SIHANOUKVILLE TOWN (232 kilometers from Phnom Penh) is both a beach town and Cambodia's largest ocean port. Formally known as Kompong Som or Kampong Saom and now officially known as Preah Sihanouk, it features white sand beaches, warm Gulf of Thailand waters and a laid back, beachy atmosphere in one part of town and rusting boats and docks in another part. For the most part Sihanoukville is a place to unwind by the beach, enjoy the fresh from-the-ocean seafood, take in a snorkeling or scuba trip, and generally slow-down, lay back and chill-out. It has gotten more developed and touristy in recent years though.
The Capital of Sihanoukville Province, Sihanoukville is located on a peninsula in southern Cambodia. There is a deep-water port on the Gulf of Thailand. The city center is in a hilly area in the middle of the peninsula. Sihanoukville was founded in 1964 to be the only deep-water port in all of Cambodia. It is named after King Sihanouk, who fought for the independence of Cambodia and was a central figure in the 20th century history of Cambodia. Sihanoukville is gradually being redeveloped as a tourist attraction, but despite the promise of massive Malaysian investment - a casino is planned for Naga Island - tourist numbers are still fairly low. Also its nice with sand beaches and several paradise islands have made it popular as a tourist destination.
Although tourism has increased over the past few years, the beaches of Sihanoukville are some of the most unspoiled in all of Southeast Asia. It is a prefect tropical getaway, filled with lovely beaches and facilities for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving or just sunbathing. Boat trips are also available to many of the nearby islands. There are several hotels and local restaurants serving fresh, delicious seafood on the beach. On the weekend, there are many local visitors from Phnom Penh to relax, swimming and enjoy fresh seafood.
Sihanoukville has a different look and feel than most Cambodian towns. Constructed as a port city in the late 1950s, the town is much newer, more urban and cosmopolitan than most Cambodian provincial cities. Nowadays, Sihanoukville is as much a beach town as it is a port town, catering to beach-going weekenders from Phnom Penh as well as a steadily increasing number of foreign visitors. Still, the pace of life in Sihanoukville is very relaxed.
Cows occasionally wander the main road, outside town foreign faces draw smiles and curious stares, and most of the beaches offer only beach umbrellas, thatched roofed eateries, and a growing number of restaurants, bungalows and hotels. Sihanoukville has a more than ample supply of accommodations, including a 5-star resort complex on Sokha Beach, several mid-range places downtown and at the beaches, a few 'upscale' three-star hotels, and dozens of budget guesthouses, especially on Weather Station Hill (Victory Hill).
Considering the moderate number of visitors to Sihanoukville, the town offers a surprising number and variety of restaurants and bars. Fresh seafood, especially crab, prawns and ocean fish, has always been one of the town's biggest draws, but there is also a wide variety of places offering foreign cuisines - Australian, French, Indian, German, Sri Lankan, British, Italian, pizza places, a couple of western bakeries and even a espresso coffee shop. And these days Sihanoukville offers a pretty good night life as well with a wide variety of bars staying open well into the wee hours, especially on Weather Station Hill, in the downtown area, and the beach bars on Ochheuteal, ‘Serendipity’ and Victory Beaches.
Orientation in Sihanoukville: Sihanoukville is not a small place and places of interest are spread out so the best way to get around is to hire a motorbike. Sihanoukville itself is east of the main backpackers' beach and close to the more mid-range Ochatial Beach. Due south of town is tiny Ko Pos Beach, which has a solitary mid-range hotel, and the larger Independence Beach, which has the crumbling Independence Hotel - slated for redevelopment.
Sihanoukville Province is a small southern province of Cambodia. The capital sits on a peninsula with beaches and tropical islands around it. Sihanoukville province is a very small province, covering only 868 square kilometers surface. It's located in the very south of Cambodia and is bordering to the North by Koh Kong Province, to the East by Kampot Province and to the West and South by the beautiful Gulf of Thailand.
Most parts of the province belong to the peninsula, which has some hills and some scattered forested areas. Most parts of the province are covered by rice fields and agricultural plantations. In the northeast part of the province is Bokor National Park, which sits at the southern end of the mighty Cardamom Mountains. The average altitude of the province is supposedly not higher than 40 meters above sea level.
The current population in Sihanoukville province is about 235,190 people or 1.6 percent of the country's total population. The population density is therefore 271 people per square kilometer. Because of the importance of exports to Cambodia's economy, Sihanoukville and its port are earmarked for further significant development by the local government and through international monetary support.
One major government objective is to make Sihanoukville a premier tourist destination as well as an International Offshore Financial Centre. The agricultural sector of Sihanoukville is not very developed as the rocky peninsula isn’t the greatest place for agriculture. Businesses in Sihanoukville are varied from financial activities to tourist and travel-related industries. Considerable international aid has been spent to improve the infrastructure in the province.
At the end of January, Sihanoukville begins to warm and continues to get hotter through July, reaching a maximum temperature of around 35 degrees C. After February, cool 'mango showers' occasionally blow in from the north. December through June is said by some local outfitters to be the best scuba weather with clearer (though cooler) waters. The cool season is from November to March with temperatures ranging from 20 to 28 degrees C. The hot season is from March to May with temperatures ranging from 26 to 35 degrees C. The rainy season is from May to October. Temperatures are 24 to 34 degrees C, with humidity up to 90 percent. The best beach weather begins with the end of the rains in November. The dry, warm, breezy weather that follows lasts through January. Night temperatures can get down to a chilly 20 degrees but the days hover around 28 to 30 degrees C. Many think December and January are best with their balmy temperatures and blue skies.
