Christmas in Sihanoukville 2014

sailing off otres beach, sihanoukville cambodia

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On Christmas day, Sophie and I were in Psar Leu fighting the crowds. “Go Otres now,” Sophie said out of the blue. “Justin come now.” I wasn’t expecting him for at least another hour, but I’ve learned to listen to her when she says something like that. She can be amazingly intuitive.

Sure enough, Justin and Annameeka were checking in at the beautiful new Sahaa Beach Resort when we rolled up on our motorbike. Because of Sopheak’s exquisite timing, we were able to have lunch with them before they went to their bungalow to recover from their long, overnight flight and drive from Phnom Penh.

sahaa beach resort, otres beach, sihanoukville cambodia

Sahaa Beach Resort

That evening, Justin and Meeka took my advice and ate at Papa Pippo’s. They loved it and loved everything about Otres. When they came over to our house for lunch the next day, they told me how quiet and mellow it was and how friendly the people they met at the beach were.

lunch on 26 December 2014Over lunch, we made plans for the following day. I would come over at about 10 a.m. and we would go sailing. That and dinner at Maybe Later were the two things I wanted to do with him in Sihanoukville. Otherwise, I left it to him and Annameeka to decide what they wanted to do. Fortunately, sailing was on their agenda, too, so there was no conflict of interest.

The breeze was just starting to kick in when we got to the Nautica Sailing Club at Otres 2. I was as surprised by the new Nautica as they were. It’s been expanded since the last time I was there and is as much a bar/restaurant as a place to rent Hobie cats and kayaks now. After Justin and Meeka drank fresh coconut milk and I had a coffee, we headed out to sea with me at the helm.

sailing in sihanoukvilleI had big plans, but the wind died down, so after we got out to this little island, we turned around. Then the wind picked up again, so we turned around again. I made only a token effort to head towards another island, but my preference for speed won out over a desire for a change of scenery, so we pretty much just retraced our steps.

sailing off otres beach, sihanoukville cambodia

After sailing, we walked a few steps up the beach to Elephant Garden for lunch. Everyone agreed it was delicious and there’s no mellower place to hang out than in their restaurant or on their beach lounges. Now you can stay at the Elephant Garden Resort just across the road. I’m sure it’s just as well-run as the restaurant.

That afternoon, Justin and Meeka rented a jet ski. The guy put it in sports mode, whatever that is, and Justin said they went from zero to 35kph (or was it mph?) in about 2 seconds. How Meeka managed to take this photo is beyond me.

justin-meeka jetskiBefore they moved on to the Serendipity Beach Resort, Justin and Meeka managed to squeeze in a night at the Otres Market, which they thoroughly enjoyed. Things turned a little south after they moved to Serendipity beach, though. We had a great dinner at Maybe Later, but they said they could hear music coming from the concert up the road and fireworks going off at the beach all that night and the next. New Year’s is a three-day event here in Sihanoukville.

The next day was a bit of a catastrophe. They couldn’t get an 8:00 a.m. boat to Koh Rong, so they settled for a 12 o’clock one instead. It hadn’t arrived by 1:00, though, so they asked for a refund. Going all that way just to have an hour or so didn’t seem worth it to them. They finally got the refund, but the worst was yet to come. Justin sent me a message, but I didn’t read it, so we weren’t able to take advantage of the car Sophie had for the day and take them out to Ream. They ended up going to the free end of Sokha. That night, we all met up at Olive & Olive and had a great meal, but the day could have been so much better.

On the 30th, I rode out to the airport to see them off. Afterwards, I continued on to Ream, where I found a great restaurant in a beautiful spot. Then I went on a motorbike ride up the beach. I had a relaxing time, but it would have been so much more fun with them.

beach in Ream, near Sihanoukville Cambodia

My private beach in Ream

I don’t want to get all cosmic on you, but if you ever get a chance to read my book (shooting for June 2015 completion), you’ll learn that my best guide in life is a goddess I call Serendipity. . Sophie had worked at a wedding the night before and drove some of her police friends home in one of the cars they used to get to the party. The Mitsubishi Pajero was hers for the day. She wanted Justin and Meeka to change their plans and take advantage of having the car. Had we done so, Meeka could have gone snorkelling at the empty beach in Ream we took Jan Cornall to and it would have been nicer than Koh Rong, which is kind of a zoo now that it’s so popular. We barang aren’t very good at spontaneous changes of plans, though, so Serendipity’s gift to us sat in the driveway all afternoon.

