven. Kayaking? Diving? Fishing? Island hopping? Snorkeling? Wind surfing? Everything is up for the taking and if you’re in a group the price will be dirt cheap. Fishing trips can cost as low as $5-8 per person depending how hard you haggle. Island trips are often in a bundle including some lunch, prices are usually $15 pp for the day but make friendly with a hawker and get a bit cheeky and ask for a better discount. Other options include jungle trekking, 4×4 bikes and of course if you’re in need of some pampering there are heaps of massage and beauty parlors located in town.
Keeping your belly full
There are far too many options in Sihanoukville for eating, from local street food all the way to fancy dining experiences, no matter what you choose you won’t go hungry.
restaurants that offer BBQ for $4. If you’re keen get some squid or lobster from beach hawkers, the squid is delicious and $1.50 gets you 5-6 skewers. Other options are tasty banana and coconut cakes and of course stacks of fresh fruits all for a tiny price. Hawkers are really grateful for every sale and it’s always delicious. Also in town, walking distance from Monkey Republic are a stack of local style cafes which offer Cambodian dishes for a few dollars.
Otres has a few top choices too, Chez Pauo does a great BBQ starting at $4 that comes with french fries and is amazing, $5 will get some king prawns and they’re huge and juicy. Pappa Pippo takes the cake with Western food, the Pizza is one of the best we’ve had in our life and it’s absolutely huge. Pasta and main meals are cooked to perfection with all of the flavours being completely amazing. And the dessert is to die for, especially if you’re craving some good gelato or tiramisu like we were.
Serendipity Beach is the place to be when you want to party and party is what you’ll do! With a bunch of people handing out flyers than entitle you to a free drink and drink specials you will be able to visit a bunch of bars and get drunk by spending about $10. It’s a bit tacky, but the overall vibe is good fun and you’ll enjoy walking up and down exploiting all the happy hours. Two places that throw together a great party is JJs at the far end of the stretch and Dolphins which is closer to the pier. It doesn’t kick off until about 10.30-11 but head there early for some pre party cocktails and some beach BBQ.
As with all South East Asian countries there is a very big gap between the rich and the poor which can leave desperate people to commit crimes to survive. Be aware in Sihanoukville that bag snatching and mugging does occur. Keep to the usual techniques and you should avoid any problems. Lock away valuables, hide you money from prying eyes and wear your bag safely across your shoulder. When partying, leave your mobile and large amounts of cash at your hotel and travel safely home in a group (especially if you’re a solo female traveler). Sunburn and jellyfishes can pose a slight danger so be smart where and for how long you’re swimming. As always don’t drive your motorbike or scooter when you’re drunk.
Getting there or away
Sihanoukville can be reached from both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and is only a few hours from Kampot and Kep. Bus is the cheapest and easiest way to travel if you’re a solo traveller however you could buddy up and get a private car or van if there’s enough of you. The bus from Kampot cost $6 and only took about 3 hours. As it’s a short distance from Kep and Kampot the cheapest option should be fine, a delay of 30 mins shouldn’t be a problem. For longer journeys do your research and pick a well rated company, Capital bus company get’s a great review for safety and duration.