Si­hanoukville, Asia’s next trend­set­ting beach

Asia’s next trend­set­ting beach

Cambodia Insight - - CONTENTS -

Si­hanoukville, also known as ‘Kom­pong Som’ is a coastal city in Cam­bo­dia and the cap­i­tal city of Si­hanoukville prov­ince, lo­cated at the tip of an el­e­vated penin­sula in the coun­try’s south-west at the Gulf of Thai­land. The city is flanked by an al­most un­in­ter­rupted string of beaches along its en­tire coast­line and coastal marsh­lands bor­der­ing the Ream Na­tional Park in the East. A num­ber of thinly in­hab­ited is­lands - un­der Si­hanoukville’s ad­min­is­tra­tion - are in the city’s prox­im­ity, where in re­cent years mod­er­ate de­vel­op­ment has helped to at­tract a siz­able por­tion of Asia’s in­di­vid­ual trav­el­ers, young stu­dents and back-pack­ers. In a land with thou­sands of years of his­tory, Si­hanoukville is a colour­ful but tragic up­start. A mere fifty years ago, a French-cam­bo­dian con­struc­tion carved a camp out of the jun­gle and started build­ing the first deep-sea port of a newly in­de­pen­dent Cam­bo­dia. Named Si­hanoukville in 1964 af­ter the rul­ing prince of Cam­bo­dia, the boom­ing port and its golden beaches soon drew Cam­bo­dia’s jet­set­ting elite, spawn­ing the first Angkor Beer brew­ery and the mod­ernist seven-story In­de­pen­dence Ho­tel which, claim lo­cals, even played host to Jacqueline Kennedy on her whirl­wind tour of Cam­bo­dia in 1967.

Alas, the party came to an abrupt end in 1970 when Si­hanouk was de­posed in a coup and Cam­bo­dia de­scended into civil war. The town – re­named Kom­pong Som – soon fell on hard times: the vic­to­ri­ous Kh­mer Rouge used the In­de­pen­dence Ho­tel for tar­get prac­tice and, when they made the mis­take of hi­jack­ing an Amer­i­can con­tainer ship, the port was bombed by the U.S. Air Force. Even af­ter Pol Pot’s regime was driven from power, the bumpy high­way to the cap­i­tal was no­to­ri­ous for ban­ditry and the beaches un­for­tu­nately stayed empty.

Peace re­turned in 1993 fol­low­ing the his­toric elec­tions or­ga­nized by the United Na­tions Tran­si­tional Au­thor­ity in Cam­bo­dia ( UNTAC) and in the en­su­ing ten years Si­hanoukville has been busy pick­ing up the pieces. First vis­ited only by a few in­trepid back­pack­ers, guide­books still talk of walls pock­marked by bul­lets, but any signs of war are hard to spot in to­day’s Si­hanoukville, whose new sym­bol seems to be the con­struc­tion site. Af­ter 30 years of hous­ing only ghosts, the In­de­pen­dence Ho­tel is up and run­ning again, more and more Kh­mers and ex­pats have set­tled down to run bars and restau­rants, and the knowl­edge of what the New York Times dubbed “Asia’s next trend­set­ting beach” is start­ing to spread.

Get­ting there

By plane

The small Si­hanoukville Air­port is lo­cated 17km to the east of town, on the edge of Ream Na­tional Park. Cam­bo­dia Angkor Air started fly­ing to and from Siem Reap on De­cem­ber 14th 2011 with three flights a week.

By he­li­copter

Sokha He­li­copters of­fers a VIP char­ter ser­vice be­tween a pri­vate heli­pad at Sokha Beach Re­sort and Ph­nom Penh and Siem Reap. Char­ter rates start at US $1495 per flight hour plus 10% VAT & 10% SPT, with dis­count pack­ages for stays at Sokha Beach Re­sort. He­li­copters are mod­ern, French-built Euro­copter Ecureuils with lux­ury leather seat­ing for 5 pas­sen­gers. Li­cenced pi­lots are from Aus­tralia and Europe. Flight time from Ph­nom Penh is 55 min­utes and Siem Reap 1 hour and 40 min­utes.

By bus

Ph­nom Penh So­rya Trans­port GST Ex­press, and Mekong Ex­press op­er­ate hourly ser­vices from Ph­nom Penh, tak­ing 4-6 hours and cost­ing $4.50 - $10, de­pend­ing on the bus qual­ity and the num­ber of stops. The first bus leaves Ph­nom Penh at 7:00 AM; the last bus leaves at 8:00 PM.

