Located about 4 hours from Phnom Penh by bus, Sihanoukville is the country’s premier beach destination for locals and tourists alike. It features a variety of beaches, most of which are an easy walk from the downtown hotels and hostels where most visitors stay.
Though once a relatively quiet seaside town, Sihanoukville has undergone a major transformation in the last few years, and sadly it’s one that most people aren’t happy about.
The change has been largely fueled by the construction of swank new hotels and casinos that have deluged the once-quaint town with foreign construction workers, businessmen, high-rollers and gamblers and driven rents and property values through the roof.
Many long-time residents have decided to leave the chaotic hustle and bustle for more relaxed areas like the nearby river town of Kampot, and Kep which is a little farther up the shore near Cambodia’s border with Vietnam.
For now there are still a few beach areas that are precariously clinging to their undeveloped charm, but for those who want to see them before they disappear forever, it’d be wise to do it sooner rather than later.
Whether you’re a traveler on a budget or one that doesn’t mind maxing out the old credit card, there are plenty of accommodation options from the most inexpensive dorm-room style guesthouse to the ritziest 5-star resorts.
Most visitors chose an option in between the two, and for those who don’t mind surfing the internet, there are still some good deals to be had at properties near town and the beaches, and some even offer free breakfast and have pools as well.
Located inside the Ream National Park, Ream Beach is one that’s remained relatively untouched in recent years, making it increasingly popular for those who’d rather spend their time in a beautiful and serene area than a crowded urban one.
It’s about 25 kilometers north of town, and is easy to reach via the preferred local method of transportation, the tuk-tuk.
The beach is narrow and long and is often more populated with local fisherman than it is with tourists.
Although there are often local vendors nearby selling food and drinks, it’s wise to bring some snacks along with you.
For those who’d like to spend the night in nature, there’s an inexpensive guesthouse run by the park service, and though the accommodations aren’t luxurious, they’re comfortable.
There are plenty of other town beaches in Sihanoukville, and though Ream Beach isn’t the most convenient to get to, it’s clean water, natural setting and quiet environment will more than make up for the relatively short trip.
Sihanoukville’s Victory Beach is comprised of two distinct portions that are intersected by a rocky point jutting into the sea.
The southernmost of the beaches is often referred to as Hawaii Beach, and the northern as New Beach, and they’re both known for the iconic Victory Monument which lies nearby and commemorates the two country’s friendship and defeat of the Khmer Rouge.
Many of the town’s beaches are subject to temporary closures as construction continues, but for now it’s open and there are a few surfside seafood restaurants with comfy chairs and large umbrellas facing the sea that are great places to relax with a chilly draft beer and a plate of grilled prawns and squid.
There aren’t any waves to speak of, but the water is usually clear and the views of the sea merging with the distant horizon can be mesmerizing, especially at sunset.
In the Khmer language koh means island, and translated into English Koh Russei is Bamboo Island. The island sits about 10 kilometers off the coast of Sihanoukville and is surrounded by coral reefs and stunningly blue water. It’s the perfect escape for those who’ve had their share of chaos and construction noise, and is easily reachable by a shuttle boat that leaves from Sihanoukville a couple times a day.
The ride takes about half an hour and is relatively inexpensive, and once on the island you’ll feel like you’re farther away from civilization than you really are.
On the northernmost of its scenic beaches there are a few laid-back, bungalow-style resorts that are favorites with backpackers and those looking to sleep under the stars.
The island’s electricity comes from generators that don’t run all day, and though visitors from the mainland come during the day, most return in the afternoon leaving the island nearly deserted.
Though it’s slightly closer to Sihanoukville than the aforementioned Koh Russei, Koh Rong Samloem is the smaller of the two islands and in Khmer its name means Drowsy, or Sleepy Island.
It’s surrounded by the usually clear and calm waters of the Gulf of Thailand, and is only moderately developed, especially in comparison to nearby Sihanoukville which is in the grips of an explosive and largely unpopular expansion.
There are a few 4-star resorts on the island, but it’s still possible to find an off the beaten path gem or two for those who aren’t interested in swank and pricy resorts and would rather spend their time with Mother Nature.
Its beaches are amazingly white and free of the usual detritus that usually washes up on the mainland beaches during high tide, and loud music and revelers probably won’t be a concern like it is at many of Cambodia’s beaches.
