The South of Cambodia

SIHANOUKVILLE

Global Mark : 13.74    Top Five : No5

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Culture Market Relax Fiesta 

Cost

AVER.
4 5 3 3 5 3 3 14.86

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
16 88% (14) 69% (11) 88% (14) 5 to 18 12.63


Description : A spread out area with a small "city" center, lots of green, a few nice beaches, temples on hills and an active port.

Comments : Beaches are off course the main attractions (they therefore get busy during rest days) but the land in between as well as the surroundings are also worth exploring.

What to do ? Get a free copy of the excellent "Sihanoukville Visitors Guide" for the latest tips, info & maps / Test the different beaches / Have an indigestion of lobster : at R500 a piece (after negotiation, R2000 otherwise), you can afford ! / Chase ghosts as a few places are reported haunted / Get up the 6 floors of an abandoned Hotel for a great panorama / See rocks in the shape of monkeys and other animals as well as monkeys and other animals at Wat Khrom, an hilly temple offering another good view / Test various sunset points / Join a party or create your own / Test your luck at casinos / Answer "Hi" to the taxi-girls / Scuba dive, snorkel, rent a boat, go camping on an island,... your budget is the limit ! / Rent a bike & explore the area, going as far as Kampot, Kep or Bokor Hill. 

What you may not like ? The fair superficy of the area / The motorbike foreigner fare outside of town (R1000-1500) / The not so clean nor wavy nor fishy beaches : sorry, this is not Thailand ! / The sand flies / The street dogs / The rather empty city with little shopping facilities / The coral & shells on sell / Meeting one of the two crocodile of Prek Tup lake / Not spotting any ghost / Losing big at a casino

How long ? A few days. 


Where to stay ? 

- In the "town" center : most travelers head straight toward Victory beach but there are a few advantages in staying here : less travelers, cheaper food at the markets and central location for all the beaches (the southern ones at less than 30mn walk away). 

  • Koh Rong Hotel (011 810376), corner of Sopheakmongkoi and street 109 / Sgl, Dbl or Trpl w. AC, HW shower, satellite TV & fridge $7, $10 or $15, even less if fan only / Safety box / Go there for the clean & comfortable rooms at great prices, the very very helpful English-speaking owner & the table tennis room (but beware, those guys are champions !)
  • Angkor Inn GH (034 933615), just opposite the above / Dbl w. shower $5 easily down to $4 / Go there for the clean big rooms if the above is full 
  • Caledonian GH (034 933840), Street 108 on the way to the market / Room $3.5 / Shared bathtub w. HW / Go there for the correct clean wooden rooms at good price / What you may not like : the basic deco & the busy street
  • Nha Tro GH, southern part of Sopheakmongkol St, behind the Star Mart's shop at the petrol station, after Kim Chantha GH ($5) / Correct room without shower $3 / Go there to share a noisy family atmosphere a bit outside of "town" / What you may not like : maybe the above if you do not speak Khmer...
  • Other " all comfort" hotels in the area at around $10 Sgl or $15 Dbl plus GH at $5 for basic rooms w. shower.

- Near Victory Beaches : the backpacker's place

  • Bungalow Village, the first place from the beach / Bungalows w. shower $4 /Mosquito net / Nice setting in a flower garden / Go there for the cheapest bungalow in town & the relative isolation / What you may not like : the basic look & poor English of the owner
  • Chez Mari-Yan (34933709), just up the above / Bungalows w. shower & balcony $15, room w. shower $4 / Mosquito net / Nice setting in a flower garden / The bungalows are nicer & cleaner than the above but expensive. The rooms are acceptable except for the dim lightning.
  • On the main busy street, a few GH with or without name offer acceptably clean rooms w. shower for as low as $3 after a short negotiation / Go there for the cheapest room in town
  • The Melting Pot (034 933391, meltingpotkh@yahoo.com ), in the busy street / British owner / Rooms w. shower at $3 to $5, depending of the size / Internet $6 per hour / Go there to check the rooms as it was full, to make friends, get a tattoo, get a beer, get travel info & organize a trip out or around / What you may not like : possibly this kind of atmosphere...
  • Mealy Chanda GH (034 933472), on the road going down / Same family as Smiley's & Narin's / Dorm (3) $2, Dbl $3(1) or $4(2), w. shower $5, bigger $6-7 / Go there for the cheapest bed in town, the clean rooms and the great view & atmosphere from the restaurant / What you may not like : the rather small rooms
  • Mealy Chanda Hotel (?), by the previous one / Still in construction at the time of visit but prices should be as follow for big comfortable Dbl w. AC, TV, fridge & HW : $15, w. balcony $20 (but as cheap as $7 if fan only) / Go there for a final check-out 
  • Dada GH, just after the previous / Sgl or Dbl w. shower $5 or $6, $1 cheaper if stay 2 nights or more / Correct clean rooms but a bit basic & lack the atmosphere of the above (could therefore be more quiet)
  • Chuck's Place, just after / Room without shower $3 / Go there to see the room if the owner find her keys / What you may not like : the run-down & not so clean atmosphere
  • Kohtakeiv GH (034 93611), opposite the street / A nicely decorated house / Sgl or Dbl w. AC, HW bathtub, TV & fridge $10 or $15 / Go there for the most charming & comfortable rooms at reasonable price in the area / What you may not like : the limited English spoken
  • Peak Hotel & Casino (034 320301), a bit remote from the beach on a hill / All comfort big nice rooms $20 standard, $30 superior, $45 suite / Swimming pool in a nice garden / Great sunset point / Go there for luxury at an affordable price

