SIHANOUKVILLE – Cambodia’s most popular beach town

Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s most popular beach town, however, it has a rather bad reputation – particularly among European tourists and travellers.

Sokha beach in SIHANOUKVILLE - Cambodia's most popular beach town
Tranquil Sokha Beach

But I find that already this picture shows that Sihanoukville absolutely has its nice corners and can be the perfect gateway to various great locations.

The Way is the Goal….Not

After my trip from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, I think I should change my blog’s name. Because even after four days in Cambodia, I hadn’t said that loudly “bye” to myself. And the ongoing mishaps really kept on testing me big time.

I want my life – and my travels, too – planned and organized just as booked.
My life – and my trip – don’t seem to know that…or they just don’t care.

Leaving Phnom Penh in the morning, the plan was spending a lovely afternoon on the beach of Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s Riviera. Whoop whoop, let’s hit the beach!

A Bargain…Not

A couple of days before going to Sihanoukville, I had bought a surprisingly cheap bus ticket. Tix usually range from 8 to 12 Dollars.

Oh, before I forget: Although Cambodia does have its own currency, everything is priced in US Dollars and even at the ATMs you can choose in which currency you want your cash.

So anyway, my ticket was 6 bucks. Was I suspicious? Not really, since prices vary there for no apparent reason. Well, in this case it turned out that there was a very obvious reason, but I’ve found out only the morning of departure.

When buying the ticket, the lady recommended me to take a big bus instead of a van since I’m tall and would be more comfortable. Actually, she had a point there. I asked how much longer the big bus would take and was very happy when she said only 30 minutes. So, the van 3 hours, the big bus 3.5 – fine. Pickup by tuk-tuk at 7 a. m., the bus leaves at 7.30.
I expected to put on sun protection by noon, tops.

You Get What You Pay For

The tuk-tuk picked me up a little late and took me to a bus station on the other side of town where, to my surprise, I was the only Barang.

Changing my voucher for a ticket, the lady at the counter told me – here again to my surprise – that the bus would leave only at 8.15 and that it takes 5 hours.
Oops.
Since the first ticket vendor doesn’t seem to know about this, someone should tell her…
What about the sun protection at noon?! I was so longing for the beach!!

Rith Mony Bus Station in Phnom Penh
Rith Mony bus station. The lady to the right is just an extra, the bikes to the left play a major role.

Once the bus arrived, I was rather pleasantly surprised. It was actually big and in a condition that did not scare me. Also, there were only three of us. Three adults, that is, plus a handful of kids.
This promised to be a relaxed ride.
I made myself comfortable, plugged my ears with headphones, off we went.

Headstart for Happiness…Not

Yeah, but not too far. After only a couple of minutes we stopped at another bus station of Rith Mony bus company.

I’m afraid that everybody who has ever been to Cambodia is cracking up laughing at reading that name.

The driver opened the trunk where until now was only my suitcase and two bicycle helmets and started to load two motorcycles of a remarkable size. You must know that the entire lower bus level is a very high trunk and the passengers are sitting only on the upper level.

Anyway, so two motorbikes plus their owners and off we went.

Scooters in Phnom Penh
There are certainly enough bikes in Phnom Penh for Rith Mony to carry across the country.

Yeah, but again…for their customers’ convenience, ‘Rith Mony’ seems to have many, many, many bus stops all over Phnom Penh and we seemed to stop at every single one of them.

Same procedure: Two more bikes, but this time they have to heave also a big, big crate in the trunk, this sure takes some time.

By then I was sure that my skin would not get that damaged by the sun that day.

You know what, I just spare you all the other stops that we had within Phnom Penh’s city limits. They were very similar, only the size of the crates varied.

Eventually, there was almost no space left in the trunk and few seats were available and we seemed to be on our way.

Why Oh Why?

Yeah, nope – for no obvious reason we parked suspiciously long at the freeway’s shoulder with the motor running.
It was very irritating.
And unnerving.

By now I had decided that I urgently needed to change my blog’s name – I was as demoralized and tense – and as myself as can be.
Why didn’t we move, for Christ’s sake? I asked around.

Well, this was a very cheap bus – although I’m pretty sure that I had paid at least double of the regular fare – the other passengers were noticeably rather common people hence didn’t speak one single word English.
No answer to my ‘why?’

Then I saw from the window that a tuk-tuk brought a big, big motor that the driver initially had refused to take with him at one of the many, many stops we had made.
But clearly the owner had somehow managed to convince him so that we had been waiting for the motor to catch up with us.

And indeed – obviously it was the only thing missing since once that motor was in the trunk, also our motor was running nothing held us back to hit the road.

Making Lemonade

By then I had remembered Tina Uebel’s wise words in her lovely book that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago: If you get mad when having a situation, the only thing that changes is that you got mad.

