Sihanoukville: Cambodian Paradise or Tired Tourist Town?

We were sad to be leaving Myanmar, after what felt like such a short period of time, but as ever we were excited to be heading to a brand new country. From Inle Lake to our next destination, Sihanoukville in Cambodia, was a bit of a mission, to say the least. We got an overnight bus from Nyaungshwe to Yangon, had a day there napping and eating, and stayed overnight at the same hostel near Little India. We then went to the airport in the early hours and flew to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. My Mum and her partner, Andy, were due to be joining us in Cambodia a week later, so we thought we’d save the Phnom Penh sightseeing for when they arrived, and we had a week or so to kill before we were due to meet them. So after an overnight stay in the capital (having seen nothing of the city except out of a bus window from the airport), we got on a minibus to the coastal town of Sihanoukville.

It was a long journey, but it was nice to be somewhere new, and somewhere we were staying for more than one night. We planned to have a few days in Sihanoukville by the beach, where we would celebrate Grace’s birthday.

We had heard good things about Sihanoukville. When we were in Auckland we were chatting to a friend of ours who said that Sihanoukville was his favourite place in Cambodia, and we’d seen photos of some other friends spending a romantic holiday there, drinking cocktails on a beautiful white sandy beach. Now this wasn’t Toby’s idea of an interesting place to be, he wasn’t one for lounging on beaches, but Grace fancied a bit of rest and relaxation for her birthday.

Unfortunately, Sihanoukville itself is a bit of a dive. Granted, we were there in the off-season, so it was bound to be sleepy, but I can’t see how it could make such a dramatic change in the summer to turn it into a pleasant place to be. Firstly, it was very touristy, which isn’t always a bad thing, but in this instance it meant lots of ugly hotels and hostels, grungy bars selling cheap drinks (no complaints about that bit) on a littered beach and few places to get any Cambodian food. It wasn’t a great introduction to Cambodia. Annoyingly in hindsight, I didn’t take many photos of things that weren’t pretty on our travels. So the photos in this post will probably make Sihanoukville look quite nice! I should’ve taken some photos of the drab buildings and piles of rubbish, for illustrative purposes for this post.

On Grace’s birthday we treated ourselves to a huge breakfast (and got Grace a beer to go with hers, naturally), and gave Grace her presents. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great, it was a bit grey and drizzly, but Grace had said that she wanted to go to the beach on her birthday, so that’s what we did. The air and sea were warm, despite the drizzle, so our swim was actually quite pleasant. I felt disappointed that it wasn’t the sort of place we had expected it to be, and I was annoyed that we weren’t in a nicer palce for Grace’s birthday. However, that evening we went out for a lovely meal, in a small Italian restaurant that had great wine (very hard to find in Southeast Asia!).

The next day was much more of a success, so much so that we decided that would be Grace’s birthday instead. We got in a tuk-tuk to the nearby Otres Beach, which we decided is where we should’ve been staying all along.

The surrounding area didn’t have many shops, ATMs or bars, but it had a few pretty shacks on the beach with sun loungers and some tables and chairs to enjoy a simple meal and a drink. The beach was beautiful, and much less spoilt than the one by the main town. This was clearly where you stayed if you had a little bit more money to spend and wanted a little bit more peace and quiet. On a map it looks a little bit out of the way, so that’s why we didn’t choose there at first, but as soon as we arrived there we saw the error of our ways.

We spent the day at the beach swimming, reading, drinking very cheap cocktails, and eating tasty food. This was what we had in mind when we imagined our Cambodian beach holiday!


So our introduction to Cambodia had been a bit of a mixed bag so far, and I don’t think it had been a fair representation of what Cambodia is actually like. We’d managed to find ourselves in a sleepy, concrete seaside town surrounded by tourists in the off-season – not a great start! Lots of people travel to Sihanoukville to get a boat to some of the nearby islands, which if we had planned it better, we could’ve done (but isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing). We still had a few days remaining before we had to be back in Phnom Penh, so we travelled to the pretty town of Kampot, about two hours away heading back in the direction of Phnom Penh.


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