Sihanoukville

Sihanoukville (Krong Preah Seihanu), formerly Kompong Som and familiarly just Snookyville or even Snooky is a seaside town featuring Cambodia's best-known beaches.

Sokha Beach, the best in Sihanoukville

Understand

In a land with thousands of years of history, Sihanoukville is a colourful but tragic upstart. A mere fifty years ago, a joint French-Cambodian project carved a camp out of the jungle and started building the first deep-sea port in a newly independent Cambodia. Named Sihanoukville in 1964 after the ruling prince of Cambodia, the booming port and its golden beaches soon drew Cambodia's jet-setting elite, spawned the first Angkor brewery, and the modernist seven-story Independence Hotel which, claim locals, played host to Jacqueline Kennedy on her whirlwind tour of Cambodia in 1967.

Alas, the party came to an abrupt end in 1970 when Sihanouk was deposed in a coup and Cambodia descended into civil war. The town, renamed Kompong Som, soon fell on hard times. The victorious Khmer Rouge used the Independence Hotel for target practice and, after they hijacked an American container ship, the port was bombed by the U.S. Air Force. Even after Pol Pot's regime was driven from power, the bumpy highway to the capital was long notorious for banditry and the beaches stayed empty.

Peace returned in 1993 following historic elections organised by the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) and in the ensuing ten years Sihanoukville has been busy picking up the pieces. First visited only by a few intrepid backpackers, guide books still talk of walls pockmarked by bullets, but any signs of war are hard to spot in today's Sihanoukville, whose new symbol seems to be the construction site. After 30 years of housing only ghosts, the Independence Hotel is up and running again, more and more Khmers and expats have settled down to run bars and restaurants, and the knowledge of what the New York Times dubbed "Asia's next trendsetting beach" is starting to spread.

Since Snooky is a relatively new city (1950) and grew along with the steady growth of tourism, all the negative elements came along too. It is not safe (even for men) to walk alone on the beach after 21:00, there are plenty of glue sniffing children and a lot of java (methamphetamine) smoking girls and boys and a price-fixing tuk-tuk cartel.

Get in

By plane

Sihanoukville Airport (IATA: KOS) is 17 km to the east of town, on the edge of Ream National Park. Cambodian Angkor Air serves it.

By bus

Frequent buses arrive in Sihanoukville from Phnom Penh (4-5 hours), Siem Reap (10-12 hours), Ho Chi Minh City (10-12 hours), and Bangkok.

Phnom Penh Sorya Transport, GST Express, and Mekong Express operate hourly bus services from Phnom Penh, taking 3-5 hours and costing USD4.50-10, depending on the quality of the bus and the number of stops. The first bus leaves Phnom Penh at 07:00, the last at 17:45. All buses arrive and depart from the bus station downtown near the Central Market. Tickets can be booked at the bus company offices, travel agencies, and many guesthouses. It is worth reserving a day in advance to be sure of a seat. National Rte 4 between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville is one of Cambodia's best roads.

Rith Mony, Bun Thou, and Virak Buntham Express operate daily air-conditioned minibus service leaving at 08:30 to/from the border with Thailand at Koh Kong/Hat Lek, taking about 5 hours. "Local" and "tourist" minibuses service this route; they are always jam-packed, and the trip can be uncomfortable. "Local" service price depends on how much space you want (a whole seat, half a seat, or a space on the roof); foreigners can expect to pay around USD6-8. They will also typically have pickup in front of the offices on the main strip in town at 07:30 (after which they simply drive over to the station to wait until the 08:30 departure time.) You may be offered pickup at your hotel for a premium. Sometimes there are buses leaving at 14:00 but the service may be available only with suitable demand and ticket prices may be higher (~USD15).

In 2010, Virak Buntham Express started a bus service from Ha Tien in Vietnam to Sihanoukville via the new Xa Xia/Prek Chak border post. (From Ha Tien, there is a ferry to Phu Quoc Island, another popular tourist destination). Unlike even recent travel guides report, this trip now has become easy and straightforward. Visa on arrival for USD25/VND550,000 (but bring a photo!)

By taxi

A chartered taxi from Phnom Penh's Central Market can make the trip in less than three hours and will cost anywhere from USD25-40 per car, depending on the petrol price of the day and how beat up the vehicle is. You can reduce the price by sharing seats, but be warned that Khmers will squeeze as many as eight people into the car, including two in the drivers seat, so most people will need to buy two seats for comfort.

By boat

Boats used to run daily from Koh Kong/Hat Lek (the border crossing with Thailand), taking around 4 hours and costing USD20/700 baht. However, the service was suspended in 2008 and it's unclear if it will resume, since travel by road is now cheaper, safer and just as fast. Several sources quote "persistent rumours" about a future ferry service with the nearby Vietnamese Phu Quoc island, but nothing has happened yet.

Modest numbers of cruise lines, e.g., Oceania, offer one-day port visits, usually along with more stops in Vietnam enroute to or from Bangkok.

