We went for a walk down Serendipity Road to the pier this evening before walking back up the hill and stopping at an Indian restaurant for dinner. I couldn’t help but marvel at how much things have changed so quickly here. I counted about 5 new cafes and the same number of restaurants we hadn’t tried yet, a couple of which had just opened since our last walk down the newly paved road.
There’s also a huge not-quite-completed hotel and the newly finished Serendipity Resort, both of which must be pushing 4 stars. About halfway up the hill, I finally discovered where the Ocean Walk Inn is. I felt a little dumb, since its name gives its location away, but although they have a large restaurant and bar downstairs, the rooms are discretely tucked away and their sign is small.
I returned home to discover a new travel site and more praise for Sihanoukville. Actually, Hideaways International is not a new travel site, but it’s new to me. Apparently the Hideaways Aficionados Club has been around since 1979 and is a “community of avid and discerning travelers.”
The praise for Sihanoukville wasn’t actually on the Hideaways site. It was on another site I’ve never heard of before called ExpertClick, which looks like some sort of guest posting article farm. At any rate, the article was called Hideaway.com’s Top 12 Soon-to-be-Hotspots for 2012. The spots chosen were said to be “places and vacation ‘styles’ that are unique, not heavily touristed, and out of the mainstream. And each celebrates those special things, like pristine beauty, that set them apart from every other place or experience.” Sihanoukville got special mention as “Cambodia’s up-and-coming beach resort.”
So many new Sihanoukville resort hotels are popping up, it’s hard for me to keep up with them all and while I agree that it is still “out of the mainstream,” I don’t think this is going to be the case for much longer. There’s a quantum shift going on here and the tourist numbers have not only increased, their demands and expectations are also changing. When I arrived here, the greatest demand was for $3-$6 per night backpacker accommodations. Now it looks like the mid and upper range hotels can’t keep up with the demand.
One thing I’d like to mention before I go:
I’ve been reading a lot of complaints about Ochheuteal Beach on blogs and forums lately. In every case, they’re by short term visitors, backpackers mostly, who get off the bus at Serendipity and stay in the Serendipity/Ochheuteal area without venturing further. They complain about the small size of the beach, the density and ‘sameness’ of beachfront restaurants and the hawkers on the beach.
I can sympathise with them and in fact I never go to Ochheuteal Beach to swim, dine or relax. We do occasionally go for a walk on the esplanade, but it’s mainly for a brief diversion. Ochheuteal Beach is the way it is for a purpose.
Take a walk down the length of the esplanade (or boardwalk, if you like) and you’ll see the clientele steadily changes from predominantly barang (foreigners) to Cambodians as you walk further from the Serendipity end and by far the greatest numbers of visitors are Cambodian. Cambodians travel in large groups, like to sit in the shade, share large meals and socialise. They don’t like to get a tan and their children like to splash around in the shallow water at the edge of the beach. In other words, it is a perfect beach for them, but not for Western tourists, who like wide beaches and undeveloped, natural space around them.
I suggest you stay in one of the Sihanoukville hotels in the Serendipity area if you’re a first time visitor only because that is a great jumping off point for exploring the rest of Sihanoukville and the Cambodian coast. All it takes to get away from the crowds is a walk to the undeveloped end of Ochheuteal or down the hill to the free end of Sokha Beach. Even better, take a tuk-tuk or bicycle ride and explore Otres Beach or any of the many other beaches in the area and/or take a boat ride out to the islands.
Speaking of the beach, I think I’ll go there now. See you next time.