Apr 15, 2011

Beach Time in Sihanoukville

While it’s great to catch local festivals and holidays when you are travelling, it can also be a real pain in the a**.  Demand for transportation and accommodation increases, prices are raised and availability is severely hampered.  In Cambodia, it’s Khmer New Year time and we’re spending it here in Sihanoukville, on the Gulf of Thailand.

Occheuteal Beach, Sihanoukville

As soon as we entered Cambodia on the 24th of March, all the locals were talking about the upcoming holiday, which is celebrated for 3 days from the 14th April.  We took this into consideration when planning our itinerary and decided to arrive in Sihanoukville on the 13th, just before the ‘big day’. However, by the time we got to Phnom Penh on the 7th, we were beginning to get the impression that it was going to be VERY busy in Sihanoukville for the holiday.  When we tried to secure a reservation at a guesthouse there that had been recommended to us, they responded that they were completely full for the next week.  So after only 1.5 days in Phnom Penh, we decided to go to Sihanoukville ‘early’ to secure accommodation before the big ‘rush’ and hopped on the bus for the 5hr ride to the seaside.

On top of the upcoming New Year, we also didn’t factor in the fact that it was the weekend.  All through Thailand, we became used to the ‘weekenders’ from the cities that would flood places like Pai, Ayyuthaya, and Kanchanaburi.  Thus far in Cambodia, the people and places that we’ve been have been quite poor and there is no such thing as a ‘weekend getaway’.  Not so here in Sihanoukville, and arriving here on a Saturday afternoon at 3pm was quite a shock.  Every place that we inquired at in our budget range (and there were a lot to choose from), was full.  It was astonishing.  Finally after nearly a hour searching, we had to settle for the Aqua Resort, which was quite a nice place with about 20 rooms, AC, tv, wifi a pool and 3 blocks from Occheuteal Beach but was $30US per night.  At least we didn’t have to sleep in the tuk tuk, much to our driver’s relief!

The next morning, we again set out to search for alternative accommodation, and a few rooms had opened up as people began to check out and return to the city.  However we did manage to negotiate a better rate at Aqua at $150 for the week, so stayed on there.  

Aqua Resort
We headed to breakfast and then to Serendipity and the adjoining Occheuteal Beach.  We had heard lots of mixed reviews about Sihanoukville—people either loving it or hating it so we were really quite curious as to what we’d find.   To our delight, we found a clean stretch of white velvety sand beach, lined with comfy chairs, sun loungers, umbrellas and even the odd tree on one side and warm albeit a bit swelly water on the other.  The chairs and loungers belonged to the beach shacks behind, which served food by day and were hopping bars by night, with names such as CoCo Shack, Dolphin Shack, Moonshine, Khmer Shack and so forth.  Buy a .50 cent pint of beer, and/or some food, and they were happy for you to stay as long as you liked.  As you sat and lounged, other locals carrying plates of homemade yummys like donuts, fresh fruit, BBQ squid, and BBQ yabbies would come around and relieve you of your $1 or so in exchange.  Others would come around selling bracelets, sarongs, and also massages, pedicures, manicures, and threading.  And in between all of this, you could go for a dip in the 27ish degree water, which is surprisingly clean for Asia. The daytime temperature here has been a constant and comfortable comfortable 29 degrees and the nights drop to 27—so whether you are in or out of the water, day or night, the temperature is very constant.  All in all, a very very good package!

10 Squid Skewers=$1.50 US/ 5 Yabbies = $1.00

Large Pineapple, sliced: $1.50

10 Homemade Mini Donuts: $1.00

Massage on the beach:  $4 US

We’ve spent 7 days here so far, just indulging ourselves and relaxing on the beach.  The kids have really enjoyed just ‘being’.  We have found ‘our spot’ on the chairs at CoCo Shack where there is shade through most of the day right next to the water and they have been happily playing in the sand, thoroughly engrossed in their make-believe projects.  They have none of the usual ‘toys’ for the beach, but are making due with plastic water bottles to carry water with, discarded plastic spoons to dig with, and other discarded plastic cups to fill sand with. The other day, they even made a kite with a bit of stylofoam/polystyrene and some string which they found.  Occasionally Maddy goes into the water for a swim with one of us, but generally the girls find the water too turbulent for their comfort level and prefer to just play at the shore.  We’ve been amazed at how the days have just ‘passed’ with us arriving at the beach after breakfast (around 10am), spending all day including eating lunch and dinner on the beach, finally returning to the hotel around 7:30pm for a bit of a swim in the pool for everyone before bed. 

