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Sihanoukville

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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.

Sokha Beach, the best in Sihanoukville

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 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 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. 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 buzz of what the New York Times dubbed "Asia's next trendsetting beach" is starting to spread far and wide.

Get in

By plane

The small Sihanoukville Airport (IATA: KOS | ICAO: VDSV) is located 17km to the east of town, on the edge of Ream National Park. There is no commercial service to/from this airport. However, the runway is being extended and flights are anticipated in the future (hopefully).

By helicopter

Sokha Helicopters [14] 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. Licensed 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 [15], GST Express, and Mekong Express operate hourly bus services from Phnom Penh, taking 3-4 hours and costing $5-$10, depending on the quality of the bus and the number of stops. The first bus leaves Phnom Penh at 7:00AM; the last bus leaves at 2:45PM. All buses arrive and depart from the bus station downtown near the market. 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.

Rith Mony, Bun Thou, and Virak Buntham Express operate daily air-conditioned minibus service leaving at 8:30AM to/from the 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 around US$6-8. They will also typically have pickup in front of the offices on the main strip in town at 7:30AM (at which point they simply drive over to the station to wait until the 8:30AM departure time.) You may be offered pickup at your hotel for a premium. Sometimes there are buses leaving at 2:00PM but the service may be available only with suitable demand and ticket prices may be higher (~$15).

By taxi

A chartered taxi from Phnom Penh's Central Market can make the trip in less than three hours and will cost anywhere from US$25-40 per seat, depending on the petrol 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 as many as eight people into the car, including two in the drivers seat, so most people will need to buy two seats for comfort.

By boat

Boats used to run daily from Koh Kong/Hat Lek (the border crossing with Thailand), taking around 4 hours and costing US$20/700 baht. However, the service was suspended in 2008 and it's unclear if it will resume, since travel by road is now cheaper, safer and just as fast.

By train

There are no 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).

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 hit you for $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 overcharging.

The ride from the new bus station to Serendipity Beach should cost no more than $3 during the day.

Another great choice to get around is to rent a scooter. Haggle a bit and you can get it for US$5 a day. Fuel is quite cheap and 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.

See

The town itself doesn't offer much to see.

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.
  • Independence Beach. Also known as '7-chann beach' after the seven-storey Independence Hotel
  • Sokha Beach. owned by Sokha Beach Resort, it is private but you can access it by paying a couple dollars. You wont have many people begging or trying to sell you something here.
  • Ochheuteal Beach. the most popular beach, with many restaurants, bars and food vendors. Pronounced, roughly, "oh-chur-teal".
  • Serendipity Beach. Guesthouses and bar/restaurants right on the beach, open until the early hours.
  • Otres Beach, (South-east of Serendipity and Ochheuteal Beaches). Amazing 4km long stretch of clean, white sands. less crowded and definitely more relaxed than other beaches in Sihanoukville. every season more and more beach bars and guesthouses are poping up along the beach. tourists will find accommodation in rooms or bungalows (prices ranging from $5 - 30 p/night). otres beach is great place for lazy sunbathing but other activities also available (catamarans, windsurfing, kayaks, various boat trips, bicycles).

Other

  • Kampong Pier Nup Lok, (2 km north of the commercial port). The old fishing port. Offers some nice views.
  • Ream National Park. A wonderful mangrove nature reserve about 30 minutes driving from Sihanoukville. Take a moto to park headquarters for $2. From there, park rangers offer walking tours for $5 or boat tours for $20 (4 people). Call in advance. The organised trips from Sihanoukville can be disappointing, as they sometimes fail to supply a proper guide and the food can be a bit dodgy.
  • Koh Russei (Bamboo Island). See the seperate article on Koh Russei for more information.

