Sihanoukville is a place that can polarize opinions in extreme directions. The many facets of this small beach town embodies this place with different shades. Touted as one of Asia’s popular party destinations, known mostly for the wild late-night parties, this place can also provide a tiny peek into the lives of the local people. I came down with fever after a day in Sihanoukville hence, I really could not explore as much as I had hoped to. Here’s what I feel was the biggest highlight of my time in Sihanoukville – The Beaches and Locals
There is a decent array of beaches at Sihanoukville. I did not get the scope to visit Independence beach, Victory beach or Sokha beach. Otres beach is probably where the tourists are to be found because of its quieter surroundings and it is actually a very good place to just relax all day. However Otres is not the livelier of all the beaches. Ochheauteal beach is the place to go if you want to feel the vibrant atmosphere, some excellent seafood and late-night parties. What makes this place so lively? Contrary to popular assumption, it’s not the usual seduction of parties or hot bods. It’s the locals on the beach.
For me it was very refreshing to see that a beach in one of Asia’s popular party destinations, is being enjoyed by the locals more than tourists. As I sat at one of the restaurants and watched the people having so much fun, I realized that it was a way of life for them. Cambodian people love their beaches and the sea. From small kids, or an entire family, to a bunch of teenagers or “so much in innocent love” couples, this beach has it all.
On weekends, locals from all over and outside of the town converge to Ochheuteal beach and just let their hair down – eat drink play. Add to that several vendors selling barbecued squid-on-sticks, deep-fried crabs, crispy crepes and what not, it is almost like a carnival of its own.
The Bars and Restaurants
Yes, bars and restaurants are everywhere, so whats special about the ones in Sihanoukville? The sheer variety of cuisines available here – authentic Khmer, Mediterranean, Thai, Western and many others – and some really creative, quirky,cheeky names of the restaurants. I never expected to find an Indian restaurant in Sihanoukville considering this place isn’t that renowned among Indians. But then I found this.
Nice food, cheeky name!! The restaurants located along Ochheuteal beach serve some delicious barbecued meat and fresh seafood. Those were really some of the best barbecued seafood I’ve ever had.There are the usual party hotspots like JJ’s Playground, Utopia and Why Not(Dudes in bikinis??) that have people partying till early hours in the morning. But then you come across places like Coffee Time and my personal favourite – Maybe Later – a popular cozy place that serves fantastic cocktails and some really decent Mexican food.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Here is where my statement about polarizing opinions gets prominence. For every good in Sihanoukville there is an equal bad out there. The beaches are beautiful alright but some stretches of Ochheuteal beach are deceiving dirty with trash thrown all around. The locals are friendly but at the same time the vendors can seem to be a bit pushy. Your heart goes out to the adorable kid vendors selling wristbands on the beach. The late night parties are fun but then sometimes they get a bit shady and sleazy. So on everything has a grey shade to them – well, except Maybe Later!!
But eventually it is up to us what we absorb and take back with us. Personally, I want to take in the good parts and at the same time be aware of the bad. Pushy vendors? That’s their livelihood. Small stretch of dirty beach? Longer stretches of cleaner ones out there. Refusing to buy stuff from child vendors? That sends those children back to school. Shady late-night parties? Don’t get involved. I eventually ended up spending my last night in this place chatting, connecting and making friends with complete strangers at my favorite restaurant.
Beaches and wild parties – that was mostly what I had heard or read about Sihanoukville prior to my travel to Cambodia. But there is so much more to know and learn over here. Hence my opinion of Sihanoukville – great potential, needs work!!
- Sihanoukville is located in the South-West of Cambodia. Journey from Siem Reap takes 10-12 hours by bus and 1 hour by flight from Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.
- Giant Ibis is the one to go for bus services to Sihanoukville and costs around 25$-30$ for the entire journey.
- The road to Sihanoukville is smooth and extremely picturesque with the green countryside.