Lunch in Otres Village

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I wrote about Otres Village back in 2013. I’ve been back there since then, but haven’t taken pictures. I had some time on my hands the other day, so I decided to have lunch in Otres village. I went to Hacienda, which is right across the street from the Barn, where they have the Otres Market. The Otres Market put this out of the way village on the map.

Legacy Resort Otres village

In 2013, not much had changed on the main road in Otres Village. There was a row of traditional shops on the road, but that was about it. Now it extends around the corner and you can find fairly luxurious guesthouses and bungalows on the main road. The Legacy is probably the nicest, but there are others springing up, including a fair sized hotel.

Main road in Otres village

You take a right turn onto a dirt road to get to the Barn and all the other new restaurants and guesthouses that have been springing up in Otres village. I was a little stunned by how many there are now. There’s even a mini-mart, but it doesn’t look like they’ve stocked it yet. There’s also a small row of shops. Only two were occupied when I drove past, but it’s a sign of the times. Sihanoukville is growing and Otres village is growing with it.

new shops in Otres village

I finally arrived at Hacienda. I knew what I wanted. The last time I went there for lunch, it was to meet Brian Gruber, author of the very excellent book, War: the Afterparty. I tried their falafel last time and it was very good. That’s what I had this time, too, and it was just as good.

Hacienda at Otres village

Hacienda turned out to be a perfect choice for lunch. I could have gone to the beach, but there’s nothing new or different about the beach to me. I wanted a change of scenery. At Hacienda, you’re surrounded by trees and water. I think if I came to Sihanoukville for the first time and knew it was there, I’d stay in one of their bungalows. They’re a deal at $8 a night and the bar/restaurant serves good food at decent prices.

bungalows in Otres village

In spite of its rapid growth, Otres village is still pretty mellow. It might remain that way because that’s why people seem to be drawn to it. Hacienda was playing jazz when I was there. It seemed perfect and was a welcome relief from the nostalgia-rock you hear everywhere in Sihanoukville.

The people at the bar were talking quietly together and most of them were drinking smoothies. That, too, was a relief. Just last week while I was having dinner on the Hill, the woman who runs the bar across the road from the restaurant I was dining in kicked a patron out. She actually knocked him to the ground as she shouted, “Don’t say ‘fuck you’ to me or my family! Get out and don’t come back!”

I love the food at Irina Franca and Raphael’s on the Hill, but sometimes the atmosphere isn’t so great. I like to eat outdoors, but sometimes I eat indoors to escape the blaring music and loud voices. That wasn’t a problem in Otres village. I was the oldest customer by far, but the young bartender was very friendly and courteous. If you’re looking for a more relaxed atmosphere, you may find it in Otres village. I’ve never been there at night, but I suspect it’s nice after dark, too.

Searching for Old Sihanoukville

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I went searching for old Sihanoukville today, the Sihanoukville I saw when I used to ride my bike. This time, I rode my motorbike to cover more ground, but I hadn’t been on some of the dirt roads and tracks I rode on for a couple of years. I remember those roads fondly because when I got off the main roads, I stumbled across villages that were much like the villages you seen outside of Cambodia’s bigger cities.

crane on ekareach st sihanoukville

My first stop was Escape on Serendipity Road for a cappuccino. Not long before I got to the Golden Lions, I stopped to take a photo of the crane in the picture above. I never saw cranes when I first moved here. There wasn’t enough construction going on to warrant them.

After my cappuccino, I went down to the beach road. I knew what I was going to see there. They’re widening the beach road in anticipation of increased traffic as big new developments take shape along the beach between Sokha and Independence beaches. See Sihanoukville: a metropolis in the making for some pics.

I turned up one of the small roads I used to ride my bike on and was a bit stunned. Even here building was taking place. Apartment buildings, mansions and smaller brick homes were going up everywhere. I decided not to take any photos because there were so many.

blue building sihanoukville cambodia

I went back out to the road that leads from Ekareach Street to Independence Beach. That used to be a fairly empty road and still is, but construction is going on there, too. This blue building stands out weirdly on an otherwise fairly empty stretch of road, but it’s only a matter of time before it has neighbours.

dseaview sihanoukville2Then I took a right on to a cement road that used to be a dirt road. Soon I was on familiar ground. I see what’s going on at Pearl City almost every day, but the latest development, D’Seaview, is right across the street from Pearl City. They’ve only started working on it recently, but according to the Phnom Penh Post, all 300 of Phase 1 of the project are “fully subscribed.”

