Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s up and coming beach town. It’s development is fast paced and within a few years, we’ll see which direction this city on the beach takes. There are glimpses of the parties of Koh Phi Phi and the laid back lifestyle of Si Phan Don, but there are also relatively untouched islands off its coast, home to only a few remote fishing villages. At the rate the Cambodian government is selling them off to the highest bidder, this may not be the case for long, however, a few individuals are working hard to avoid this and we can hope for the best.
Things to Do:
While Koh Tao in Thailand is the hub of scuba certification in Southeast Asia, getting your license off the island of Koh Rong is just as cheap ($270 in the low season of April 2012), if not more so, and may even give you a more personal experience. With the number of dives shops still under 10 (Koh Tao has nearly 50), you just might be the only divers exploring the extremely healthy coral and fish life, which was exactly the case on my visit.
Even if you don’t dive, I’d recommend a trip to one of the islands. Some islands have only one or two bungalow establishments so privacy won’t be a concern and snorkeling, hiking and visiting the local villages always top the list. Monkey Republic organizes a trip to Bamboo Island, but there are a number of others to choose from.
If you loved Vang Vieng, then Sihanoukville will not disappoint. The main strip is shaping up to be Cambodia’s main backpacker party locale. Nights start at Monkey Republic’s happy hour where jugs of beer are just $3, before the crowds move on to Utopia for 25 cent beers from 10-11. After you’ve loosened up a bit, dancing commences down on the beach at JJ’s and the Dolphin. Booze cruise’s are $10 and set sail a few times a week.
A newly paved road provides easy access to the main beach in Sihanoukville along with it’s bathtub temperature waters. Lined with beach chairs and umbrellas, you won’t have this beach to yourself, but then again, that’s not always the goal. Leave your valuables locked away in your hotel room though, if you want to avoid chasing a group of dishonest kids around. Unfortunately, I was a victim and heard many more stories of theft via the child mafia, which is eager to snatch up any items you leave even within arms length.
If tourist crowds and partying isn’t what your looking for, grab a tuk tuk for $4 and head down to Otres Beach. A much more laid back vibe has settled over this more remote strip of sand. A bed will cost you a few extra dollars (countless bungalows line the sand) but the more peaceful surroundings and the improved sunsets make it all worth it. Definitely recommended.
Full of local Cambodians cooling off in their full attire, Independence beach is somewhat of a relief from the tourist hoards and thieving child mafia on Serendipity Beach, but doesn’t have quite the level of appeal as Otres. It’s a short ride via tuk tuk.
Dorm beds are aplenty off the main strip and include the Monkey Republic, Utopia and The Led Zephyr, all $3. I’d recommend the Monkey as having the best social atmosphere and the Led Zephyr as the newest, cleanest and most relaxed.
Privates start at $9-$12 and up for a fan and can be found at the same locations or after a quick search of the main road.
The cheapest eats in walking distance are a line of food stalls down toward the Golden Lion statues. A dish of chicken fried rice will only run you $1.25. If you don’t want to walk, dishes on the main strip run you a few more dollars.
The best value burger in town, and in my opinion, all of Southeast Asia, belongs to Mr Delicious. Right at the top of the hill, opposite corner to Utopia, $2 gets you a mouth watering burger with a side of fries. As an added bonus, Anchor Drafts are always 50 cents and the Mr. Delicious himself was the nicest guy in town.
Walking away from the beach, turning right at the Golden Lions and walking about 7 minutes will bring you onto another recommendation, the White Elephant. For $3, you’ll get a fillet of tuna or barracuda, a salad, a grilled potato and a side of garlic bread. Hard to beat.