- Near Independence Beach :

  • Sea Breeze GH (034 320217), on the western side of the beach / Superb all comfort rooms w. bathtub $15 / Go there for the nicest room & the relative isolation during weekdays.
  • Chez Claude (012 824870), on a hill between Independence & Sokha beach / Bungalows w. HW shower & probably TV $20 Sgl, $30 Dbl / French owner / Go there for the good isolation & the great view from the restaurant / What you may not like : the lack of AC at this level of price !

- Near Sokha Beach : Sokha Hotel Co, the company in charge of the tickets at Angkor Wat, is planning to build a 5 stars hotel in this prime location. You can start saving...

- Near Ochheuteal Beach :

  • Sovannaphoum GH (012 340402), 1 Kanda St, behind Holiday Hotel / Rooms w. shower $6 / A good quality price ratio as the rooms are correct but one big bed only, limited English spoken and the furthest from the sea. But if you manage to get a discount...
  • Orchid GH (034 933639), 23 Tola St / Nice looking & decorated house with lots of orchids in the garden / Superb big rooms w. AC, HW shower, TV, Fridge & tapestry $15-20 LS or $20-25 HS / Go there for the best looking rooms in town / What you may not like : the cost !
  • Les Feuilles GH (034 320156) / French owner / Very basic rooms w. mosquito net $5 / French Restaurant / Go there for the cheapest room in the area or to play pool for free / What you may not like : the approximative cleanliness & the noise if the restaurant get busy
  • Susaday GH (034 933907), on the beach street / Same owner as the above / Bungalow style rooms w. shower $10 / The rooms are nice & clean but rather expensive as small with one bed only
  • Orchid II GH, the last house on the beach street / Same owner as Orchid GH / Sgl or Dbl w. shower $6 or $7 / Go there for the best quality-price ratio in the area, in particular for the upstairs Dbl / What you may not like : the rather plain Sgl and not getting a room w. outside window
  • Also a few expensive & comfortable hotels, incl. Crystal Hotel (034 933880) at $20-25 w. breakfast or Holiday Hotel (034 933658) at $15-25. 


Backpacker's Tips : Jacques Collineau, France  (June 04)
Bungalow village: The owner has moved. The new owner is Olivier, a young French man with his Cambodian friend, Darin. The quality of welcome and the English language is perfect now.


Where to eat ? 

- In town : In the morning, the food stalls on Sopheakmongkol St are a good choice for breakfast. In the evening, there is supposed to be two night markets but both are rather empty except if you love fruits. There is however a series of small restaurants with prepared dishes just north of the market. It cost the usual R1000 a dish (half portions are sometimes accepted)

- In victory beach area, if you do not opt for a GH atmosphere, the main street toward the port has got a few local restaurants. 

- In other places : choice will be more limited and therefore more expensive... Koh Pos Restaurant, on the way between Victory & Independance Beach is worth visiting : no deco but its own charming beach directly opposite Snake Island and a rather cheap menu with dishes at $1-3.


Organizing a tour ?
The Melting Pot (034 933891) : This GH is recognized as the best place for backpackers to organize things outside Sihanoukville : boat trip ($5 per person), jeep to Ream National Park ($10), camping on islands and soon scuba diving (in season : Nov to March). 
Chez Claude (012 824870) : 5 days' scuba diving course ($475 !), diving trips (from $55), boat trip ($20 per person), fishing (from $30). All trip with min of 5 people. You understood : the place is more tourist than backpackers' oriented...