The picture on the left is what it is going to look like. The picture below is what it looks like today. Just a few months ago, the site was in a ditch, but they’ve filled it in with land fill. After I took the photo, I had to stop for two big trucks that were racing along the formerly quiet road. To put things in perspective, eight years ago, the wide cement road was a dirt road that no one would travel on at night. When they first started working on Pearl City, an Australian man was murdered on the dirt road at about 2:00 a.m. when he was stumbling home drunk. Five Vietnamese workers killed him. They were drunk, too, and didn’t mean to kill him, but hit him a little too hard. Sopheak solved the mystery. It’s just one of the stories I cover in my book, which will be completed one of these days.

dseaview sihanoukville1After stopping for the trucks, I went on to a wide cement road that up until a couple of months ago was a very rough dirt road. I used to ride my bike down it all the time. It was part of my shortcut to the beach. I loved it because it was so undeveloped and quiet. Not so now. The once empty side of the road is quickly becoming filled with apartments.

apartments in sihanoukville cambodiaFinally, I emerged back on Ekareach Street. I’ve been watching this building go up for over a year now, but am still surprised by how imposing it is becoming. I thought they would stop at about the third floor, but it just keeps getting taller.

apartments on ekareach st sihanoukville cambodiaI went searching for old Sihanoukville, but it’s getting harder to find. Here and there you can still find the wonderful little family-run restaurants and stores build from timber and recycled materials, but they’re getting harder to find. I think they’re wonderful because they give poor Cambodians an opportunity to make a living without having to go to work for a Chinese or wealthy Cambodian company.

Old Sihanoukville vs New: Caught in the Middle

Some say progress is good, but many Cambodians are caught in the middle between the old Cambodia and the newly emerging Cambodia. They know how to survive in the old Cambodia, but don’t have enough of an education to make a decent living in the new Cambodia. Wages are going up, but not enough to cover the cost of living.

We’re sort of caught in the middle, too. We want to stay in Sihanoukville because the kids can get a good education here. We also want to move to a more rural location because we don’t want them to lose touch with their roots. As Sopheak said to me one day: “I want to teach them how to live without loi (money).” I can relate to that and know several Cambodians who fondly remember the past, when they didn’t have to work every day to survive.

Cambodia is confident right now. Foreign investment is pouring in and Sihanoukville is profiting from it. Like so many of the people, though, Sihanoukville is caught in the middle. It doesn’t really know how to cope with its growth and can’t really keep up with it. Interspersed between the new buildings are trash heaps and dirty roads. There’s not adequate sewerage or waste disposal beyond the basics. I suppose that will change in time, but right now, the city is in a period of transition.

Oddly enough, I still love this city. I love it because I never know what to expect next. I love it because it is incomplete. I love it because it’s not a spit-polished tourist centre. I love it because I still have to dodge chickens and cows on the road. I love it because after nine years, it feels like home. I’m just not sure for how long it’s going to feel that way, though. I never wanted to live in a metropolis.

A holiday in Siem Reap

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Jan Cornall’s Writer’s Journey workshops have been included in a list of the world’s best writers’ retreats. When she invited me to attend her Siem Reap workshop, I jumped at the chance. I went to one of her Bali retreats about 10 years ago and also attended her Sydney workshops and looked forward to the opportunity to re-connect. Fate was on my side and I managed to get a special deal on Angkor Sky Airline – $70 return.

River Garden entrance Siem Reap

My daughter stayed at the River Garden in October and highly recommended it. Since it was a working holiday, I lashed out and booked a bungalow instead of a room. I got lucky here, too and got a special deal — 4 nights for the price of 3. I decided to stay eight nights instead of seven to take advantage of the extra free night. As soon as my tuk tuk rolled up at the entrance, I knew I was on to a good thing and it just got better thanks to the genuinely friendly and helpful staff. It didn’t hurt, either, that they had a delightful swimming pool and there wasn’t a rude or noisy guest in sight for the entire eight days.

I don’t want to get all cosmic on you, but when something is meant to be, everything seems to fall into place. Quite by accident, Jan and a couple of the other workshop participants were staying at La Villa Loti, which was just a few doors down the street. Instead of having to take a tuk tuk for our morning get-togethers, I just had to walk down the road.

River Garden pool Siem Reap

If you want to know why I’m such a fan of writing workshops, read the latest post on my other blog, Why you should attend an expat writers workshop.  Yes, I do like the invaluable feedback I get as I work on my book, but it goes beyond that.

It wasn’t all work and workshops and no play. In the evenings, we got together for readings in different settings. One afternoon, we went to Angkor Wat. I was stunned by the masses of people buying tickets at 4:30 in the afternoon and annoyed when two nice looking middle-aged couples shoved their way in front of me in the queue, but got the last laugh when I noticed an overlooked queue nearby that was about a third as long. Once inside Angkor Wat, we instructed our tuk tuk driver to take us to a small, out of the way temple so we could do our readings in peace.

