When you arrive in Sihanoukville, it will probably be by bus. As soon as you get off the bus, you will be surrounded by tuk tuk and motorbike drivers. Each of them will encourage you to go to some guesthouse or other. Who should you choose?
Ideally, you would already know where you want to go, but this is rarely the case for first time arrivals. If the driver speaks English, I suggest you ask him to take you to the top of Serendipity Road on Mithona Street (some just call it Serendipity Road) and then walk from there. You can head straight for the beach or check out the guesthouses on the other two parallel Ochheuteal Roads. You can find Sihanoukville accommodations there ranging from $6.00 per night to $35.00, depending on the level of luxury you’re looking for. If you’re a backpacker who doesn’t mind roughing it, you may even be able to get cheaper accommodation. Utopia, for instance, advertises $2 dorm rooms.
After you’ve spent a night in and feel refreshed, you can start fine-tuning your Sihanoukville accommodation. If you want to get away from it all and enjoy some mellow solitude, check out Otres Beach. If you know how to ride a motorbike, that’s the best way to get around. A lot of backpackers rent dirt bikes. I don’t recommend them, for three reasons:
- They are noisy and unnecessary. I am yet to find a road in SV that is too rough for my little Yamaha and I’ve been on some very rough roads. We love to explore.
- The locals don’t really like them. The police are more likely to stop you if you’re on a dirt bike than if you’re on a little automatic 110 or 120cc Honda.
- You will tend to drive too fast. I’ve only seen three accidents caused by foreigners on motorbikes. All three were riding dirt bikes. My wife saw a dead foreigner’s brains spill out onto the road after he got in an accident. Helmets are not only obligatory, they can save your life.
When you want to stock up on supplies and comfort food, check out Samudera Supermarket. It’s no longer the only market in town, but it is still the backpacker and expat’s favourite. Orange Markets (there are two) and a couple of the newer ones are also fine, but there are a couple of older markets that sometimes buy out of date packaged food cheap and sell it at full price.
After you’ve been to Samudera (or before), take a short walk down the little alley next to it to the Starfish Garden Cafe. In my opinion, Starfish Project is the best run NGO in Sihanoukville. That’s not to say it is the only well-run NGO in Sihanoukville or that I am not biased, but I am entitled to my opinion. When I helped found another NGO for the kids at the Sihanoukville dumpsite, Erika was a big help to me and would have been an even bigger help if I’d listened to her. Since then, when my wife and I have found a stray Cambodian in desperate need of assistance, we have taken them to Starfish and they have received prompt and professional assistance.
You will love the Starfish Cafe – quiet, peaceful, beautiful and very well run. Stop in at their gift shop and buy something nice. While you’re there, also pick up a copy of the Sihanoukville Advertiser. It is packed with ads, but they are mostly useful ads for reputable businesses.
Once you’ve got your bearings, you’ll be fine. It’s easy to find your way around SV. Be sure to stay off dark roads and quiet streets at night. Our local police occasionally ask my wife and I to help them out when something bad happens in our neighborhood. One time it was an Australian tourist who was found dead on a nearby dirt road. It wasn’t a pretty sight. As everywhere, thieves in Sihanoukville are basically cowardly opportunists. Don’t give them an opportunity and you will be alright.