SIHANUK VILLE ORIENTATION
The main body of Sihanoukville is spread thinly across a peninsula-like spit of land, surrounded on three sides by beaches. Near the center of the peninsula, 1-3km from the beaches, the downtown area contains the main market, hotels, restaurants, bus stations and other businesses. Hotels and restaurants can be found across the peninsula, but many are concentrated into three areas: 1) downtown, about 5 minutes from the beaches by moto taxi. Mid-range hotels, restaurants and bars, the main market, banks and convenience stores; 2) Ochheuteal and ‘Serendipity beaches with a couple of the town’s best hotels, several mid-range places, and lots of bungalows at the Serendipity end of Ochheuteal; 3) Weather Station Hill (a.k.a. Port Hill, Victory Hill), where there are several budget guesthouses and restaurants.
ARRIVAL - SIHANUK VILLE
If you are arriving in town by bus or taxi, you’ll be dropped off at the bus stop downtown. If you’re coming from Koh Kong by ferry you’ll disembark at the ferry dock north of town. There are always dozens of motorcycle taxis (motodups) and a few car taxis waiting for new arrivals. Some guesthouses and hotels offer a free shuttle for pre-booked guests. Look for a placard displaying your name. Motodup prices to the various parts of town are posted on the wall at the bus stop. Car taxis cost $6-$7 from the bus stop to almost anywhere in town. Bear in mind that with rising fuel costs, prices may vary slightly.
Touts will try to direct you to commission paying hotels. Do not believe stories that the hotel you want to go to is “dangerous, damaged, dirty, closed,” etc. Insist on being taken directly to your requested hotel.
A comfortable time of year to visit the temples near Siem Reap. It's the middle of the cool season with average mid-day temperatures in the mid 20s, sometime dipping below 20 at night. The monsoon rains trailed off through October and November, and have usually stopped completely by mid November. These months - November through February - are generally considered to be the best time of year to visit, with December and January offering the very best weather of the year across the country - comfortably warm days, clear skies, no rain, light breeze, cool evenings. Temperatures begin to creep up a bit through February and there are occasional, short 'mango showers' in the afternoon.
HOT DRY (March-May)
The dry season continues, the only precipitation being short 'mango showers' in the afternoons that slowly increase in frequency and intensity through these months. During these months river and lake levels are very low, generally making boat/river ferry travel much less reliable. The low river and lake levels make boat passage difficult and can greatly increase travels times. On the other hand, road travel (bus, taxi, motorcycle) is much easier and more reliable for lack of rainy season flooding. The temperature slowly rises through February and March, peaking out in April and May before the monsoons begin. February and March are still comfortable but by April mid-day temperatures can hover in the mid to upper 30s, especially in inland areas like Siem Reap. Though sometime hot, the lack of rain still leaves this a good time of year to visit the temples.
HOT & WET(June-August)
The hot season continues but is fairly quickly moderated as the monsoon rains begin in May and June, cooling, if only a bit, the hot, dry air. Across most of the country, the monsoon rains are fairly predictable, usually occurring in the afternoon or at night. And the afternoon rains usually last no more than a couple of hours making them fairly easy to plan around, especially if you are visiting the temples or touring. In fact, the Angkor temples are at their aesthetic best during the wet season. The surrounding moats and reflecting pools are full, the jungle is lush and moisture bring outs the colors of the stone and the lichens and moss growing on the temples. Boat travel becomes easier and more reliable as the river and lake levels rise, but as the wet season progresses, some roads sometimes deteriorate or become inundated.
COOL & WET(September-October)
The air doesn't really begin to cool much until October or November, but still, its cooler than the hot months. In September the temperatures hover in the mid 30s and slowly drop through the following months. By October, the mid day temperatures are around 30. In September the rainy season is just passing its peak. The rains are still very regular and intense, but by October the frequency is usually dropping off considerably. By the end of October the rains are close to stopping completely, if they haven't already. As the rains end through October, the best time of year to visit Cambodia begins.
TRANSPORTATION IN SIHANUK VILLE
Motorcycle Taxi: (motodup, moto) drivers expect foreigners to pay 1000-2000R in town, and 2000R - 4000R from town to the beaches. (A bit more from the bus station. See previous page for arrival prices.) Locals pay less but getting the local price is nearly impossible. Prices go up for multiple passengers and at night. Some Sihanouk Ville motodups are some of the most assertive touts in Cambodia. Settle on a price and destination before taking the ride and insist on being taken directly to your requested destination.
