Sihanoukville (known by locals as ‘Kampong Som’ and by travellers as ‘Stuckville’ or ‘Sinville’) used to be a real favourite on the backpacker trail of Southeast Asia.
In particular, the much celebrated Otres Beach was a place where backpackers would plan to spend a few days and end up whiling away weeks. The cheap marijuana probably had something to do with it, as well as the super cheap backpacker beach huts, food and relatively empty beaches. However, today, Otres Beach and the whole of Sihanoukville caters to an entirely different type of tourist.
Read on for the best places to stay in Otres Beach, where to AVOID & how to make the most of your stay in Sihanoukville!
Don’t Forget! For more advice and tips on backpacking Cambodia, check out our awesome Cambodia Travel Guide!
Sihanoukville – What Happened?
Sihanoukville has undergone some serious changes in the past 5 years. Following recent Chinese investment, huge towering hotels catering to package tourists have been thrown up at a rapid rate and there are monstrous casinos practically every 100 metres.
Gone are the days of bamboo bungalows and cheap bars, the brand new restaurants and hotels serve only rich tourists who flock to spend money on expensive meals and gambling. The budget backpacker accommodation of old is becoming rare and fewer and fewer independent travellers are choosing to stop here. The scene is entirely different than it was just a few years ago and along with the changes, prices have tripled.
What’s more… the environment has suffered greatly at the hands of the globalisation. Sihanoukville’s once beautiful beaches are strewn with litter and piles of plastic are building up at the water’s edge. It’s a sorry scene and a sad one for anyone who knew the Sihanoukville of old.
The message is clear, landscapes and towns in Southeast Asia change fast, so see them while you can!
Safety in Sihanoukville: A Word of Warning
Sihanoukville is one of the few places in Southeast Asia where you need to be very careful of your self and your belongings. Violence, rape, theft and muggings have been reported in Sihanoukville more frequently than most places. It’s not a good idea (for girls especially) to wander alone at night.
Drugs are also more common in Sihanoukville than other parts of Southeast Asia. Stories abound of travellers getting themselves imprisoned, beaten up and even killed due to dabbling with drugs in Cambodia. In 2009, two travellers died from mistakingly snorting heroin when they believed it to be cocaine. The moral of the story is that when you can’t be sure what you’re buying, don’t buy at all.
Where to Stay in Sihanoukville
There are four main beaches in Sihanoukville: Serendipity, Independence, Occheuteal and Otres.
AVOID: Serendipity Beach has been completely destroyed in recent years and the area now resembles more of a war zone than a holiday destination with dust, mud and even sewage running down the streets. It’s an entertainment area dedicated to gambling and full of characterless hotels and charmless bars. As for the beach, it is completely covered in rubbish and no-one seems to care at all. Most of the expats who lived here have now left and gone up the coast to places like Kep and Kampot. Read more sad reports about Serendipity Beach on TripAdvisor.
AVOID: Independence Beach, an extension of Serendipity Beach, is also full of garbage and even dead rats. Huge hotels have pumped sewage and chemicals into the water and it’s wise to avoid swimming in this area. You really have to see it, to believe the devastating destruction of this place. Local businesses have closed to make way for the casinos. It’s a different story if you can afford to pay for one of the more expensive hotels that have their own private strip of beach which is kept clean and litter-free. Read more.
AVOID: Occheuteal Beach is perhaps the worst beach in Sihanoukville these days (and that’s saying something)! One guy on TripAdvisor says he’d rather swim in a toilet than in the sea at this beach! It’s the same story as above: over-development, hotels, casinos and complete disregard for the environment.
YOUR BEST CHOICE: Otres Beach, once the main backpacker paradise, is still the most popular strip amongst travellers today and the best place to base yourself. Lined with bungalows, bars and restaurants serving the ubiquitous ‘seafood barbeques’. This is where you’ll find the majority of what’s left of the backpacker beach-front accommodation. Otres is split into two sections – Otres 1 & Otres 2. If you’re looking for a relaxing place to catch some rays and have a swim in the sea, Otres Beach 2 is probably the best and cleanest beach these days.