The beaches ? OK, they may not be as nice as the beaches on most of Thailand's islands but this should not be a surprise as Sihanoukville isn't an island ! Actually, I found them charmer than those of Ko Chang... Except during rest days, they are usually fairly quiet. None are spotless but the water is fairly clean. A few to test :
- North Victory Beach : busy with backpackers as near the GH, it offer narrow sand area and a view on the port but is nevertheless charming. Beside, it is a great sunset or party spot ! 
- South Victory "Hawaii" Beach : the northern part isn't that nice as a bit dirty but the southern is lovely. It is also a good place to watch sunset.
- Independance Beach : well know for the ghostly Independance Hotel overlooking it, this very scenic beach also offer narrow sand but is the wildest (if you except all the snack shops) of the pack : the forest is habituated by monkeys and the lake by crocodiles...
- Sokkha Beach : the most popular and therefore the most crowded. Plenty of sands, plenty of tubes and plenty of snacks sellers (lobsters for R500 a large piece if lucky, R1000-2000 otherwise...)
- Ochheutael Beach : the longest and therefore less crowded beach offer sand but no shade & some sand flies. At its extremity (a very long walk !), fishermen at work and a hill to climb for accessing a deserted sandy beach with some shade...


Sunset points ? Beside the beaches (Victory beaches are the best, in particular during rainy season), there are quite a few spots in this hilly area. At 132m high, Sihanoukville mountain is definitively the best but you will need a motorbike to reach it. Closer, the Peak Casino's terrace is a great place to sip a beer. Wat Khrom is also an option. Test a few...

A place to cool of ? Kbal Chhay Waterfalls offer a spectacularly colder alternative to the sea : a series of falls & pools between rocks. It may get busy during rest days but should be deserted otherwise. The best road to go there is via the large red-dirt road running from National Rd No4 (about 1km further the anchor & globe sculpture, itself about 5km further the turn off for Wat Leu). It takes about 15mn by motorbike to cover the 8km on the OK track. At the entrance, a bizarre sign : "No Entry. Restricted area of freshwater...". Nobody seems to care... It is also reported possible to go via Hun Sen Beach Drive but I did not spot that road at the Falls and it is probably in worse conditions anyway...

Rent a motorbike ? GST (012 830227) and Good Luck (034 933886), both in town & in the GH area, have 100cc's scooters for as low as $3 ($4 for more recent models), 225cc at $6 and 250cc at $7. Good Luck GH also has mountain bike for $2 a day but remember that Sihanoukville is hilly...

Change Money ? Several banks in town can give you fresh dollars from TC or credit cards against a 2% commission. They are usually open Mond to Friday until 15 or 15:30. Some (but not Cambodia Commercial Bank which has no minimum charge on TC) open also on Sat morning until 11:30. Outside banking hours and 24 hours a day (so they claim), GST can exchange TC against a 3% commission. To get Riel from $ or the reverse, head toward the market. 

Visa to Vietnam ? There is a Consulate in Sihanoukville which deliver 1 to 3 months (yes, up to 3 months !) visa in 5mn (yes, 5mn !) for $40 (yes, $40 !). In Phnom Penh, the cheapest 3 months visa ready in 4 working days was $55. One month visa are however cheaper with some Phnom Penh agencies ($32) but you need to wait (see the locality for details). The border with Kep is now open. There is nowadays no need to specify the point of entry or exit but you still need to put a date of entry and it will be shown on your visa. 


Backpacker's Tips : Robin Carrard, Swiss (March 05)
 
Bungallow Village: Olivier the owner has now build an open-air cinema. Three times per week you can now enjoy watching a real film on a real screen with a good sound (forget about watching movie on an old shitty TV screen with bad sound). Entrance cost 1$ but if you want, you can share for 4$ including, the entrance and a drink, a nice buffet with 4-5 different dishes prepared by his wife Darin before the movie starts ... Nice place to meet people !

Backpacker's Tips : Spunky, Dutch (April 03)
We visited Sihanoukville march 2003 and it was great! We stayed on Occheuteal Beach which is a very pretty and clean beach! There are lots of good restaurants / bars at the beach. In the nighttime you can just lay down there on a mat and just relax! Two of these places (Aster and Chivashack) had parties every week. Don't expect anything big but it was really good. People just sit together on the beach around a bonfire, talking, listening to music Good atmosphere and very relaxed! In daytime you might get crazy from the people and children selling chips, fruits, pareos, fish etc. etc. but we didn't. The kids were so sweet and with some of the kids we had great fun. We taught them some English, played games with them and went swimming with them in the sea.

