Another Side of Ochheuteal Beach

view from our restaurant

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My family and Cambodians in general squeeze everything they can get out of any holiday. When International Women’s Day rolled around last week, Sopheak kept the kids out of school and arranged a day at the beach. We went to the end of Ochheuteal Beach, near the headland/peninsula that separates it from Otres Beach. This is what it looks like from the road.

road at far end of ochheuteal beach

I’ve written about that end of Ochheuteal before, but focused on Sunset Lounge. We went to a more traditional “restaurant.” It was lovely. There’s a string of them at the end of the road that takes you to that end of Ochheuteal Beach. I claimed a hammock. There were three in our little space, but one went unused because it was in the sun.

view from our restaurant

This end of Ochheuteal isn’t entirely unknown. I saw several Westerners walking and jogging on the beach, but none of them stopped for refreshments. They turned around and went back to the Serendipity end of the beach. I was the only barang in any of these more traditional restaurants. We ordered a feast for seven people, but it didn’t cost any more than meals for two at a more upmarket restaurant on Serendipity Road.

I went for a swim. While I was swimming, I noticed a tractor and some workers just beyond the treeline. After my swim, I took a closer look. From what I can tell, they’re extending the pathway from the other end of Ochheuteal through the empty space that once was going to be a huge resort complete with a nine-hole golf course. It may happen one day, but it hasn’t happened yet.

workers making pathway on ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville cambodiaThat may be a road next to the pathway. If that happens, we can expect even more development on this end of Ochheuteal. It may be the end of the traditional restaurants on the beach. If that happens, I’ll be sad. It’s so nice to see these little restaurants thriving. This derelict building may be knocked down and replaced by a new resort, which will also take over the beach in front of it. I hope my imagination is getting the better of me, but fear I might be right. Big resorts are springing up everywhere in Sihanoukville.

derelict building near ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville, cambodiaAnyway, we had an idyllic day until about 3:30 p.m., when the tractor moved onto the beach. I have no idea what it was doing and hope it wasn’t installing sewage pipes. It was noisy and no one paid much attention to the children who got far too close to the tractor, which was digging sand and then swinging to the side and depositing it behind the ditch to create a break-wall. They didn’t want their work interrupted when waves caved in their trench.

tractor on ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville cambodiaWe put up with it for about half an hour, but decided it was time to head home. No one seemed too bothered by the tractor. Even I was fascinated by it. The wind was sideshore and blowing the fumes in the other direction and the tractor wasn’t too loud, but it was getting late and Sopheak had to go open her new bar. She has a buyer and I hope she sells it soon. It’s too much work and keeps her up too late.

While it lasts, the other side of Ochheuteal Beach is well-worth visiting. You may prefer Sunset Lounge or another place that has tables and chairs. If you don’t know Khmer, you probably won’t be able to order what you want in the little restaurants, but you might want to buy a trinket from a vendor walking up and down the beach.

vendor on ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville cambodia

Serendipity Road and Ochheuteal Revisited

It’s no secret that Ochheuteal beach is not my favourite part of Sihanoukville. On Wednesday evening, I decided I wanted to eat at a restaurant that overlooked the water, so I went to the bottom of Serendipity Road, parked my motorbike and walked to the first restaurant I came to on Ochheuteal. The food wasn’t remarkable, but I got to watch the sun set and enjoyed the cool ocean breeze.

ochheuteal beach sihanoukville cambodia

I went back last night. The plan was to eat at the new Yasmine Bar/Restaurant at the bottom of the hill, but it was a little pricey for my taste, so I ended up going to Maybe Later, but not before I took some photographs.