Sihanoukville: the New Goa?
Alexander Lobrano wrote in the New York Times, “"It's the next Goa, the new Phi Phi. If you love the cusp, or that fabulous moment when a destination morphs from backpackers bolthole into a new compass point for monied bohemians, make tracks for Sihanoukville now," insisted my friend in Bangkok, and the idea of a cheap farniente week at the beach sounded ideal after a lot of temple climbing in Angkor Wat. [Source: Alexander Lobrano, New York Times, January 5, 2006]
“Heading south from Phnom Penh, it was a three-hour drive (there's no air service to Sihanoukville) past the pineapple and palm oil plantations that punctuate the flat Cambodian countryside before we reached the Sokha Beach Hotel on the Gulf of Thailand. Just off the lobby, a Filipino band was singing "Fry, robin, fry," their L-free version of that trashy '70s Silver Convention dance tune "Fly, Robin, Fly," and the music was so amped up I could barely hear the receptionist as we checked in. After registering, we were ushered into the bar and served sickeningly sweet antifreeze-green "welcome" drinks, which caused enough of a sugar rush to have me thinking I'd leave for Bangkok early the next morning and strangle my friend. Asia's next great beach destination indeed.
“A cardinal rule of good travel, of course, is never to jump to hasty conclusions, so after an unexpectedly good dinner of grilled, locally caught prawns in lemon-grass sauce and a nice bottle of white Rioja, we decided to check out the beach by the light of a full moon. It was stunningly beautiful, a perfect private scallop-edged strand of immaculate white sand, dotted with palm-thatched beach umbrellas and a backdrop of a pretty, manicured garden promenade that had obviously been based on a French colonial model, with S-shaped dark green benches like those in the Luxembourg Gardens, white cast-iron lamps with pearly glass globes and the zealous grooming that unfailingly distinguishes French gardening from the shaggier laissez-faire Anglo-Saxon approach to nature.
“The beach was even lovelier by day - basically empty and lapped by the warm, limpid aquamarine waters of the Gulf of Thailand. We quickly abandoned plans to explore Sihanoukville, which is often referred to as the "youngest" city in Cambodia since it was founded in the late '50s, in favor of a recurring triangle of idleness consisting of swimming, reading and napping, in exactly that order. The following day it didn't take long to see what there was to be seen: Downtown Sihanoukville is a dusty, noisy jumble of shops and modern buildings - interesting enough for being busy, friendly, completely unself-conscious and extremely cheap. The main attraction is the covered market. Otherwise, the only reason to linger is to check your e-mail in one of the many Internet cafés or maybe stock up on vacation necessities like white wine, bottled water and fruit.
“If this quiet beach town, popular with Cambodia's glamorous beau monde during the '60s before the country was devastated by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, is slated to become the next Phuket, the turning point came with the opening of the Sokha Beach Hotel in May 2004. Near Ochheuteal Beach, a blowzy backpacker's central, a nine-hole golf course by the Malaysia-based golf course designer Ted Parslow,” was slated to open in autumn 2006, “with construction of a luxury hotel to begin shortly afterwards.
What will really accelerate Sihanoukville's upmarket resurrection, however, is the opening of a lengthened and reinforced runway at the town's tiny airport next spring. Bangkok Airways, which ferries tourists from Bangkok to Siem Reap, gateway to Angkor, is planning service, and other regional carriers are interested, too.
Sihanoukville town is dominated by wide streets and new big concrete buildings, which have all but wiped any colonial architectural vestiges it may have once had. White-sand beaches that include Ohchheuteal, Sokha, Pram Pi Chan, and Deum Chrey are the town’s main attraction. These beaches are known for their quiet, cosy atmosphere and the large stretches of white sand and clear waters.
Beside the nice beaches and some very nice vantage points there isn't that much to see in the town itself. To catch a nice view on the city you best climb the small hill to Wat Leu. Wat Krom is another place of interest. It features a recently-built pagoda (the older one was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge) and houses a sanctuary called Yeah Mao, the guardian of the coast. Near to the town there are nice places for a detour such as the Ream National Park and the beautiful Kbal Chhay Waterfall. On National Road 4,Kilometer Post 135, Kompong Seila District, relax in clean, natural and private wooden cottages overlooking a spectacular vast green mountain range and forest.
Alexander Lobrano wrote in the New York Times, “"Sihanoukville is on the cusp, a deliciously laid-back place for a time out during heavy-duty Asian sightseeing. If you stay at the well-mannered Sokha Beach Hotel, catch the current scene by spending a day at Ochheuteal Beach. Lined with Berkeley, California-style bars, cafés and guesthouses, it has a happy, hippie funkiness along the lines of Goa and pulls a young international crowd out to have a good time on a small budget. Ochheuteal is also the best place to shop for a value-priced day of diving in and around the islands offshore. [Source: Alexander Lobrano, New York Times, January 5, 2006]
Otherwise, do a day trip to Kep - locally famous for its seafood and especially its crabs; Kampot, known for its sleepy French colonial charm and pepper plantations, or atmospheric Bokor, an abandoned 1920s vintage casino and hill station. Finally, watch out for the locally made palm wine (it packs a punch), buy the highest sun-protection cream you can find and bring a lot of books, because Sihanoukville is that rare and wonderful place where you will actually end up reading more than you than thought you would. Oh, and go now, too, so that in 10 or 15 years, when there are direct flights to Sihanoukville from Shanghai and Tokyo, Manchester and Amsterdam, and the beach is lined with brand-name hotels, you can say, "I remember this place when ..."”