 

On two other evenings, we went upmarket and did our readings at Raffles and the Hyatt. Cocktails in posh surroundings are a novelty to me, so I got a mango martini at Raffles. Fortunately, it was Happy Hour, because they charge a fortune for cocktails at Raffles. They charge a fortune for water, for that matter. My half-price cocktail was less expensive than a bottle of water, which must have come from a mountain spring in the Himalayas to warrant its $8 price tag. My cocktail tasted no better than a mango shake, so I was a little disappointed. The Singapore Sling I got at the Hyatt wasn’t all that exciting, either, but at least I got any non-existent envy of those who can afford that lifestyle out of my system.

 

On another evening, someone had the bright idea of going to Pub Street for dinner. As soon as we stepped out of our tuk tuk, we knew we had made a mistake. Pub Street is a noisy zoo at night, with music blaring out of clubs. As I toddled along on my bad leg behind the others, a series of tuk tuk drivers offered me drugs and girls. Maybe it’s because I live here, but I don’t get hustled that much on Serendipity Road here in Sihanoukville.

All’s well that ends well. After walking down the block, turning right and walking down a narrower street, we came across Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, which also serves food. It’s a lovely bar with a stylish, but old-fashioned kind of charm. The food and wine were good and the prices reasonable. We could have saved ourselves a lot of walking if we’d known about it earlier. It was just a few steps from the road where our tuk tuk driver was waiting for us, but we had to take a circuitous route to find it.

I had a wonderful week in Siem Reap, but was glad to get back home. I’m sure I could get used to living in Siem Reap, but I know my way around Sihanoukville. I was a tourist in Siem Reap and paid tourist prices for everything. I also had to rely on tuk tuk drivers to take me everywhere. They don’t rent motorbikes to tourists in Siem Reap. I’m not complaining. I think they should outlaw them in Sihanoukville, too. Clueless backpackers on motorbikes are more of a nuisance than teenaged Cambodians, who at least are predictably bad drivers.

What’s New on Sihanoukville’s Serendipity Beach Road

Nataya Resort, Sihanoukville Cambodia

The last time I reported on Sihanoukville’s Serendipity Beach Road (or Serendipity Road, if you like), it was to cover the fire that destroyed Mick & Craig’s, Monkey Republic, the Dive Shop and adjoining properties at the top of Mithona Road, which seems to have been renamed Serendipity Road by some interested parties. Anyway, I’m happy to say that work is proceeding rapidly on Mick & Craig’s and the Dive Shop seems to be near completion. Monkey Republic is fenced in and I couldn’t see any real signs of construction. With that out of the way, let’s move on to the cement road I call Serendipity Road.

Mick & Craig's on Serendipity Road, Sihanoukville Cambodia

Mick & Craig’s taking shape after the fire.

I mentioned a new complex at the top of the road awhile ago. The garden has filled in, the shops are thriving and the resort and restaurant at the top of the complex seem to have been discovered. The resort is called Blue Sea Boutique Resort and the restaurant trendily named “Pure.” I’m not sure if it’s operational yet or how well it’s doing, but will take a closer look as soon as I get a chance.

Blue Sea Resort and complex, Sihanoukville Cambodia

Moving along, I’m sorry to say that one of the last remaining timber structures, the one that housed Le Bistro Gourmand, has been torn down. It was just a matter of time, but I used to really enjoy having breakfast there. It will be interesting to see what they erect to replace it, but one thing’s for sure, whatever it is, it will be dwarfed by the nearly completed Nataya Holiday Villa. The photo below doesn’t really do the size of the resort justice. You can get a peak of the back of the hotel from Mithona Road and it looks like most of the rooms are behind its impressive front.

Nataya Resort, Sihanoukville Cambodia

Once it opens, Nataya will take over from Serendipity Beach Resort as the road’s biggest and most luxurious accommodation, but it looks like Serendipity Beach Resort will soon have another rival to contend with right next door. So far, it’s just a bunch of sticks and concrete, but that’s a lot more than was there just a month or so ago, so it looks like they’re moving full steam ahead.

New hotel on Serendipity Road, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

And that brings us to the bottom of the hill but not the end of what’s new on Sihanoukville’s Serendipity Beach Road. In fact, the “road” is being extended even further out on to the pier, which is being lengthened considerably.