Yasmine Serendipity Road SihanoukvilleMy timing was poor yesterday. A big boat full of tourists returning from the islands had just pulled in to the pier, which was recently extended. The bottom of Serendipity Road was packed with tuk tuk drivers and motodops waiting to pick up fares.

bottom of serendipity road sihanoukville cambodia

road to guesthouse sihanoukville cambodiaMy favourite outdoor tables were taken at Maybe Later, so I decided to do a little exploring before dinner. If you go to the end of Mithona Street (the road that parallels the beach) and turn left, you come to the third road up, where you can turn right and go to Otres beach. You can also go straight. It used to be a dirt road, but they’ve paved it now, so I decided to take a look. There’s nothing there for about 200 metres, but now there’s a very nice “boutique resort” standing all alone. It looks sort of incongruous now, but I did see people sitting around the pool, so somehow it’s attracted guests. Beyond that is an area that’s been divided into lots for houses and housing developments. Given time, I’m sure the road will fill in. We’ll just have to wait and see how long that will take, but it may be sooner than I think. As I wrote last time, Sihanoukville is growing fast.

guesthouse outside ochheuteal beach sihanoukvilleI made my way from there back to Maybe Later and saw a few more hotels being built. One of them was quite big. Before I went to Maybe Later, I took a ride back down Serendipity Road to take a photograph of this massive development near the bottom of the hill. I assume it’s another hotel.

new hotel serendipity road sihanoukville cambodia

They’ve made a mess of the road, but rumour has it that they want to widen Serendipity Road. That will be interesting. If they do, there will no longer be outdoor seating at the restaurants because there’s not much frontage left. No one anticipated further widening after they built the new road. I have a feeling it won’t happen, but they will need to come back and fix the existing road, which looks pretty bad after having so many heavy trucks on it.

I finally got my favourite table at Maybe Later and had a delicious Southern California style Mexican dinner. After I left, I had to stop at the top of the hill for a moment and overheard a dreadlocked backpacker I’ve seen a million times tell some new backpackers that “all the hotels are full, but no one parties anymore.” That might be because so many of the tourists are families and Chinese now. Fewer backpackers stay in the area than in the past. One person told me they stay for a day, but then go out to Koh Rong or Otres.

Sihanoukville is changing. Right now it’s having growing pains. While all this building is going on, it doesn’t look too pretty, but I think the local authorities will finally have to clean it up. We’re going to need street sweepers and a vastly improved rubbish collection service if it’s going to look as nice as Siem Reap, parts of Phnom Penh or Kampot. At the moment, it looks like a construction site because that’s what it is. Everywhere I go, construction is taking place.

The BIG Sihanoukville News

Update 13 March 2016: According to the Khmer Times and other publications, it looks like the Sihanoukville beach vendors have been given a reprieve. I’ll keep you posted, but for now at least, it doesn’t look like their establishments are going to be bulldozed.

The big Sihanoukville news is that all those lovely beachfront restaurants on Otres Beach are soon going to be a thing of the past. The story broke on the Cambodia Daily on February 17 and was quickly shared on Facebook. Some beach establishments confirmed it, with one saying they would stay until their business was bulldozed. His words reflected those of a business owner quoted in the Cambodia Daily: “I’ll tell you what my reaction to this is: It’s that I will stay until they f—king shove me off here.”

Otres19Feb2016

The buildings on the right are apparently the ones that have to go

The article says:

According to a statement dated February 12 and signed by Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Yon Min, businesses on O’Tres and those on the southern end of O’Chheuteal have until March 13 to move out, citing environmental concerns.

Those that don’t comply with the order will be bulldozed. I know of at least one business that has been anticipating this since they set up shop on the beach years ago. They made contingency plans, but many others will simply have to close. One thing I’m not clear about is what’s going to happen to the businesses on the other side of the road. I knew the ones on the beach were on borrowed time, but thought those on the opposite side of the road were safe. Some of them have invested a lot of money in their bungalows and guesthouses and have made Otres Sihanoukville’s most popular beach.

According to Sihanoukville governor Y Sok­leng as quoted in the article cited above: “Those buildings are close to the sea—the construction should be more than 100 meters away. In fact, when the tide is high, it often touches the buildings.” The guesthouses across the road are a lot less than 100 meters from the beach, but I was under the impression they were legally there and were subject only to height restrictions so that high rise construction could take place on the paved road that runs behind and parallels the dirt road shown on the photo above.

