Upon leaving Phnom Penh, Glenn and I were really ready for a beach. I know what you are probably thinking, does Cambodia have beaches? The answer is yes! Cambodia has some truly amazing beaches. So we took a bus south to the town of Sihanoukville on the coast.
The easiest and cheapest way to get to Sihanoukville from within Cambodia is to take a bus. Our hotel in Phnom Penh arranged this bus for us. From Phnom Penh the trip took about 5 hours. The buses have air conditioning and ours actually had working wifi and a toilet so the trip was very comfortable.
You will arrive at the Sihanoukville ‘bus station’ (really a glorified parking lot with a few food stands around it). Plenty of tuk tuk drivers will be waiting to take. You to your hotel or into town. It is too far to walk so you will have to take a tuk tuk.
There are also usually a few representatives from the area’s hostels advertising available rooms if you have not booked in advance.
If you are outside of Cambodia and would like to visit this area or if you simply want to avoid a bus trip, Sihanoukville does have an airport. However, remember, because it is a smaller and less trafficked airport the prices will be much higher.
For this city we did not book a hotel in advance but we had done a bit of research and googling in advance. We had come across Monkey Republic, it sounded great so we decided to go there first. If it was good we would stay and if not we would keep looking.
It was great. This hostel has recently been completely redone.
The rooms are very clean and comfortable. Dorms were $5 plans double rooms were $10 per room. Since it was the same price we got a double room. The rooms are not air conditioned but there is a fan and the room is open (with screens) at the roof line so the too. Was a very comfortable temperature at night.
A funny, though important thing to note. The plumbing systems in this area of the world are not terribly powerful and cannot handle toilet paper so our bathroom has this lovely sin as a reminder of what could go in the toilet and what could not. We found it very funny.
The hostel also has a great restaurant/bar/common area.
The hostel location is great, right on the Main Street of the beach area of Sihanoukville, near many restaurants and other hostels. It is about a 10 minute walk down to the pier and the beach.
In just a few months (maybe less) this hostel will be even better as we saw them about halfway finished with putting in a built in pool!
Note: is will likely increase the price of the rooms, but I think it is probably worth the few extra dollars.
Here is the pool as of mid November.
When staying in Sihanoukville, there are two main beaches you will visit: Serendipity and Ochheuteal. In reality these two beaches are one long stretch of sidewalk with beach on one side and restaurants on the other and I have no idea where one ended and the next began.
In my opinion these are not the best beaches for sunbathing an relaxing. They are crowded, not very clean and there are beach vendors everywhere constantly asking you to buy bracelets or sarongs or food. (For quieter relaxing beach time go to Otres beach – see further in this post).
However, these beaches are excellent for enjoying food and drinks at the restaurants and for the nightlife after dark.
The restaurants are also the perfect place to sit and watch the sunset.
Food and Restaurants:
Our favorite restaurant in Sihanoukville by far was Khin’s Shack.
This restaurant is at the far end of the beach. They have an extensive menu, excellent food, great prices and really friendly service. It was so good that we kept going back and actually ate there several times.
Beers were $0.50!
One evening we ordered two kinds of Amok (Cambodia’s national dish), one shrimp and one beef. Excellent and so chock full of meat!
Another night we ordered grilled scallops, barracuda and a spicy cabbage salad. This dinner was even more amazing! So fresh and the price makes it even better, for example we got 11 fresh grilled scallops for only $2!
Here is a great picture of the scallops on the grill.
In addition to the amazing food, the also offer a fairly extensive “happy menu” if that is some this you are interested in.
Now, this is not a copy of the McDonalds happy meal. In Cambodia (and really many places in SE Asia, ‘happy’ food and drink means it has pot in it. Be careful that you don’t order something like this by accident.
If you find yourself in Sihanoukville needing to save some money or if you have a very low budget, no problem, you can still eat. Pop over to the Laundromat/restaurant a few doors down from Monkey Republic to have a $0.75 hot dog! And they taste good 🙂
There is not all that much to do in Sihanoukville besides beach related activities, but there are several shops around town selling handicrafts, paintings, beach accessories etc.
You can also find several tattoo parlors around town, this is a popular thing for many tourists to do when they visit Asia.
If you need a break from the heat I recommend heading over to Top Cat Cinema.
Here you can either rent a private cinema or during the high season (December through March) you can see movies in the main theatre. It is fully air conditioned and has thousands of movies to choose from.
Another great thing to do for the day is to rent a scooter. We rented one for a full 24 hours for about $7. It is. Great way to explore parts of the city a bit too far for walking distance. People drive really nicely and respectfully in the Sihanoukville area so it is even a good option for complete beginners.
The local people are also incredibly nice and helpful. As we were driving somehow we ran out of gas. Within 2 minutes of us stopping to walk the bike to a service station 3 people had stopped to help us.
Otres beach is really only about 20ish minutes down the beach from Sihanoukville but it feels like it is worlds away. Otres beach is quiet and clean and relaxing.
If you don’t have bags or only have small day pack sized backpacks you can just walk from Sihanoukville to Otres Beach. The entire walk will take about 30 minutes give or take. Simply follow the beach to the end. You will pass all of the restaurants of Serendipity and Ochheuteal beaches and the. You will pass a long undeveloped stretch of the beach. Then you will come to a small collection of a few restaurants and hotels at the end of the beach. From here walk on the road across a small bridge and up a hill. Go down the hill on the other side (down a set of stairs) and you have reached Otres beach1!
Otres beach 2 is another 10 minute tuk tuk ride further.
This sounds much more difficult that it actually is, you basically just walk straight.
(Note: during the day this walk is fine but I do not recommend it at night. We noticed several locals squatting on the undeveloped land in the middle and it is completely empty of businesses and dark at night. Likely you will be fine but it is not worth the risk).