Pier at Serendipity Beach, Sihanoukville Cambodia

Stepping off the pier and into the water, the Bali/Thailand-style upmarket health and yoga retreat set will be pleased to know that Akaryn Hospitality Management Services (AHMS), owner of 3 successful island resorts elsewhere, has announced plans to build a similar resort on Koh Krabeay. Called Akaryn Koh Krabeay Retreat & Spa, it’s scheduled to open in 2015. According to AHMS founder Anchalika Kijkanakorn as reported in the Thailand edition of the Nation:

The exciting thing about this project is that it gives us an opportunity to define, refine, innovate and create the ideal destination holistic and medical spa that redefines how we live today and equips the guest with tools they can use upon returning home to incorporate these measures and wisdoms into their daily lives.

It’s a good bet accommodation at this resort will probably be a lot more expensive than the many bungalows that have sprouted up on Koh Rong or Belinda Beach Lovely Resort on Koh Sdach, but not as expensive as a night on Song Saa Private Island.

Back on the mainland, her are some Sihanoukville accommodations on and around Serendipity Road you can check out:

Ocean Walk Inn
Coolabah Resort
Sea View Villa
Koh Pos Guesthouse

Phnom Penh’s Foreign Correspondents Club

When I hear the words “foreign correspondent”, black and white images of Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn pop into my mind. To me, foreign correspondents are romantic characters from an era when living abroad was a lot harder than it is today. In my imaginary foreign correspondent’s world, a place like Phnom Penh’s Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) is a sanctuary in a strange and sometimes hostile environment.

foreign correspondents club phnom penh cambodia

Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn nowhere to be found

I’ve only met one journalist who comes close to fitting my image of a foreign correspondent. She was 85 when I met her in 2005, so that would make her 93 today, if she’s still alive. Judging from the fire in her eyes at the time, I suspect she may very well be alive.

My acquaintance had been a correspondent in Phnom Penh for several years until she was finally air-lifted out just before the Khmer Rouge evacuated the city in 1975. She told me it wasn’t easy to leave, because she had to leave her Cambodian friends behind. Most of them were doctors, nurses and academics, so she knew they were probably destined to die at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.

FCC, Phnom Penh Cambodia

Looking for a foreign correspondent in the FCC

1975 was a long time before the FCC was established in 1993, but even then Phnom Penh was a different place than it is today. As one of the FCC’s founders, Anthony Alderson said in an interview with Andrew Spooner  published in Travel Wire Asia,

Our first impressions of Phnom Penh were very strange. We arrived at 630pm, just after dark, and there were no lights on and no cars moving in the entire city. It was very spooky. While we weren’t scared, a lot of Cambodians were still living in fear.

He and his wife may not have been scared, but they were hungry. The trouble was, there was only one restaurant in Phnom Penh and the UNTAC peace keeping team was equally hungry. It was obvious there was a market for a restaurant, so Alderson opened a pizza restaurant at about the same time the FCC opened. In 1995, Alderson presented the owner of the FCC with a “good, structured business plan” and the rest, as they say, is history.

I didn’t know any of this when I walked up the 2 flights of stairs to the FCC today. I thought it was much older and imagined my friend finding respite there when she was a foreign correspondent in Cambodia in the early 1970s. Everything was new, but the bar/restaurant had the kind of atmosphere I imagined it would have. Looking at the timber and leather lounge chairs at the top of the stairs, I could imagine her sitting with fellow journalists after a tense day in the streets relaxing with gin and tonics and cigarettes.

I returned abruptly to the present when I turned and saw the crowd in the main bar area. If they were foreign correspondents, they certainly didn’t look the part and nobody was smoking. They all looked like middle class tourists soaking up the atmosphere in this beautiful pub overlooking the Mekong River. If any of them were writers, they were enjoying a more comfortable lifestyle than they probably could afford back in their home countries, just as I do. And if they were staying at the FCC Phnom Penh Boutique Hotel, they were definitely living more comfortably than my foreign correspondent friend did when she lived in Phnom Penh.

I’m glad Cambodia has come so far in the 20 years since the Foreign Correspondents Club opened and I’m glad I can afford to stay in a comfortable air-conditioned hotel. Tomorrow morning, I’ll go to the Australian embassy to pick up my passport and after that I’ll select one of hundreds of nice restaurants to have lunch in. In my opinion, Prime Minister Hun Sen is largely responsible for making Cambodia the safe and increasingly prosperous country it is today. A lot of my fellow “foreign correspondents” disagree with me, though.

Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC), Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Gin and tonics and cigarettes, anyone?

Hun Sen may not be as heroic a figure as, say, the late Hugo Chavez (don’t even try to argue with me on that one), but the relentless barrage of criticism he gets from the Western media, which in this digital age includes even humble bloggers like yours truly, gets really annoying at times. The latest barrage had to do with a threat by the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications to shut down all internet cafes within 500 metres of schools. To these journalists, that translated to internet censorship. Never mind the fact that President Obama tried to do exactly that in the United States. This threat of closure was just more evidence that Hun Sen is a uniquely repressive “strongman” who only holds on to power through force.