Tick­ets can be booked at the bus com­pany of­fices, travel agen­cies, and many guest­houses. It is worth re­serv­ing a day in ad­vance to be sure of a seat. Na­tional Route 4 be­tween

Ph­nom Penh and Si­hanoukville is one of Cam­bo­dia’s best roads.

Gi­ant Ibis and Mey Hong of­fer a 14-16 seat air-con­di­tioned minibus that is aimed at tourists and never has more pas­sen­gers than seats. The Tick­ets cost $10.

Rith Mony, Bun Thou, and Vi­rak Bun­tham Ex­press op­er­ate daily air-con­di­tioned minibus ser­vice leav­ing at 8:30AM to/from the bor­der with Thai­land at Koh Kong/hat Lek, tak­ing about 5 hours. “Lo­cal” and “Tourist” minibuses ser­vice this route; they are al­ways jam-packed, and the trip can be un­com­fort­able.

“Lo­cal” ser­vice price de­pends on how much space you want (a whole seat, half a seat, or a space on the roof); for­eign­ers can ex­pect to pay $6-8. There are var­i­ous com­pany night buses run­ning from Siem Reap. The trip takes around 12-14 hours and costs $14-17 for a sleep­ing 70% re­clin­ing seats bus with beds. But be­ware that the road is re­ally bumpy, seats may be not like the pho­tos in the ticket of­fice, and you may be forced to change buses from sleep­ing to sit­ting in Ph­nom Penh. So make sure you have the di­rect bus with no changes, as­signed seat and seller phone num­ber to get what you paid for.

Get­ting around

Cen­tral Si­hanoukville

Dis­tances be­tween the beaches are a lit­tle too long to walk com­fort­ably, but get­ting around is easy, as the roads are wide and bike taxis (motodop) are ev­ery­where. The stan­dard price is $2 per trip, although ex­pect to hag­gle at night or if the dis­tance is long. They’ll gladly pile on two peo­ple and their lug­gage too. For larger groups, car taxis can be called ($8 to most places around town).

There are dozens of the ubiq­ui­tous tuk-tuks around the new bus sta­tion and the ac­com­mo­da­tion ar­eas. They are some of the most per­sis­tent and over-charg­ing driv­ers in Cam­bo­dia; they have formed an “as­so­ci­a­tion” for price fix­ing - a trip to the bus sta­tion, $2 in Ph­nom Penh, costs $3 if your bus com­pany pays but they

will charge $6 if you ar­rive at the bus sta­tion and want to go to the beach.

If you have de­cided where you will stay it can help to call for a pick up; even if its not free, it may save you some money.

The ride from the new bus sta­tion to Serendip­ity Beach should cost no more than $4 dur­ing the day. Another great choice to get around is to rent a scooter. Hag­gle a bit and you can get it for $16 a day or more - it de­pends on the sea­son. Fuel is not very cheap (about $1.25/L) but can be bought at many road­side shacks. How­ever, as of 2009, rent­ing scoot­ers to for­eign­ers is tech­ni­cally il­le­gal, and the po­lice may stop and fine you.

Beaches

The main rea­son to visit Si­hanoukville is the beaches. They are not as crowded as many of those in Thai­land, but can be cramped on week­ends and hol­i­days. Like many beaches in South­east Asia, they are cov­ered in a lot of rub­bish, but Otres Beach is very clean.

Vic­tory Beach, (south of the com­mer­cial port). Plenty of bud­get ac­com­mo­da­tion nearby on Weather Sta­tion Hill. This beach is close to the sea­port.

In­de­pen­dence Beach. Also known as ‘7-chann beach’ af­ter the grand seven-storey In­de­pen­dence Ho­tel.

Sokha Beach. It is owned by the Sokha Beach Re­sort. It’s pri­vate but you can ac­cess it by pay­ing a cou­ple dol­lars. The good thing is you won’t have many peo­ple beg­ging here or try­ing to sell you some­thing. Och­heuteal Beach is a long and nar­row strip of white sand beach lo­cated in Sangkat No 4. The north­ern sec­tion has now be­come known as Serendip­ity Beach. This is a pop­u­lar beach with western tourists, noted for small guest­house rooms right on the beach.