Do

  • Scuba Diving. There are many islands off the Cambodian 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 US$59-70, overnight trips US$185-195 all inclusive.
  • Golden Spa & Massage, (opposite monkey republic), 011921110, [1]. Offers a wide variety of massages as well as nail care, body scrubs and so on.
  • Snorkeling. Possible around most of the islands, with the best snorkeling being at the further our islands for visibility, corals and fish. Many restaurants at Serendipity Beach advertise a snorkeling trip for $15, but most are incapable of properly explaining what their offer includes. Most will boil down to the same trip organized by one of the travel agents which includes (simple) breakfast at the beach, a visit to two snorkeling spots and a 3 hour lunchbreak at Koh Russei (Bamboo Island).
  • The Cambodian Children's Painting Project (CCPP) [16]. This is located on Serendipity Beach Rd. CCPP is a NGO which works with impoverished Cambodian children. Together with volunteers the children create art which is then sold to help support the children's families and the project itself. As part of the project children are provided with access to education, painting materials, sport activities, two meals a day, medical assistance and dental assistance. Social workers are employed to work with the children's families. You can help by becoming a volunteer, donating painting materials, buying a painting, donating money or by holding an exhibition of the children's art.
  • Unspoiled Island Day Trip. Finding a clean and unspoiled beach (apart from private Sokha Beach) is challenging in Sihanoukville but can be found a couple of hours away on the island Koh Rong Saloem. Daily ferries can take you there in the morning or a one-day trips including snorkeling, fishing, lunch and light breakfast can be booked at [2]. This particular company takes its passengers to a deserted 5km strip of pristine beach. It's run by a very fun and entertaining German man called Robert. There is also accommodation on the island at Lazy Beach.

Buy

There are several small shops in the town, plus a standard Cambodian market ('Psaa Leu'). Although tourism is growing, don't expect large scale tourist markets. As at November 2008, there is still no tailor.

Several clothing and souvenir shops are opening downtown and around the Victory Hill and Ocheteaul area as well.

ATM machines can be found throughout the city. Downtown, there are ATMs from ANZ Bank, Canadia Bank, and Acleda Bank. There are also ATMs around the "Golden Lions", on "Beach Street", at CCS Hotel and one at the Golden Sands Hotel, Occheuteal Beach.

  • Rajana, (Above the Starfish Cafe). Handicrafts

Eat

Along the beaches, especially at Ochheuteal Beach, there are many food stalls and some restaurants serving grilled, meat, chicken, and seafood with chips/fries and a beer for $3-$4. There are a good many restaurants in town as well. Sihanoukville has a surprisingly diverse set of cuisines.

  • Angelo's Restaurant, Near Golden Sands Hotel, Excellent BBQ (try the ribs!) and Greek cuisine.
  • Grand Restaurant Kampuchea, Next to Angelo's and accross the road from the Beach Club on Tola Street. The Chicken Amok Curry (served in a coconut) is a particular highlight (US$3).


  • Happa, Serendipity Beach Rd. Japanese teppanyaki (hot plate) restaurant.


  • Cinderellas Coffee Shop, Ochheuteal Beach. Very pleasant coffeeshop/cafe just off Ochheuteal Beach with comfortable indoor and terrace patio seating. Offering a reasonably priced menu featuring western, Korean and Asian dishes - a fusion selection. A la carte menu for lunch and dinner offering a concise choice of western, Indian, Korean, Japanese and fusion dishes. And, of course, lots of coffees - espresso, cappuccino, frappes, cold coffee and excellent pastries and ice creams. The Apple Strudel is excellent. Full bar, beer, wine, cocktails. Tel: 012-613380 [17]


