Sihanoukville is Cambodia`s premier beach location, a peninsula ringed by pretty whiteish-sand beaches and surrounded by a smattering of tiny islands. Debate rages over whether its beaches will ever seriously rival those that lure the hordes to neighboring Thailand, but given international tourism`s insatiable appetite for new places, we think they will eventually one day.
The history of Sihanoukville goes back only as far as 1955 when the area known as kampong Som. In August of that year, a French/Cambodia construction team cut a base camp into the unoccupied jungle where the Hawaii Sea view Restaurant now sits. They laid the groundwork for the construction of the new Port of Kampong Som. Prior to 1954, Indochina (Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) was a single political unit under French jurisdiction. During this period, Cambodia maintained international sea trade via the Mekong River. But the dissolution of French Indochina in1954 meant the Mekong delta reverted to the control of Vietnam. Seeking unfettered access to the ocean, plans were made to construct a new ocean port. Kampong Som was selected for water depth ease of access. When the port was finished in 1960 the area was renamed Sihanoukville (in honour of then King Sihanouk) but many Cambodians continue to refer to it as Kompong Som.
BEST TIME TO GO
Cambodia can be visited throughout the year. However, those plans to travel extensively by road should be avoided the last two months of the rainy season when some countryside roads may be impassable. The average temperature is about 27 degrees Celsius; the minimum temperature is about 16 degrees. December and January are the coolest months, whereas the hottest is April.
HOW TO GET THERE
As Sihanoukville improves a lot in parts of trade, tourist business and other sectors, the road to Phnom Penh had to be rebuild properly. Now you can run the perfectly paved National Highway No 4 linking the capital with this seaside resort (230km). The province could also be entered directly through Koh Kong Province from nearby Thailand, as more and more tourists do. It?s doable either by the bumpy Major Road 48 passing the edge of the Cardamom Mountains or by speedboat from Koh Kong town, next to the Thai border. Read More…
THINGS TO SEE & DO IN SIHANOUKVILLE
Sihanoukville town sits in the centre of a small peninsula that juts into the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand. Several fine, near-white sand beaches easily accessible from the town line the shore around the peninsula. The main beaches are lined with little thatch roofed beach bars and seafood shacks offering cold drinks, beach umbrellas and chairs, seafood BBQ, evening parties, water sports and more.
Ochheuteal Beach is now the most popular in Sihanoukville, offering the full Spectrum of beach venues from upscale hotels and dining to laid-back budget beach bars and bungalows.
Ochheuteal is long, sandy and narrow, with ‘Serendipity Beach’ at the northern end, a Golf-course development at the southern end, and a cluster of mid-range hotels and restaurant near the MP base in the middle. Little shack style restaurants and bars, grass umbrellas, beach chairs line the beach from one end to the other.
About 10km off the coast of Sihanoukville, Koh Russey (“Bamboo Island”) is a small secluded tropical island with some simple bungalows facing the beach. It is a barely-touched stretch of yellow sand, providing complete serenity. No hawkers and no hassle. There is just you and the sea. There are little things to do on Koh Russey as it is a paradise for a relaxing journey to nature. You can swim all day, read in a hammock in the morning, go on a fishing boat or play volleyball with the fishermen. There are bonfires and barbecues during the evenings.
At over kilometers, Victory Beach is quite long, but like Independence Beach, the sandy area is narrow, making low tide the best time. Victory two beaches divided by a rocky point and a small hill. Set at the base of the very popular Weather Station Hill, the section of Victory Beach in the area in the area of the Vietnam Cambodia Monument (Victory Monument’) is the most popular of Victory. The beach is a bit quieter and more relaxed then Ochheuteal and there are a few good beach bars and restaurants right on the sand such as Tahiti, Mari-yan Beach (offering the only pentanque court on the beach), and Map Water Sports with jet skis, boat trips and more. Victory is a particularly good sunset beach.
Occupying all of Sokha Beach, the new Sokha Beach Resort, Sihanoukville’s first full resort complex, is offering upscale accommodation restaurants, water sports, and more. Sokha Beach is about 1 Kilometer long and comparatively wide so that there is plenty of sand left during high tide. It is perfectly groomed these days, fairly quiet by comparison to Ochheuteal, and is open to the general public as well as guests of the resort.
The waters off of Sihanouk Ville and the nearby islands offer some good scuba diving opportunities. Coral encrusted rocky reefs surround many of the local islands, supporting abundant hard and soft corals, sponges, anemones and an assortment of fish life including sting rays, moray eels, dolphins and even whales. Experienced divers report that the variety and concentration of marine life along the reefs is impressive. Good dive sites can be found within a two hour boat trip of town, making for an easy day trip, but the very best sites are 4-6 hours out.
The local waters are warm (consistently between 27-31C) and though visibility can be quite variable, especially during the monsoon season. In the diving season from October to June visibility ranges from 10-25 meters on good days, even at nearby islands such as Koh Rong Samloem – better at more distant sites such as Koh Tang. Most of the dive sites are comparatively shallow (around 15 meters) and gentle currents around the islands allow drift diving over the reefs and outcroppings.
REAM NATIONAL PARK
Ream National Park, officially called Preah Sihanouk National Park, has become known as “Ream” as it is located in the Ream Commune. The park was established in 1993, inaugurated in March 1995, and encompasses 21,000 hectares of coastal area including: sandy beaches; mangrove forests; the Prek Tuk Sap estuary; off-shore coral reefs; and two islands (namely “Koh Thmei” and “Koh Seh”). It is rumoured that the Park provides refuge for such species as: macaques; sun bear; dolphins; mouse deer; pangolin; and over a hundred species of birds most of which are rarely seen.
