Cambodia's seaside city is famed for it's endless coastline, beach hut bars and notorious nightlife. Yet if you're not a backpacker looking for sea, sex and partying until sunrise, then I'd recommend avoiding the busy beaches and heading further along the coast to Otres. The area not only offers a variety of restaurants and bars but also secluded strips of unspoilt sands.
If you're looking for laid back night life then head to Otres Village for its hippy restaurants and open air night market. We were fortunate to arrive for the season opening of the night market, which showcases local bands, clothes stalls and street food sellers. Almost like a mini-Glastonbury tucked away in a corner of Cambodia!
Otres 1 is the liveliest part of the beach, abundant in bars, cafes and massage parlours. There's a real feel-good vibe here and it's the perfect place for dinner and drinks. We loved sitting in the swinging chairs at 'Wish You Were Here', enjoying their incredible humous and 50cent Cambodian beer, washed down with home-made Italian gelato from 'Papa Pippo' (there's also a new Papa Pippo 2 in Otres Village).
Yet my favourite place was Otres 2. A simple strip of beach offering quiet loungers with panoramic views of Island splattered oceans. Our favourite base was Banana Beach Club, a friendly establishment that let us use their loungers all day long. Our daily schedule consisted of sunbathing, swimming and midday massages, although the $7 thai massage was particularly powerful- so ask for 'firm hand' with caution!! Long lazy lunches were also a lovely part of the agenda and my favourite place (perhaps in all of Otres) was Secret Garden. I enjoyed some of the best home-made tortilla chips I have ever tasted followed by grilled tofu and green mango salad. Dining to die for yet you'll only set yourself back around $6 for a main.
Yet in spite of its beautiful beaches, Sihanoukville's tourism still has many teething problems. It has arguably out-priced itself, often charging more than Cambodia's other cities- perhaps due to a lack of competition. There's also a lack of customer tact and I often got a sense of 'well you're a westerner so you will pay what I say.' So make sure you stand your ground and barter down to a reasonable rate jumping in a tuktuk (although needless to say the end rate will always be more for a foreigner!)
Certain areas- notably Serendipity Beach- have been overwhelmed by tourism, compromising quaint charm in favour of all-day clubs and super casinos. It's such a shame to see how money can corrupt a piece of paradise. But thankfully, there are still many ocean-side oasis' along Cambodia's shoreline.
Other things to do:
Kbhal Chay waterfall
Located slightly outside of Sihanoukville, Kbhal Chay is a popular playground among the local Khmer, so I'd real recommend visiting early in the day to avoid the crazy crowds! We arrived at 8:30am on a Sunday and had the whole site to ourselves. It's a beautiful natural water park but small in scale compared to those in the Philippines and Thailand, so 1 hour was plenty. Another useful tip: upon entering the site you have to pay a fee of $1 per vehicle, yet the man in the booth cheekily tries to charge $1 per person. In order to get around this just get out your phone and pretend to ring the number on the front of the booth- he will quickly change his tune and charge you the correct amount!
Koh Rong Samloen
Where we stayed:
Located right in between Otres 1+2 and cornering Otres Village, these cute little bungalows are a great mid-range accommodation option. Sihanoukville seems to centre on the extremes, from $5 hostels to $130 hotel rooms, so at $52 a night this was the best of best worlds, with a private bathroom, large circular bed and hanging chairs. The friendly staff made our stay, letting us sample several of their bar concoctions, including coffee and coconut jelly! They even went so far as to pick up Dan's lost suitcase from Phnom Penh airport and looked after it while we were away on Koh Rong Samloen island! It's a lovely little place and is just 150 metres away from a blanket of bare beach!
Where we ate:
-Wish You Were Here
-Banana Beach Club