  • Ku Kai, Serendipity Beach Rd. Japanese restaurant with sashimi (raw fish) and awesome ribs.
  • La Paillote, tel. +855-12-632347, Victory Beach. French-Khmer cuisine in one of the finest restaurants in the country. Entrees US$5-11.
  • La Reserve Sihanoukville, on Victory Hill, Gourmet French Cuisine with Master Chef Patrick Escribe, Table de France.
  • L'luna d'Autunno. Situated on the right hand side of Ekareach Street, a short way before the curve that heads down to the Golden Lions. L'luna is a wonderful Italian Restaurant offering one of the best dining experiences in Sihanoukville. The staff are extremely well trained & friendly, and prices are not overly expensive, with Pasta's and Pizza's at around 8 to 9 dollars.
  • The Look Bar and Restaurant [18]. On Victory Hill in Bar St. Free pool, multiple TV-Screens, WiFir and a wide selection of drinks and food. Weekly blues/rock/rock'n'roll live music and BBQ with latino music.
  • Maharajah Royal Indian Cuisine Halal Siem Reap's popular,Now opened a sister restaurant in SihanoukVille,at Victory Hill +855-15-966221 menu from $3~$10 [19]
  • The Mexican, tel. +855-12-315338, Serendipity Beach Road. Mexican, Western and Khmer Food, sizzling fajitas, tacos, jalapeno poppers, quesadillas
  • Mick and Craig's restaurant. Near the Golden Lions. A Sihanoukville institution which has been providing comfort food in Sihanoukville since 1997. Check out the nightly specials. Their mexican "tex mex" menu and Sunday roast are particular favourites [20].
  • Monkey Republic. Near the Golden Lions. Favourite dishes are Kekabs, Baracuda (fish) and Chips, Chicken Amok and Some fine gourmet rolls. Prices are reasonable and the portions are big.
  • 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 (US$4.25).
  • Pim's Restaurant, Ochheuteal Beach. Western ala carte menu, BBQ, and wok menu. Traditional Cambodian evenings. Nine hole mini-golf, petanque (boules), darts, pool and table tennis.
  • Same Same But Different. On the beach, reasonable food, good price, good staff. Excellent Thai Green Curry. Beware the Happy Pizza, it's very happy.

Drink

The trend on Serendipity Beach is to advertise with permanent 'Happy Hour', which usually implies cocktails for 2 or 2.5$ and draft Anchor beer for as little as 50-75c. The latter is only recommendable if you don't mind drinking it with ice, however, as it is not as cold as it should be.

  • Captain Morgan, Golden Lions Plaza. Nice looking bar with friendly staff. Food and snacks. Open until very late.
  • Dolphin Shack, Located on Serendipity Beach. 25c happy hour draft, $1 Vodka Mixers, outside dance floor.
  • Monkey Republic, Near Serendipity Beach. 75c happy hour Draft, Big parties every Thursday. Good pool table. Good tunes selected by UK DJs.
  • The Nap House, Located right on Serendipity Beach. From Golden Lion Roundabout, go Beach Road south and continue on steep road down to beach. Last plot on the right, beach front. Open air disco. 25c happy hour draft. Loads of people. Open until late.
  • 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. Popular Wednesday evening barbecue US$2.

Sleep

Accommodation ranges from basic guest houses on the beach to four-star resorts. There are plenty of guesthouses, however, the cheapest guesthouses directly on the beach frequently sell out. Pre-booking is necessary at peak times such as at New Year.

