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Sihanoukville

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Cardamom and Elephant Mountains : Sihanoukville
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Sihanoukville (Krong Preah Seihanu), formerly Kompong Som and familiarly just Snookyville or even Snooky is a seaside town featuring Cambodia's best-known beaches.

File:Sokha.JPG
This beach is privately owned and is the first luxury beach hotel in Cambodia. It provides many facilities with a wide white sandy beach; if you are not staying at the hotel the guards may or may not stop you from going on to the beach.

Understand

In a land with thousands of years of history, Sihanoukville is a colorful 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 the kingdom, 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 long notorious for banditry and the beaches stayed empty.

Peace returned in 1997 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. More and more Khmers and expats have settled down to run hotels, bars and restaurants, and the buzz of what the New York Times dubbed "Asia's next trendsetting beach" is starting to spread far and wide. After 30 years of housing only ghosts, the Independence Hotel is wrapped in scaffolding and scheduled to be rise from the ashes soon.

Get in

By plane

The small airport is located 17km to the east of town, on the edge of Ream National Park. Long closed to scheduled flights, domestic airline PMT started shuttle flights between Sihanoukville and Siem Reap around three times a week. By late 2007, larger airplanes like the Boeing 737 will be able to use the airport and international routes will be opened then, with Bangkok Airways reportedly planning to be among the first to fly in.

By bus

From Phnom Penh: National route 4 from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville is one of Cambodia's best roads. There are regular bus services with Sorya and GST from Phnom Penh (Central Market) which takes about 4 hours at a cost of 15000 Riel, or $4 through a guesthouse. The first bus leaves at 7:15 AM, the last one at 2:30 PM, and the Snooky terminals for both companies are a few metres apart on Ekareach St. It's worth reserving the day before or at least a few hours in advance to be sure of a seat. Mekong Express also runs two buses a day for $6, as does Capitol Guesthouse.

From Koh Kong / Hat Lek (border crossing with Thailand): for the most part this road is unsealed and the condition depends on the weather and frequency/scale of maintenance. "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 around US$6-8. The journey involves four ferry crossings; the scenery is mixed, but does offer some moderately spectacular views at the Koh Kong end.

By taxi

A chartered taxi from Phnom Penh's Central Market can do the trip in less than three hours and will cost anywhere from $25-40, depending on the gas price of the day and how beat up the vehicle is. You can reduce the price by sharing seats, but be warned that Khmers will squeeze in as many six people into the car, so most people will need to buy two seats for comfort.

By boat

From Koh Kong / Hat Lek (border crossing with Thailand): weather permitting, a daily fast ferry departs from Koh Kong for Sihanoukville at 08:00 and from Sihanoukville for Koh Kong at noon. The journey usually takes about 4-4.5 hours and stops once to pick up/drop off supplies at an outlying island; tickets for foreigners cost US$12 (or 500 baht). Minibuses and moto-taxis shuttle passengers from the ferry to the border crossing; a moto-taxi should cost 50 baht. On the Thai side, minibuses run to Trat (110 baht), direct to Laem Ngop (for ferries to Ko Chang), and direct to Bangkok. If taking the minibus to Trat, note that you will arrive at 18:00-19:00 by which time the only long haul bus services are to Bangkok. In some circumstances it's worth spending a night in Koh Kong or Trat.

By train

There are no longer any passenger services on the Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville railway line. It may be possible to hitch a ride with the freight train security guards - enquire locally for further information.

Get 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 US$1 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 up by phone (flat US$5 to most places around town) and there are a few tuk-tuks lurking about too.

See

The reason to visit Sihanoukville is the beaches. Not as crowded as some of the Thai resorts, but they can be cramped on weekends and holidays. For diving go to one of the nearby islands. The town itself doesn't offer much to see. From north to south, the beaches are:

  • Victory Beach - south of the commercial port with plenty of budget accommodation nearby on Weather Station Hill.
  • Independence Beach - also known as '7-chann beach' after the defunct, seven-storey Independence Hotel.
  • Sokha Beach - all but 100 meters of it reserved for guests of the Sokha Beach Resort.
  • Ochheuteal Beach - the most popular beach, with many restaurants, bars and food vendors. Pronounced, roughly, "oh-chur-teal". The northern part is called Serendipity Beach, and offers guesthouses right on the beach.
  • Otres Beach - south of Serendipity, this is the least developed and crowded beach.

Other places of interest include:

  • Kampong Pier Nup Lok - the old fishing port 2 km north of the commercial port offers some nice views.

Do

  • Koh Russei (Bamboo Island) - can be reached by private boat for US$6 return, at Coasters Guest House, Serendipity Beach. See www.cambodia-beach.com for details. On the island there are 2 sets of huts on either side of the island, both with bar/restaurant and basic bungalows. For the pure unspoilt tropical island experience, it is still wonderful place to relax.
  • Scuba diving - there are many islands off the Cambodia coast that have lots of coral and fish. All the dive boats in Cambodia leave from the Sihanoukville port area. There are 2 PADI Dive Centers, 1 SSI Dive Center and instructors from NAUI and CMAS working at smaller dive shops in town. The main scuba diving area is the Koh Rung Group located 14 miles offshore. There is also some shallow diving at Koh Tas 6 miles of shore. The best diving is the overnight trips to the Koh Tang Group, 35 miles from Siahnoukville, where large pelagic are seen regularly, visibility is double what you will find at the close in sites. 2 dive day trips $59 to $70, overnight trips $185 to $195 all inclusive
  • Snorkeling - is possible around most of the islands, with the best snorkeling being at the further our islands for visibility, corals and fish. $10- $25

Buy

There are several small shops in the town, plus a standard Cambodian market ('Psaa Leu'). Handicrafts organization Rajana has a branch above the Starfish Cafe.