Otres Beach: The Best Place to Stay
Otres Beach Backpacker Hostels:
Boho: With dorm rooms starting at $6.50, this colourful retro-style place gets good reviews. There’s a swimming pool, bar, pool table and outdoor chilling area and the dorms are clean and spacious. However, this is Cambodia, so don’t expect the WIFI to work all the time (or the electricity or the water) or the staff! The atmosphere is laid back.
The Sunbear Hostel: Right on the main street, this hostel is a decent option for budget travellers with dorm beds costing $8 USD. The location is a walk away from the main party area (which means you can get a good night’s sleep!) and the beach is only three minutes walk away.
Wish You Were Here: A good option for backpackers who want to meet other travellers, ‘Wish You Were Here’ has dorm beds, as well as private rooms/bungalows. The rooms and bathrooms aren’t the greatest but it’s a sociable place, the food is decent and there are movie nights for travellers who want to chill instead of party. Close the beach and short tuk-tuk ride to the main village.
Otres Beach Bungalows / Doubles:
Chez Paou: Located right on the beach, Chez Paou is a popular choice for travellers wanting to relive that rustic ‘beach hut’ vibe that is fast disappearing in Otres. You’ll find it alive and well here as you wake up to a sea view and mingle with travellers from all over the world in the beach front bar and restaurant. A basic double room with fan and shared bathroom costs just $12 USD per night.
Mushroom Point: A quirky accommodation where you’ll spend the night in little mushroom-shaped wooden pods complete with a circular bed and mosquito net. While not directly on the beach, it’s just across the road and a minute’s walk. A standard double room (pod) with fan costs just $15 USD per night.
Jungle Beach Bungalows: Located in a secluded spot, but close to restaurants and bars, the Italian-run Jungle Beach Bungalows is a bit of a traveller haven! Set in a lush tropical garden, the well-cared-for accommodation is rustic and simple yet satisfying and the food is a delight. Double bungalow starts at $30 USD.
3 Things to Know Before Staying in Otres:
- LITTER: The beach has more rubbish on it than other parts of Southeast Asia, although some of the restaurants seem to clean up the area outside their place. Instead of shaking your head at the problem, why not help to be part of the solution and become a Trashpacker!
- RATS: You are likely to see rodents (yes we mean rats!) dead or alive along the road – don’t leave food inside your bungalow to make sure you don’t have any unwanted guests!
- SAFETY: The road from the beach to Otres Village supposedly isn’t too safe after midnight – get a tuk-tuk if you’re staying in that direction.
Things to Do in & Around Otres Beach, Sihanoukville
Nightlife in Sihanoukville
There are still plenty of places to party in Sihanoukville, in either Otres or Serendipity. JJ’s Playground is still the most popular place for backpackers in Serendipity that’s located right on the beach, with fire dancers and drinks deals. Otres Market is the best place to find some live music and festival atmosphere in Otres, with a variety of international food stalls, souvenir shops and different musicians and performers.
Kayak or Windsurf
Both Harmony Home and Hurricane Windsurfing located on Otres Beach offer lessons and renting of equipment. It’s fantastic value considering prices elsewhere in Asia, and the calm seas from January to April offer excellent conditions for beginners.
Dirt Bike Riding, Buggy Adventures & 4×4 Trips
Stray Dog Adventures on Serendipity Beach offers all sorts of excursions, from 4×4 camping trips to Botum Sakor National Park in Koh Kong province to day trips on dirt bikes to Ream National Park or Bokor (near Kampot) – either on your own or with a guide. If you’re a bit of a pro, you might also want to opt for a ride over scenic terrain in the Cardamon Mountains.
Khmer Boxing (like Muay Thai) is very popular in Cambodia. There’s a training centre in the centre of Sihanoukville with a qualified instructor if you fancy trying it.