Another of Cambodia’s coastal islands that’s known for its beauty is Kohn Rong. It’s the second largest of Cambodia’s islands and is known by locals as Paradise or Shelter Island, and after a few hours relaxing on one of its beaches you’ll probably agree that it’s aptly named.
Once nearly totally undeveloped, the island has undergone a noticeable transformation in recent years, and that’s particularly true of the Koh Touch area which is where the fast ferry boat from Sihanoukville arrives and departs.
The development in Koh Touch has been a bit haphazard and is largely characterized by beachside bars and inexpensive bungalows that can get rowdy at times, but the rest of the island is still very natural by comparison.
Four Khmer communities reside on the island, and though for now the increase in touristy businesses is pretty slow, you don’t have to have a crystal ball to see that it’s only a matter of time before the pace picks up, so if you’d like to see it in its current state consider checking it out sooner rather than later.
For much of its existence Sokha Beach was one of Sihanoukville’s most popular beaches, but it’s now private which means it’s open to visitors, but they’re expected to buy food or drinks if they’d like to hang around and appreciate it.
The beach stretches nearly two kilometers, and the Sokha Beach Resort of which it’s now part also has cultivated gardens, a variety of restaurants, spas and multiple swimming pools with swim-up bars that are reminiscent of those found at Club Med.
The Sokha Beach Resort is about halfway between Independence and Serendipity Beaches, and is one of the swankest resorts in the area, and even hosted the country’s King in the recent past.
Due to its exclusive nature, the beach and grounds are cleaner than most, and for those who’d like to use the pool there’s a five dollar charge per person, but it’s definitely not a good fit for those young and crazy travelers looking to whoop it up.
At nearly 2 kilometers, Independence Beach is one of Sihanoukville’s longest and until recently it was one of the town’s most popular as well.
It runs roughly between Independence Hotel, Resort and Spa to the north and Holiday Palace Resort to the south, and though it once offered beachgoers amazing views inland and up and down the coast, much of the skyline is now obstructed by the many high-rise construction projects just inland.
Independence Beach probably isn’t a good fit for those looking to spend hours swimming and laying in the sun, but it’s a great spot for a long morning or afternoon walk, and there are still plenty of scenic vistas to take in, especially from the south end when looking toward the sea.
Rumors have recently surfaced that the beach is now closed, although that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least not yet.
For those who welcome a long walk along the sea, a morning or afternoon stroll from downtown to Ochheuteal Beach could be a great way to get the lay of the land and take in some pretty impressive natural scenery as well.
Years ago Ochheuteal Beach was lined with dozens of small family-run businesses serving cheap drinks and tasty local dishes, but many of them have been forced to close and the entire character of the once-popular beach has changed as well.
For now Ochheuteal is still popular and is a congregating point for tourists from all over the world.
There are still great dining and shopping options nearby too, and even the casino projects are interesting to see, though it won’t take long before you’ll be looking for a natural escape.
Another of Sihanoukville’s most popular beaches is Serendipity Beach, and it’s still home to a number of locally-owned, beachside restaurants that serve up yummy and inexpensive food and drinks.
During the middle of the day when the sun is at its most intense, it’s a good idea to retreat to the restaurants that are shaded with large umbrellas, and due to its central location it also has the largest variety of accommodations within an easy walk from the beach.
Though it can get chaotic and crowded during the tourist season, for those who don’t mind visiting in the rainy season which typically lasts from April to November, the town has a whole different feel when it’s not full of tourists.
Many foreigners who live in Cambodia love the rainy season. The storms usually come in the afternoon, and there are few things more amazing than watching them roll in from the sea while ensconced in a comfy chair with a cool drink.
For many first time visitors to Sihanoukville Otres Beach is where they get their first taste of the Cambodian coastline.
It’s full of touristy shops, quaint eateries, coffee shops and hotels and hostels at nearly every price point, and despite the development and construction nearby Otres has somehow remained cleaner and less cluttered than many of its neighbors.
During the peak dry-season tourist glut Otres can get crowded, but it’s still possible to find a relatively quiet stretch of beach, and when you hang out at a local bar or café you’re likely to meet interesting people from all over the world which is always interesting.
Unlike other beaches most of the resorts along Otres are small and have so far managed to avoid the demolition and construction boom that’s been taking the town by storm.
In summary, Otres is a pleasant mix of scenery, serenity, affordability and amenities that make it Sihanoukville’s most visited beach.