GOLDEN LION MONUMENT
The Golden Lions Monument (Vimean Tao Meas) is a prominent Sihanoukville landmark located in the middle of the traffic circle between Sokha and Ochheuteal beaches. The monument was constructed in 1996 and I’ve heard several different versions of what it is supposed to represent. The traffic circle is surrounded by Cambodian restaurants and karaoke places and the gardens around the monument have become a popular evening hangout for the locals, particularly local teens. The road to Serendipity beach runs off of the Golden Lions Traffic Circle
The Independence Square consists of an open meeting hall on Ekareach Street (Independence Street), and across the street a small park containing a small shrine and the Independence Monument (Vimean Ekareach), which is a monument to Cambodia’s independence from foreign rule and to Cambodia’s war dead. Note the urn-like structure at the center of the monument. The Independence Monument was constructed in in 1985. Most of the trees in the park have been recently felled and the park is undergoing a general renovation. Ceremonies are held at the park on January 7th and some other national holidays. Located at the intersection of Ekareach Street (main street) and Mittapheap Kampuchea Soviet Street (Cambodia/Soviet Friendship Street.)
KBAL CHHAY WATERFALL
The Kbal Chhay Waterfalls are a series of waterfalls (3-5 meters) and chutes on the Prek Tuk Sap River, located about 10km north of town. During the dry season (November-June), the falls can be little more than a trickle, but the wet season falls can be quite powerful. The area is slowly being developed and there are now drink stands, food stalls and covered picnic areas available. Lots of local picnickers crowd the area on the weekends. A favorite for local families and teens. It’s about a 30-minute ride from downtown Sihanoukville to the falls. Take Route 4 north to the ‘Kbal Chhay’ sign near mile marker 217, about 1km north of the anchor and globe monument.
ST. MICHAEL’S CHURCH
St. Michael’s is the only Catholic Church in Sihanoukville and one of the town’s original buildings. Only two of Cambodia’s 73 churches survived the Khmer Rouge period of the late 1970s: the Carmelite Chapel in Phnom Penh and St Michael’s in Sihanoukville.
According to official records the church was inaugurated in 1962, but was reportedly constructed in 1960. The church was designed by French Catholic priest Father Ahadobery with the assistance of Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann and constructed on land donated by HE Norodom Sihanouk. St Michael is the patron saint of sailors and the churches architecture also reflects the seafaring theme of this port town church.
Wat Chotynieng (aka Wat Leu, ‘upper wat’) overlooks town from the top of Sihanoukville Mountain. From downtown you can see the wat atop the hill near the antennas. You can also see a Chinese style graveyard on the side of the hill under the wat. Paintings in the vihear at the pagoda depict the life of Buddha. At the rear are portraits of the founder, Prince Junot, and Lok Om (left), the leader of the Buddhist community in this area until his death in 1999. In front of the chapel is a statue of Lok Om, erected in 1996.
NIGHTLIFE IN SIHANOUKVILLE
Sihanoukville is a town that knows how to party and there is absolutely no shortage of bars and nightspots. Ochheuteal and Serendipity beaches are lined with seafood shacks that double as bars. There’s an all-night beach party of some sort most evenings, always at full moon. Monkey Republic and Utopia on the road to Serendipity are popular late late traveler’s places. And the collection of bars at Golden Lions Plaza on Polaway Street (1 Kanda Street) is also well-worth a check. The downtown area has its share of tippling establishments, a few staying open quite late. Freedom Bar, with its reasonable prices, pool tables and live music never fails to draw a crowd. G’Day Mate on the main street serves food, drink and good music 24-hours. On the other side of town, a number of hostess, sports and music bars line the top of Victory Hill. Corner Bar on the Hill has five TVs showing all the games.
SHOPPING IN SIHANOUKVILLE
Sihanoukville does not offer souvenir shopping comparable to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, but Sihanoukvilles shopping opportunities are growing. Several convenience stores/small supermarkets are now scattered across the town, offering a good selections of all of the usual traveller’s needs. And now there are even a few cool souvenirs to be had in Sihanoukville. There are some good T-shirts available at bars and guesthouses and some cool clothing and accessories for sale at places like Boom Boom Room. Of particular interest, the very popular NGO-based Cambodian arts and crafts association, Rajana, has just opened its first outlet in Sihanoukville, located above the Starfish Caf.
The Rajana shop has a good selection of Cambodian arts and crafts, jewellery, textiles, coffees, spices and more. local NGO, M Lop Tapang, offers products made and marketed by disadvantaged women under the Mother Under the Tree, Snardai project. Available at Holy Cow, Starfish Caf, and Geckozy.
A souvenir unique to Sihanoukville: scale model wooden Cambodian fishing boats handcrafted by a local French shipwright. The models are detailed wooden miniatures of fishing boats used along Cambodia’s coast, and are accurate copies inside and out. Each is individually numbered. Available at Map Water Sports.
DINING IN SIHANOUKVILLE
After Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville serves up some of the best foreign and local cuisines in Cambodia. Quality ingredients, authentic preparation and home-style cooking are hallmarks of Sihanouk Ville dining. The emphasis, of course, is on straight-from-the-ocean seafood. The fresh crabs, giant prawns, ocean fish and squid are all excellent and can be found at the numerous shack restaurants that line the beaches. Seafood prepared BBQ-style is particularly popular, especially at the beach places. Most of the off-beach restaurants are concentrated into a few areas: downtown, Victory Hill and especially the Ochheuteal area, on Serendipity Beach Road and along Preah Lumhei Phumin Street (23 Tola Rd.)