Most of the best dive sites in Sihanoukville are located (thankfully) 1-2 hours offshore by boat to ensure the best quality visibility in cleaner clearer waters. The Dive Schools are located in the main town of Sihanoukville where you can have a chat with the instructors before booking your trip.
Kbal Chhay Waterfalls
A 30-minute motorbike trip away, the Kbal Chay Waterfalls make the perfect break from a day at the beach. Rarely mentioned in guidebooks of the area, these are a series of tiered falls that plunge into a deep basin where you can swim, and in places, walk right under the water onto the ledge and look through the gushing waters. The scene and the lush jungle surroundings make for an impressive sight, much more so during the rainy season for obvious reasons! (May-August)
Ream National Park
Located just 18km outside of Sihanoukville, Ream National Park can be visited either on a tour (arranged from a guesthouse in Sihanoukville) or independently, by motorbike or bicycle.
Vast mangrove forests, desolate beaches, tropical jungles and mountains make it a worthy place to visit for any nature lover and adventurous backpacker. For any ‘twitters’ out there (the old school kind), the park also boasts an incredible variety of bird life, with over 150 species recorded.
You can also hike ‘Meditation Mountain’ which is interesting for its array of medicinal plants which have been used by locals for hundreds of years to cure a multitude of illnesses.
Cambodia’s Islands – The Last Vestige!
When you’re feeling hopeless abSihanoukville’s sorry decline. Know that respite lies just offshore.
Just a couple of hours boat ride away, you’ll still find dozens of ‘Robinson Crusoe-esque’ tropical islands just ripe for chilling in hammocks, munching on cheap seafood barbeques on the beach, and nights spent partying with fellow backpackers. Boat trips depart every day and can be booked from many guesthouses and travel agents in town.
The most popular islands to visit are Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem which both have their fair share of backpacker accommodation. You can search on Booking.com for the cheapest deals in Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem.
The smaller islands of Bamboo Island (Koh Russei), Koh Ta Kiev and Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island) have much less accommodation. A bamboo hut is the order of the day here as you wake up to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore and breathe a sigh of relief to be away from Sihanoukville.
Other trips include visits to Soon Nail or ‘Magic Island’, Koh Rong or the far-out Koh Tang. Traditional fishing villages, beautiful beaches and some unexplored dive sites await discovery!
NOTE: There are rumours that these paradise islands have also been ‘bought up’ by Chinese and Russian investors, so who knows how long their shores will remain free of high-rises. Rumours that the largest island of Koh Rong will soon have an airport and a golf course threaten to totally destroy the backpacker vibe.
Read our guide to the 5 Cambodian Islands you need to see before it’s too late!
Getting to Sihanoukville:
From Phnom Penh: (4-6 hour bus journey, depending on traffic). Most people arrive in Sihanoukville from the capital. After sight-seeing and shopping, a beach break is the perfect medicine.
Where to go next?
Phnom Penh: (A 4-hour bus journey) Chances are you’ve just come from here, but if you’re doing the backwards loop, don’t miss Cambodia’s colourful, hectic capital.
Siem Reap: (6 hours) Visit the archaeological wonder of Angkor Wat, hailed as the most magnificent piece of architecture ever created by man. Siem Reap is the perfect town to base yourself for visits to the incredible site and a great place to enjoy some great Cambodian food, hospitality and nightlife.
Elsewhere on the Cambodian Coast: From Koh Kong to Kampot and Kep, you can explore quaint fishing villages, gorge on delicious seafood barbeques or just laze on deserted beaches. Navigating your way along the coast of Cambodia, you’ll feel like an explorer off the beaten track, far far away from the tourist hoards of Siem Reap.
Battambang: (3 hours by bus) With tree-lined streets and some beautiful colonial French architecture the city is a charming place to visit and a relaxing escape from the more touristy towns like Siem Reap. There are plenty of trips that can be taken from the city including the Khmer ruins of Ek Phnom and Phnom Banan.