Budget

Koh Ta Kiev island - tree houses on the beach (Cambodia)
  • Angkor Inn, Downtown. Good value rooms starting at $5 for fan and cold water with cable TV. $6 gets you hot water and 10+ there are air-con options also. Restaurant with free wi-fi in front. Across from Freedom Bar, can be a little bit noisy in the evening as the nightlife there picks up.
  • Chiva's Shack, Ochheuteal Beach. US$2-6. Oceanside budget accommodation right on the sand. Basic rooms with fan, mosquito net, with or without attached toilet. This is by no means the cleanest of places but you get you what you pay for. [21] Tel: 012-360911.
  • Cinderellas Dive Resort & Beach Bungalows, Otres Beach. Oceanfront beach accomodations. Great diving and nice service. [22]. Rooms from 6 to 25 $. Sihanoukville is surrounded by small and unspoiled islands and has one of Cambodias nicest beaches, the Otres Beach. It is still not overloaded with turism. You will find best conditions for your holidays and diving courses and relaxed diving, but also for experienced divers, underwater photographers, diving groups and clubs. All rooms with fan. Tel: 012-613380
  • Diamond Guesthouse, (30 meters from Serendipidity Beach). Quiet, safe, relazing. Helpful staff. fan room: $10; air-con room: $15.
  • Happy Hippi, Victory Beach. Great atmosphere for smokey shenanigans, but understand that the happy hippi refers to the customers. Don't be alarmed if the proprieter is having a grumpy day!
  • JJ's (formerly Ana's Khmer Kitchen). Run by an English couple, John and Jackie, JJ's is on the main road in the centre of Sihanoukville. Helpful, friendly staff and management. Good food, good value. Plus, JJ's has a solid wi-fi system (free to guests) and banks of computers. The whole place is kept spotless. Long-stay discount rate available. From US$8-17.
  • Mick and Craig's Guest House, [3]. Rooms with Fan and bathroom set in a tropical garden. Clean and comfortable. Great Restaurant with great value meals. $8-$12.
  • Monkey Republic Bungalows, (Serendipity Beach), [4]. Bungalows with fan and private bathrooms set in a tropical garden. Clean and comfortable. Restaurant with value meals.
  • Rega Guesthouse (Le Jardin aux Hibiscus), (50 meters off Serendipity Beach on the main road), +855 17950515, +855 12 219505 (), [5]. Very clean, 50 metres from the beach, excellent omelettes among other food items. US$8-20.
  • Sakal Bungalows, Victory Hill. US$4-15. 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, which is generally 24/7. And of course, Garry is there to talk with all night. Tel +855 12 806155, +855 12 489377. [23] , [24]
  • Same Same But Different, next to Malibu Hotel. Guesthouse, with basic rooms for US$10-15.
  • Small Hotel. Downtown, behind Caltex. Clean and comfortable A/C rooms US$6-15. Superb kitchen with swedish, international and Khmer food.
  • Savannphoum, 300 meters from Serendipity Beach. A nice alternative for people wanting to stay close to rather than on the beach; most of the guests are Khmer. Good and cheap Khmer food, clean rooms around $10, cheap scooter rental.
  • TEN103, Koh Ta Kiev Island (call or e-mail in advance and you'll be picked up with the boat at Sihanoukville), 092-502374 (), [6]. . $ 6.- / $ 10.-. It's the former Jonty's Jungle Camp. It's possible to sleep in a tree house or in a hammock with a mosquito net. The facilities are very basic but that's just what makes the place so special. The Koh Ta Kiev island is full of unexplored jungle, lovely beaches, and has almost no tourism.

Mid-range

As the sky above Bungalows, (From tranquility guesthouse follow the beach in the more quiet direction, it is 3 buildings further on.). Spacious bungalows on a very quiet part of the beach. It has fan and air-conditioning rooms and a nice sitout in front of the bungalow with comfortable chairs and couch and brilliant ocean view.Wifi is available. There is also a nice little bar downstairs. No restaurant, but there are plenty nearby. (10.606201,103.5204107)