Getting Around in Sihanoukville: According to ASIRT: Privately owned moto-taxis (motodops) and tuk-tuks provide transport within the city. They are not government-regulated. Fares are not fixed. Foreigners are often over-charged. Inquire at hotel or tourist agencies about typical fares. Agree on fare before boarding. Main roads in the city are in good condition. Enforcement of traffic laws is improving, but remains inadequate. Driving in the city is not recommended. Motorbikes are common. Motorbike drivers generally drive recklessly. They seldom use mirrors or wear helmets, and often carry more than two passengers. They may drive on the wrong of the street. Children and under-aged persons are commonly seen driving motorbikes. Moto-taxis and tuk-tuks are the primary providers of transport services iin the city and to beaches near the city. Using them is not recommended, due to high road risk. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2010]
For More on the Beaches, Wats and Waterfalls See Below.
Shopping in Sihanoukville
Sihanoukville does not offer souvenir shopping comparable to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, but Sihanoukville’s shopping opportunities are growing. Several convenience stores and small supermarkets are now scattered across the town, offering a good selections of all of the usual traveller's needs. And now there are even a few cool souvenirs to be had in Sihanoukville. There are some good T-shirts available at bars and guesthouses and some cool clothing and accessories for sale at places like Boom Boom Room. Of particular interest, the very popular NGO-based Cambodian arts and crafts association, Rajana, has just opened its first outlet in Sihanoukville, located above the Starfish Caf.
The Rajana shop has a good selection of Cambodian arts and crafts, jewellery, textiles, coffees, spices and more. (012-789350, www.rajanacrafts.org.) Another local NGO, M Lop Tapang, offers products made and marketed by disadvantaged women under the Mother Under the Tree, Snardai project. Available at Holy Cow, Starfish Caf, and Geckozy. A souvenir unique to Sihanoukville: scale model wooden Cambodian fishing boats handcrafted by a local French shipwright. The models are detailed wooden miniatures of fishing boats used along Cambodia's coast, and are accurate copies inside and out. Each is individually numbered. Available at Map Water Sports.
Henry Alford wrote in the New York Times, “To shop in a country where the average daily wage is less than a dollar a day is to suddenly want to pay retail. Some of the arenas of this strange inclination are more direct than others: both of the shopping haunts that drew our attention were charity-based. On the muddy, trash-flecked dirt road that leads to Serendipity Beach, the northwestern end of Occheuteal Beach, we found the Cambodian Children’s Painting Project, where kids who are kept out of school and forced into selling wares or themselves on the beach are given free language classes and painting lessons. We each bought a painting ($4 each, plus $1.50 each for frames). A few hours later we found ourselves at Rajana, a gift shop whose proceeds go to teaching young Cambodians handicraft skills. We marveled over the jewelry made from recycled bomb shells ($28 to $32) and key rings made from recycled bullets (95 cents), prior to buying lots of silk scarves ($6 to $30) and lemon-grass candles in bamboo holders ($1.75). Rajana (down the alley at 62 7 Makara Street; 855-23-993-642; www.rajanacrafts.org) in Sihanoukville is one of a chain of nonprofit stores, with wonderful textiles, and some clothing and knickknacks. The N.G.O.-run garden cafe downstairs serves good light meals, and is a fine place to cool off. [Source: Henry Alford, New York Times, March 15, 2009]
Accommodation in Sihanoukville
There is only one deluxe hotel in Sihanoukville - Sokha Beach Resort (5 stars). The town has plenty of places to stay in other lower categories. Accommodation here can get incredibly busy during public holidays and festivals, when it's as well to book if you want to stay at a particular hotel, though you are unlikely to be completely stuck for a place to sleep otherwise. Note that during peak season (Nov-March) and major holidays (particularly Khmer New Year), the hotels hike their prices 25 percent-30 percent above the normal price. It's worth trying to negotiate a more favourable rate if you plan to stay for a week or more, or if you arrive during the week (even during the peak season).
Alexander Lobrano wrote in the New York Times, "Sokha Beach Hotel, an 188-room, four-star hotel brought world-class comforts (satellite television, air conditioning, room service) to a place that had only had cheap and decidedly rustic guesthouses (Sokha Beach Resort, Street 2 Thnou Sangkat 4, Mttapheap District, Sihanoukville; tel. 855 34 935 999, fax 855 34 935 008, www.sokhahotels.com). The good-natured service at the Sokha Beach may still be on a learning curve, but the hotel is a bargain for what it offers (spa, huge pool, gym, tennis courts) - doubles go for $125 - and will likely only get better as the competition heats up. [Source: Alexander Lobrano, New York Times, January 5, 2006]
“The Independence Hotel, a seven-story modernist beauty with a few endearingly kitsch Miami Beach-style bells and whistles - a round dining room, two round ballrooms and a kidney-shaped pool - was designed by the French architects Leroy and Mondet and was one of the chicest hotels in Cambodia when it opened in 1964; locals insist that Jacqueline Kennedy, invited by King Norodom Sihanouk, was among its first guests. Abandoned during the war, it sits on a spectacular bluff overlooking Independence Beach and is getting a top-drawer, head-to-toe renovation that will make it an irresistible address for trendseekers in search of the latest esoteric.” The refurbishment of the Independence (Street 2 Thnou, Sangkat No. 3; 855-34-943-3003; www.independencehotel.net) was refurbished in 2007. You’ll need to take a tuk-tuk (about $5 one way) if you want to go into town or to the public beaches. Doubles from $140.