Actual photo of Serendipity and her sister Fortuna

Actual photo of Serendipity and her helper

All’s well that ends well. Justin and Meeka are now in Siem Reap and having a great time. They loved Sihanoukville, too, except for the hiccough in the end. Can’t say fate didn’t try to lend them a hand, though. When Serendipity speaks, it’s best to listen. She’s a lot better guide than Lonely Planet or Trip Advisor.

Coming to Sihanoukville at Christmas? Plan Ahead!

sahaa beach resort

If you’re coming to Sihanoukville at Christmas time, I recommend booking your accommodation sooner rather than later. I know that sounds like a sales pitch, but it’s true. I think I mentioned in an earlier blog that I tried to get a Christmas booking for my son and his girlfriend at Tamu in April or May, but they were already booked out.  Fortunately, a friend was working on the new Sahaa Beach Resort in Otres 1, so I booked a bungalow there sight-unseen. They’re open for business now and the resort looks great. Last time I was there, they told me they only had one bungalow left for Christmas.

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Yes, I’ll get a small commission if you use the banners or links here to find a Sihanoukville Hotel. I chose Hotels Combined because they get hotels from everywhere, so have a greater selection than some other online hotel booking sites. Another way you can get online bookings is to go to my Sihanoukville Accommodation page, where I’ve listed some hotels and bungalows I’m familiar with.

sahaa beach resort

Sahaa Beach Resort

A bunch of new ones have sprung up in the past year or so, too. The Tamarind, on the second road back from Ochheuteal Road, looks nice from the outside and is likely to have vacancies after resorts closer to the beach are all booked out.  Another one on that road is Orchidee Guest House. It’s the first place I stayed in Sihanoukville. It was nice then and looks even nicer now.  Moon Julie is another new one. It’s closer to the action and is a very nice looking hotel.

If you’re looking for something in a quiet location, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Sunset Lounge at the far end of Ochheuteal. The rooms aren’t fancy, but they’re nice enough and the restaurant is great. It’s right on the beach, but that end of the beach is never crowded and frenetic. I go there sometimes just to relax. They will be open again on 15 October after taking the rainy season off.

Downtown, my favourite hotel is The Small Hotel. When everything died downtown, they continued to thrive because of their great service. You can get a free tuk-tuk ride to their Small Beach Bar at Independence Beach, too, so although you’re not at the beach, the beach is easy to get to if you stay there. Another good choice downtown is Snooky’s Guest House, Garden Bar and Restaurant. Like the Small Hotel, it’s been around for years and survived because of their good service. I believe they are offering fishing trips, too, now.

So far, most of the places I’ve mentioned are run by expats. There are a lot of great Cambodian run guesthouses, too, and they may have vacancies for Christmas after some of the more popular expat run Sihanoukville hotels are booked out.  Makara Bungalow, for example, is right at the end of Ochheuteal beach opposite the land that’s slated for development. They have a pool and a very good restaurant.

Hotels Combined now has 10 pages of Sihanoukville Hotels with about 25 listings on each page. They have star ratings and prices listed, so start with the accommodation that has the most stars for your price range and work your way down from there.

Not all hotels and guesthouses in Sihanoukville have online booking services. As far as I know, Monkey Republic operates on a first-com-first-served basis and so do a lot of the downtown hotels and guesthouses, so if you can’t find something online, don’t despair. You may have to spend a few hours looking, but a good tuk-tuk driver will probably know of a vacancy and sometimes apartment owners are willing to rent out apartments for short term stays if they have vacancies.