I took a walk to the end of Otres1 and took the two photos shown below. If they remove all the establishments, it’s sort of a before and after picture of what Otres Beach will look like in the near future.

Otres before and after

Before . . . and . . . After

I guess it will be kind of nice to have more beach, but I feel for the businesses that have to go. Most of them have done a great job, providing good food and beverages and keeping the beach clean. True, you have to pay for the privilege, but if you just want to enjoy the beach, Long Beach (on the right) is always there for you.

Some of my friends agree with me that removing the bars and restaurants along Ochheuteal Beach might not be such a bad idea. Many of them attract a clientele that Sihanoukville could do without. Otres seems to attract more tourists who just want to enjoy the beach. When I went down there to take these photographs, I saw three kite surfers, several people sailboarding and more than a few Hobie catamarans on the water. When I stopped in at a restaurant for a coffee and a snack, they were playing mellow music and guests were quietly enjoying the sun and the water.

So that’s the BIG Sihanoukville news. I’ll be sure to take a ride out there on or after March 13 to see what’s happened. I will be sorry to see some of my favourite weekend lunch spots go, but if there is one thing I’ve learned here, it’s that anything can happen and probably will.

The Mellow Side of Ochheuteal Beach

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The Phnom Penh Post finds it hard to say anything good about Cambodia, so I wasn’t surprised when I read the headline: Ochheuteal Beach is the worst tourist trap in all of Cambodia. To my surprise, I actually agreed with some of what the 2012 article said. “Ochheuteal is why the rest of Sihanoukville is unfairly tarnished as the creeping Pattaya of Cambodia,” the author wrote and I couldn’t agree with him more. I never go to that end of Ochheuteal Beach, but should go to the other end more often.

sunset-lounge-buddha-ochheuteal-beach

This Buddha greeted me when I rolled up to Sunset Lounge yesterday morning. He set the pace for the entire morning and by the time I finished lunch, I felt like I’d been on a spiritual vacation.

Sunset Lounge is located on the far end of Ochheuteal Beach, just below the headland. Cross over the headland past Queen Hill Resort and you’re at Otres Beach. I only had a few hours to spare, so I made the most of them. I chose a table in the shade on the grass just in front of the beach and went for a swim before ordering lunch. The friendly German couple who run the guesthouse/restaurant looked after my phone and keys while I swam. This is the view from my table.

sunset-lounge-beach-ochheuteal-beach

Notice the white sand beach. They don’t just keep the beach immaculately clean: they rake it, so I felt like I was looking at a Zen sand garden and almost felt guilty for walking across the sand.

It had been about a year since I last came here and Sunset Lounge has only improved. They closed it last rainy season to landscape the grounds and add two bungalows. When I asked them how business was, they told me they were full, but were going to close on May 13 to build more bungalows, so if you want to stay there (highly recommended!), you’ll have to wait till October.

After a delightful lunch, I went for another swim and headed home for a shower before my weekly writing group meeting. Speaking of writing, I’ve finished the first draft of my book and am now doing the hard part — editing. It’s gone through a couple of name changes. The first title was This Could be Heaven. Then I changed it to Serendipity Road. I like that title, but that’s just one reason why the group has been so valuable. Someone pointed out that it sounded like a romance novel and it dawned on me that you’d have to read the book to understand why I chose that title. The title’s on hold now, but something will come to me.

I left early and wasn’t able to enjoy the sunset at Sunset Lounge. I caught the sunset at the park near the port the other evening, though. Imagine this without the port blocking your view and you get an idea of how mellow watching the sunset from Sunset Lounge would be.

sunset-in-sihanoukville-cambodiaOne thing I can say for tourist traps is that they herd all the people I don’t want to be around into one small area. While the other end of Ochheuteal Beach is populated by “inert tourists, without exception clad in knockoff Ray-Bans and propping up their foreheads with their hands, lest they all pass out in unison and knock out their two front teeth on the table”, the mellow side of Ochheuteal Beach is sparsely populated by tourists thoroughly enjoying the best of what Cambodia’s beaches have to offer.