There are around 30 beach huts serv­ing good value meals and a wide se­lec­tion of drinks, and a clus­ter of mid-range hotels and restau­rants in the mid­dle. Grass um­brel­las, rentable beach chairs and lit­tle drink huts line the beach from one end to the other. Fur­ther south, a num­ber of bud­get traveler/back­packer ori­ented bar/restau­rant/ beach han­gouts have sprung up of­fer­ing um­brel­las, drinks and a great at­mos­phere.

Serendip­ity Beach. Lots of guest­houses and bar/restau­rants right on the beach, open un­til the early hours. This beach seems to be the most pop­u­lar and typ­i­cally has the great­est num­ber of peo­ple on the beach. Serendip­ity Beach is con­nected to Och­heuteal beach.

Otres Beach, (South-east of Serendip­ity and Och­heuteal Beaches). Amaz­ing 4 km long stretch of clean, white sand. Less crowded and more re­laxed than other beaches in Si­hanoukville. It starts with a strip of beach bars and guest­houses called Otres 1 fol­lowed by a 1km long pub­lic beach that ends at Otres 2 – another (smaller) strip of beach bars and guest­houses. Tourists will find nice rooms or bun­ga­lows rang­ing from $10 - 50 per night.

Otres Beach is a great place for lazy sun­bathing, par­ty­ing, and other ac­tiv­i­ties such as cata­ma­rans, wind­surf­ing, kayaks, var­i­ous boat trips, buggy cars, bi­cy­cles and jet skis. The beach bars of both strips have sun beds and a lo­cal food / western food menu. Most of them also fea­ture lovely bun­ga­lows or just sim­ple rooms.

Fa­mous places and ac­tiv­i­ties on the beach:

Rent a kayak and row it to one of the mini is­lands that are close to the beach, or up the small river to a tem­ple.

Wind­surf­ing school – man­aged by a French ex­pat who is also the teacher. The flat sea makes it an easy place to start surf­ing. Lessons costs around $30 and wind­surfers are priced at $8-$12 / hour. There’s a party boat in Otres Beach with mu­sic, wa­ter slides and beer­bongs. This is very sim­i­lar to the “tourist boat tours” that are com­mon to beaches around the world.

Otres Mar­ket. The pre­ferred way to spend your evenings at Otres beach is the late night mar­ket. A big hap­pen­ing with live mu­sic, food stalls and prob­a­bly all the tourists in the area. This goes on from 18:00 to early morn­ing. Get­ting to the mar­ket is a $3 tuk tuk drive from Otres Beach.

Other Fun Spots

Ream Na­tional Park.

A won­der­ful man­grove na­ture re­serve about 30 min­utes drive from Si­hanoukville. Take a moto to park head­quar­ters for $12. From there, park rangers of­fer walk­ing tours for $5 or boat tours for $20 (4 peo­ple). It is best to call in ad­vance. The or­gan­ised trips can be dis­ap­point­ing, as they some­times fail to sup­ply a proper guide and the food can be a bit dodgy.

Buddy Land Wa­ter Park.

This park is the first unique wa­ter park in Si­hanoukville. It has a 12 me­ter high wa­ter slide and a large pool. Be­sides, they have a small sou­venir shop sell­ing dif­fer­ent tra­di­tional sou­venirs such as hats, bags, jew­el­ries and scarfs. Com­ing soon: in­door play­ground for kids and BBQ stand.

White Sand Palace Ho­tel Wa­ter Park.

And then for some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent, just be­side the White Sand Palace Ho­tel, there is a new wa­ter park that se­ri­ously looks like the most fun we can imag­ine hav­ing with some of our clothes still on. It will be closed un­til about Au­gust/septem­ber 2015, but af­ter that will be $3 or $5 for chil­dren and $5 or $8 for adults, de­pend­ing on the time of day, af­ter­noon be­ing more ex­pen­sive.

Serendip­ity Beach

Si­hanoukville Beach at sun­set

Cruise ship at the port of Si­hanoukville

Golden Lion Statue

Wat Kroam

Mi­rax pri­vate re­sort

Vic­tory Beach

The Party Boat

Sokha Beach Ho­tel

Otres Beach

Si­hanoukville Beach

Credit: Wik­i­travel.org, Trav­elfish.org

White Sand Palace Ho­tel Wa­ter Park

Si­hanoukville Beach

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