Modern Architecture in Sihanoukville

modern architecture in sihanoukville cambodia

I stumbled across a new online service the other day. momondo offers flights from London to Sihanoukville. Aside from the obvious (that Sihanoukville is now a bona fide international travel destination), it got me thinking about what surprises were in store for first time visitors here. Sihanoukville’s modern architecture might be one of them. Then again, they may not see it unless they go to Otres beach or the hills behind the city, where some European expats are building mansions that would cost millions in the U.S., Europe or Australia. Here in Sihanoukville, an ocean view mansion like this one costs about the same as an average suburban home in Australia.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been in this house and saw it while it was under construction. Since I also write for an Australian home improvement site, I’m up with the times about what inclusions people want in their homes today. All I can say is that this house has everything and it was all available in Phnom Penh. My best guess is that it would cost about 5 times as much to build in Australia. Add in the ocean view and it would be at least 10 times as expensive. Okay, Australia is notoriously expensive, but how much do you reckon this would cost to build in your home country? If you say half a million dollars, you’re still paying more than this house cost, including the land.

I mention modern residences first because I’ve noticed it’s becoming a trend. People who have a portable income come here to visit and then decide to invest and live here. Why wouldn’t you? A friend told me about a guy he met recently. He has a very successful business in New York and has beach front property in Los Angeles and elsewhere in America. He chooses to live here, though, because he likes the slower pace of life. Kind of amazing when you think about it. Here’s a guy who can afford to live anywhere and has travelled extensively, but he chooses to call Sihanoukville home.

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Tamu Hotel’s minimalist architecture would be striking anywhere. The fact that it is on a dirt road in Otres 2 makes it even more striking. In June, I tried to book a bungalow for my son and his girlfriend, who are coming over on Christmas day. Despite the fact that it was six months away and rooms cost well over $100, they were already booked out. What was I going to do? Fortunately, a friend was working on an equally nice accommodation at Otres 1. I was able to reserve a room there because the bungalows hadn’t even been built and no one knew about them. Sahaa Beach Resort just finished the landscaping last week and as you can see, the bungalows aren’t too shabby:

SaHaa Beach Resort(2)What’s the point of all this rambling on about modern architecture in Sihanoukville? Well, it’s my usual agenda — to present this amazing place as it is, a dynamic and growing city that is always full of surprises. True, it’s going through some growing pains, as many business owners on Serendipity Road can attest. They’re planning on widening the road and if they go ahead as planned, many businesses will be losing their al fresco dining areas and some will be virtually cut in half. I’ll keep you informed about that as I learn more.

Otres beach, too, as radically different today from what it was like before the road was paved, is due for yet another transformation. I’ll cover that in more depth in my next blog.

Where should I stay in Sihanoukville?

Pagoda Rocks, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

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.

Pagoda Rocks, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Pagoda Rocks

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.

Sunset Lounge, Sihanoukville Cambodia

Sunset Lounge

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.

Nataya Resort, Sihanoukville Cambodia

New hotel on Serendipity Road

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.

Victory Hill, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

The view from Mealy Chenda on the Hill

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.

Discover the Quiet Side of Ochheuteal Beach

view of ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville cambodia, from Sunset Lounge

To each their own, but when I go to the beach in Sihanoukville, I almost never go to the popular end of Ochheuteal beach. I do go to Ochheuteal, but I go to the quiet end of the beach.

food stalls at Ochheuteal beach, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

We often go to this spot at the south end of Ochheuteal. The stall sells cold drinks and snacks. While Sophie sits in a hammock chatting with whomever happens to be around, I go for a swim. Sometimes we take the kids with us. The water here stays shallow, so it’s a good place for them to splash around.