When I returned to my hotel room after checking out the FCC, I discovered a blog about propaganda I wrote this morning had already been discovered by some “foreign correspondents” and shared on Twitter. They didn’t agree with my contention that their critical articles were over-reactions to a simple attempt to keep kids in school and away from online porn. Fair enough, but I wish I could sit down in the FCC over gin and tonics and cigarettes and argue with them in person. That would be more fun than exchanging tweets.

Our holiday in Phnom Penh

Psar Tmei, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I had to go to Phnom Penh this past week to get my passport renewed. It’s not exactly my preferred holiday destination, but since it’s been awhile and the renewal process was only going to take an hour of my time, I decided to make the most of the journey and stay overnight. After 2 years, I felt like a tourist in Phnom Penh and enjoyed almost everything about our mini-holiday.

Compare hotel prices and find the best deal - HotelsCombined.comWe loathe buses, so Sopheak arranged for a taxi to pick us up at home. The taxi cost $60 and the driver would not take more than 4 passengers, so we ended up sitting comfortably at $15 each including a rest stop and drop-off at the hotel of our choice. We left Sihanoukville at 7:30 and arrived at our hotel before noon, which gave us plenty of time to unpack and have lunch before going to the embassy to get my passport out of the way.

Since we were doing the tourist thing, we decided to lash out and stay at a riverside hotel. To my surprise, we got a big room at a nice hotel for $28, complete with air conditioning and hot water. That was $17 less than the hotel I looked up online that wasn’t nearly as nice.

boat noodles restaurant, phnom penh, cambodia

The restaurants along the riverside were all-too-familiar and touristy, but we might have settled on one of them had Sopheak not had the bright idea to hire a tuk tuk driver for the day. He took us to an incredible restaurant tucked into a side street that neither of us would have found on our own. If you’re ever in Phnom Penh and want delicious food in an old-fashioned but delightful atmosphere, check out Boat Noodles on Street 294. We went there for lunch, but if you go between 6:30-8:30pm, they also have traditional Khmer music performances. Judging from those who were there at lunch, who were all Khmer, the performances shouldn’t be too touristy and the instruments I saw on the little stage were all traditional instruments – not an electric guitar or amplifier in sight.

After lunch we went to the Australian embassy which wasn’t, as one of my more demented comment writers suggested, surrounded by armed Australian military personnel. Of course I had to empty my pockets and leave my mobile phone behind, but everyone made their “demands” politely and the woman who handled my paperwork was wonderful. The only glitch was that I was smiling in the passport photos I took with me and that was a no-no. We had to rush off and find some place that took passport photos. Our awesome tuk tuk driver knew just where to go.

Our mini-holiday in Phnom Penh just kept getting better. On the way back from the embassy, we had a look at the place where King Father Norodom Sihanouk has been laid to rest. It’s just as beautiful as it looked on TV and is a fitting tribute to Cambodia’s most beloved leader.

After returning to our Phnom Penh hotel for a rest, we nabbed our tuk tuk driver again that evening, picked up Sopheak’s half sister and went to Koh Pich (Diamond Island); the showcase city that’s still under construction in Phnom Penh. Last time we went there was a couple of years ago. It showed potential, but was a virtual ghost town. This time, the areas that had rides for kids were in full swing and Kelly had a great time on the rides geared for 2 and 3 year olds.

Vattanac Tower, Phnom Penh Cambodia

We had already made arrangements for our taxi driver to pick us up at noon the next day, so instead of sitting around, we asked our tuk tuk driver to take us on a morning tour of the city, making a special stop outside Vattanac Tower, which will be Phnom Penh’s tallest building. Sopheak’s half-sister works there. If you’ve heard rumours about construction stopping or workers not being paid, they’re semi-true, but work has commenced again and Sopheak’s sister and her co-workers have been given all their pay, including back pay. I mention this because knocking Cambodia is still a popular trend and while the news that construction has stalled or workers don’t get paid makes the news, the successful resolution of disputes rarely does.

Psar Tmei, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Outside Psar Tmei

Our final stop was at Psar Tmei to do some shopping. I can’t remember the last time I was there, but whenever it was, I remember being pickpocketed. Since I now have a whiz-bang internet connected smart phone that’s worth a lot more than the $25 Nokia that was stolen, I was a little nervous about taking it into the market stalls, but our tuk tuk driver assured me that Psar Tmei was perfectly safe now. He was right. Some stalls still overcharge dumb tourists, though, and I nearly paid $38 for a pair of shoes until Sopheak threw a fit at the stallholder and took me to another stall, where she found an even better pair of dress loafers for just $25.

