In a nutshell
With a coastline filled with strings of white sandy beaches that stretches for hundreds of kilometres, Sihanoukville is one of the best beach destinations in South East Asia.
Why go to Sihanoukville
Located in the southwestern part of Cambodia, Sihanoukville is the capital city of Sihanoukville province. Sihanoukville started in the late 1950s as a port city and was named after a king Sihanouk Norodom. Before the construction of the city, the area was known as Kampong Som.
Sihanoukville’s history remembers the days of the war conflict between the United States of America and Vietnam, when the city served as a transit point for weapons. You will hardly find any traces of those times nowadays, though.
So, why go to Sihanoukville? The main draw is undoubtedly its relaxed atmosphere, great beaches, cheap accommodation and friendly locals. The area around Serendipity Beach is known for its rave nightlife claiming the fame of Thailand’s party crazy island, Koh Phangan, but to our tasting these claims have little ground. Yet you will definitely find places to dance all night through and bar and restaurant scene is lively, too, giving your holiday in Sihanoukville that precious feeling of an island escape when you spend days out in the beach and nights in the clubs but without inflated prices typical for any island escape.
There are plenty of beaches in Sihanoukville that will capture your heart and sweep you off your feet leaving you more in love with Cambodia than you thought you were. Our favourite is without any doubt Otres Beach, which is so serene and relaxed you would never want to leave it.
When to go to Sihanoukville
The most obvious time for visiting Sihanoukville is from November through February, during the cool season. It is also the busiest season when it can be hard to find decent accommodation at reasonable prices.
From March to May it is quite hot, but as far as you are going to linger in the beach it is absolutely ok to come to Sihanoukville.
From June onwards, up to October, it is the wet season with a high probability of rains. It does not usually pour all days long, though, and you can enjoy beaches and the sea even during cloudy weather – without burning your skin! – but, of course, the colours of water and the skies are not so spectacular so may be disappointing. We did visit Sihanoukville in summer several times and were lucky enough to have drizzling rain for a couple of times during the whole week, so it is hit and miss. But during this period you can come across some great deals on accommodation die to less tourists showing up.
Where to stay in Sihanoukville
Almost all beaches have their own hotel resorts or bungalows where you can spend your nights after a day of laying on the beach and more and more rooms are emerging in the market day by day. Except for the busiest periods from November to February you almost always have a great choice of accommodation from as low as USD7 per night in a beach hut in Otres Beach up to USD100+ in a beautiful resort in Sokha Beach.
The top ten best hotels and bungalows in Sihanoukville include Koh Thmei Resort located in Koh Thmei Island, Rabbit Island bungalow in Koh Tonsay Island, Kepmandou lounge bar, Castaway beach bar and bungalows located in Otres Beach, Tamu hotel also located in Otres Beach, Sea Garden in Otres Beach, OC beach hotel in Ocheuteal beach and Nomads land in Koh Totang.
Where to eat in Sihanoukville
Sihanoukville is famous for its seafood restaurants, and rightfully so. Though the prices are at their lowest – for better deals head to the neighbouring Kampot, you can still try seafood delicacies at for less than you will pay, say, in Thailand or Vietnam.
For cheap local specialties head to Phsar Leu market, and ubiquitous street restaurants do a good job, too, dishing out ‘made-to-order’ plates for about USD2. Due to quite a large expart community is Sihanoukville Western and International restaurants do not lack: you can find almost anything from Italian pizza to Russian pelmenis.
Getting around in Sihanoukville
It is easy to get around on foot if you are anywhere around Ochheuteal or Serendipity beach. These two have everything you can fancy: from beach bars and nightclubs to tour agencies and dive shops.
To conveniently move around other areas motorbike taxis are always at your disposal for about USD1-2 depending on the distance. Otres Beach which is the farthest one from the ‘centre’ can also be reached by motorbike taxi, though renting your own motorbike can be handier (USD7).
Getting in and out
Basically there are two main routes you are likely to take to reach Sihanoukville. The majority of tourists come from either Phnom Penh directly or from Siem Reap via Phnom Penh visiting Sihanoukville as a final part of their Cambodian trip.
There are numerous buses and minivans plying the route from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville and vice versa. The 240 km trip takes between 4 and 5 hours and costs USD10-USD12 with any operator you choose, including Giant Ibis Bus, Capitol Tours and Sorya (big buses) or Thero Express (vans).
Travelling from Siem Reap or to Siem Reap expect to spend between 10 and 12 hours for a direct trip. There are night buses, too, which seem a more convenient way to travel, though frankly speaking we would still recommend to opt for a day bus due to rather reckless driving style which prevails on Cambodian roads and is especially dangerous at night. For more options, connect via Phnom Penh. The leg between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap takes from 6 to 7 hours and costs USD12-USD15 with a large number of companies serving the route.
There is the international airport in Sihanoukville which receives flights from Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Singapore and a couple of destinations in China. You can hop onto a flight to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap with Cambodia Angkor Air, Sky Angkor Air or Bayon Airlines, too. Tickets are not dirt cheap and cost between USD100 and USD160 one way.
If you are after Cambodian islands, Sihanoukville is a perfect starting point to visit some of the most exciting of them including Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. The sea journey between the mainland and either of them takes about half-an-hour with tickets easily booked here online. Expect to pay USD10-USD12 for Sihanoukville-Koh Rong by boat, less by a local ferry (USD5).
Other islands around Sihanoukville you can consider checking are Koh Totang, Koh Thmei and Koh Ta Kiev.
Safety in Sihanoukville
Sihanoukville is generally safe to travel to. The main problems you are likely to face are related to reckless driving and drinking too much at the nightclubs as alcohol is really cheap there.
Beach theft does occur but do not leave your valuables unattended and you’ll be ok. Jetski scams and overcharging by motorbike taxis are common. Also take caution while swimming in Ochheuteal Beach as there are no appointed areas fro jetskis and speedboats which manoeuvre right between people swimming in the sea.
Beware mosquito bites as those transmit dengue fever.