 

New Water Park in Sihanoukville

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The four kids in our household have been hanging out for the opening of the new water park in Sihanoukville ever since the day I foolishly pointed it out to them a couple of months ago. Well, the big day came just two days ago when free entry was offered for its opening day.

at water park1

Since I had to work, we couldn’t go until the afternoon. That’s probably just as well, because if we had gone in the morning, the kids would have wanted to stay all day. As it was, they had a great time for a couple of hours until the sun started to set.

I was a little worried because our kids are so young and the place was packed. As chaotic as it looked, though, no one was pushing or shoving and teenagers and adults always gave the little kids the right of way.

Only the pool is completely finished. They’re still working on the landscaping and a big cement ship in the front is only about half-built. We had to drive around the back to get in and inch our motorbikes through loose dirt and rocks to find a place to park. By the beginning of the next tourist season, work should be completed and we’ll have to fork over money to get in. Early reports say adults will pay $5 and children $3. That means it’ll cost us $22 every time we go there. The kids have us booked for every Sunday into the indefinite future.

Sihanoukville is Changing

I’ve been saying it for years and the water park is just more proof: Sihanoukville is changing. It’s always been popular with Cambodian families, but more foreign tourists are coming here with their children every year. The first few years I lived here, I rarely saw middle-aged or older couples and never families. Then I started seeing a few. Now I see them so often, it’s no longer noteworthy.

At the same time, the new police chief is determined to crack down on crime. An absurdly rich Russian man who has lived here for over a decade was recently arrested for fraud and bail was denied. After the new police chief started work, he called in the military to make their presence felt and I’m told he’s making individual police take their job seriously or lose it. A British backpacker was arrested on drug charges just the other day, so the word is out: Sihanoukville is not going to be a party town for wasted backpackers any more.

As I’ve repeatedly reported, Sihanoukville is not nearly as dangerous or seedy as the media and some bloggers make it out to be. There are pockets of seediness, but there are larger pockets of nice family beaches, mainly frequented by Cambodian families. Unfortunately, the worst areas are the ones where backpackers hang out, so those who come here for a day or two and think they know everything about the “scene” in Sihanoukville keep the wild west “Snookyville” image alive. Their days may be numbered, though. They are in the minority now and everyone from businesses to the local authorities are trying to make this a family destination. I hope they succeed.

Sand War on Occheuteal Beach!

Serendipity Road, Sihanoukville Cambodia

Okay, that’s my first attention grabbing headline. Before you panic, the “war” is a peaceful one between Sihanoukville authorities and owners of restaurants on Ochheuteal Beach.

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If you’ve ever been there before, you’ve noticed how the sand is covered with tables and chairs from the pier to the end of the developed area. If officials get their way, the tables and chairs will have to be removed so beachgoers can enjoy the beach without having to pay for the privilege.

I first heard about the controversy on Facebook. Most of the comments, including mine, favoured the removal of the beach seating and dining furniture. We seem to agree they are an eyesore and during the day, are usually empty anyway.  It’s a different story in the evening, though. Although we never go to Ochheuteal in the heat of the day, we occasionally go there in the afternoon so the kids can splash in the water. When the sun gets low on the horizon, we’ll order meals and enjoy the sunset while we eat.Ochheuteal beach

Of course, we’re just one family. Others like being able to sit in a lounge chair and enjoy lunch or a beer during the day.  They do seem to be in the minority, though.  Even on the end of the beach where Cambodian families congregate, the family stays in the shade of the restaurant while the kids splash and play in the water.

The Cambodia Daily reported that the beach front restaurant owners are the ones who are most opposed to the new regulation. According to the article, Beachfront Proprietors Won’t Take Ban Sitting Down, they claim the ban will cut their business in half.  Authorities argue that the beach should be free for everyone and removing the furniture will also help relieve the problem of rubbish on the beach.