I want to be a savvy traveller and a wise old woman, so I did my best to try to relax and even see the great opportunity to travel completely off the beaten tracks. And yes, this bus was going so off the beaten tracks, all the other tourists here should be sooo jealous!

Bus in Cambodia on the way to SIHANOUKVILLE - Cambodia's most popular beach town
Why not take a little break – life can wait.
The entire lower part of the bus is the trunk, by the way.

Travelling in Slow Motion

Before I came to Cambodia, I read that there are many accidents because the drivers are speeding.

Well, on this bus, this was my least concern.

We were slowly gliding – and sporadically bumping – along the road. Left and right occasional houses, huts, and stands, there between ponds and creeks with muddy, murky waters. Some of them half or completely covered with discarded plastic bottles, styrofoam bowls and shopping bags. Man, this country was drowning in plastic and styrofoam! I had never seen it in these quantities before – it was everywhere. And as I saw ducks swimming between the garbage in these manure ponds and cows graze around it, I didn’t wonder anymore how all the micro plastic is entering our food chain.

Cambodian Village on my way to SIHANOUKVILLE - Cambodia's most popular beach town
A very nice, clean part of the road.

I might feel a little bit silly when I get home and do carry my sorted garbage to three or four different recycle bins.

I will not be able to save this planet, that’s for sure.

As we kept on gliding and bumping along the garbage und filth framed road, I did what’s best for a traveller: I was thinking and looking. The looking was much more pleasant than the thinking since the sight of Cambodia – always in combination with the past horrors that I’m reading about – made me sad. But there were also nice things to see like rolling hills covered with sumptuous bushes and trees, mellow rice paddies and buffaloes covering themselves with mud again the blistering sun. Everything was so…Cambodian. I looked around in smiling faces and smiled happily back – I will not change my blog’s name after all.

Are We There Yet…Not

At one of many whistle stops as we approached Sihanoukville, a guy in a purple shirt got on the bus and urged me to get off.

This was Sihanoukville.

Woaaah, wait a minute, this is a very dusty road in the middle of nowhere.
I want to go to the city center.
Yes, but this bus doesn’t go there, you have to get off here, this is your final stop.
I still don’t understand why a very dusty road is my final stop, but what can I do?
Somehow the driver manages to drag my suitcase from underneath the motorbikes and they’re gone.

The purple guy was still there and, miraculously, he had a tuk-tuk and was willing to take me to my guest house. Emphasizing his helpfulness he heaved my suitcase in the tuk-tuk.
Waitwaitwait – how much?
15 Dollars.
No way.
I gestured to take my suitcase down.
He stopped me, asking how much I’d pay.
3 Dollars. Max.
No deal.

Never mind, there is a restaurant-ish hut, I can ask them to call the guest house.
Ok, 10 Dollars.
Nope, guest house calling it is.
What’s your final price? he asks.
Five, and no further haggling.
This time he is nope-ing.
Ok then, I pull my suitcase from the tuk-tuk.
Madam, madam, I make you price like local people: 30,000 riel.
That’s the currency nobody uses – and this amount equals about 7,50 US Dollars.
Seven, I say.

As I finally sat in the tuk-tuk and we were figuring out how to get to the guest house, I thought that I bargained quite a good deal – less than half of his initial price, well done, madam.

On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that he cut a deal with the bus people so they allowed him to drag me out of the bus into his stupid tuk-tuk.
But on the other hand, it is comforting that when you get screwed over in a country like Cambodia, you at least can be sure that the money goes to someone who needs it.

Where am I?

So the purple guy and I drove a little around Sihanoukville since he didn’t know exactly where the guest house was – and I wasn’t much of a help, obviously.
As we finally got there, I handed him 7 bucks and pulled my suitcase from the tuk-tuk for a very last time for today. Bye!

You think that was it? I thought so, too.
Until the receptionist at Villa d’Artagnan – later I learned that Adam was his name – greeted me and opened our conversation with the information “Unfortunately we have no room for you – we had water damage”.

Guess what I do. Just guess!

I start to cry. Sorry, but after the frustration having been screwed over so easily by the bus ticket vendor, the neverending, unnerving motorbike and huge crate heaving at I don’t know how many stops in Phnom Penh, the partly very depressing sight of rural Cambodia with all that filth and the disheartening poverty, the pointless haggling with the purple guy…everything seemed just so unfair.
I was exhausted, a little bit physically, but mainly mentally.

Sunset on the Beach at SIHANOUKVILLE - Cambodia's most popular beach town
The beach at Sihanoukville is great for a couple of relaxing days.

Adam was extremely embarrassed and kept apologizing and poured me a nice lemonade. Now I was also apologizing for being so silly to cry over something like this especially since they had already made arrangements for me at another hotel.

I really protected my skin well that day. Because guess what, as soon as I took out the sun protection to at least hit this hotel’s swimming pool, it started raining.