Backpacker's Tips : Arnie, Germany (April 01)
 Best bid is the Mohasal Hotel for Sgl 12 USD incl. AC, TV, fridge, hot water / Best restaurant is Thai Kim (about 8000 KHR) / Independence beach is a good sunset spot / Beautiful waterfall at Kbal Chhay Conservation Area 8 km back to Phnom Penh and then turn left (1000 KHR) / To discover Ream National Park (20 km back to PNH) by boat is 25 USD / Rent a moto for 4 USD/day from GST or Hah Wah Genting   

 

 << Discover a few scenery

 

Leaving Sihanoukville ?

To Phnom Penh : Three companies run AC buses from the town center. DH Cambodia (012 888453) is the cheapest at R8000 but has two buses only at 7:30 & 12:30. GST (015 916772) & Ho Wah Genting (034 933888) cost R10000 for better buses departing 4 times daily (last one at 2pm). The trip takes 4 hours on a good road.

To Kampot : Only shared taxi at R10000 per person do the 3 hours trip on a difficult road. 

To Thailand : The Boat to Krong Koh Kong depart daily at 12am from north of the port (on Hun Sen Beach Drive). It cost either $15 or Bahts 600 and take 3.5 to 4 hours. Foreigners must have their passport checked at Pak Long, a place 15mn before Koh Kong. This is not the immigration procedure : you will still need to queue for the stamp at the border (Hat Lek). From Pak Long, it is possible to take a small speed boat to the border for B100. Actually, everyone will insist you go this way : they make more money ! The 30mn trip is however only a bit faster than the regular way : 15mn more to reach Koh Kong, 5mn to cross the river (B20) then 15mn on motorbike toward the border, 8km away (B20). Beside, when the sea is agitated, this trip can be dangerous and/or get you wet. If too dangerous, the boat will not dare to go to the border but opposite Koh Kong Pier, from where you normally take the motorbike ! Conclusion : this is simply a rip off ! The Thai border is open daily from 7 am to 5pm.

To Vietnam : The border with Kep is now open & there is a Consulate which deliver quick & cheap visa so it is possible to skip Phnom Penh altogether. Expect however to pay more to reach Saigon this way. 


The trip to Koh Kong : SSS / R / B600 or $15 / 4 hrs / Speed boat, upper foreigners' class
It is possible to get the ticket 5mn before departure but the best seats may be occupied already. It is therefore safer to arrive a bit earlier and select your large seat, even so you are in theory assigned one : seats by the windows are cold as just below the AC, the right side offer more view on deserted beaches, the front seats will let you read the English subtitles of the two movies,... It is however also possible to forget all the above and head straight for the outside "terrace", that is if you can stand the noise of the turbines...
The ride was relatively smooth, with some shaking half way due to some rains but nothing dramatic. The fact that there is one dustbin for every two seats was however an indication that things can sometimes be a little bit more adventurous... 
There were of course toilets on board and a trip toward them offered a glimpse of the normal downstairs local class : smaller seats with more people sitting on them, more noise and less view. Upstairs, on the contrary, every foreigners had two seats to relax. Not a bad things after all not to be given the choice of class... 
The scenery was a rather monotonous series of small waves but a few lovely beaches could also be spotted, in particular on the right side. Nothing really to disturb you from watching the intellectual kung fu movies...
We had a first stop at 13:45 which permitted young girls to invade the boat with snacks and rice dishes (R2000) in hands. The next stop was Pak Long at 15:40. Every foreigner went off to have his passport controlled (but not stamped) and most, following the advice of the officials, the recommendations of a famous guide book and the insistence of the boat drivers, agreed to pay B100 for the 30mn ride to the border...
When the boat left again at 15:50, with only 4 westerners left out of the dozen of the beginning, the crowded small speed boat was still waiting for passengers to finish the administrative formalities... 
We reached Koh Kong 15mn later at 16:05 and had to fight our way off between the pushy touts. I had decided to spend the night in the village but followed the other westerners toward their small boat. They had agreed to pay B40, twice the regular price, but, with the Cambodia's immigrations procedures to go through and the Thai border closing at 17, there weren't too much time for negotiation...

See also the trip from Kampot