I don’t want to jump into the fray. I just thought I’d give you fair warning. If you come to Sihanoukville, there may or may not be seating and tables waiting for you on Ochheuteal Beach.  Not to worry, though. If you go to Otres Beach, you can choose between a lounge chair in front of a restaurant or a place on the sand along Long Beach. If you stay in the Serendipity/Ochheuteal area, you can always wander down to the free end of Sokha Beach if officials relent and allow the furniture to stay on Ochheuteal Beach.

That’s one of the things I love about Sihanoukville. You still have lots of options.

The Sun Shines in Sihanoukville!

The sun shines in Sihanoukville at last! It’s 3:00 on the third straight day of sunny weather. Normally, that wouldn’t be news, but June, July and the first week of August were some of the rainiest I can remember. I usually like the rainy season, but it was wearing thin after two months. For us here in Sihanoukville, it was just an inconvenience, but in flood-prone parts of Cambodia, things got serious.

Saturday started off overcast, but that didn’t stop people from going to the beach:

hawaii beachAs the day progressed, the skies cleared and people were out and about doing everything from fishing to feeding the monkeys on the road next to the Independence Hotel.

fishingAs you can see, the monkeys were out in force. Maybe it was because they hadn’t been able to sponge off passersby for so long or maybe it was because some silly person tossed their bananas into the road instead of on to the side of the road. I don’t know, but they weren’t moving, even for this big car.

monkeysOn Saturday night, we threw a big birthday bash for Kelly at Happy Burger. Way back when Luna had her first birthday party in 2008, I came up with the bright idea of inviting all the village children to birthday parties. Around a dozen attended then. I didn’t factor in the possibility that our village would grow. Nearly three dozen came to Kelly’s party. We commandeered the play area and tables upstairs and left such a mess, I think I’ll avoid Happy Burger for awhile until the staff forgets I was responsible.

party at happy burger, sihanoukvilleAs expected, the party didn’t go without incident, but fortunately, it was a minor one and the girl recovered quickly after her leg got trampled on on the trampoline.

Sunday was a glorious day. Sophie and I were able to escape and spend a few hours at Independence Beach to recover from the party. I went for four swims and got a sunburn in spite of the fact that we were sitting in the shade. Last night, we did something unprecedented and had dinner at Ochheuteal Beach. We went early, so it was actually quite pleasant and relaxing. Speaking of Ochheuteal, I should write something about the Sihanoukville party scene. I noticed today my blog doesn’t get a mention when I google that search term. On the other hand, maybe I won’t. It’s the one thing I don’t like about this town.

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I’ve been wanting to write something about village life in Sihanoukville, but need to take some photos to illustrate what I want to write about. It’s an important subject to me, because if you don’t understand that Sihanoukville is still divided up into about 30 little unofficial villages, you don’t understand the social dynamics of the city. What we lack in central governance, we make up for in the villages. I saw an example of this just the other night, when a couple of drunk men got into a fight. The villagers broke it up. No one went to jail and life went back to normal the next day.

It’s been awhile between posts. As my last blog suggests, I’ve been more interested in events in Gaza than in Sihanoukville and I wrote a flurry of posts on the subject on my new blog, Expat Journal. They were kind of a departure from my usual topics, but that’s why I dropped my old blog in the first place.  Just writing about freelance writing gets boring and repetitive. It’s been a slow crawl getting readers, but my latest post, How to Become a Journalist (a real journalist, that is) has been doing pretty well and a couple of my blogs about Gaza, especially Jews Against Zionism and Debunking Zionist Myths, have been doing well, too. Check it out if you get the chance.