By the time we finished our shopping expedition, we were running late, so Sopheak called the hotel and asked them to pack our things for us and bring them downstairs. No, nothing was stolen and they even put my laptop and Sopheak’s bag behind the counter for safe keeping.

We thoroughly enjoyed our short holiday in Phnom Penh, but agreed that it was good to get back home to Sihanoukville. It was a lot hotter in Phnom Penh and the noise and traffic started to get to us. After doling out gifts to the family and friends, I retreated upstairs to my office balcony just before sunset. The cool ocean breeze and view out over the fields near my house made me appreciate anew just how lucky I am to have stumbled across this fascinating town.

Get ready for the Sihanoukville high season

Writing for Travelfish.org has been great for me, giving me an excuse to get out and explore more nooks and crannies around Sihanoukville than my workload previously allowed me to. It also gives me the opportunity to see Sihanoukville through the eyes of a newly arrived tourist looking for a Sihanoukville accommodation or place to eat. On the downside, I’ve been neglecting this blog a little bit, so, just to bring it up to date, these are some of the things I’ve been learning:

  • There are a lot more great restaurants here than I previously knew about.
  • Tourists are looking for better accommodations than they used to.
  • In spite of the growth spurt, there are still fewer available rooms in high demand areas than there are potential guests.
black grouper, sihanoukville cambodia

Black Grouper on Serendipity Road

The Black Grouper, towards the bottom of Serendipity Road, is an example of the kind of restaurant visitors are looking for now. It costs a little more, but the food is excellent, the atmosphere mellow, and they even serve gourmet vegetarian dishes. We’ve passed the Black Grouper a hundred times before, but only gave it a try for the first time a couple of nights ago.

We can be forgiven for the oversight, because right next door to the Black Grouper  is New Seaview Villa Sihanoukville. Their restaurant is just as good and has an equally nice atmosphere. The biggest difference between the two restaurants is that the Black Grouper is upstairs and has a bit more of an intimate atmosphere.

Mushroom Point at Otres Beach, Sihanoukville Cambodia

Mushroom Point at Otres Beach


Okay, calling it “Sihanoukville accommodation chaos” is putting it a little strongly, but thanks to my crack investigative journalistic skills, I’ve uncovered an interesting trend. The more in demand Sihanoukville hotels, bungalows and guesthouses no longer have to grovel for customers by offering lower rates. I took a walk down what I call bungalow row on the northwest side of the Serendipity Beach pier about a week ago and enquired about rates. There are about 8 different establishments all in a row that have restaurants and/or bars at ground level and bungalows scattered across the steep hill behind the “beach” (which is really a rocky cove). The two most upmarket ones, Cloud 9 and Above Us Only Sky Bar & Bungalows, don’t seem to have had a low season this year and will be raising their rates according to demand over the high season. One proprietor told me a bungalow that now costs $35 may be as much as “$85 or $90” over Christmas and New Year.

Compare hotel prices and find the best deal - HotelsCombined.comI was given a similar story on Otres Beach. Although the guy I talked to was just a backpacker working behind the bar, when I asked about high season rates, he said something to the effect that it will depend on demand. I had this conversation back in September, when Otres is usually deserted, but Mushroom Point didn’t have a vacancy that day and could  only accommodate me the following night if I booked in advance.

The moral of the story is that now is the time to get ready for the Sihanoukville high season. If you book your Sihanoukville hotel in advance, you will be sure to have a room waiting for you when you get here and in many cases, it will probably be cheaper than it will be if you come in off the street. Yes, I get a small commission if you click on affiliate links here, but that’s not why I’m saying this.

Now, before I go, I want to take this opportunity to reply to my arch-nemesis on the Travelfish forum. To be fair, I owe the guy a debt of gratitude, because his scathing and persistent criticisms of Sihanoukville are largely what motivated me to want to write for the site in the first place. Nonetheless, he’s still annoying. Most recently, he wrote:

Anyway you should all get lots of info now about the local scene there written by a man who confesses he never goes out and is in bed by 10 p.m.

Yep, that’s me. My reply, put as politely as possible, is this:

I don’t write about “Snooky” or the “local scene.” I write about Sihanoukville and surrounds from the perspective of an expat who appreciates all the positive things this city has to offer. “Snooky” is a largely mythological town invented by backpackers and expats who have come here to take advantage of the cheap “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll”, so to speak. There was a time when they were in the majority, but that time has passed. Check out my blog, A Tale of Two Cities: Snookyville and Sihanoukville for more on the subject.