Moto-romauk: (‘tuk-tuk,’ moto-trailer) Long popular in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, ‘tuk-tuks’ have just begun to operate in Sihanouk Ville. ‘Tuk-tuks’ - more properly referred to by the Khmer ‘moto-romauk’ - are two and four passenger motorcycle trailers. Unlike motodups, the covered and semi-enclosed trailer offers some protection from sun and rain, though tuk-tuks are a bit slower climbing Sihanouk Ville’s hills than motodups. Currently, the price for tuk-tuks seem to be in flux, but are charging near the same prices as a car taxi.
Motorcycle Rental: At the moment there is a ban on tourists driving motorcycles and cars in Sihanoukville. It is not clear whether the ban is permanent or will be lifted at some point in the future. Prior to the ban, most of the tourist-oriented businesses in town rented motorcycles, including most guesthouses and hotels, the bus companies, travel/tour companies and even restaurants. 100cc bikes were between $3-$5/day. Fewer places rented 250cc bikes but they were still readily available at about $7-$8/day. 100cc is more than sufficient for travel in town and to the beaches. Most places required a passport as security. Always lock your motorcycle or leave it in guarded parking. Motorcycle theft is not uncommon.
Car Rental: Car rental (with diver) can be arranged through your hotel or travel agent. Taxis at the downtown bus and taxi station are also available for private hire. Cars cost around $20/day with driver. They can also be hired for short jaunts in town ($4-$6) and specific trips such as sunset mountain ($10) the waterfalls ($15) or Ream ($17).
EATING AND DRINKING
Ochheuteal Beach, known as ‘UNTAC Beach’ in the early 1990s, is the most popular beach in Sihanouk Ville with little shack-style seafood restaurants and bars lining the almost 2km of the sand’s edge from ‘Serendipity Beach’ to the development area at the south end. Ochheuteal has the full spectrum of beach venues including mid-range hotels and budget guesthouses, beachfront seafood restaurants, all-night party bars and bungalows right on the sand. The beach is long, sandy and narrow, with ‘Serendipity Beach’ at the northern end, a development project at the southern half, and a cluster of mid-range hotels and restaurants near the middle.
The mid-section of Ochheuteal Beach is one of the busiest beach areas in Sihanouk Ville. The area used to cater primarily to upper range tourists, but these days offers a pretty even mix of middle/upper range and budget hotels and guesthouses. Golden Sand and the Seaside Hotel are two of the nicest hotels in this area and Holiday Hotel and Orchidee Guesthouse are old favorites of many. Bungalows and guesthouses in the mid-Ochheuteal area include Sbov Meas Guesthouse, New Christmas Guesthouse, Romny Family Bungalows and a bit farther up the road, the Beachside Molop Por and Markara guesthouses and Jas-mine Hotel.
At Ochheuteal’s extreme northern end, the area commonly known as ‘Serendipity Beach’ is the only beach in Sihanouk Ville to offer bungalows and guesthouse rooms right on the sand as well as on the side of the hill overlooking the ocean. ‘Serendipity’s’ popularity continues to grow, particularly amongst budget and independent travelers. Beach bars and restaurants line the beach and there are often beach parties late into the evening. Serendipity offers several budget and mid-range places including the stylish Malibu Bungalows, Rega Guesthouse and Leng Meng; Cloud 9’s well-known bungalows; the new Cove Bungalows overlooking the sea; the good cooking and beachside rooms at Serenity; and Eden Bar’s budget and mid-range rooms and beachfront bar. There are also now several places between ‘Serendipity’ and the Golden Lion Traffic Circle just a couple of hundred meters from the beach including comfortable mid-range accommodation at Reef Resort and DevaRaja and more budget-friendly digs at Monkey Republic and Mick & Craig’s Sanctuary Bar and Guesthouse. To get to ‘Serendipity Beach’ either walk down from central Ochheuteal or follow Ekareach Street straight through the Golden Lion Traffic Circle, and up and over the hill.
Independence Beach gets its name from the the 7-storey The Independence Boutique Resort and Spa (formerly the Independence Hotel) sitting atop the rocky point at the north end of the beach. Generally called ‘Independence Beach,’ many of the locals also refer to this beach as ‘otel bram-pul chann (‘hotel 7-storeys’) and it is labeled ‘7-Chann Beach’ on the in-town street signs.