Other Hotels in Sihanoukville include: 1) Ramada Hotel & Resort: (tel: 034/393916) is a unique hill top hotel overlooking the ocean near the Port. Newly refurbished a/c rooms with all modern amenities. International restaurant. Swimming pool. Tennis courts. Range: $75 - $120. 2) The Reef Resort: (tel: 012/315338) is a superior mid-range accommodation, clean, air conditioned rooms with modern furniture, in-room safe, cable TV, wireless internet access in all rooms, swimming pool with Jacuzzi. Quality restaurant bar serving premium western and Asian dishes as well as a full range of fine wines, beers and spirits. Professional slate topped pool table and darts, friendly service. Range: $30 - $70.
3) The Snake House: (tel: 012/673805) is a unique, ornate bungalow/rooms set in a quiet, lush garden setting. Tastefully decorated, single and double rooms with all amenities and balcony. Swimming pool. Exercise equipment/gym. Next to the amazing Snake House Restaurant. Near Victory Beach. Range: $20 - $25. Bungalow Village: (tel: 012/490293) features Charming hillside bungalows surrounded by 5000 square meters of fruit trees, flowers and large boulders. All with veranda, bathroom, fan and mosquito net, some with sea view and hotwater. Very nice restaurant offering excellent Asian specialties. Unique open-air cinema. Base of Weather Station Hill (Victory Hill). Range: $6 - $15.
Restaurants in Sihanoukville
There is no shortage of restaurants in Sihanoukville; almost anything you want, you may get it. There are plenty of moderately priced Cambodian and international restaurants. Almost every restaurant offers Cambodian food. For the budget minded, check out the inexpensive Chinese places and the local food stalls and noodle cookshops next to the centre. It would be a shame to leave town without savouring the delights of a meal of seafood, which unsurprisingly, is Sihanoukville's speciality, priced by the kilogram and cheaper than anywhere else in the country. If you prefer informality, you can buy your own fish and seafood in the market, and any other accompaniments you fancy, and get them cooked up at one of the beach stalls. There are thousands of shacks offering tasty and reasonable barbecue in the evening right next to the beach.
Alexander Lobrano wrote in the New York Times, "Among the best bites in Sihanoukville, Chez Claude (Kam Pegn hill, Sihanoukville, tel. 855-12-824-870, entrees $5-$14) has superb views of the Gulf of Thailand from its perch on a hillside between the Sokha Beach and the Independence Hotels, and the kitchen prepares an impeccably fresh local catch of the day with a French touch. La Paillote is generally considered the best restaurant in town, with excellent home-style French and Cambodian cooking served in an open-air garden setting (Weather Station Hill, tel. 855-12-633247, entrees $5-$11). [Source: Alexander Lobrano, New York Times, January 5, 2006]
“Downtown, stop by the Starfish Café, where the American baker Deidre O'Shea has taught local women to make Western bread and pastries as a way of supporting themselves and earning money for the philanthropic projects the café oversees; in addition to fantastic brownies and cookies, breakfast and lunch are served, and excellent boxed lunches are available to go (downtown, behind Samudera Market, tel. 855-12-952-011).”
Chhner Molop Chrey (Krong Street, Mondul 3, along the waterfront of Victory Beach in Sihanoukville; 855-34-933-708) is a long-established seafood restaurant, serving fresh fish, shrimp and crabs along the waterfront. Dinner for two, about $16. [Source: Henry Alford, New York Times, March 15, 2009]
The Snake House is one of the most interesting places to eat. It's a restaurant and bar with Russian and International cuisine. An absolutely unique venue: a restaurant/herpetarium carved into the middle of a lush garden maze with dozens of terrariums containing rare and poisonous snakes, exotic lizards, and artificial tide pools. Reasonably priced international and Russian fare. Located between north and south Victory Beaches.
Villa Garden Restaurant & Bar is a nice international restaurant and bar located on the Ochheuteal Beach Rd. between Ochheuteal and Serendipity beaches. Brand new upstyle al fresco restaurant/bar at the DevaRaja boutique guesthouse, offering a unique and eclectic selection of western and Asian favourites and unique chefs choices and creations, many with an emphasis on seafood - shrimp scampi, crab quesadillas, Thai basil crab cakes and of course the daily fish special. Full bar with draft beer, cocktails and a new slate pool table.
Khmer Gourmet, located at the Weather Station Hill, offers delicious Vegetarian, Mexican and Organic food. All vegetarian dishes employing organic ingredients as much as possible. Lots of special Mexican dishes, wraps, veg chilli, veg quesadillas, breakfast burritos and more. Organic veggies, organic brown rice, coffees, teas, and sugar, sourced locally. Memorable homemade desserts. Quality ingredients and hygienic preparation guaranteed. Sometimes Live acoustic music.
Road to and From Sihanoukville
Located in the southwest corner of Cambodia, Sihanoukville can be reached by three national highways:1) NR4, which links the city with Phnom Penh; 2) NR41, which links the city to Kompot Province; and 3) NR48, which links the city to Koh Kong Province and provides passage to the Thai-Cambodian border.via National Highway No 4.