We go here often, but for some reason hadn’t gone the 100 metres or so to the bridge that leads to the Queen Hill Resort, a lovely collection of bungalows at the top of the headland that divides Ochheuteal from Otres beach, since last December. What a difference a year can make! The first thing I noticed as we rode towards the bridge was this big house. They started building it years ago, but for a long time, it looked like the project had been abandoned. No, it’s not a hotel. It’s apparently a private home and they don’t intend on painting it. They want it to look old.

house on ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville, cambodiaI was so busy looking at the house, I failed to notice the speed bumps that have been installed on the road on either side of it. Fortunately, we got over them unscathed and continued on over the bridge and up to Queen Hill Resort, where we wandered around for awhile, just taking in the views. Sorry, I forgot to take any pictures, but I did take one from the bridge:

bridge at end of ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville, cambodiaOn the way back to the food stalls, I noticed something else was new on this end of Ochheuteal beach and promised myself I’d come back again and try Sunset Lounge for breakfast.

sunset lounge

Notice the two palms growing through the roof

What a find! According to the super-friendly proprietors, Kati and Andreas, they’ve had the lease for the property for a few years, but only settled down in Sihanoukville last year. Sunset lounge is the latest addition to their bungalows. I ordered an omelette and a cappuccino. Both were delicious.

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I didn’t get a peek inside the bungalows, but judging from everything else, I’m sure they are lovely and clean. At $12 for a single, $14 for a double or $25 for an air-conditioned room, they have to be one of the best deals available anywhere in Sihanoukville, especially at the beach, where similar brick bungalows cost from $35 upwards. The location is ideal for anyone who wants easy access to the busy end of Ochheuteal and Otres, but wants to spend most of their day hanging out at a quiet and stunningly beautiful beach.

view of ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville cambodia, from Sunset Lounge

or you can sit under the shade cloth closer to the beach

You can easily walk, take a tuk tuk or ride a motorbike or bicycle to either Ochheuteal or Otres from Sunset Lounge and bungalows. The easiest way to get there from the Golden Lions is to take the 3rd road back from the beach straight through. Don’t turn right at the intersection where it appears to almost end. Keep going. After a little while, the now fully paved road makes a sharp right and takes you to the beach stalls. Then take a left and you can’t miss it. For more information or to book a room, contact Kati and Andreas directly via their website, SunsetLounge.

 

What’s new at Otres 2?

Ker Chunk! Ker Chunk! Ker Chunk! For the past 5 days a machine has been driving big concrete poles into the ground 2 doors down from my house. Every time the pile driver hammers the 4 metre long posts, the house shakes. They start up at about 8 a.m. At 8:30 this morning, I decided it was time to get out of Dodge. Where to go, though? Now that there’s no Water Festival in Phnom Penh, holiday makers are flooding to Sihanoukville. It looked like there was no escape until I thought of Otres 2

tamu, otres beach, sihanoukville cambodia

Otres 2 is at the far end of Otres Beach, after Long Beach. The last time I was there was the day I capsized a catamaran. My first thought was to go to Nautica and have another go, but first I decided to cruise on down further and check out the progress on a resort that was being built the last time I was in Otres. As you can see, it’s finished and it’s beautiful. At $110 a night, Tamu isn’t a budget Sihanoukville hotel, but compared to what you’d get elsewhere in the world at that price, it’s still a deal.

white-beachI’d already had lunch downtown, so instead of settling down on Tamu’s beach, I went for a walk up the road and checked out what’s new at Otres 2 besides Tamu. White Beach is just about finished, but what I loved the most was the sand path leading to these beach umbrellas. It looks like someone stuck them on their own private beach on an undeveloped piece of land, which I guess is exactly what was done. I suppose White Beach Bungalows has future plans for the rest of the land, but for now it looks perfect to me just as it is.

secret-gardenThere are other new developments at Otres 2. Elephant Garden’s entrance has been improved and as I completed my short loop, I noticed the garden at the Secret Garden has filled in. It looks pretty tempting. The Secret Garden is just next door to Tamu, so after taking a quick photo, I decided to plant myself at Tamu beach. It’s only been open a month, but word seems to have spread, because there were about a dozen people taking up space on the nice wide, brilliantly white sand beach.