  • Coasters, (Serendipity Beach), [7]. One of the older restaurant/hotels on the beach, with older wooden huts (fan only) and newer brick buildings (air-con). Location on the beach is superb, close to nightlife yet quiet, but rooms are extremely basic, plumbing is dodgy (to say the least), restaurant gets mixed reviews and service continues to draw complaints. Reservations also have a habit of being meaningless, as the owners have a habit of giving the rooms away to whoever is there first. Fan room: $8; Beachside air-con: $60.
  • Coolabah Resort, (Serendipity Beach), +855 (0)17 678 218, [8]. Brand new hotel located just 300 metres from Occhuetal and Serendipity beaches. A/C rooms with king beds or twins and all amenities. Jacuzzi pool, massage & beauty treatments available. Seafood restaurant & air-conditioned bar. Live music Wed & Saturday plus Monday quiz night. $35-$80.
  • The Cove Beach Bungalows, (Serendipity Beach), +855 (0) 12 380 296 (), [9]. Khmer-style wooden bungalows with balconies giving ocean views. Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and includes a variety of both western and Khmer cuisine. $14-$50.
  • Malibu Beach Hotel, (Serendipity Beach. From town centre, go straight through the roundabout with the lions, continue to the top of the hill and then follow the rocky track downhill, rather than remaining on the road). Another one of the older stalwarts, now encroached on both sides by noisy nightclubs. At the bottom of that, turn right, the Malibu Beach Hotel is the first on the left. There have been a couple reports of theft, from the rooms and from the safe. Air-con rooms: $30.
  • Malibu Beach Bungalows, (Serendipity Beach). A branch of Malibu Beach Hotel, and better in all respects - if you want to be on Sokha Beach.
  • Reef Resort, (Serendipity Beach), +855 (0) 12 315338, [10]. Boutique hotel with swimming pool. Air-con rooms. $35-$80, including breakfast.
  • Seaside Hotel, (100m from Ochheuteal Beach). Rooms with air-con and hot water shower. $30-60, with breakfast.
  • Tranquility Guesthouse, (Serendipity Beach), +855 (0) 16 573 785, [11]. Rooms with fan or air-con and cold/hot water shower, private bathroom, cable TV. $10-50.

Splurge

  • Independence Hotel, Street 2 Thnou, Sangkat No 03, +855-3494-3300, [12]. After opening in 1962 as the town's elite accommodation at a cost of 30 million riel, this hotel was subject to decades of neglect and eventually abandoned to squatters. A Chinese group repaired the damage and the hotel reopened in December 2007. A modernist concrete seven-story block on top of the cape and with great sea views, it has a pretty pool and attractive, expansive gardens. A nice touch are some black and white photographs of the hotel in its heyday. The best feature is the adjacent clean pale sand private beach which has crystal clear water and some big rocks, although this may currently be under development as the hotel are planning bungalows. Some distance from town. From $140, breakfast included.
  • Sokha Beach Resort, (Sokha Beach), +855-34 935-999 (), [13]. An international-class beach resort 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. Promotional rates: $140-$810.


Stay healthy

Medical services in Sihanoukville are very limited and basic. The best medical service is offered by the CT Clinic. This is the only clinic trusted by expats who live in Sihanoukville. The public hospital should be avoided at all costs, as it is terrible. In case of major trouble evacuation is necessary.

HIV/AIDS widespread in Cambodia, especially among sex workers. Ladies from the girlie bars sometimes get checked, and, while waiting for the results, they're talking quite seriously that maybe one or two of them will be found HIV-positive. Unofficial prevalence among Cambodian sex workers is reported as high as 25% or even more, but who knows really. Anti-retroviral therapy is virtually unavailable to the most of Khmers, so infection will most likely lead this person to death in the next ten years or less.

Contact

Sihanoukville's area code is 034.

Internet

There are many internet cafes and some guesthouses and many hotels offer internet access. Many now have wi-fi - some for free.

Post

The new main Post Office is near the Victory Park on the left hand side of the road as you go to Victory Hill. There is also a branch at the market downtown, but here you can only leave your postcards during office hours, as it does not feature an outdoor mailbox.

Embassies

The Vietnamese consulate on Ekareach Street issues 30 day tourist visas on the same day the application is submitted. As of January 2010, the cost was US$27 for Cambodians, US$40 for foreigners. The opening times are 9AM-noon and 2PM to 4PM, M-Sa.

Get out

  • ANA Travel ¬ Flight Specialists; Visa providers; Tour Operator and all travel arrangements since 2003. Reliable service; Honest information.

Tickets here for all of the destinations below. Next to the Beach Road Hotel (+855) 034933729; 012372018