National Highway 4 (NR 4) is one of the country’s best roads. A toll road, it links Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh and was built for heavy goods vehicles, transporting goods to Sihanoukville. Frequent road crashes. National Highway 3 (NR 3) is one of two main roads linking Phnom Penh with Sihanoukville. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2010]
Greater Mekong Sub-region Southern Coastal Road Corridor (GMS Religion) is also known as the Thailand-Cambodia-Vietnam Southern Coastal Road Corridor. It links Trat in Thailand, Koh Kong and Kampot in Cambodia and Ha Tien, Ca Mau and Nam Cau in Vietnam. Some sections are being upgraded. Be alert for construction zones.
NR 41 links Sihanoukville and the Prey Nob District of Kompot Province. It is in good condition. Road signage is inadequate. Livestock is unfenced. Be alert for cattle crossing the road.NR 48 links Sihanoukville and Koh Kong Province in southwestern Cambodia. According to ASIRT: It has two ferry crossings, one at Dang Peaeng and another at Andoung Tuek. Provides passage to the Thai-Cambodian border. Upgrades are complete. Paved, two-lane, all-weather road; in good condition. Links Ban Lung Town in Ratanakiri Province to O Pong Moan and the O Yadao O Yadao—Le Thanh (Vietnam) border crossing in Stung Treng Province. The road is part of an East-West Corridor between Cambodia and Vietnam.
Getting to Sihanoukville
The perfectly paved National Highway No 4 links Phnom Penh with Sihanoukville 230 kilometers away. Alexander Lobrano wrote in the New York Times, " Heading south from Phnom Penh, it was a three-hour drive (there's no air service to Sihanoukville) past the pineapple and palm oil plantations that punctuate the flat Cambodian countryside before we reached the Sokha Beach Hotel on the Gulf of Thailand.” The province could also be entered directly through Koh Kong Province from nearby Thailand, as more and more tourists do. It’s doable either by the bumpy Major Road 48 passing the edge of the Cardamom Mountains or by speedboat from Koh Kong town, next to the Thai border.
By Bus, Shared Taxi or Minivan: From Phnom Penh: Bus relatively comfortable; a/c buses depart Phnom Penh several times per day (from 7:00am to 1pm). The price is around 12,000R -16,000R for the 4 hours ride. The buses start mostly at the southwest corner of the Central Market (Phsar Thmey). In Sihanoukville, all buses arrive and depart from the central bus station on Street 108. The Capitol Guesthouse in Phnom Penh runs daily minivans to Sihanoukville. They depart Phnom Penh at 7:00am and cost 14,000 riel one-way. Buying a round trip ticket will grant you a little discount. In Sihanoukville contact Capitol Tours on Ekareach in the middle of downtown. SHV to PP departs at 12:30pm. Most shared taxis depart Phnom Penh before 10:00am, though you can still find one into the mid afternoon. The price varies between $3-5/person. Shared taxis offer a cramped and harrowing 2½ to 3½ - hour ride with 8 or more people stuffed in a compact car. Private taxis run about $20-$25. In Phnom Penh taxis wait at the southwest corner of the Central Market (Phsar Thmey). In Sihanoukville, Phnom Penh bound taxies wait on Street 108.
According to ASIRT: Inter-city buses provide transport to Phnom Penh. Tourist agencies may organize bus transport to Ho hi Minh City. Phnom Penh Sorya Transport, GST Express and Mekong Express provide transport between Phnom Penh and the city. Trip takes 4 hours, depending on number of stops. Buy tickets at company offices or travel agencies. Book ahead. Rith Mony, Bun Thou, and Virak Buntham Express bus companies provide air-conditioned minibus transport between Sihanoukville and the Thai-Cambodian border, linking Koh Kong (Cambodia) and Hat Lek (Thailand) Local and “tourist” minibuses also provide transport along this route. Minibuses are often overcrowded and uncomfortable. Car taxis provide transport from Phnom Penh to the city. the city. Can arrange car taxis by phone. Chartered taxis provide transport between Phnom Penh and the city. The fare is high, unless you share the trip with other passengers. Shared taxis are generally overcrowded.[Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2010]
By Boat: There are daily boats departing from Sihanoukville (500Baht, 4 hours) around noon for Krong Koh Kong. Most foreigners are unfortunately asked to pay 600Baht or $15. It's worth the tour as you pass by some virgin beaches and nice costal formations. By Airplane: Sihanoukville International Airport is 18 kilometers east of the city near Ream. Also known as Kong Keng Airport. The airport is near the NR 4. The runway there was extended to 2,500 metres and the the taxiways were widened to accommodate large planes. However, after the crash of PMTair Flight U4 241 in June 2007 shortly before landing, scheduled passenger flight service to the airport was discontinued until 2011. Cambodia Angkor Air started a tri-weekly service from Angkor International Airport in Siem Reap in 2011 that was adjusted to include Phnom Penh in in 2013.
Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Train
The only real train in Cambodia connects Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville. There is one train a day on Fridays and Saturdays and two on Sundays. It takes around 6½ hours for the train to cover the 264-kilometer distance. Cambodia's single railway line runs for 160 miles between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville on the Gulf of Thailand coast. Completed in 1969, a year before the Cambodian civil war began, the train passes through lovely southern Cambodian countryside and is particularly beautiful after Kampot, where the tracks wind along the sea at the edge of the Elephant Mountains. Trains from Phnom Penh to Battambang Province depart from Phnom Penh about 5:00am or 6:00am with travel taking much of the day.
