Some travel guides warn visitors to Sihanoukville about occurrences of theft and robbery in Cambodia’s only port town. The night before leaving Phnom Penh we were unfortunate enough to meet a tattooed sex tourist from Devon at the bar of the California Guesthouse. He seemed to take great pleasure in telling us about the dangers of Sihanoukville. Back at our Paragon hotel we enquired whether it was safe to travel to Sihanoukville receiving a lukewarm reply about staying in crowds and not going out in the dark.
The following morning we boarded the 8am Mekong Express bus service from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville really unsure as to whether we should be going to this place or not. We needn’t have worried. Note … the Mekong Express currently only offers services from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and to Saigon.
At 11.30am we arrived at the bus station in Sihanoukville and took a taxi to the Golden Sands Hotel ($22 a night). There are many motorbike drivers waiting to take you to your accommodation but at this stage in our journey we still valued the safety of a car.
The Golden Sand is just a few minutes walk from Occheuteal and Serendipidy beaches where you’ll find beautiful white sand, glorious turquoise sea and a series of shack style restaurants/bars offering good cheap food from breakfast time through until after midnight. We ended up staying here for six lazy days with a daily routine little more than lying on a sunbed, buying fresh prawns and pineapples from the beach sellers, having a massage and manicure (Kirsty not me!) and taking a dip in the beautiful clear water.
This beach starts with a number of thatched restaurant bars all selling good food for around $2.50 per main course. Sun loungers are free all day for customers. We spent most of our time at Moon Shack where we were members of the family by the end of the week! Happy hour begins between 4pm and 6pm and usually lasts until 10pm. If you walk along the beach you’ll notice more Khmer faces (they’re the people who swim fully clothed). Most westerners tend to stick with the first stretch of bars and to Serendipidy beach.
There’s a similar supply of bars and restaurants here which continue along to a series of bungalows at the far end of the beach. We ate at the Mermaid (British owned) and the Dolphin shack where you get a fire dance display as you dine on fresh barbecued fish or stir fried dishes rarely costing more than $3 per main course.
Sihanoukville Town and Weather Hill Station
The bus station where we arrived in Sihanoukville is in the main town. There’s little reason to go there unless you fancy a pint at the long established Angkor Arms English pub. A couple of kilometres up the hill from the town centre is Weather Hill Station. This was the original tourist area that still attracts some budget travellers though I can only assume that they’re ill informed as it’s a particularly unattractive, run down area.
Even Victory Beach below the town has nothing to offer and is rarely more than a metre wide. There’s plenty accommodation available around Occheuteal and Serendipidy beaches to suit all budgets with some rooms as little as $5 a night. At the other extreme take a look at the Sohka 5 star luxury resort where you can pays hundreds of dollars a night.
Dangers and Annoyances
Areas to be particularly vigilant are around the port (where there’s no reason to visit unless you’re a sailor) and on the road between Sihanoukville town and Weather Station Hill (take a motorbike taxi). There seemed to be nothing to worry about in the Occheuteal and Serendipidy beach areas.
Constant begging on the beaches soon becomes annoying as does the steady stream of people wanting to sell you fruit, prawns, bracelets, massages, etc. Many of these are children who continue their efforts well into the night when you’re sat on the beach having dinner. Having put up with them all day the night shift is just over the top. We were warned by restaurant areas to be careful with any valuables when going for a swim.
Amongst the sellers you’ll meet amputees who sell photocopied books and blind men who sing whilst their dog or daughter collects your donations. There are also a number of children who speak English surprisingly well and use some of their takings to fund English classes (or so they say). These are, of course, good causes but after six days it was time to leave.