Sihanoukville

"Sihanoukville, Cambodia's premier beach location"

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Sihanoukville
Sihanoukville beach - photo by Damien @ Flickr

Sihanoukville is the party capital of Cambodia. With long mainland beaches and small undeveloped islands within easy reach, it’s the most popular beach resort in the country. Direct flights from Phnom Penh have increased visitors in recent years, reflected by a boom in hotels, bars, and restaurants.

Geography

Sihanoukville is located in the South West of the country on the Gulf of Thailand and is situated on a peninsula that is separated from the central plains of Cambodia by the Damrei Mountains (literally meaning the ‘Elephant Mountains’). Sihanoukville is one of the smallest provinces in Cambodia. It is boundaried by Koh Kong province to the north and west and Kampot to the east. There are more than a dozen small islands on the Sihanoukville coast, most of which are within a few hours journey by local boat. There are also a number of sandy beaches on the mainland.

Sihanoukville Attractions

The main attraction in Sihanoukville is the natural environment. There are a number of beaches on the coast that are popular with foreign and Cambodian tourists alike.

Beaches

Otres Beach is perhaps the quietest, prettiest stretch of beach with fewer restaurants and shops. Just around the headland from Sihanoukville town it’s often the choice for those wanting a relaxing time enjoying the sea and the sand.

Occheuteal Beach is where you will find restaurants and bars and a good party at night. Some now find it too busy and noisy, but it’s a great place for a fun night out. The top section of the beach is now known as Serendipity beach and has guesthouses right on the beach. Again, this beach is pretty lively and caters mainly to backpackers.

Victory Beach used to be the most popular party beach, but has lost out in popularity in recent years to Occheuteal Beach. Unfortunately now it is an evening hotspot for sex tourism and as a result many people find the area unappealing.

Those wanting a bit of luxury can check into the five-star Sokha Hotel which has its own private beach. This is a way to enjoy the white sands away from the party lights of the other beaches – but of course it comes at a price.

Independence Beach is a 500m strip of sandy beach lined with deck chairs and few bbq huts. The sands actually stretch for longer but half of the beach is currently under development. However, Independence is still much quieter than many of the other spots, and there’s also a tiny island just off the coast at the northern end.

Islands

The islands off Sihanoukville are now perhaps nicer beach destinations than the mainland coast, as many are substantially underdeveloped and so for those wanting a desert-island holiday they form the perfect destination.

Koh Rong is the biggest island and the most developed, with plans for an airport in the future. Another very popular island is Koh Rong Saloem – a little bit further off the coast and with more of a robust infrastructure for guests, without being spoiled.

It’s worth noting that although there are guesthouses on most of the islands, many of these are extremely basic, with rooms consisting of bamboo bungalows on the beach and only a small selection of eateries. Some places also offer massage, snorkeling or boat trips, but there are limited activities. A holiday on one of the islands is really meant for those who want something of a disconnection from modern living with just sun, sea, and sky for their daily activities.

Other attractions

Sihanoukville’s town center is not particularly remarkable as it has formed around the import/export industry and tourism for the beaches. There are a number of guesthouses and a large amount of western restaurants in the town.

Within easy reach of Sihanoukville is the Ream National Park which is home to some protected bird species and mangrove channels. The park also offers good trekking in the mountains and forest.

History

Sihanoukville is a very new city. The construction of the port – around which the town grew – only finished in 1960. The port was funded by the French before Cambodia gained their independence. It is named after the “King Father” of Cambodia; King Sihanouk. In the 21st century it has become an important focus of Cambodia’s economic growth as it is the only international port in the country and as such the hub for imports and exports. It is also one of the most important tourist destinations in the country after Siem Reap.

Population

The population of Sihanoukville really started off as the builders and their families who were working on the construction of the port. Unusually, but not unexpectedly, only 50% of the families living in the region are rice farmers. The other 50% 200,000 strong population work in some sort of service industry.

Weather

The weather in Sihanoukville is similar to most other parts of the country. It is worth noting that rainy season at a beach resort can be quite frustrating, and other areas of the country are best visited between July and September especially. It is also the case that this part of the country can receive quite a high volume of rain due to weather fronts coming in from the sea, and the proximity to the Damrei Mountains. The best time for a break here is November – February when it’s dry and sunny but not too hot. Between March and June many people may find it far too hot for sun bathing and beach action.