Sihanoukville

Sihanoukville is one of these standards, spoiled beach destinations that used to be nice little fishing villages and are now overrun by tourism.

Along the main streets rows of bars, shops, pharmacies, tour operators, restaurants and so on.

Since large groups of Chinese tourists are coming to town to gamble, there are dozens of monstrous hotels with adjacent casinos and gamble halls. So not my cup of tea!

Also, most of the beaches along the shoreline between Independence Beach and Otres Beach are overrun and quite dirty.

Otres Beach is the most popular one with individual travellers, but even here it’s quite packed and the village itself dirty.

Sokha Beach

The nicest beach is Sokha beach, for the simple reason that it’s located along the posh and expensive Sokha Beach Resort* so that they keep the entire strip clean and not only the part right in front of their spot.

Sokha Beach at SIHANOUKVILLE - Cambodia's most popular beach town
Hanging out on Sokha Beach in Sihanoukville.

It’s possible to buy a day pass for the resort that’s said to cost 20 $ which enables you to use their facilities such as the beach chairs, the pool, etc. I don’t think it’s worth it since you can hang out on the quite empty beach right next to their resort, take a dip in the clean Ocean, get a drink and a snack either at a slightly higher price at the resort’s beach bar or street-food from the hawkers at the other end of the beach.

Sokha beach street hawker at SIHANOUKVILLE - Cambodia's most popular beach town
Many stands with a vast variety of street food right next to Sokha beach.

Would I spend two weeks vacation there? No.
Did I spend various wonderful stopovers there? Definitely yes!

I spend one night there before going to the islands, one beach day and a night before going on a three-day tour eastwards to Kep and Kampot, and one night and a beach day before taking the night bus to Siem Reap and I had a very pleasant, relaxing time.

Handy tip: If Sihanoukville is also your gateway e. g. to the above-mentioned destinations and your planning on coming back in a couple of days, you can ask your landlord to keep your big luggage and you take only a small bag or backpack with you. My recent post on hand luggage might be helpful with your packing.

Practical Information

How to Get There

I presume I have this one covered by my introductory tale.

However, a trip to or from Sihanoukville doesn’t have to be such an odyssey. I went from there to Kep and Kampot by Anny Tours which was totally fine. Also, the Giant Ibis bus company is said to be Cambodia’s most reliable bus operator, unfortunately serving only the most popular routes.

on the Giant Ibis bus
Bunk bed on the Giant Ibis bus from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap.
I’d recommend the upper bed since the lower level is really extremely low – you are practically on the floor.

Also, if you’re going to the islands, you take the ferry in Sihanoukville. There are different companies like GTVC, Speed Ferry Cambodia and Buva Sea. It’s advisable to take the speed ferry and to get a return ticket. This way, your trip should cost around 20 US$.

Where to Stay

I stayed in a nice middle-sized hotel called Nature Life, located in a side alley far enough from the hustle and bustle of the loud tourist places, but still close enough if you want to let your hair down.

It’s actually on a very bumpy dust road with close to no illumination at night so make sure to always have a torch on you because you don’t want to stumble – or step in all that you could step in even on this short stretch; Cambodia is really very dirty.

Update: Meanwhile, the management at Nature Life seems to have changed so I cannot say how it is now.

However, there are many options where to stay in Sihanoukville*

Booking.com

What to Eat

In Sihanoukville, there are many guesthouses as well as restaurants run by ex-pats from all over the world. However, if you are looking for a real treat – and have an even charitable feast –  Sandan is your best bet: a joint where future chefs, waitresses and waiters and maitres d’ are being trained and therefore everything is absolutely top-notch but without the price tag.

Sandan Restaurant
The lovely, talented staff of Sandan Restaurant.

They all seem to be very talented since the service is impeccable, the food exquisite and the drinks fine. Every visit is a treat!

Sandan Restaurant Salad
A real treat: Seafood salad with lotus root, banana flower, local herbs, and chili lime dressing – yes, it was at least as good as it looks!

Sandan Restaurant
Phone: + 855 – 34 – 452 40 00
Email: contact@sandan-restaurant.org

Note: The reason that I’m not giving you exact addresses is that there aren’t any – sorry for that.

Do you want to read about all the other exciting places I’ve visited in Cambodia? Then go to the main post and take your pick!

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One Reply to “SIHANOUKVILLE – Cambodia’s most popular beach town”

  1. It was interesting to read your account of Sihanoukville as it was somewhere I was going to add to my Cambodia travel itinerary but then was put off by negative reviews and so avoided it. It is a shame that while tourism has turned a once-sleepy village into an overrun and dirty location that at the same time it has provided local people with an income. Your journey there sounds awful, the tuk-tuk driver and then water damage at the guest house. Poor You.

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