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Friday, February 4, 2011

Sihanoukville Hotels and Activities

Sihanoukville, also known as Kampong Som, is a province in southern Cambodia on the Gulf of Thailand and is fast becoming on of the hot spots on the tourist and backpacker circuit in part because it offers what most of Thailand cannot—a relatively undeveloped beach town. 

That is quickly disappearing with a major mall opening--the Mittapheap Shopping Centre that plans to open in February, vendors being dislodged from beachfront properties to make room for upcoming hotels, and the sell/lease of all those beautiful offshore islands to developers with Russian or Chinese connections. All in all, people are cashing in on Sihanoukville and its quaint, small-town charm is soon to change to a bustling city serving farangs as much as the local population.

The Beach Club Resort
When we travel here, we usually stay in one of the resort-feeling places near Ochheuteal Beach like Orchidée Guesthouse . Right now, though, there is construction going on as they expand, not content to keep the place cozy. Nearby is a very cozy location in the $25-$35 range, The Beach Club Resort. We preferred the ground floor rooms that open up onto the swimming pools. The breakfast is not worth paying extra for unless you know you will be up and at it every morning, though. Other cheaper options that get mostly positive reviews from us and friends are the Jasmine Hotel and Diamond Beach Hotel. Don't expect many frills, but you get what you pay for if not more.

Ocheteaul Beach
As a beach town, there are plenty of them. Ocheteaul Beach is our favorite on the East side of town, about a 5 minute motorcycle ride from downtown. This beach runs about 2 kilometers from Serendipity Beach to Otres Beach. Ocheteaul is filled with beach stands and chairs.  Seafood, burgers, pizza, and booze.  Most places serve Khmer style food, but many now offer Western dishes.

Other beaches include Serendipity Beach, the real tourist beach on the East Side. No beach stands here, just Western style bars and restaurants.  One of the few places with rooms right on the beach.  Many new internet shops, clothing, MP3 downloads, tour services and boat departures to the islands.  Victory Beach At the bottom of "The Hill", near the port, Victory beach has quickly become the tourist beach on the West side of town. An easy walk from Victory Hill, with plenty of seafood, boating activities, guesthouses, and a full service casino.  Some quiet beach in the middle, and some restaurants towards the port. Victory Beach at the bottom of "The Hill", near the port, has not yet become a real tourist beach. An easy walk from Victory Hill, with plenty of seafood, boating activities, guesthouses, and a full service casino, it is still happening.

Sihanoukville is not a historical town. It grew up around the construction of Sihanoukville Port. Construction on the port began in June 1955 and it was the only deep water port in Cambodia. Therefore, most of its attractions are natural beauty or outside of the city proper. Not too far away in Kep are some spectacular caves: Phnom Ta-aun and Phnom Sia Caves. They require about a half-day.

There is some fairly decent snorkeling and SCUBA diving available in the area, too. Sihanoukville was the place of the last official battle of the United States army in the Vietnam War, although the incident took place outside Vietnam. It is known as the Mayagüez incident on May 12–15, 1975 between the US forces and the Khmer Rouge. Currently, visitors dive in Koh Tang, one of the Sihanoukville islands where the major battle to free the SS Mayagüez took place. Divers can see two shipwrecks 40 metres (130 ft) down. Taking the half day boat tours of the outer islands are nice and they will be developed soon, so see them while you can before they are covered in hotels. (Remember your sun screen, and ear plugs help, too--those engines are LOUD). Work has already begun on building one resort area. You might also consider visiting Ream National Park, and Wat Ream is worth a quick visit. 

We suggest you visit while you can before it is transformed into another Phuket.  We can hope that won't happen, but given the develop happening and money being spent, it looks like only a matter of time.  Well, there is then Kep . . .


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