I’ve received three emails recently from people asking, “Where should I stay in Sihanoukville?” One was from someone I know well and I didn’t have a problem with recommendations. The other two came from a professional acquaintance and a friend of a friend. I was a bit stuck for answers because I don’t quite know what they would prefer. One was a woman in her late twenties, the other a man in his forties. Both of them are exploring SE Asia with a view to settling down here.
I was going to write them both long-winded emails, but decided to do it this way instead. Before I begin, though, a disclaimer: I don’t stay in guesthouses and don’t go out late at night. What follows is my opinion based on time spent having meals and hanging out in these areas.
Off the Beaten Track
I’m going to start with a couple of places that are a little off the beaten track because, in my opinion, they’re two of the best places to stay in Sihanoukville.
If you’re looking for a retreat-like atmosphere and don’t mind having to take transportation to the beach, check out Pagoda Rocks. It’s opposite Wat Leu at the top of the Hill behind downtown. Its semi-isolation is part of its charm. The bungalows overlook the ocean on the port side of the city. Unlike bungalows in other parts of Sihanoukville, these are set amongst trees on the semi-rocky slopes of a steep hill. They have a great al fresco restaurant and a swimming pool, so there’s really no reason to leave the grounds, but if you do want to leave, the staff can provide you with any kind of transportation you like — from ride yourself bikes and motorbikes to tuk-tuks, mini buses and taxis.
If the crowded end of Ochheuteal beach isn’t to your liking, but you don’t want to stay as far away as Otres, try Sunset Lounge. It’s at the very end of Ochheuteal, just before the bridge that takes you up to Queen Hill Resort. Sunset Lounge is run by a lovely German couple. They have bungalows, a very good restaurant and lots of shaded lounges, hammocks and tables on the beach opposite the restaurant. It’s possibly the best deal in Sihanoukville. While we’re in the area, Queen Hill Resort is also very nice and there are spectacular views from the bungalows.
Ochheuteal Beach and Serendipity Beach
The Serendipity end of Ochheuteal Beach from the Golden Lions to the bottom of the Hill at Mithona Road and the pier at the bottom of Serendipity Road is where the largest concentration of Western tourist oriented restaurants, bars, clubs and other tourist amenities are located. You can find everything from cheap backpacker accommodation to rather luxurious hotels in this area. There are Italian, Indian, Mexican, Greek, Japanese, and Western restaurants within easy walking distance of each other ranging in quality from so-so to world-class.
What else? There are two bookshops, a couple of places where you can download music, ticket offices for boats to the islands, gift shops, clothing stores, Western-style grocery stores and just about anything else you can think of to make yourself feel at home. Since Koh Rong and other islands became hotspots, a lot of people stay in the area now because you can can pick up a boat to the islands from the pier.
There are so many places to stay in that area, it’s hard to recommend just one or two — especially since I don’t know the first thing about a lot of them. I will mention Coolabah Resort, though, because it was the first place I know of that catered to couples and families. Their success led to the establishment of other mid-market accommodation in the area and helped change the atmosphere of the whole area. And simply because if you haven’t been to Sihanoukville in a few years, you won’t believe it’s real, the hotel at left, Holiday Villa Nataya, has now surpassed Serendipity Beach Hotel as the biggest and most luxurious on Serendipity Road.
On the downside (in my opinion), it is the main tourist area and Ochheuteal is my least favourite beach. It’s easy to get to other beaches from the area, but even easier to stay put and end up thinking Ochheuteal is all Sihanoukville has to offer in the way of beaches. If you do stay there, don’t judge Sihanoukville or Cambodia by some of the people you’ll run across on the beach there and do venture down to the free end of Sokha beach for a swim or take a tuk-tuk to Independence beach if you want to spend the day at the beach.
Otres 1 and Otres 2
After the road to Otres beach was paved in 2012, development followed at a dizzying pace. Fortunately, most of the development was designed to preserve the atmosphere of the beach and Otres is still one of our most pristine beaches. The difference is that you can now take your pick of accommodation and places to plant yourself at the beach.
