We're heading South West to Sihanoukville, the biggest seashore city and the capital of the kingdom's wild wild west. The name means 'The village of Sihanouk', beloved king father of Cambodia who passed away in 2012. It is named "Kampong (Village) Som" as well.
How to reach it?
By taxi, or day/night bus from Phnom Penh (6 hours), Siem Reap (10 hours), or even Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam (11 hours, excluding waiting time at the border control station).
By flight – Sihanoukville has an international airport (KOS code), located not so far from the city center (22 km, 50 min. drive).
How many days to spend here?
The city was relatively cool until 2014, then the Chinese took over and turned it into their playground. Therefore I recommend not to waste your time here, unless you are Chinese or Casino addicts.
Best is to use it as a transit station only to travel to Koh Rong islands & Kampot (We'll get there). Some tourists spend one night here in wait for their next bus or flight. You will find the local quality of service lower compared to other Cambodian destinations with all kind of scams and rude attitude involved. In general, all sort of low life characters are attracted to Sihanoukville.
Let's imagine you have wrongly decided not to listen to my advice and planning to spend some time here, so here are my recommendations:
Where to sleep?
Keeping it cool – I liked the beach house, a cosy place, having large rooms, walking distance from the beach with a nice swimming pool in the middle of it. You can also rent beach bungalows on Serendipity beach, just take into account you will have hard time falling asleep at night with all the music rocking your bamboo door.
Click on the following link to get the best accommodation options the city has to offer.
Precautions: The only thing to outnumber the Chinese is drugs with young tourists so much into it. I remind you drugs are strictly prohibited in the kingdom, so must avoid it. Moreover, don't get involved in any offers tempting you to invest in some local business opportunities. The only opportunity you'll get is to see your money gone.
What's to do? Chilling out
A must: Sea, sea and sea
The city offers three major beaches you'd like to visit:
Serendipity beach, meaning "a pleasant surprise", as it indeed felt like when I had first visited the place in 2013 before it was run over by the Chinese. Here you will find loads of bars, restaurants and travel agencies leading to to the most significant attraction the city has to offer which is the boat dock to Koh Rong islands.
At Ochheuteal Beach you will enjoy the taste of the local sea food cuisine. Walk east (left from the dock) on foot from Serendipity and you will quickly reach the part of the beach loaded with food stalls and small restaurants. Choose a table on the beach, sit down and order crabs, prawns, squids, exotic fruits and the most important… local beer. Men, don't do the same mistake I did letting the ladies pluck hair from my back with a string. It hurt like hell!!!! My Khmer girl had to rush cold beers to keep me from passing out. Stay safe!
At night the restaurants will offer you a diverse menu, and kids will try selling you fireworks and sky lanterns to light up and fly high to bless you with luck. In short, at night the place try to imitate Thailand.
The water isn't clean enough to swim in.
Otres beach is the most beautiful one, though quite far from the city center but certainly worth escaping the Chinese invasion. It'll cost you 7 dollars Tuk Tuk one way. A beautiful beach with restaurants on its sea shore. If you're looking for tranquility this is the place to be. I found it pretty boring, yet it's a Must if you did the mistake of getting stuck in this city.
Following the Chinese take over of Sihanoukville, the Western business owners preferred moving to Otres to develop their own scene there. Every Saturday night you can enjoy Otres market, a walking distance from the beach. Once I did a walk from the beach back to town through the seashore. It's an option if you wish saving 7 bucks and kill your legs and time.
Beach parties. Personally I didn't enjoy any. Till 2015 it was all about western young crowd with a touch of local girls. Nowadays it is loaded with local and Chinese people and drugs so keep away (Never buy drugs from strangers, many of them are police collaborators who will extort you). Best to begin descending from Serendipity, checking the different bars there and head to the beach.
Once upon a time in Sihanoukville:
In Otres you will find bars of the Western tourists. Several times a week sunset parties are orchestrated there till late hours and even dawn. Good psychedelic trance scene and good people.
Optional – City parties:
Next to The Golden Lions statue, left of the lane leading to Serendipity, there is a small compound having few small bars with pool tables and local hostesses. It's a cheap lame entertainment to those interested in good old fashioned South East Asian partying.
Optional – Casinos, such as The Holiday Palace. Sihanoukville slowly became a casino heaven for gamblers with Chinese investors intending of turning it into Las Vegas of the South East. I think it's the only valid reason for one to spend time in this place.