The construction near our house combined with a heavy workload last week had taken its toll and I was finding it hard to unwind even at Otres 2, so I did what I usually do when my stress levels are high. I’ve been doing brainwave entrainment off and on for years — sometimes to help me focus on work and sometimes to zone out completely. I didn’t have my laptop with me and therefore didn’t have access to the program I usually use, Neuroprogrammer 3. I had the next best thing, though — a free app called Brainwave a Day. The daily programs are random, but today I was lucky. Today’s was a Theta brainwave track that mimics the deep meditation states of accomplished yogis and Zen practitioners. If you don’t know what brainwave entrainment (bwe) is, check out Transparent Corp’s Beginner’s Guide and then try NP3 for free for 2 weeks. You don’t even need a credit card to try it. It just self-destructs after 2 weeks if you don’t want to buy it.

Brainwave Entrainment And Hypnosis Software
10 minutes into the 50 minute track and I’d gone from stressed out to blissed out. Not wanting to disappear altogether, I opened my eyes and took in the scenery. The bwe track had done its job. Colours were brighter, details sharper and although I was stilling listening to the track, I could hear the breeze passing through the tree whose shade was keeping me cool and the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore. It always amazes me how our perceptions are shaped by the state of mind we’re in. As I sat there gazing out to sea, my senses seemed to absorb everything that’s beautiful and mellow about Otres beach. The stress was forgotten and once again I was able to appreciate how lucky I am to be able to live here.

beach-river-resortThe easiest way to get to Otres 2 is to take the paved road behind the Otres beach road. Just keep going straight. Eventually the paved road ends. Keep going on the dirt road. After 50 metres or so it makes a hard right. Check out the Khmer style resort, Beach River Resort, just at the bend. You can’t tell at a glance, but it’s right on the estuary and they have lovely rooms and bungalows. It might be a great alternative to some of the busier beach bungalows and the room rates start at $48, which is probably cheaper than you’ll find for similar quality rooms along the beach.

 

 

Sihanoukville Gets Good Press At Last

I don’t know how many of my posts have been “inspired” by idiotic articles written by lazy journalists who spend an afternoon at Ochheuteal beach and go back to have their stories treated like gospel by their readers. Finally, I’ve come across an article in which Sihanoukville gets good press at last. Not only does Asia Life’s Shifting Sands in Sihanoukville have a lot of good things to say about this town, it covers a broader area than the others I’ve read, including Otres beach, Koh Rong and other popular areas in its coverage.

The article, by Ellie Dyer, starts out acknowledging how bad press has hampered Sihanoukville’s development, saying: “The area has been dogged by bad press over the years and, at times, a seedy reputation.” It goes on to quote Douglas McColl of the Sihanoukville Tourist Association (STA), who says, “Sihanoukville is like a teenager. It’s still very much in its formative years.” Like a teenager, he goes on, it can get rambunctious at times, but, also like a teenager, it is growing out of it.

Rather than just quote from the article, I’ll add a few of my own recent observations. Otres Beach, as I suspected would happen, is going more upmarket, catering to flashpackers more than low budget backpackers. This became apparent to me last week when I tried a new beachfront bar/restaurant, Dune. My ham and mozzarella panini was delicious, but the silverware weighed a ton in comparison to the cheap silverware in most cafes and restaurants. That may have helped account for the fact that my meal also cost about $2 more than it would have elsewhere. Not that I’m complaining. It was still about $5 cheaper than it would have been in Australia and that wouldn’t have been at a beachfront café with a view like this:

view from dune, otres beach, sihanoukville cambodia

bungalows-otresAfter I left, I noticed these new bungalows being built just across the street. They may have grass roofs, but are well-built and will probably be quite a bit more expensive than the average backpacker accommodation closer to town.

The 2013-2014 high season is probably not going to be a good year for the end of Sihanoukville closer to the port. Little has changed on the Hill and it looks like Victory Beach might be closed altogether for construction. Independence Beach is as it has been for years and remains one of my favourite beaches if for no other reason than there’s nothing touristy about it. What it lacks in white sand it makes up for in inexpensive, unpretentious restaurants and friendly Cambodian proprietors. I hope it stays that way for a long time to come.