According to Seat61.com: “Until recently just one train service remained in Cambodia, from Battambang to Phnom Penh. Previously running every second day, in 2006 it went down to once a week, and in early 2009 it stopped running altogether. There are now no regular passenger trains in Cambodia, only buses. But Cambodian & foreign backers plan to bring back Cambodia's railways from the dead. Although there have been a few problems recently, a company called Toll Royal Railway (www.tollroyalrailway.com) has been given a 30 year concession to repair and operate the railway, and in 2013 it's planned to reopen both the Southern Line from Phnom Penh to Kampot & Sihanoukville (254 km) and the Northern Line from Phnom Penh to Battambang, Sisophon & Poiphet on the Thai border (388 km). Indeed, I have witnessed the new ballast and sleepers being laid between Sisophon and Poipet myself in late 2011. Thai and Cambodian governments have agreed to link their rail systems again for the first time since 1946, and we could see Bangkok to Phnom Penh passenger trains in 2014. One freight service is already back up & running, and the rehabilitation of Phnom Penh's historic main station is already under way. See the official Toll site, www.tollroyalrailway.com.
In 1994, three Westerners and 11 people were pulled off the train, near Kampot, and killed. The Westerners were abducted and held for ransom before being executed. For several years after that employees at train offices were forbidden from selling tickets to foreigners. Beginning in 1998, articles began appearing in magazines by travelers who took the train and lived to tell about it.
When the train was running there was a regular r service in diesel-powered trains. Scenery along the way included small colonial-style train stations, rice fields and sugar palm trees. The trains rarely topped 25 mph, allowing passengers ample time to take it all in. Occasionally there were minor derailments, but none caused serious injuries.
In 2000, an old pre-World War II steam engine was brought of the mothballs and restored for service and outfit with some carriages loaned by King Sihanouk and set up as a tourist train called the Pacific 231. This was train was considerably heavier than normal trains and special scouts were employed on the train to keep an eye for weak bridges and rotten ties that could cause the train to derail. There was an attempt to emulate the luxury trains in India and Vietnam and other places but effort fell short. Passengers served cocktails and meal had to hold on tight to their plates and glasses when the carriages swayed and wobbled. Safety stops were made every 30 minutes or so to make sure the joints on the wheels were not too overheated. In 2000, the train could be rented $3,000 for 100 passengers, with catering offered by the Hotel Le Royal.
BEACHES AND ISLANDS IN THE SIHANOUKVILLE AREA
The white sand beaches at Sihanoukville on the Gulf of Thailand are popular tourist attractions.. Koh Kong Island, located just off of Cambodia's western coast in the Gulf of Thailand, has been developed as a tourist destination. Flights are available from Phnom Penh, and the Island can also be reached by boat from Sihanoukville. Deum Chhrey Beach is located in front of the City Hall. Few tourists swim here because there is a big restaurant nearby. It is popular with tourists who like walk along the beach, however, because there is a picturesque park filled with statues, making site popular with photographers. Prampi Chaon Beach is short and narrow. The waves are bigger that at other beaches, making it popular with locals, who favor it most after Sokha Beach.
Henry Alford wrote in the New York Times, “Outside of the tinkly piano-bar womb of Sihanoukville’s two high-end hotels — the Independence and the Sokha — the town’s night life caters mostly to backpackers and beach bunnies, some of them just in from party capitals like Phuket or Vang Vieng, and eager to shimmer and effloresce over cocktails. A stroll down Serendipity Beach will bring you in contact with fire throwers, mystics, British Vogue photographers, sex tourists and many, many opportunities to indulge in something called a “vodka bucket.” Here is the youth of the world, working hard to forget the inequities of working for an understaffed and poorly run N.G.O.; here is the youth of the world, working hard to remember the name of the French dude they just made out with. The signs of these revelers’ impact on the local economy are not hard to find — certain beach bar/guesthouses offer a free night’s lodging to those of their young customers willing to hand out fliers on the beach for an hour; the business card for one local bar included a map which pinpointed the locations of 1) the bar 2) an A.T.M. and 3) the hospital.[Source: Henry Alford, New York Times, March 15, 2009]
Independence Beach gets its name from the deserted hulk of the 7 -storey Independence Hotel at the north end. Locals call this beach 'otel bram-pil chann (hotel 7-stories). It is labeled '7-Chann Beach' on the in-town street sign. Independence is more than a kilometer long, but the sandy area is much narrower making the beach best when the tide is low. The beach is wider and more tourists toward the northwest end near a small fresh water lake (which is the source of the town's fresh water and is rumored to contain crocodiles). At the other end is the beach's only hotel, Sea Breeze. Grass umbrellas and drink vendors only hotel, Sea Breeze. Grass umbrellas and drink vendors now line the beach from end to end but it is still much less frequented than other beaches. The road up to the old Independence Hotel is often frequented by a small troop of Rhesus monkeys but is currently closed while the hotel is undergoing renovation. Adjacent to Independence Beach is a lush green garden area, well maintained and decorated with statues. Thus offering so many great things this is one of the beaches in Sihanoukville that is surely worth a visit.
Koh Pors (about 1 kilometer from Lomhe Kay beach) is an island off the coast of Sihanoukville. The beach is flat and very quiet. It is attracts few visitors, because it is undeveloped. Those tourists who do visit the island travel in groups and bring their own food. Koh Rong Island (at about 40 kilometers off the coast of Sihanoukville) is a Cambodian Island in the Gulf of Thailand that is deserted, undeveloped and untouched. The island is one of the most beautiful island of the Kompong Som Region. A snowdrift bay, covered by a crystal clear and turquoise water, stretches on several kilometers. At the center, a jungle with thousands of coconut palms and waterfalls invade the island.