My first days in Sihanoukville

far end of ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville, cambodia, 2006

I’ve been cleaning out my drawers in anticipation of the arrival of a new and much-needed desk and office chair. I’ve collected an astonishing amount of unneeded papers over the years and was tempted to simply turn the drawers over and dispose of everything. Luckily, I didn’t, because I stumbled across some real gems amongst the rubbish. One of them was a diary I started in Ho Chi Minh City in September of 2006 and totally forgot about. I’m not going to bore you with the whole thing, but do want to share my first days in Sihanoukville with you. The following is verbatim from my diary plus a few photos from those first few days:

I’m sitting in a thatched-roof, open-air café by the side of the road, sipping on an ice cold banana and coffee shake and watching the world pass ever so slowly by. It’s the low season: traffic is light. Aside from the occasional putt-putt of a motorbike, only the sound of a small generator at the construction site across the road reminds me that I’m still living in the petrol age. At the restaurant next door, a young man dressed incongruously in Western attire deftly shimmies up a palm tree. Two brown-skinned children, a boy and a girl, watch him in wonder. When the first coconut falls, the little boy excitedly runs over to retrieve it, but his father calls him back. I imagine he’s saying, “stay away or the next one may fall on your head.” The boy and his sister retreat to a safe distance and watch as one, two, three more coconuts fall. One splits open on impact and is shared amongst the onlookers. The rest are for sale.

ochheuteal beach, Sihanoukville 2006

My crépes arrive and I become absorbed i my morning meal. I marvel at the blueness of the sky and am grateful for the cool, gentle breeze. My reverie is broken by the squeaking of timber spoked wheels. A bullock-cart laden with earthenware jars and other goods is passing slowly by. Dammit! Where’s my camera? It’s just a passing thought. It would take a lot more than a messed up photo op to disturb my peace of mind on this perfect morning.

After a time, a minibus stops briefly in front of the café. The side door opens and a little girl, 8 or 10 years old I guess, in a blue-pleated skirt and crisply ironed white shirt steps off. The logo on her blouse tells me it’s her school uniform. The man sitting behind me, the proprietor with the gold grin (literally and metaphorically – he has gold caps on his front teeth) calls out cheerily and she runs to him. She hops on his knee and after a bit of lilting but incomprehensible conversation with her, the man begins to sing a song to her. He has an exquisite voice, soft and melodious. Tranquillity gives way to something deeper as I listen to this fatherly serenade.

far end of ochheuteal beach, sihanoukville, cambodia, 2006

Where am I? Just 20 metres behind me, warm tropical wavelets lap peacefully against a narrow strip of sand. After breakfast I’ll go for a leisurely swim. Tonight I’ll struggle with the biggest dilemma my trip has to offer: where to eat? Will it be local fare or maybe European, Australian, Indian or Mexican?

Where am I? What tropical paradise have I stumbled across, persuaded by the impending arrival of a hurricane to change my travel plans almost as soon as my plane touched down? This end of town is called Ochheuteal beach, but that’s all I’m going to tell you for now.

I ended up at this end of town simply because my driver suggested it. The Orchideé is the only guesthouse in town that has a swimming pool. I guess my age and/or the fact that I shave regularly marked me in his eyes as an upmarket tourist. The cost of the room – $10US per day for a double bed, hot water and satellite TV convinced me to stay.

It’s absurd. $10US is about $13.50 Australian dollars. The guesthouse can’t be more than five years old. It’s set out in a courtyard style, with lounges and umbrellas surrounding the pool. Huge wicker chairs in the restaurant invite you to stay and chat. If you think I’m talking about Bali, you’re wrong. But imagine Bali 30 years or so ago, before Jalan Pantai, the beach road, was lined with hotels and you’re getting close.

victory hill, sihanoukville cambodia 2006

And like Kuta Beach, hawkers sell their wares on the beach and a manicure or massage can be purchased for a song. But this is a white sand beach, unlike Kuta’s hot black volcanic sand. Food stalls and umbrella shaded lounges take up half the beach. The other half serves as a footpath, just wide enough for easy two-way traffic. Unlike Kuta, this beach on the edge of the Gulf of Thailand (No! I’m not in Thailand) has no waves. Just wavelets lapping serenely against the shore. You can walk out 20 metres before the water becomes chest deep. And instead of one well-sealed beach road, there are two, separated by just enough land for beach side development. Clearly those who decide where to build roads and why are expecting a tourist boom, but for now at least, there are wide empty spaces between guesthouses and hotels.