Otres 1 is the first beach you come to. The beach is filled in with a variety of beach bars, cafes and restaurants ranging from inexpensive Cambodian-run beach restaurants to more upmarket European-style bar/restaurants, many of which also have bungalows you can stay in if you’re lucky enough to find a vacant one. The bungalows on the beach are pretty basic, but comfortable enough and it’s hard to beat waking up in the morning and walking ten metres to the water for a dip before breakfast.
You’ll find more substantial accommodation on the other side of the road, where zoning laws allow brick structures. Some, like Mushroom Point, have wonderfully quirky designs and others have more standard layouts. Most have their own restaurants and prices range from backpacker to mid-range depending on the quality of the accommodation.
When you reach the end of Otres 1, you come to a long, empty road with some picnic spots dotting it. After that, you’re at Otres 2. After spending a couple of nights at Wish You Were Here in Otres 1, a new friend moved on to Castaways at Otres 2 because Otres 1 was a little too busy for her taste. She originally intended to stay in Sihanoukville just for a couple of days, but liked it so much at Otres 2, she extended her visit long enough to check out the Saturday Otres Market.
Although still a little isolated, Otres 2 is where you’ll find some of the best accommodation in Sihanoukville. Tamu Hotel costs over $100 a night, but has just about everything you could wish for. I go there sometimes to have lunch at their beach bar/restaurant and go for a swim. The clientele is predominantly a mix of couples and families. Before Tamu was completed, The Secret Garden boasted the only swimming pool on all of Otres. It still has a lot to boast about and is less expensive than its neighbour. Other places are being built at Otres 2 as well, but there’s nothing after the estuary begins and it still has a remote feel to it thanks to the small area it takes up and its stunning island views.
Downtown and the Hill
I’m lumping downtown Sihanoukville with the Hill because they are both basically part of urban Sihanoukville. Why would you want to stay in a heavily populated area away from the beach when you have your choice of places to stay at the beach?
A surprising number of people stay in the downtown area. Some stay at a downtown Sihanoukville guesthouse or hotel because they tend to be cheaper than those at the beach, but even more seem to be gravitating towards the many apartment complexes that are springing up all over town. Since you can rent a studio apartment for around $100 a month, they’re a great way to extend your holiday.
The Hill was once backpacker central in Sihanoukville, but it got a bad reputation from the bars and when Serendipity/Ochheuteal was developed, it became almost a ghost town. It’s a shame because the Hill is potentially a great area to stay in. There are some really nice places to stay there and cheap restaurants that serve decent food line the road at the edge of the hill. I noticed a new accommodation called Backpacker Heaven the other day. It’s just past the triangle of roads that sort of define the Hill. Whether or not it lives up to its name I can’t say, but it looks nice enough from the outside. Then there are the old stand-bys like Mealy Chenda and Da Da Guesthouse.
The Hill has been a tourist area since the 1990s when only intrepid travellers ventured to Sihanoukville. One of Sophie’s first jobs was as a waitress at Victory Beach. Back then, she sometimes made as much as $50 a day in tips and loved the Western tourists who came to Sihanoukville. They all seemed to come for the same reason: to stay at a genuinely Cambodian beach town off the beaten track. Her most famous customer was John Chena, the professional wrestler, who was a complete gentleman and great tipper. After I met Sophie, I moved from the beach to Da Da Guesthouse and we ended up staying there for a month while I was looking for land. It was just starting to go downhill then and within a couple of years, several of the better restaurants on the Hill sold out and moved elsewhere because they didn’t like how the area was changing. Hopefully, it’s turned another corner and will live up to its potential in the coming years.
That just about covers the main areas of town. One word of warning before I go. If you like to party until late, stay close to the area where you party. The dark roads can get dangerous late at night after the traffic dies down.