Prek Treng Beach (a few kilometers north of Sihanoukville) is also known as “Hun Sen Beach”. It is a long, narrow crescent of sand, a bit rocky in parts, offering comparatively warm shallow waters. Due to Prek Treng’s distance from town and complete lack of services (no guesthouses, restaurants, beach chairs, etc.,) the beach is usually deserted. There is a nearby development project promising a busy future for Prek Treng, but at the moment you can have the beach pretty much to yourself. Just remember to bring drinks and snacks as there are very rarely beach vendors available. To get there follow Hun Sen Beach Drive north a few kilometers past the port area. The beach is on the left just past the first bridge and before you reach the oil port.
Victory Beach is located in front of Koh Pors (Snake Island). Also known as Lomhe Kay, it offers a number of services, including comfortable restrooms, fresh water and good transportation service to Koh Pors. Thus, many local and international visitors go to this beach. There are many well organized kiosks along the beach, the waves are not big, and invironment is clean.
Ochheuteal Beach is the most popular beach in Sihanoukville, offering the full spectrum of beach venues from upscale hotels and dining to laid-back budget beach bars and bungalows. Known as UNTAC Beach in the early 1990s, it is is long, sandy and narrow, with 'Serendipity Beach' at the northern end, a golf-course development at the southern end, and a cluster of mid-range hotels and restaurants near the MP base in the middle. Grass umbrellas, rentable beach chairs and little drink huts line the beach from one end to the other.
Situated on the beach are several nice hotels including the Seaside and Crystal, the mid-range Holiday, as well as some of Sihanoukville's better seafood restaurants, (Sea Dragon, Susaday, Sunshine and Les Feuilles), which are within walking distance of the hotels. Further south along the beach in front of the golf course develop-ment, a number of budget traveler/backpacker oriented bar/restaurant/beach hangouts have sprung up offering chairs, umbrellas, drinks and a chill-out atmosphere.
At Ochheuteal's extreme northern end, Serendipity Beach' is the only beach in Sihanoukville to offer bungalows and guesthouse rooms right on the sand. Over the past two years Serendipity's popularity has grown exponentially, as have the number of bungalows, hotels, and restaurants. The beach now offers several mid-range and budget places including Coasters' well-known bungalows, Uncle Bob's 24-hour restaurant and budget rooms, and The Beach’s mid-range rooms. There are also places popping up on the hill just above the Serendipity such as Diamond Guesthouse and closer to the traffic circle, Sanctuary Bar and Guesthouse. To get to Serendipity Beach follow Ekareach Street straight through the Golden Lion Traffic Circle and UP and over the hill.
Otres Beach (the next beach south of Ochheuteal Beach) resembles Ochheuteal in many ways. It is a three kilometer crescent of near white sand facing the southwest. But Otres is far less developed and touristed than Ochheuteal, offering a more leisurely, relaxed atmosphere. Forbes listed it amongst the Top 22 Beaches in Asia. Though much of the beach was recently closed for a development project, more than a kilometer remains open and retains the same laid back feel. There are no hotels, spas or large restaurants on Otres, just a string of beach-shack bars, restaurants and bungalows stretching along the sand from the intersection to the new development project.
Most all of the beach restaurants serve seafood and more, but each place has its own unique flavor. There are several bungalows and small guesthouses on the beach, most sitting right on the sand just a few meters from the water. Price and quality of the rooms and bungalows varies, so shop around for the room that best suits your budget and requirements. Bear in mind that the seclusion and lack of development that affords Otres its tranquil atmosphere also limits some services. After dark it can be difficult to travel between Otres and town.
To get to Otres: 1) The road from Ochheuteal over the hill through Queen Hill Resort allows easy motorcycle access but is blocked to cars and tuk-tuks. 2) By car or tuk-tuk from Ochheuteal: follow Polaway Street (1 Kanda Street) to the end of the pavement and turn left, cross the bridge and proceed about 500 meters to the next right turn. Turn and follow the rough road about 2.3 kilometers to the beach. 3) Omui Street from downtown is paved and in good condition. Follow to the Otres turnoff and turn left.
Sokha Beach (adjoining O'Cheuteal Beach) is a long beach though the water is deeper here. Also known as Serendipity Beach, it was once more crowded than O'Cheuteal Beach, because Cambodians prefer it to the other beaches. However, Oknha Sok Kung's Sokha Hotel Company recently took over operations at the beach. The company is building up the area in hope of attracting more tourists to Sihanoukville.
Sokha Beach wins many votes for the nicest beach in Sihanoukville, with its radiant stretch of fine white sand and shallow waters ideal for floating and lazy days. The beach is backed by the huge, sprawling Sokha Beach Resort, the first — though no doubt, not the last — truly flash hotel to plunk down in Sihanoukville. Although it's a shame to see one resort dominate the beach, at least they look after it well — the beach is near-always clean and the water sparkling. There is a very shallow drop off here, so you can wander a long way out into the water before it gets particularly deep, making it great for those with young children. While we personally had no problems accessing the beach without being a guest, there have been persistent reports regarding hotel security guards chasing non-guests off the beach. One option we guess is to approach the beach through the resort — one assumes the guards don't have identikits of all the guests — but one would have hoped this would not have been necessary in the first place. If you do get chased off, there is a very small patch of sand in front of Malibu and as they're a pretty cool lot running this joint we can't imagine they'd chase you off as well.