Get around

Central Sihanoukville

Distances between the beaches are a little too long to walk comfortably, but getting around is easy, as the roads are wide and bike taxis (motodop) are everywhere. The standard price is USD1 per trip, although expect to haggle at night or if the distance is long. They'll gladly pile on two people and their luggage too. For larger groups, car taxis can be called up by phone (flat USD5 to most places around town).

There are dozens of the ubiquitous tuk-tuks around the new bus station and the accommodation areas. They are some of the most persistent and over-charging drivers in Cambodia; they have formed an "association" for price fixing - a trip to the bus station, USD2 in Phnom Penh, costs USD3 if your bus company pays but they will hit you for USD6 if you arrive at the bus station and want to go to the beach. If you have decided where you will stay it can help to call for a pick up. Even if it's not free, it may save you some overcharging.

The ride from the new bus station to Serendipity Beach should cost no more than USD3 during the day.

Another great choice to get around is to rent a scooter. Haggle a bit and you can get it for USD4 a day or more depending on the season. Fuel is not very cheap (about USD1.25/L) but can be bought at many roadside shacks. However, as of 2009, renting scooters to foreigners is technically illegal, and the police may stop and fine you.

See

The town itself doesn't offer much to see. The main areas of Sihanoukville of interest to tourists are Serendipity Beach, Otres Beach, Victory Beach, and the various islands off the coast.

Beaches

The main reason to visit Sihanoukville is the beaches. They are not as crowded as many of those in Thailand, but can be cramped on weekends and holidays. Like many beaches in Southeast Asia, they are often covered in a lot of rubbish.

Ochheuteal Beach - Sihanoukville

Other

Do

Buy

There are several small shops in the town, plus a standard Cambodian market ('Psaa Leu'). Although tourism is growing, don't expect large-scale tourist markets.

Several clothing and souvenir shops are opening downtown and around the Victory Hill and Ochheuteal area as well.

ATM machines can be found throughout the city. Downtown, there are ATMs from ANZ Bank, Canadia Bank, and Acleda Bank. There are also ATMs around the "Golden Lions", on Beach St, at CCS Hotel and one at the Golden Sands Hotel, Occheuteal Beach. There is also an ATM in Otres 1.

Eat

Along the beaches, especially at Ochheuteal Beach, there are many food stalls and some restaurants serving grilled, meat, chicken, and seafood with chips/fries and a beer for USD3-4. There are a good many restaurants in town as well. Sihanoukville has a surprisingly diverse set of cuisines.

Drink

Golden Lion Plaza at Occheteal Beach, 10 friendly bars in one street, all for picking up prostitutes. Avoid this area unless you are looking for that.

The trend on Serendipity Beach is to advertise a permanent happy hour, which usually implies cocktails for USD2-2.50 and draught Anchor beer for as little as USD0.50-0.75. Beer prices generally rise to USD1 at night with cocktails remaining USD2-2.50.

Bars in town:

Sleep

Accommodation ranges from basic guest houses on the beach to four-star resorts. There are plenty of guesthouses, however, the cheapest guesthouses directly on the beach frequently sell out. Pre-booking is necessary at peak times such as at New Year.

Budget

Koh Ta Kiev Island - tree houses on the beach (Cambodia)

Mid-range

Stay Safe

While violent crime is extremely rare, purse snatching, pick-pocketing, and petty theft are extremely common occurrences on and near Serendipity beach during both the day and night. Women should not carry purses containing anything valuable, and if possible should not carry any purse at all. Groups of young children often surround women leaving the beach bars at night, cut off their purses and run away. In addition, criminals on motorbikes will often grab a woman's purse and then drive off during both the day and night, dragging the woman behind them until they let go and get off with the bag. The majority of this activity is confined to the Serendipity area and travellers to Otres Beach or the rest of Sihanoukville should be careful, but far less concerned about crime.

Stay healthy

Medical services in Sihanoukville are very limited and basic. The best medical service is offered by the CT Clinic. This is the only clinic trusted by expats who live in Sihanoukville. The public hospital should be avoided at all costs, as it is terrible. In case of major trouble evacuation is necessary.

HIV/AIDS is nowhere near as prevalent as it was, but the infection rate is still relatively high within certain high risk groups such as female sex workers. In 2006 the infection rate for brothel-based female sex workers was estimated to be 14.7%, but government initiatives have raised the rate of correct and consistent condom use to over 90%. However, many sex workers are now operating outside of brothels, so the rate could be significantly higher in this group.

Connect

Sihanoukville's area code is 034.

Internet

There are many Internet cafes and some guesthouses and many hotels offer Internet access. Many now have Wi-Fi, some for free.

Post

The new main Post Office is near the Victory Park on the left hand side of the road as you go to Victory Hill. There is also a branch at the market downtown, but here you can only leave your postcards during office hours, as it does not feature an outdoor mailbox.

Consulates

Go next


Routes through Sihanoukville

Phnom Penh Kampot  E  W  END



This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, January 12, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.