Yeah, sure, there are still bad elements in the town and they don’t all just hang out around the seedy bars at 2am waiting for drunk and stoned barang to stumble off into the dark. Like any place, there are pickpockets and thieves. Travel insurance is always a good idea. Read this FAQ sheet, Claim online, even while away from home from World Nomads and see why it is the travel insurance I and a lot of other travel bloggers recommend.

New Otres Beach Hotels

Mushroom Point Garden Bungalows, Sihanoukville Cambodia
Song Saa Private Island

Song Saa Private Island Bungalow

After publishing my 100th Sihanoukville Cambodia Journal entry a few weeks ago, I became curious. Which of my Sihanoukville blogs get the most traffic? What are my readers most interested in? To my surprise, one of my most popular entries is one written way back in December of 2011. Luxury Island Resort off Sihanoukville, a blog about Song Saa Private Island, gets at least a few visitors every week. At the top of the list, though, are articles about Otres Beach and information about Otres Beach hotels.

So far, the only Otres Beach hotel I’ve reviewed here is Cinderella Dive Resort & Beach Bungalows Sihanoukville. To make amends and for an excuse to go back to Otres, I took the family and my camera there the other day. Here’s what I came home with:

Mushroom Point Bungalows

Mushroom Point Otres Beach

Mushroom Point Beach Bungalows

There are actually 2 Mushroom Point Bungalows. One is on the beach side of Otres Beach Road and the other is just across the street. It’s really a toss-up which one to stay at, because they both have a lot of character and charm. The one on the beach is, well, very beachie, while the one across the road is in a lush garden setting. Both have bars and restaurants, so you needn’t worry about finding a place for coffee in the morning or finding your way back to your room after a late night out.

One thing both Mushroom Points have in common is charming mushroom shaped bungalows. Unlike so many cheap beachfront bungalows, these are very well built and comfortable looking. If I had to put a label on them, I’d call them “backpacker chic.” Not for the dollar a night crowd, they are still modestly

Mushroom Point Garden Bungalows, Sihanoukville Cambodia

Mushroom Point Garden Bungalows

priced enough for backpackers on modest budgets. Mushroom Point is not for backpackers only, though. In fact, I saw a couple of families there when I was taking these photos.

Both Mushroom Point Bungalows are located in the middle of the restaurant/bar/hotel section of Otres Beach, making them ideal for those who want to be within easy walking distance of the new gathering places and entertainment venues on the beach. If you’re looking for a little more privacy and serenity, I might suggest the garden bungalows. I seriously want to spend a couple of nights there myself, just to chill out and take a break from downtown Sihanoukville.

Secret Garden at Otres Beach

 

Secret Garden at Otres Beach

Secret Garden at Otres Beach

The Secret Garden at Otres Beach Hotel is both very different from and similar to Mushroom Point. As you can see from the photograph, the bungalows are not shaped like mushrooms. More upmarket than Mushroom Point, the Secret Garden has the only swimming pool on Otres Beach. Newer than Mushroom Point, the garden hasn’t filled in as of this writing, but by the time the tourist season hits in December, I’m sure it will live up to its name as a “garden” accommodation.

The bungalows at the Secret Garden at Otres Beach are all located on the side of the road opposite the beach, but they also have a restaurant and bar on the beach side of the road.

To get to the Secret Garden at Otres Beach, you have to go past the open beach almost all the way to the end of the beach. More isolated than Mushroom Point, it’s a fantastic place to stay if you want a tropical island atmosphere in a mainland location.

Inside Sokha Beach Resort

entrance to Sokha Beach Resort, Sihanoukville CambodiaI’ve never actually stayed at the Sokha Beach Resort, but I often go there. Sometimes I just ride my bike through the grounds, sometimes I take the kids to their great children’s park (slightly forbidden) and sometimes we enjoy the pool there. What I love about it is the luxurious yet relaxed atmosphere. I find some 4 and 5 Star resorts somewhat snooty, but Sokha is nothing like that.

See the limo in the picture above? We rented that for a couple of hours on our wedding day and cruised around Sihanoukville like superstars. Actually, we were packed in there with half of our neighbours, who never even dreamed of riding in a limo before.

Jasmine Spa at Sokha Beach Resort, Sihanoukville CambodiaWe used to go to the Jasmine Spa a lot, but Sopheak is shy, so was unable to really relax in the women’s part of the spa and I’m only semi-interested in having a sauna, steam bath or spa, so after the novelty wore off, we quit going. It is lovely, though and I’m sure they give great massages. They must be doing something right, because they recently enlarged it.

