Welcome to the shagaluf of Cambodia. Sihanoukville is fantastic if all you want to show from it is a hangover and a Vietnamese visa. That’s not to say it isn’t beautiful, but it is completely centred around a strip of bars along the beach front, lit up at night by fireworks and paper lanterns (set them off yourself for a dollar).
Be warned, the locals will take advantage of you. I met not one, but two guys who had lost all of their clothes after taking an early hours skinny dip in the ocean, including wallets, phones, identification and other valuables. The next day left the two of them in Western Union and walking along looking for work.
Luckily, the people who run the bars expect this on a daily basis, and most are constantly looking for western travellers to work for food and accommodation. In return they get a dorm room, food, and alcohol for the whole time they are in town. So you see, if you do go for a naked swim it isn’t the end of the world when a little Cambodian child sneaks up and steals your lifeline.
The way I saw the town was that it was a port to the more beautiful idealistic islands just off the coast. Bamboo Island (Koh Russei), Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samolem are the most popular destinations. You can easily catch a ferry to the islands. Most hostels can book this for you and will also recommend accommodation on the island for all budgets.
I never went to Koh Rong purely because I had heard it was very similar to Sihanoukville in the wild-party-touristy sense. I was looking for something more authentic and rustic, but more on that later. I may however have been wrong, as I never met a single backpacker that didn’t have a fantastic time there. Perfection, beauty and paradise are the words I’ve heard. But as I said, I didn’t make it. I did however make a visit to smaller and far less populated Koh Ta Kiev. That however, deserves a whole post of it’s own.
Sihanoukville itself is proud of its beaches. Starting off with Serendipity, this one is where the main town centres itself as well as the long strip of bars that don’t close down till dawn. Otres is further down the coast – it is also far more beautiful and has a distinctly chilled out vibe in comparison. These are the main two – there are others around the area such as Victory, Sokha or Independence; some private, some deserted. It’s up to you how you get there and which one you choose. But as a backpacker on a budget in search of a hostel, I recommend those – accommodation further out is far more sparse and significantly inflated.
Overall? I enjoyed Sihanoukville. But next time it will simply be a step onto the longboats that take me to paradise, rather than a destination.