I don’t want to tell you where I am. If I do, it will probably scare you away.

Yesterday, I rode my rented motorbike outside of the city, just to see what was there. More of the same, really, minus the shops and the people. I stopped by the side of the road, went for a swim and dried off in the sun. About halfway back to my guesthouse, I got a flat tyre. After trudging along for awhile, I saw a dilapidated little shack with a little shingle on a tree. The words were in a foreign language, so I didn’t know what they meant, but the old tyres hanging on the tree around it told me what I needed to know. I was at the local equivalent of a Bob Green’s T Mart.

The guy had me by the proverbial balls. He could have asked me for any amount of money to fix my tyre and gotten it, but $3.50 and 15 minutes later, I was back on the road. I’m not sure I’d have gotten such friendly, honest and efficient service in an outback garage in Oz.

The diary entry goes on from there, but that’s all I want to share right now. What struck me about it was how impressed I was with Sihanoukville and how now, nearly 8 years later, I’m still impressed. I see the downside, but the good outweighs the bad by a long shot and although it’s grown, there are still spaces between hotels and you can find an empty stretch of beach to call your own if you want to.

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.

Rediscovering Ochheuteal Beach

One of the drawbacks to living in Sihanoukville or any tourist town is that eventually you don’t feel like a tourist anymore. Those things that excited and intrigued you when you visited the first time start to seem mundane and boring. That’s part of the reason why I almost never go to Ochheuteal Beach.

Afternoon at Ochheuteal Beach, SihanoukvilleLast Sunday, we decided to have a family afternoon/evening out. While I thought of our usual haunts, with typical ingenuity, Sopheak suggested Ochheuteal Beach. Not only did she suggest Ochheuteal, she took us to the heart of the most touristy part of the beach. Reluctant at first, when our tuk tuk turned down the little dirt road that leads directly to the beach, a road I hadn’t been down in at least a couple of years, I suddenly felt like a tourist again and it felt good.

The feeling continued when we sat down in front of our chosen restaurant. The children immediately headed for the water to take advantage of the late afternoon sun, while I just relaxed and enjoyed looking at Ochheuteal in a completely new light. I mean that literally. I can’t think of another time when I’ve been at Ochheuteal in the late afternoon and early evening.

Evening at Ochheuteal Beach, SihanoukvilleI’ve always thought of Ochheuteal Beach as divided between the barang section on the Serendipity end and the Cambodian section further down the beach. We were sitting just about on the border between the two and it was nice to see a mingling of Cambodian, European and Asian tourists. It was also nice to see so many families at the beach at that time of the evening. The best part, though, was that everybody was enjoying it all as much as we were.

 

 

 

 

Old road to Ochheuteal Beach, Sihanoukville Cambodia

 

The next morning, I rode my bike back to the little dirt road that leads to Ochheuteal Beach to try out an “all day breakfast” restaurant that had caught my eye the day before. I wanted to try the pumpkin spice pancakes I’d seen on its sign. Just about every little restaurant in town sells pancakes, but they almost all leave something to be desired. The pancakes at Sisters were perfect. In fact, they were possibly the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten.
Sisters at Ochheuteal Beach, SihanoukvilleI had a chat with the proprietor, who told me she and her two sisters each had a Sisters restaurant. The other two are in Phnom Penh and Kampot. All three sisters attended a cooking school in Phnom Penh run by a Cambodian woman who learned to cook Western style food in America. She must have learned at a very good school or restaurant, because I ate a lot of pancakes in the US when I was younger and they couldn’t hold a candle to these.

I went back to Sisters on Wednesday and would have gone this morning, too, if it hadn’t been raining. When you’re in Sihanoukville, be sure and give it a try. You’ll love it. To find Sisters and the little road pictured above, check out the doctored screenshot below and then go to my new Sihanoukville Map page for better directions. I’m inordinately proud of my ever growing map, so please also visit it on Google maps. In time, it may show up on search results. Thanks.

Map of small section of Ochheuteal Beach showing location of Sisters at Ochheuteal