If you have large bags just take a tuk tuk. It should only cost you max $5 or so and the ride is about 15 minutes. If they try to overcharge you just walk away, they usually call you back and accept the lower price. Otherwise just find a different tuk tuk. They are all over.
Hotel: The Beach Chalet
We found the best hotel on Otres Beach! Ok actually they all look great and you can find something to fit your personality and budget.
For us the perfect hotel was The Beach Chalet. It is about halfway along Otres Beach.
They have 7 bungalows and one room upstairs. All rooms have a double bed and some storage shelves. The rooms also have mosquito nets and fans.
The Beach Chalet also has excellent reliable wifi.
Prices as of November 2014:
Bungalow: $8 per night
Upstairs room/honeymoon suite: $10 per night
The Beach Chalet is owned by two wonderful middle aged Greek gentlemen, definitely take some time to hang out with them during your stay.
Across the street is a great little store that sells snacks, drinks, souvenirs and other things you might need. Very convenient.
There are also two lovely cats that have adopted The Beach Chalet as their home. They are very sweet and will happily keep you company. They are very calm and very clean.
Otres beach is much quieter than the beaches of Sihanoukville. This is the best place to be if you want to relax and just enjoy the quiet of the beach and the sound of the ocean.
Here is a taste of what you will see here
The Beach Chalet has both chairs and loungers available.
All along the beach the different restaurants and hotels have similar seating but The Beach Chalet’s cushions and chairs are newer and in better condition than many of the other places.
Food: The Beach Chalet
Most days we ate at our hotel The Beach Chalet because it was convenient and excellent food.
Most mornings we ordered 1 baguette with butter and jam and 1 ham and cheese omelet and split them. And we would also usually order coffee and fresh fruit shakes. Our hotel offered mango, papaya, pineapple, coconut, and watermelon. They were all amazing.
Because the owners of The Beach Chalet are from Greece, they have a few amazing Greek dishes in addition to the many Cambodian dishes they serve. If you stay here you MUST order the chicken souvlaki at least once. It is a $1-2 more expensive that the rest of the dishes on the menu but it is worth it.
I can also highly recommend the barracuda at The Beach Chalet. So delicious.
Food: Along Otres beach
Some of the best food we had at Otres Beach was actually the ‘beach food’. This is the food that ladies sell walking up and down the beach.
Here is what you can buy:
Various fruit for $1 each
Langoustines for $1 each
Spring rolls (fresh or fried or a mix of both). 5 for $1
Fresh grilled squid. 5 for $1
We also treated ourselves to some truly excellent Italian pizza. At the far end of Otres 1 is a hotel named Papa Pippo. The owners are from Italy and the pizza is amazing. Definitely a must try.
Koh Rong is an island off the coast of Sihanoukville.
To get to Koh Rong you take about a 1 hour ferry ride.
Ferry tickets are $10 each way and can be bought at most hotels and at the many tour operator offices in Sihanoukville and Otres Beach.
When you arrive at the island the ferry docks at the pier at the main village. Beyond the pier is a stretch of hotels and restaurants in both directions.
There are many hotels to choose from on Koh Rong, basically all in the same place so it almost does not matter which one you choose. We stayed two nights at The White Rose for $15 per night. Nice comfortable rooms with mosquito net and fan.
A lot of growth is happening on Koh Rong. A couple we met this year had also visited last year and they told us that the number of hotels has doubled since last year. We also learned that interestingly many of the businesses are owned by Russians.
If you walk along the village to the end (only about 10 minutes, it is a small village) you will reach the beach. I was not impressed by this beach. I felt that it was small, crowded and not too clean (compared with Otres beach). Most people there seemed to love it though so maybe I am over critical.
The best beach on Koh Rong is Long Beach, a secluded beach on the other side of the island from the main village.
To get to it you mKe a 45 minute trek through the jungle, up and over the island.
Be sure to wear proper clothes for this trek. There are roots and the ground is uneven so sneakers are the best footwear. It is the jungle so there are more insects than on the beach so the more covered you are the better. Of course it is also incredibly hot (30 degrees Celsius average) so you have to find a balance. I was comfortable in spandex capris and an athletic tank (with a bikini underneath of course).
Also be sure to have your sunglasses, water and bug spray. Actually, we learned that coconut oil was even more effective than bug spray and better for your skin. Just cover all exposed skin with the coconut oil and you should not get any bug bites.
The beach is beautiful and well worth the trek.
Be sure to stay covered in coconut oil and reapply after going in the ocean because the beach is full of sand flies and many people get badly bitten. We kept reapplying the oil and were not bitten at all so it is effective.
If trekking through the jungle is not your thing but you are still interested in visiting this beach you can take a boat either to the beach or back to town for about $3 per person each way. We decided to take the boat back to town.
Long beach is also an excellent place to watch the sunset. We did not do this but it is one of the most popular activities on the island.
Food and Restaurants:
There are many places to eat on Koh Rong in the village but we actually at both days at our hotel The White Rose because any food purchase came with a free beer which was a better use of our money.
I highly recommend the veggie burger. So amazing!
Overall Impressions of Koh Rong:
Koh Rong is one of the most popular destinations for people visiting the beaches of Cambodia and most people love it but for Glenn and I it just missed the mark. We had expected a secluded, quiet tropical island but found a crowded party island full of construction projects.
I think Koh Rong could be a lot of fun if you are a traveler looking to stay out all night drinking at beach parties and then sleeping all day on a crowded beach and meeting new random people everyday.
However, it is not the best destination for a couple looking for a tropical getaway. Ironically, Otres Beach on the mainland was better for a relaxing tropical getaway.
It all boils down to what kind of vacation you are looking for.
Either way, no matter what you are looking for, you can find it at one of the beaches of Cambodia.