Famous long in the past, and again after the end of Cambodia’s long civil strife, for golden sandy beaches along the very finest of this countries’ frontage on the Gulf of Thailand, Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s leading beach resort. There are many resorts, restaurants and even casinos to complement the beaches, and the nightlife here is the stuff of backpacker legends. However, this town’s success has come with a heavy social price, with many destitute children being forced into begging and selling tourist trinkets by their families, which has also left them vulnerable to the whims of subhuman sex tourists.
Despite this very negative downside, which is one of the side effects of having one of the poorest populations in the world, there is much to do in the area to relax after the sweatiness of temple tramping in Angkor Wat, and the sombre heaviness of exploring the dark side of Khmer history in Phnom Penh. Just be certain to not encourage the current trend of children selling things in the streets by not buying from them. If you want to help them get off the street and into a school, there are organizations you can volunteer with to help them make this transition, which are detailed below.
With that seriousness aside, let’s have some fun in Cambodia’s beachside city!
Seeing how Sihanoukville was only carved out of the jungle fifty years ago to make way for a new port for the newly independent nation of Cambodia, don’t come here expecting to find much in the way of groundbreaking temples or museums. That said, there are several enriching places in the area that might speak to the cultural muse inside of you. Start by checking out Ream National Park, which is 18 kilometres outside of Sihanoukville. This park was created to protect the mangrove forest lining the shores here, along with the wildlife that counts on its survival for their own livelihood. In the treetops of Ream National Park, monkeys abound, and together with about 150 species of birds, it is well worth coming out here for a day to break up the beach monotony that might otherwise take up the entirety of your visit to this region.
While Cambodian cuisine isn’t as well known as the ones of its cousins to the west (Thailand) and east (Vietnam), it is every bit as delicious, and thus, worth learning how to cook properly so you can impress your loved ones at home. To that end, there are a few cookery schools within Sihanoukville that will teach you the finer art of preparing the perfect beef lok lak or fish amok, from ingredient acquisition in the morning, to plating the dish in the most pleasing way possible.
Out of all the culturally significant activities you could undertake in Sihanoukville, by far the most important one you could do is to volunteer your time to a charity working to get underprivileged children off the streets and beaches of this city. The downsides of this beach town have been mentioned already in this guide, but you can become part of the solution by taking the time to support organizations like the Cambodian Children’s Painting Project, which aims to provide English and artistic education to these kids, giving them the skills to thrive in the community, rather than being at the behest of the seedy underbelly that unfortunately exists in this town.
The most obvious attraction in Sihanoukville is its beaches. Of all the strips of sand at your disposal, the ones where you will likely end up first are Occheuteal and Serendipity Beaches, where most of the backpacker to mid-range accommodations in Sihanoukville are located. If you enjoy a good party by night, and want your every whim (from food and drink to massages) catered to, then this is the beach for you. If you don’t like being pestered every five minutes by vendors who rarely take no for an answer, your patience for this place may wear pretty thin quickly.
Better options in the area are Sokha and Otres Beach, located to the north and south of Occheuteal Beach respectively. Sokha will cost you a pretty penny to lay on ($10!) for the day, but it comes with access to the pool of the private resort that owns this pretty piece of real estate. The sands are swept for washed up junk daily, and security guards keep annoying vendors away, so it may be well worth the price you pay. Otres Beach will require a moto ride to and from the area (unless you’re staying there), as it is 5 kilometres away from the centre of town. Again, the distance keeps away most vendors, and the beach here is much cleaner, and much more peaceful than in the touristic Occheuteal Beach area.
To truly get away from it all, be sure to book a bungalow and boat ticket to one of Sihanoukville’s many offshore islands. Koh Rong, Koh Rong Samloem, and Koh Ta Kiev, among others, are straight out of your castaway dreams, with perfect white sand, water so blue-green that it looks photoshopped in real life and food so well done that you won’t care that wi-fi is limited to non-existent, and that power only comes via generator for a few hours after dark. Out of all the reasons you could have to come to this area of Cambodia, make a trip out here one of your must-do’s; you will not regret this decision so long as you live!