I guess the only real misgiving I have about the good press Sihanoukville received is if it becomes a trend, Sihanoukville might become too popular for my liking. As much as I’ve tried to promote it, I’ve always felt it was my “secret spot” and the upside of the bad press was that it was never too touristy and the parts of the city I didn’t like were easily avoided. I’ve always had a knack for living in places on the cusp of change and after the change happened, I never liked them quite as much as before they were developed and gentrified. Oh well, at least I’ll be able to say “I told you so” to all those who said Sihanoukville would always be a “sleepy backwater” even when the signs of change were as clear as a bell.

Halloween in Sihanoukville

Monkey Republic had their relaunch party on the 26th. From what I read on Facebook, the party was a big success. If you’re one of the multitudes of backpackers who call Monkey Republic their home-away-from-home, you should be following the Monkey Republic Facebook page.

monkey-republic-27-10-13-cropped

They’re following it up with a big Halloween party:

halloween02

 

There’s also a big Halloween bash at Otres Beach. It’s at Moonlight Rock Resort. A new Sihanoukville resort, I haven’t been there yet, but will definitely check it out next time I’m at Otres. In the meantime, here’s the Moonlight Rock Resort Facebook page.

halloween01

Clearly, Halloween in Sihanoukville 2013 is going to be huge. I’m sure there will be other Halloween parties, but these are the two that came to my attention.

Sihanoukville continues to grow faster than even I can keep track of and I live here. As it grows, competition between businesses and even beaches becomes fiercer and for every 10 businesses that start up, others close. Red Club folded awhile back and the Airport at Victory Beach is now gone. From what I’ve been told, the land was sold (or more likely, leased) to a Chinese company that is going to build a casino there.

Finding the right hotel just got a whole lot easier - HotelsCombined.com

Meanwhile, some businesses on Serendipity Road have been doing well, while others are really struggling. It’s not because of a lack of tourists. Backpackers are coming to Sihanoukville in ever increasing numbers, but they have more options to choose from than in the past. One business owner who has his finger on the pulse and has a big stake in Serendipity agreed with me that there were more backpackers in town than ever before, but business was slow in his area because they were gravitating towards Otres beach and Koh Rong. That was just after the fire destroyed Monkey Republic and damaged Mick and Craig’s, though. Now that they are back (and better than ever), I think business should be good again in the Serendipity area. We’ll see.

Okay, I have to go make a living now. I just wanted to post about Halloween in Sihanoukville before it comes and goes.

Sihanoukville Restaurant Snapshot: Snooky’s

snookys sihanoukville cambodia

I’ve probably passed by Snooky’s 100 times or more in the past 7 years, but I only went there for the first time about 3 months ago. I have a friend to thank for that. He goes there regularly for the Sunday roast and invited me to come along. I forget how much the roast cost, but it wasn’t expensive and it was huge. It was also very good.

snookys sihanoukville cambodia

A couple of weeks later, Sophie and I were trying to decide where to go for breakfast. “I know a place we’ve never been,” she said and directed me to Snooky’s. Like the roast, the $3.75 big breakfast was very good and very big.

Now I go to Snooky’s regularly. I usually get the $2.50 breakfast, which is just the right size and includes 2 cups worth of very good plunger coffee.

Here’s what I like about Snooky’s:

  1. It’s on a quiet residential street in downtown Sihanoukville.
  2. The garden restaurant is very pleasant.
  3. The owner always goes out of his way to say hello.
  4. The staff is friendly and honest.
  5. The food is cheap and good.

Let me elaborate on point 4:

  • After I’d been there a few times, the waiter asked me my name and wrote it down so he wouldn’t forget.
  • One time I accidentally gave him two 10,000 riel notes instead of 1 to pay for my $2.50 breakfast. As I turned to walk away, he said I’d given him too much and gave me back one of the notes.
  • The waitress is equally friendly.
  • Both the waiter and waitress speak very good English.

