After a hectic week in the capitol Phnom Penh, we decided to head to the beach and see how the Cambodians relax. Sihanoukville, named after the Cambodian King Sihanouk, is a beach resort on the south-western coast of Cambodia, about a 4 hour bus journey from Phnom Penh.
The journey itself to Sihanoukville is very easy to organise, with tickets being purchased from your hotel or hostel for $10-13. However, there is one point about this journey that is worth noting. Upon nearing Sihanoukville, our bus stopped at a large petrol station, about 5 km from Sihanoukville centre, where we were told to get off the bus. Interestingly, none of the locals got off, but we disembarked due to the persistant pressure of a local, who we later realised was of course a tuk-tuk driver. There were quite a few tuk-tuk drivers waiting to "helpfully" ferry people into Sihanoukville proper for about $6, but as we were unsure if we’d just been scammed, we decided to just walk. Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend the walk. It took us about 1hr 45 mins to get to our hotel, dragging our bags in the heat, over ground that was very potholed and uneven. We’re still unsure if this was a genuinely a scam or not, but the feeling we had was not pleasant, so just be aware. Regardless, if you do have to get off at the petrol station, I’d advise to just pay the tuk-tuk fee and arrive in style rather than as a dishevelled mess like me!!!!
The two main beaches to choose from upon arriving in Sihanoukville are Ochheuteal (pronounced "Oh-chur-teal” and called Serendipity beach at the northern end) and Otres beach. Ochheuteal beach consists of a long but narrow stretch of white sand, lined by beach huts selling drinks and snacks, with sun loungers to rent. This beach is closest to all the main hotels and hostels, a wide range of restaurants offering reasonably priced Khmer and western food, supermarkets and dive centres. Backpacker style bars and night-life are available here into the early hours. However, the beach is busy, with noisy jet skies for rent and more of a built-up feel than a relaxing hide away. Travel further south though, and you’ll find Otres beach, a 4km stretch of white sand, which offers a more relaxed atmosphere, with bungalow accommodation and much less hustle and bustle. All necessities are available here, including on-beach massages and manicures but without the buzz of tuk-tuk drivers.
In the end, we chose to stay close to Ochheuteal beach due to the fact we had several jobs to do whilst staying in Sihanoukville. Firstly, the never ending laundry needed to be attended to and secondly we planned on obtaining our Vietnamese visa from Sihanoukville (see below), and the consulate is a lot closer to Ochheuteal beach than Otres.
We had read that getting a Vietnamese visa is easiest in Sihanoukville, because if you get it done in Phnom Penh, they send it down here anyway. From our hotel near Serendipity beach, we got a tuk-tuk driver to take us to the consulate on Ekareach street and back for $6; we had read $4-5, but the driver wanted $10 originally, and $6 was the limit of my haggling powers!
We needed to get some passport photos to start with, so he also took us to a photo shop called Raksmey Sorya (there is also Chan Raksmey close by). These are on the same road as the consulate but a long way down the other end, near the Total Garage. We got 8 photos for just $2 each, so quite a bargain. The process itself reminded me of having a school photo taken, and he even touched up my skin and whitened my eyes on photoshop! Not sure what that was about...
The embassy is open 8am-12pm and 2pm-4pm, and the process was a lot less formal than when we extended our visa in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia, with no getting sent back for not wearing long trousers and shoes. We just walked in, took an application form, answered the page of questions, which included our profession, address, reason for visit, and date of entry and exit. Note that the date of entry is the earliest you can go, obviously, but you could enter later than this, however your visa will still expire at the exit date you put down. It seems obvious, but I've seen posts that state otherwise. Also, make sure you know which port of entry you will be using.
We handed over the form, passport, passport photo and payed the $60 each, and we were told to come back the next day at 11:00am. D'oh, we were hoping for the 15 minute turnaround time that some people's posts suggested they got. Nevermind, we came back in the tuk-tuk the next day (another $6) and collected our passport page-filling Vietnamese visas.
We took a day trip to Otres beach, relaxed on the beach for a few hours and enjoyed spicy langoustine served with lime, which we bought from a woman balancing a plate of them on her head. A single trip from Serendipity cost $4 or a return trip cost $6.
Additionally, we visited Koh Rong Samloem for the day. The island itself is lovely. The beach is white sand and the water is clean and clear. There are no sellers on beach, like you’ll find on both Ochheuteal and Otres beach, and so you can just find your own perfect spot and sit back and relax. Swimming is pleasant, with the sea bottom gently sloping out. One negative was the presence of jelly fish, and I actually got stung whilst swimming, nothing serious but a bit of a shock. There is one restaurant for food and drink, but it’s easy to get away from other people on the long beach front.
Getting to Koh Rong Samloem was a bit more of an adventure than we’d expected. We bought a return trip, $5 each way, from an agent on the main road in Sihanoukville. The boat was managed by the Koh Rong Dive Centre, and it started off badly from the beginning. We’d been told by the agent to go the jetty on Serendipity beach, with the boat leaving at 8.30am. However, when we arrived we were redirected to the Koh Rong Dive Centre shop along the high street (there are 3 shops so it took us a while to find the right one). From here, we were shuttled to the big Sihanoukville port, about a 20 minute drive away. However, they didn’t send a vehicle big enough to take all the people, so two trips were required, with the final guy having to take a tuk-tuk. The boat, filled to the max, left an hour late. The boat journey to and from the island was an uneventful 40 minutes. Nevertheless, on our return to the main land, not enough transport was provided back to Sihanoukville and no representatives were present with advice, just a herd of gnarling tuk-tuk drivers. In the end, after waiting for a while, we just took a moto for $2 back to Serendipity. The day trip is definitely worth it but check with the agent about the quality of the boat service provided and transportation to and from the pier.
Additional trips that can be taken from Sihanoukville include the Ream National Park and Koh Rong or Koh Russei (Bamboo Island).