Independence Beach is, in general, less frequented than other beaches, and sees comparatively few foreign visitors. It’s a good beach to escape some of the hustle and bustle of more touristed beaches like Ochheuteal while still having access to a selection of little beach bars and seafood shacks.
Independence Beach is more than a kilometer long, but the sandy area can be quite narrow, making the beach best when the tide is lower. Grass umbrellas, seafood shacks and drink vendors dot the beach from end to end with a greater concentration toward the southern end where the beach is widest. At the northern end of the beach is the Independence Resort on the hill and a small fresh water lake, which is the source of the Sihanouk Ville’s fresh water (and is rumored to contain crocodiles).
Victory Beach is really two beaches divided by a rocky point and a small hill. The southern section is known as ‘Hawaii Beach.’ The northern section near Weather Station Hill is known as ‘Victory Beach’ and at the port end of the beach, ‘Port Beach’ and ‘ New Beach.’
‘Victory Beach’ sits at the base of the very popular Weather Station Hill near the Vietnam-Cambodia Monument (‘Victory Monument’). At time of printing, the section of Victory Beach immediately at the base of the Hill was still undergoing a development project including the installation of a full-size retired Antonov AN-24 to be converted into an internet café. The beach is currently still open beach-goers, and just 50 meters up the beach there are several little beachside seafood restaurants offering beach chairs and umbrellas, inner tubes, cold drinks and snacks. A bit further north along Victory Beach, there are a couple of upscale oceanside seafood restaurants and the Holiday Palace Casino and Resort.
Above Victory Beach, Weather Station Hill (a.k.a. Victory Hill, Port Hill, The Hill) is a budget traveler and bar/nightlife area that offers a real variety of places. Budget and backpacker places dominate the side of the Hill above the beach overlooking the ocean and there are several tourist-oriented business on top of the Hill as well, including budget and mid-range guesthouses and hotels, a variety of restaurants and bars, internet, CD shops, and lots more. The top of the Hill also has one of the fastest growing bar and nightlife scenes in town. The main entrance road to the hilltop from Ekareach Street sports several hostess bars and other drinking venues, many staying open into the early morning hours.
Hawaii Beach; is also known as ‘King’s Beach,’ ‘South Channel Beach’ and ‘Lamherkay Beach.’ Like the other major beaches, Hawaii Beach is lined with umbrellas and chairs and little beach shack bars and seafood restaurants, though no where near as densely as Ochheuteal. Like Independence Beach, Hawaii is much less touristed than Ochheuteal and ‘Serendipity.’ Access the beach from the small road at the southern end.
Otres is the next beach south of Ochheuteal and resembles Ochheuteal in many ways - a three kilometer crescent of near white sand facing the southwest. But Otres is far less touristed than Ochheuteal and almost completely undeveloped by comparison. There are scattered grass umbrellas along the beach and a few thatch roof beach bars and restaurants clustered toward the near end including the Star Bar, Cantina Del Mar, the Daiquiri Hut, and Otres Nautica offering water sports equipment - boats, Hobie Waves, kayaks, etc. Star Bar also offers bungalows on the beach. To get there: The road over the hill from Ochheuteal (through Queen Hill Resort on top of the hill) allows easy motorcycle access to Otres but is blocked to cars. By car from Ochheuteal Beach: follow 1 Kanda Street to the end and turn left, cross the bridge and proceed about 1km to the next right turn. Turn and follow the road about 1km to the beach. From downtown, take Omui Street east about 4km to a fork and bear right. At the next opportunity take a left. It is 2km to the beach. It’s a dirt road much of the way.
Located in the Ream National Park. Though not untouristed, the Ream Beaches see far fewer visitors than Sihanoukville beaches. Take Route 4 to the Airport road 18km north of town. Turn right, go 9km to the ocean. The beach to the right is long and narrow and frequented more by fishermen than tourists. Behind the beach is a mangrove swamp, which attracts a wide variety of tropical birds. The beaches to the left nearer the Naval Base now have a few vendors selling drinks and renting tubes. There is a small $5 per night guesthouse run by the National Park. Check at the park HQ opposite the entrance to the airport.