Swimming pool at Sokha Beach Resort, Sihanoukville CambodiaMy favourite part of Sokha Resort is the swimming pool area. It’s a nice big pool that has a large shallow area for kids, is big enough to swim laps in and has a nook next to the bar for those who want to enjoy a drink while they’re in the pool.

Just this year, the new wing and the wonderful bungalows on the water were completed. Now that the lagoon has filled and the water plants are blooming, it looks magical and I’m sure would be perfect for a honeymoon retreat. Although it’s on the grounds of the existing Sokha Sihanoukville resort, this part of the resort has a different name, the rather long-winded Moha Mohori by Sokha Hotels and Resorts. As word gets out about it, I’m sure they’ll shorten it to just Moha Mohori.

Moha Mohori bungalows at Sokha Beach Resort, Sihanoukville CambodiaWhen you look at the photos, you’ll probably assume that Sokha Beach Resort is prohibitively expensive. By Sihanoukville standards, it is, but I can’t think of many other places in the world where you can stay at a resort of this standard for around $100-$120 a night. Even ordinary motels in Australia cost around that and if you wanted to stay at a beachside resort of this calibre, it would probably set you back around $500 per night.

Pagoda Rocks Resort Bungalows, Sihanoukville Cambodia

Pagoda Rocks

So, now that you’ve had an inside look at Sokha Beach Resort, are you tempted to stay there? Just click the links above to book your room. If you’re looking for something smaller or less expensive, check out my Sihanoukville Accommodations pages and if you’re looking for something just as nice as Sokha, but more intimate (and cheaper), try Pagoda Rocks. I’ve just spent two days there updating their website copy and it’s wonderful. I wish I could work there every day.

Koh Kong: an Idyllic Alternative to Sihanoukville?

Update — 5 December 2012:

We went to Koh Kong for 2 days last week and I can say with confidence that it is well worth visiting. We spent the first day at a wonderful secluded beach, dining on wonderfully prepared fresh fish, wandering on the beach, and just relaxing. The next day we went on a boat trip up and down the Tatai River. Here’s a pic, just to show how magical it really is:

Boat trip on Tatai River

Boat trip on Tatai River

After we reached the waterfall, we scrambled up the dry rocks on the right and spent a couple of hours swimming in the swimming hole and relaxing in the sun.

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I’ve only been to Koh Kong once and that was years ago. To get there, I had to cross several rivers by ferry and the road was winding and slow. Those were both reasons why I enjoyed the journey so much, but it is nice that the new road and bridges are now completed and Koh Kong can be so easily reached from major centres in both Thailand and Cambodia now. Why do I say that Koh Kong may be an idyllic alternative to Sihanoukville if I haven’t been there in such a long time? The two biggest drawcards to that part of the Cambodian coast are its wide empty beaches and the Cardamom ranges: one of the world’s least spoiled wilderness areas. As someone who appreciates both unspoiled nature and comfortable accommodations that allow me, as a spoiled Westerner, to appreciate nature in comfort, I also appreciate the newer developments in Koh Kong.

4 Rivers Floating Lodge Koh Kong

4 Rivers Floating Lodge

One of these is the 4 Rivers Floating Lodge. Just a look at the photograph of it is enough to make me want to pack my bags and stay there for a week or two. At around $100 a night, I can’t afford it right now, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility for me to save up and stay there for awhile. At the moment, though, the thought of having a floating bungalow to relax in and the opportunity to safely explore virgin rainforests at my leisure is enough to motivate me to start putting a little aside each week.  Click the link above and it will take you to my Hotels Combined affiliate link and more information about this stunning ecolodge in the Cardamoms only 20 minutes by car from Koh Kong.

I may or may not be able to stay at the 4 Rivers Floating Lodge, but there are now other options to choose from in and around Koh Kong. One of them is the Belinda Beach Lovely Resort on King Island (Koh Keche). Another is the Koh Kong Bay Hotel. Located at the mouth of the Tatai River, the same river the 4 Rivers Floating Lodge is on, boat trips trips to remote beaches on Koh Kong Island are available or you can just hang out at this beautiful hotel and enjoy the scenery and gourmet Mediterranean fare.

4 Rivers Floating Lodge  - photo taken during our boat trip in December 2012

4 Rivers Floating Lodge – photo taken during our boat trip in December 2012

A bus ticket to Koh Kong from Sihanoukville is only around $6 and it’s your last stop in Cambodia before crossing the border into Thailand, so it’s seriously worth thinking about if you’re travelling overland through SE Asia. I’m not interested personally in crossing the border, but I’m dying to visit Koh Kong and explore the beaches and the Cardamoms.