Cambodians call it by its old name – Kompong Som – but to Westerners it’s better known as the beach town of Sihanoukville. The centre of town was built in the 50’s and 60’s and is basically quite an ugly collection of concrete.
Beaches are about 1 km to the south and roughly 2 km to the west of the town centre with the port of Sihanoukville at the northern end of the western beaches. Do not expect wide stretches of sand here, Sihanoukville’s beaches are quite narrow.
In recent years some new resorts have been build, and a raft of new luxury hotels and condominiums are rumoured to be in the works. Once completed, this will forever change Sihanoukville into yet another overdeveloped beach resort.
This is the largest and most popular beach of Sihanoukville. It’s a two km stretch of fine sand, but – as said in the introduction – quite narrow compared to some of the beaches in Thailand, especially at high tide. Ochheuteal is filled with beach stands and chairs. Across the street from the beach, there’s a plethora of restaurants, hotels and guesthouses. The southern end of the beach is slated for probably yet another resort style ‘development project’. The northern end of Ochheuteal is called Serendipity Beach.
The north-western end of Ochheuteal Beach is the place for backpackers, with cheap accommodation nearby or even right on the beach, and affordable eateries. Some of the simple huts and other accommodation can be had for free in the low season, provided you take your lunch and dinner at the establishment. Sometimes people refer to Ochheuteal as ‘Serendipity’, probably because it’s – for Westerners – much easier to pronounce.
A little further out, but well worth the trip: we would call Otres Beach the best – publicly accessible – beach of Sihanoukville. A few years ago, entrepreneurial souls saw the potential of this stretch of sand along the Gulf of Thailand and set up businesses: simple shacks, bars and restaurants.
Soon, it gained a reputation, especially among expats, for its serenity and lack of sellers and beggars. Then, as so often in Cambodia, some of the high and mighty also saw the development potential and bulldozed everything down in 2010. For some – no doubt ugly – development which has not appeared yet. Surprise, surprise…
The central portion of the beach is closed, but elsewhere, slowly but surely, the area is rebuilding!
Although this is the most beautiful beach of Sihanoukville, it is not publicly accessible. The beach is cordoned off by the Sokha Beach Resort, or whatever it is called, part of the powerful Sokimex conglomerate (which also happens to exploit the Temples of Angkor – no kidding, the entrance fees at the World Heritage site of Anglor go into private hands!).
If you are willing to make the Sokha owners even richer, pay $10 (!!!) for the privilege of using the hotel part of the beach…
Continuing to the north from Sokha, next is Independence Beach. This beach is a bit narrower and rockier, and is inhabited by just a few thatched roof shacks that sell snacks and drinks. A nice place for people who want a quiet, but easily accessible beach. Almost no sellers are active here. At the far end of the beach, the hotel from which the beach gets its name, the Independence Hotel, sits atop a point. Since the hotel has seven stories, the local name for this beach is ‘Seven Stories Beach’ or ‘7-Chhan-Beach’ and so it is mentioned on street signs.
The western beaches of Sihanoukville are together called ‘Victory Beaches’, divided by the Friendship monument in the middle. The southern part is commonly referred to as Hawaii Beach, which tends to be much more popular with locals than tourists. It’s a bit rocky and muddy in places, and dominated by the huge Techo Morakat Bridge from the mainland to – you guessed it – another development on the island off the south-western coast, called Koh Puos.
Once this was the most popular area to stay in Sihanoukville, but the beach and nearby Weather Station Hill have lost out to Ochheuteal Beach. It is a fairly short beach, but it offers a view of the ships passing by from Sihanoukville port at the northern end. The distinctive Airport Nightclub sits near the entrance to the beach. Next to the Airport Club, boats for hire operate off of the pier.
Sihanoukville’s most beautiful beaches aren’t on the mainland, they are on the islands near the coast. A real jewel is Bamboo Island (Koh Russei), one of the closest islands. It is a small island with breathtakingly beautiful beaches on two sides, connected by a kilometer and a half long path cutting through the jungle covered interior. There is a small bar/bungalow establishment on the windward side of the island for those wanting to stay the night. Getting to the island is an easy 45 minute boat trip.
There are quite a few islands dotting the gulf within day-trip distance of Sihanoukville. For snorkelling, Koh Ta Kiev is one of the best. Three lovely beaches shaded by pine trees are accessible on the island and its coral reefs that make for excellent snorkelling. But again, sigh, Koh Ta Kiev has been leased to a foreign company — the same French outfit that has taken 99-year leases on half of Koh Russei and parts of Ream National Park. Hey, how do you think all these Lexus’s in Phnom Penh are paid for? …