PREK TRENG BEACH
Also known as the ‘Hun Sen Beach,’ the Prek Treng Beach a few kilometers north of town is a long, narrow crescent of sand, a bit rocky in parts, offering comparatively warm shallow waters. Due to Prek Treng’s distance from town and complete lack of services (no guesthouses, restaurants, beach chairs, etc.,) the beach is usually deserted. There is a nearby development project promising a busy future for Prek Treng, but at the moment you can have the beach pretty much to yourself. Just remember to bring drinks and snacks as there are very rarely beach vendors available. To get there follow Hun Sen Beach Drive north a few kilometers past the port area. The beach is on the left just past the first bridge and before you reach the oil port.
RUNG SAMLOEM ISLAND
is the nicest island within daytrip distance, taking about 2 hours one way. It harbors a small fishing village, three major beaches and several minor beaches almost entirely uninhabited, including some very nice, sheltered beaches on the north side near Koh Kon. Rocky reefs around both islands host a variety of marine life in both shallow waters and at depths up to 18 meters. Like all of the nearby islands, the best diving and visibility is on the west side. Species sightings include cobia, puffer fish, moray eels, octopus, rays, crabs, nudibranch, cuttlefish, scorpion fish, lion fish, barracuda, yellow goatfish, parrotfish and more.
KON ISLANDH2(Baby Island)
is, as the name implies, a small island sitting just off the north tip of Koh Rung Samloem. Rocky, coral encrusted outcrops on the west and south sides of the island provide home to a variety of corals and marine life including anemones, box fish, parrot fish, yellow goat fish, snappers, stingrays, moray eels and cat sharks. Visibility is moderate, averaging around 10 meters, though better on some days.
TRANG, PRINS, POULOU WAI ISLAND
Some of the best scuba diving waters in the area lie 4-8 hours to the southwest, around Koh Tang, Koh Prins and Poulo Wai. The distance normally requires at least a night's stay. The area has rocky reefs, depths of 15-40m and much better visibility than reefs closer to shore ranging from 10-30 meters and usually around 15 meters. Koh Prins has two shipwrecks to the northwest at 30-40m. Koh Tang is a favorite destination of many divers. The island played a major role in the 'Mayaguez Incident' and still shows the scarring of the May 1975 battle between American and Khmer Rouge forces (see page 6.) The surrounding waters offer several reefs and outcroppings displaying a particularly colorful variety of hard and soft corals, an abundance of other marine life, and particularly good visibility.
REAM NATIONAL PARK
officially called Preah Sihanouk National Park, the park has become known as “Ream” because it is 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 (Koh Thmei and Koh Ses). Macaques, sun bear, dolphins, over 155 species of birds, and other animals may be seen by visitors. The park also contains rarely glimpsed species such as mouse deer and pangolin and there has long been rumor of a tiger, but no confirmed sightings. Park facilities are not fully developed so it is best to arrange a guided tour such as a jungle walk or a boat trip at the Park Office (located 18 km north of Sihanoukville, 500m off Route 4 on Airport Road, opposite the entrance to the airport). The office is open 7 days per week 7AM to 5PM and there are usually several guides of varying linguistic skill levels on hand. Park Office phone: 012-875096. Several guesthouses in Sihanoukville can arrange transportation and tours of the park.
There are set programs offered by the Park though itineraries are flexible and can be tailored to individual or group needs. Prices may vary.
Boat trip on the Prek Tuk River: ~6 hours - Different options include trips to fishing villages (Koh Kchong Village), secluded beaches (Koh Sampouch), or up and down the river viewing wildlife. $25 for 1 to 4 persons, $5 for each extra person plus $5 for a guide.
Boat trip to Koh Thmei: ½-1 day - $25-$30 for 1 to 4 persons, $5 for each extra person plus $5 for a guide. Beaches, snorkeling (bring your own equipment), a bit of fishing village sightseeing o the way.
Boat trip to Koh Ses: 1 day - $40 for 1 to 4 persons, $5 for each extra person, plus $5 for a guide. Beaches, snorkeling (bring your own equipment), a bit of fishing village sightseeing o the way.
Meditation Mountain Walk: Guided walk. 2-3 hours - Lowland forest. Panoramic view. Reputed ideal meditation spot. $2/person/hour.
O Toul Creek Walk: Guided walk. 2-4 hours - Lowland evergreen forest. Panoramic view. $2/person/hour.
Narrow beach, accessible by road Lowland forest. Sometimes there are very basic guesthouse rooms available on the beach for $5. Contact park ranger at the Park Office.