Sokha Beach Resort (5 minutes drive from the town of Sihanoukville) is set amidst 23.5 hectares of beautifully landscaped beachfront and garden with its own 1.5 kilometers pristine white sandy beach. All of the spacious rooms and suites are tastefully decorated for comfort in traditional ancient and modern Khmer design. You can also enjoy the magnificent views of tropical garden or the beautiful sea from your private balcony. Enjoy a luxurious private seafront view with perfect gourmet seafood, Chinese and Khmer cuisine and experience the romantic ambience indoor or in an al fresco setting. Indulge your senses in an exotic evening experience with singing and dancing with an extensive selection of worldwide fine wines available at the onsite Sokha Wine Bar. You can also find a number of more Restaurants and Bars available onsite for your dining pleasure. Rejuvenate your mind body and soul at the Resort's spa where you can discover the simple joys of life with endless pampering treatments from head to toe. The state-of-the-art gymnasium and the swimming pool at Sokha Beach Resort & Spa Sihanoukville is the place to unwind after a long day of work or pleasure.
Ream Beach (27 kilometers north of Sihanoukville) is an untouched beach located in the Ream National Park. The beach to the right is long and narrow and frequented more by fishermen than tourists. Behind the beach is a mangrove swamp, which attracts a wide variety of tropical birds. The beaches to the left nearer the Naval Base now have a few vendors selling drinks and renting tubes. There is a small $5 per night guesthouse run by the National Park. Check at the park HQ opposite the entrance to the airport.
The area of Ream Beach is not very large. It is also one of the few beaches that is landscaped by mountains and water falls, thus making the entire scene a treat for the eye. You can even see fishermen at work while you are relaxing. Since there are only a few small stalls you are is advised to bring your own refreshments.
Ream Beach is not difficult to reach because the road is pretty straight without much turns or twists. Take Route 4 to the Airport road 18 kilometers north of town. Turn right, go 9 kilometers to the ocean. Several kinds of transport can to ferry you to the beach.
Wats in the Sihanoukville Area
Wats in Sihanoukville: Wat Leu (6 kilometers from Sihanoukville) is one of the five main wats in Sihanoukville. These Wats, or Buddhist temples, are scattered around Sihanoukville. Wat Leu, Sihanoukville located on the Sihanoukville Mountain is only the provincial town. Because of its hilltop location Wat Leu, is commonly known as "Upper Wat". Surrounded by a beautifully landscaped forest, it offers wonderful views of the town and islands nearby.
Phnom Leu (Leu Hill) is a nature and cultural site. Wat Leu on the mountaintop offer visitors a panoramic view of the beaches and Sihanoukville international port. Most visitors are local people who visit the site during national festivals.Wat Leu is not only a religious and historic site it is also significant from the architectural point of view. It is surrounded by a high stone wall. There is a three headed white elephant beautifully carved out of the stone wall with three statues of Buddha on the three heads of the elephant. The golden colored temple with thatched roofs and traditional design resembles the pagodas. In front of the stair case that leads to the temple's door there is a huge statue of lord Buddha made of black colored stones.
As you climb down the Sihanoukville mountain pay a visit to Wat Kraom, also known as "Lower Wat". The wat is located along Independence Beach right at the foot of Sihanoukville Mountain. Wat Kraom is located amidst the large landscaped forest. You can get a panoramic view of which from Wat Leu, Sihanoukville. Wat Leu is also ideal for photography. The tranquility and sacredness of the place attracts the travelers as well as those who are in search of peace.
Wat Kraom (3 kilometers from Sihanoukville) is one of the popular tourist attractions in Sihanoukville. It is known for its a unique and beautiful architecture. Dedicated to Ya-Mao, a local deity, it lies on a small hill on Santipheap St. overlooking the ocean. Apart from Wat Leu, Sihanoukville and Wat Kraom, tourists can also pay visits to Wat Otres, located behind Otres Beach and the 2 wats in Ream National Park. The Outer Wat is situated on the Road number 4 to Phnom Penh and the Inner Wat is located amidst the forest in Ream National Park.
Waterfalls in the Sihanoukville Area
Kbal Chhay Waterfall (in Khan Prey Nup, about 16 kilometers north of downtown Sihanoukville) is 14 meters high and is situated where three water sources come together. The multi-tiered waterfall became popular among Khmers due to it being a major location for the 2000 movie “The Giant Snake”, which is the most successful modern Cambodian movie. To reach the site from Sihanoukville, take National Road 4 toward Phnom Penh. About 7 kilometers out side of town, at mile marker 217, there is a sign announcing the site. Turn left and go 9 kilometers along a trail.
Kbal Chhay was discovered in 1960. Three years later, it was developed into a reservoir to supply clean water to the city of Sihanoukville. The reservoir construction, however, was interrupted due to civil war, and the site became a hide-out for the Khmer Rouge. In 1997, Kbal Chhay was marked for development, and a year later Kok An Company was awarded a contract to construct a road and develop the site for tourism.
Kbal Chhay Waterfalls are situated on the Prek Tuk Sap River located about 30 minutes away from Sihanoukville. These falls can be best viewed during the wet season which occurs in Sihanoukville between July to October. It is during this time that the Kbal Chhay Waterfalls in Sihanoukville is the most attractive with white froth of water cascading down. During the dry season the Kbal Chhay Waterfalls is almost non existent with water just managing to trickle down.
Kbal Chhay Waterfalls is actually a collection of three-meter- to five-meters-high waterfalls which originate from different sources along the mountain ranges. However, only three out of the collection can be sighted. Besides being just a picturesque sight, the waterfall is also a popular picnic spot where you can spend you day amongst the greenery and serene natural ambience. The area offers abundance of food and drink stands that offer refreshments if you need any.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
Last updated August 2020