Our 'Spot' at CoCo Shack

BBQ Whole Snapper with Chips: $3.00 US

Our Dinner 'Spot'

Sunset behind Serendipity Beach

We haven’t been complete sloths and glutens--on the second day we did hire a scooter for $4 for the day and headed to the Vietnamese Embassy to apply for our visas, which amazingly only took about 20min to obtain.  Afterward we checked out some of the other beaches in the area, including Lomeikay Beach, Victory Beach, Independence Beach and Sokha Beach.  The first two were our favourites as it was very shallow and calm which suited the kids.  Lomeikay was also more ‘local’ and Victory was like Serendipity Beach, but on a much smaller scale.  We're also using this downtime to plan and research our itinerary for Vietnam (which looks to be a very busy travel month).

Victory Beach

Lomeikay Beach

Khmer New Year has been much more low key than we’d expected.  Basically it’s more a time to spend with family and to have a big meal together at home on the first night.  Day 2 saw many families and groups of friends are spending time together at the beach, eating and drinking in the beach shacks and frolicking in the water until nightfall.  There are Cambodian children everywhere.  The beaches were really packed today and the normally quiet streets filled with cars with Phnom Penh plates.
As mentioned earlier, some hotels put up their prices for this period, the bus company that we were on put their prices up by $1 per ticket, and the whole society was somehow hoping to cash in on this holiday, including an increase in police 'presence' on the streets, pulling over whoever they could for traffic 'infringements'.
Day 2 of Khmer New Year Celebrations--beach is packed!

Before we came to Cambodia, we never dreamed of having this kind of beach time here. Having learned of it through our friends at Our Travel Lifestyle we put it on our itinerary.  When speaking to most people about Cambodia, most don’t seem to mention or visit Sihanoukville, and of those that do about half don’t seem to like it.  Yet there are tons of tourists here although it’s the end of high season.  There are backpacker types,  seniors and families and loads of Cambodian tourists mainly from the middle classes of Phnom Penh.  Everyone that we’ve spoken to here is loving it.  Clearly, it’s been a well kept secret!  Apparently many of the beaches have recently been bought up by the Russians and other interests looking at building big resorts in the near future, so Sihanoukville is set to change for sure.  Pity.  Accommodation is normally plentiful here, lots of restaurants to choose from in all price ranges (although  we found local 'Khmer' food is slightly pricier here than other places in Cambodia) , a large variety of water activities to keep you busy by day and a bustling nightlife. We will enjoy ourselves here for another day, then it’s onto Kampot, which is a 2hr bus ride away, on the banks of a river for a change of scenery.


  1. Wow! Cambodia keeps moving up the list. I am not sure it gets much better than this. Glad you guys are enjoying it.

    Funny how sometimes when travel doesn't work out as planned, it ends up being even better than you planned.

  2. Fantastic and very brave to pack it with the kids. I spent two months in Sihanoukville recently - so glad to hear you're there. enjoy!

  3. We LOVED it there, and Cambodia as a whole. How lucky you were to spend 2 months there--I imagine that you enjoyed it there too?!

  4. I just thought I'd say I've been enjoying reading your blog as I hope to do a similar trip with our two kids. I applaud you in giving it a go with 2 young kids. Ours are similar in ages right now and I think it would be too challenging, but I suppose they can surprise you in a "travel environment". Thanks for blogging your adventures!

  5. Thank you for your comment. As you said, 'they can surprise you in a travel environment', for sure! A few of us 'traveling families' have been discussing the pros and cons of traveling with kids of a certain age--check out some of the blogs on my 'blogroll' on 28 April and there will be some insightful posts on the topic. As for us, we think that at 5 and 3.5yrs old, they are at a perfect age.

  6. Fantastic atmosphere!