Several ATM machines can now be found throughout town, including at the ANZ Bank branch on Ekareach St.

Eat

Along the beaches there are many food stalls and some restaurants, especially at Ochheuteal beach. There are a good many restaurants in town as well. Sihanoukville boasts a suprisingly diverse set of cuisines.

  • Coasters is one of the older restaurant/hotels on the beach. Now, as I am writing this, I am relaxing at the beach pub at coasters - the water is actually only 10 meters away. Coasters is definitely the best place to be on Serendipity Beach. Great food great staff great value.
  • La Paillote, tel. +855-12-632347, Victory Beach. French-Khmer cuisine in one of the finest restaurants in the country. Entrees $5-11.
  • Noh Kor Phnom, Occheuteal Beach (inland, on first road to beach when coming in from town). Friendly no-frills seafood restaurant with a menu of over two hundred options. Try the steamed sunfish with soybeans and ginger ($4.25).


Drink

There are lots of bars all along Serendipity Beach, and they're pretty much all the same. Many have happy hours in the early evening, with draft beer for $1.00. Cocktails are usually $2-3.

  • Star Bar, Located downtown behind Shell gas station. Extremely cold Anchor draft beer (happy hour 50c, rest of the day 75c). Friendly waitresses. Good pool table. Decent kitchen with western oriented menu.
  • Shiftys, Every taxi driver will know where to take you. Owned/operated by a Shifty, a British Expat, it is the place to catch up with expats, backpackers and english speaking locals. Great English pub fare, decent beer prices and pool tournaments make it a heck of a time.

Sleep

Accommodation ranges from basic guest houses on the beach to four-star resorts. There's no shortage of guesthouses and pre-booking is only necessary at peak times such as at New Year.

Budget

Common on some beaches are "free accommodation" options, where budget traveller can get a very basic room for free and pay only for their meals.

  • Sakal Bungalows, Victory Hill. Offering some cheapish pleasant huts above the bar with sea views (over a huge concrete building next door) and more expensive air-con rooms. The menu is brief but the food is excellent. The bar has a 61 inch TV for sports and films, and stays open as long as it needs to. $5 upwards.
  • Sunset Garden Inn, Victory Hill. This family run operation offers a quiet location on the hillside, away from the bars and so forth. Food is served on the veranda, with a decent view of the ocean and garden below. Rooms with bath and cable tv from $5 upwards.


  • Small Hotel. Downtown, behind Caltex. Clean and comfortable A/C rooms $6-15. Superb kitchen with swedish, international and Khmer food.

Mid-range

  • Coasters on Serendipity Beach. I walk into the restaurant at Coasters and an enormous peace comes over me.. It is hard to describe, but it is an open concept with wood paneling and quiet music in the background. The ocean is calmly rushing in the background, and in the sparse light I can see it less than 50 meters away. What a place! Rooms from $10 to $60.


  • Malibu Beach Hotel on Serendipity Beach. Rooms with air-con USD30 , plus some cheaper options. Very noisy at night and a dismal security record

Splurge

There's only one game in town right now, but the competition should heat up in 2007 when the Independence Hotel and the as yet unnamed Malaysian-run golf resort open.

  • Sokha Beach Resort, Sokha Beach, Tel:+855-34 935-999. Fax:+855-34 935-888, [1]. The only international-class beach resort in the country, and good for temporarily forgetting that you are, in fact, in Cambodia. Very bland and a bit rough around the edges, but the beach is gorgeous and hassle-free, and the resort is family-friendly with kiddie pools and playgrounds. All restaurants at the resort, though, are badly overpriced. Rooms from US$100/night up.

Stay healthy

Medical services in Sihanoukville are very limited and basic. Medical service is offered by the International Peace Clinic (Ekareach Street) and the public hospital. In case of major trouble evacuation is necessary.

Contact

Sihanoukville area code is 034.

Internet

There are only a few Internet cafes within the town and some other at the beaches (one is behind the Crystal Hotel on Orcheuteal Beach). Charge is about US$2/hour and Internet-'phone services are also available. Some of the mid-range hotels also offer Internet services at higher prices. Coasters is the only Guest House on Serendipity Beach that has internet access. The connection is high speed, very reliable and good value for money, $1.25 an hour. International phone calls and Skype available also. Open to all from 7am until midnight.

Post

The main Post Office is on Victory beach behind the Holiday Palace Casino, with another office opposite the market.

Embassies

The Vietnamese consulate on Ekareach Street issues 30 day tourist visas on a same-day basis.

Get out

  • Ream National Park - 18 km to the north, tours through the more than 20,000 hectares of coastal mangrove forest and interesting fauna can be arranged everywhere in Sihanoukville



This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!


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