Optional – Victory hill. Low lives of the lowest. Quite a ride distance from the beach you will get to a hill filled with cheap hostesses and lady-boys bars and if it's not enough Tuk Tuk drivers will offer to drop you at small shacks to have your run with some poor girl entertaining men by the numbers. Some creeps travel especially there to have their fun. An ideal place for human scum.
Well, in general places are opened and shut down all the time, so simply ask the locals which are the hot places to party at.
Optional – Kbal Chhay waterfalls, around 7 kms from the city. Haven't been there.
Optional – Water sports and Diving courses.
In 2013, as fit the wild wild west, you could still fly sky high in flying rubber boats that took off from the sea, a genius French invention which was banned by the Khmer air control.
How much time to spend here? Three nights is a Must. No more than four, but some young backpackers land there for weeks.
The islands were virgin until 2013, then slowly but steadily have been visited by an increasing number of tourists, especially Koh Rong island. The islands are so wild and beautiful that some countries film their "Survivor" reality show there. The Americans themselves chose Koh Rong as the set for seasons 31 & 32 in 2015 (closing half of the island for filming) and swore never to return after suffering from harsh nature conditions.
What's to do there? Chilling out and having fun
How to get there?
Take a big boat / speed boat from Serendipity dock for USD 20 / 25 per one way. Pay attention to take the one heading directly to the islands, as some offer 5 hours tour before reaching there. Make sure it takes you to the same beach you're planning to stay in.
There are also small shuttle boats offering a lift from one beach to another.
Where to stay there?
Tourist boat drops most of the tourists on central Koh Tui beach where you will find many colorful guesthouses and bungalows with front bars and restaurant, partying till late hours. If you are a young backpacker this is the place to be. The water is filthy, polluted with engine's oil, especially near the dock. Disgusting beach to swim in.
You can head directly or by foot to the island's west side where you will will find Long beach, one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen. It is named after the significant length of it, as simple as it sounds. At night there are shiny plankton dancing in the waters and the sand will amazingly play squeaking sounds when walking on it (I've never encountered such a phenomena elsewhere).
In 2014 I had the pleasure of visiting the set of Survival Bulgaria while they were filming there.
My place to be when I visit the island is Coconut blvd, a self made resort built as a Robinson Crusoe style with all sorts of improvisations. I stayed there in 2013 when it had only one big hut with electricity running by a generator and water dug from a well and visited once again in 2017 to find a farm filled with beautiful small rooms and one fantastic villa. I love it.
On the northern part of the island there's a beach named "Lonely beach" so if you wish to distance yourself from society and be lonely this is the place to be. Can be heaven for daring couples.
If you are wealthy, having cash flow out of your pockets, I would suggest checking out Song Saa private island, purchased in 2006 by an adventurous couple living like survivors turning it into a gem resort with estimated worth of USD 30M nowadays. It'll cost you USD 1,500 per night for a dream bungalow but enjoy peace with you wife for weeks.
Honey moon couples – You should check accommodation options on Koh Rong Sanloem to enjoy the wild peaceful beauty of the island.
You can also stay several nights on Koh Rong island and several nights on Koh Rong Sanloem. As Khmer ladies say "Up 2 U"
Carefully plan your travel back from the island as last boat departs by 15:00, so choose whether to spend a night in Sihanoukville or get a taxi/bus/flight same day.
Warning – There's a new local scam taking tourists to a remote dock in Sihanoukville and charging them USD 25 for a taxi to take them back to Serendipity dock. Scammers know tourists are in stress to catch the next bus so they will pay. Verify the dock of arrival before sailing!!!
Where are we headed next?
Heading east to Kampot (Two hours drive, 100 km) and to Kep.
A must: Since 2014 there's a boosting tourist activity in Kampot and its worth it. The beauty about it is the main attractions are located around the Tuek Chhu river crossing the city. You will find boat houses, boat restaurants which will sail while you eat or simply rafts to relax on and jump off them for a cool swim.
We'll head to Kep (25 kms, 30 min. drive), the smallest district in Cambodia, South east of Sihanoukville offering quieter beaches with less tourists. It is located 25 kms only from Vietnam's south western border.
Fell free to add your tips about travelling to Kampot & Kep, as foolishly I skipped them both. I will visit them on my next trip to the kingdom.
And this is the last chapter of my Papa Capon's tourist guide for Cambodia. Charming kingdom of smiles…. Aukun Chran 🙂 (Thank you very much in Khmer language).