Snooky’s also has bungalows. I don’t have any first hand experience with them, but I’ve noticed there are always people staying there and some stay for weeks on end. That’s a good sign, especially for a downtown Sihanoukville accommodation. Click the link above if you want to give it a try. I have a feeling it’s the kind of place where you’ll feel right at home from day 1 and get all the help you need from the owner, staff and many expats who spend time there.

If you just want to eat there or want to check it out first, here’s a map to this great Sihanoukville restaurant, bar and guesthouse. As you can see, it’s close to Samudera and everything else in downtown Sihanoukville.

snookies-sihanoukville-map copy

 

 

Seeing Sihanoukville: it’s a matter of perception

Ironically, I’ve become a workaholic since moving to Sihanoukville. At first it was out of necessity, but lately it’s been out of habit. I finished my weekly assignments by noon on Friday and had I not received notice about a new Brainwave Entrainment App, I probably would have spent most of the afternoon blogging. After downloading the app, though, I gave it a try. The app of the day happened to be called “Midday Holiday” and by the time I’d finished listening to the 18 minute track, I was so mellowed out, I decided to extend my “holiday” and went down to Serendipity Beach.

I walked past the Cove and Cloud 9 to this magical track that is one of the few remaining bits of untouched jungle in Sihanoukville. If you take the trail to the end, you come out at Malibu Bungalows Resort, but I didn’t go that far.

jungle-pathInstead, I turned around and just hung out around these rocks for awhile, soaking up the illusion of having sailed to an unknown stretch of the Cambodian coast seeking shelter from an impending storm. After about 10 minutes of successful fantasising, two backpackers arrived, followed shortly by some other curious travellers. That was okay and I was happy to tell them they could safely continue walking until they eventually emerged at Sokha Beach.

rocks

When you’re in a tranquil alpha brainwave state (sort of like a meditative state), your surroundings come into sharper focus. And so it was that I was able to see Ochheuteal Beach from a perspective I’d never observed it from before:

ochheuteal-from-serendipityFrom here, it was a return to “civilisation”, albeit a gradual one.

After discovering that Coasters had closed down, leaving only a spooky looking, cluttered with rubbish shell behind, I became curious. What else had changed in this part of town over the past few months? Instead of returning to my motorbike, I continued on down the Ochheuteal Beach walking track. It wasn’t long before I discovered a new (to me) café I might return to again — at least during the rainy season. Café Noir boasted “the finest coffee in Sihanoukville”, so I gave it a try. I don’t know about the “best”, but the coffee was very good; as was the freshly baked cookie.

Snap 2013-06-23 at 11.55.30These were the things I discovered in the backpacker centre of Sihanoukville in a matter of hours.

If there’s a moral to my story, it’s that seeing Sihanoukville (or any place else, for that matter) is largely a matter of perception. The Age Traveller ran a story the other day called Somewhere, just over the rainbow. The story was mostly about Louise Southerden’s camping trip in the Cardamom’s. It was well-written enough and I’m glad she and her partner got off the beaten track a little bit, but sorry they apparently took a guidebook adventure instead of seeing Cambodia through fresh eyes. If they had, she may not have described Sihanoukville as a seedy “backpacker town on Cambodia’s south coast, where beds cost a dollar, you can get a beer for 25¢ and happy hours last all night”. She must have been referring to Utopia, which even younger expats who like to party avoid like the plague, but which merits a write-up in Lonely Planet.

Had Louise and her partner perceived things differently, they might have rented the catamaran at Café Noir and visited a nearby island. They may have followed the trail I took or they might have spent a night on Otres Beach. Instead, they followed their guidebook and guides. Still, they did better than thousands of other backpackers, who pass through Koh Kong and label it a “seedy little town” before burying their heads in their laptops and smart phones on the way to Sihanoukville from Bangkok and don’t even look up to see the Tatai River flowing beneath them when they cross the bridge on the outskirts of town.