Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe largest and most popular of all Cambodia’s seaside hubs, Sihanoukville is mostly renowned as a mecca for pot-smoking, binge drinking backpackers, although this tag is a tad misleading. While this can be very much the case in the main beach, right in town, this very historic village does boast some gorgeous nooks and quiet stretches of beach, ideal for families or anyone who wishes to enjoy the coast in peace and quiet.
Brief historyKep, just 130kms down the eastern seaboard, used to be Cambodia’s premier beach resort town, but that was until Snooky (as Sihanoukville is colloquially known) was eyeballed for major commercialisation just over a decade ago. Boasting a much easier location to play with (Kep is wedged in between national park and rocky coast), Snooky lies on an open and near endless stretch of coastline so the town, technically speaking, could be extended by several kilometres in either seaside direction. And this plan certainly looks like it’s in full swing.
Once the playground for the French and Cambodia elite, Sihanoukville (named after a former King) is now the favourite week-end getaway from Phnom Penh and is crowded by both local and tourists alike. What attracts them is the plethora of swimming, dinning and partying options, as well as numerous chances to head off exploring nearby islands. All of these are missing ingredients in both Kep and Kampot, although they are both favourably rated as well.
HighlightsSnooky, as a top beachside resort town, may pale in comparison to major players in neighbouring Thailand, yet for Cambodian standards it still kicks a mighty punch.
Here are the very best highlights of Sihanoukville.
BeachesThe roughly 15km long stretch of developed beachfront starts in Sihanoukville town, on the northern tip of the peninsula and extends all the way to the southern extremity. Otres 2 is the very first beach you’ll come across, as you head here from Kampot, Kep and Phnom Penh and this is, by and large, the quietest in town. The further north you travel the rowdier the crowds get, and the more guesthouses you’ll find. That is, until you get to Serendipity Beach, which is Snooky’s main sunbathing spot and its most crowded beach. Here is where you’ll find all night parties, pot-smoking hippies and an infinite array of pubs, bars and restaurants. Popularity, loudness and amenities get progressively bigger and better the closer to town centre you get. All the beaches offer lovely swimming spots, yet the cleanliness of the seaside runs in the opposite direction to the popularity. For serious sunbathers and lovers of crystal clear waters and pristine shores, Otres 2 is the best option.
Actually, to be completely honest, the best maintained beach here is Sokha Beach, which is just north of Serendipity Beach. However, this beach is private and owned exclusively by the Sokha Beach Resort. If you can stretch your budget to include a stay here, then this magnificent stretch of tropical beauty can be all yours.
Distances between beaches are a little stretched out and this, coupled with heat all year long, makes walking an unpleasant option. Hop on a tuk-tuk and beach hop for about $ 2.00 USD a trip.
Koh RongKoh Rong Saloem is Cambodia’s premier island destination and found just a short boat ride away from Sihanoukville. Snorkelling and diving off its pristine waters are the most popular activities here, yet something must be said for simply enjoying a delectable sundowner and watching the crimson sun set over the horizon. Koh Rong is quite a large area and somewhat developed, so here you’ll find delightful spots to watch breathtaking sunsets and sunrises. Infrastructure here is on the rise and although this usually spells an end to blissful island stays, it may actually be very beneficial. Private stretches of beach owned by resorts are the cleanest and best maintained of all.
Ream National ParkOne of the most enticing aspects of the Cambodian coast is the fact that numerous national parks literally cascade straight onto its sparkling ocean shores. Such is the case with the Ream National Park, which you’ll find about a half hour’s drive south of town centre. Rent a scooter, pack your bathers and head out here for a day of fun forest rides and relaxing swims in (at least for now) unspoilt and unpopulated beaches. Outback trails are fun to explore and you’ll no doubt also come across monkeys. The southern tip of the national park is one of the very few places where you can admire both sunsets and sunrises.
Wat Leu TempleThis Buddhist temple proudly overlooks Sihanoukville town and is a stunningly decorated gem. Boasting gorgeous gardens, pagodas, statues and revered tombs, this is one of Cambodia’s oldest temples and one of Snooky’s very few cultural attractions.
Otres MarketThe weekly Saturday night markets on Otres Beach are favoured by all who visit town. Although there are a few sporadic bazaars set up on various beaches, this is the best by far. Here, you’ll find an eclectic mix of gear, from fashion to unique artefacts and hand-made jewellery. During high season you’ll also see live bands and a great selection of food stands.
Kbal Chhay WaterfallsThe road to these falls is a bumpy and dusty mess, yet for many people the 40-minute ride here by tuk-tuk just adds to the fun. Kbal Chhay is one of the least touristy places you’ll find in Sihanoukville, yet is so insanely popular with picnicking locals that you’ll find the usual piles of rubbish strewn about. If you can overlook this, you’ll be set for a great day out. In rain season (or just after) the falls are very impressive and the swimming pond underneath them incredibly refreshing. The area is pretty and boasts quite a few walking tracks if you wish to explore it further. A few drinks and food stalls provide much needed refreshments on very hot days.
How to get to SihanoukvilleSnooky is about three hour’s drive away from the capital, Phnom Penh, from where mini-van and bus tickets can be booked. Alternatively, if you’re only visiting Siem Reap and the Angkor Archaeological Park, you can catch a flight to Sihanoukville Airport bypassing the capital altogether. The 55-minute flight costs about $ 100 USD and there are several scheduled daily.
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Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Apr 01, 2015