During the week of August 10th, I hired a car/driver to take me from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville (aka Snooky), the premier Cambodian beach and fishing town, and islands destination, located on the Gulf of Thailand. The drive is four hours long and passes through small villages and gorgeous farming regions. Sihanoukville is located on a peninsula that is surrounded by many small islands. The main reasons that most people visit Sihanoukville are the beaches, the nearby islands (many people come to Snooky just to get out to the islands), the nearby jungles and waterfalls, the diving and snorkeling, the seafood barbeque restaurants (Khmer style of course), and the variety of sport fishing options.
Also, Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s only deepwater seaport. And, for casino lovers, Sihanoukville has casinos small and large. There are developed areas for those who prefer a more commercialized beach town experience, and there are undeveloped areas and islands for those seeking a natural experience.
I spent a very pleasant 7 days in the Sihanoukville area, and on nearby Koh Rong island, partaking of both the commercial and natural. Sihanoukville was established during the 1950s, when a construction team arrived to build Cambodia’s first and only deepwater seaport. The town is named after former King Sihanouk.
Developed or undeveloped, the overall atmosphere in the Sihanoukville is extremely relaxed, and traffic moves at a very gentle and civilized pace. Everybody seems to know everybody else. Compared to Phnom Penh and its population of 2 million, Sihanoukville is a small city with a population of about 100,000, which expands to about 200,00o during the high season.
There are six main beaches that are spread out along the coastline — a bit too far apart to walk from one to another. The best and cheapest way to get around town, and from beach to beach, is to rent a motorbike for 4 dollars per day. The only other alternative is to hire a tuk tuk taxi. A tuk tuk fare is about 3 dollars from any destination in town, to any other destination in town, or to the beaches.
Lodging prices are excellent. Very nice hotels and bungalows are priced in the range of 10 dollars to 40 dollars per night, including breakfast. Cambodians are very serious about the quality of their cuisine, and the hotel breakfasts have been fantastic during my entire stay in Cambodia. They also do a great job preparing western cuisine.
I stayed at a hotel within walking distance of the main pier and Serendipity Beach, which is a convenient, centralized location. One really nice aspect of Sihanoukville is that there is something for everyone, that is, a wide variety of activities from which to choose – a good reason for choosing centrally located lodging, and one reason that Snooky is a popular family destination. There are the beaches (lively and commercialized to laid back and undeveloped), the jungle, the beautiful Buddhist temples, the local cuisine (my favorite were the mussels fried in red tamarind sauce and the whole crab prepared with green, kompot peppercorns), the offshore islands, the casinos, the waterfalls, the waterpark, the nearby national park, the nearby jungle villages, the hiking, and the sport fishing.
The beaches vary from developed to undeveloped. Serendipity Beach is on the developed end of the spectrum. Otres Beach is on the undeveloped end of the spectrum. When I say developed, I don’t mean high-rise condos. I mean a pleasant arrangement of single story (fully open to the beach) guesthouses, shops, laid-back bars (with superb cocktails due to all fresh ingredients) and restaurants situated right on the path extending along the rear of the beach.
Beginning in the evening, the restaurants set up additional tables and chairs right in the beach sand, extending all the way down to the surf, for on-beach dining. There is even a small, outdoor market square for raw or freshly cooked seafood, and fresh fruits and vegetables, located right along both sides of the beach path. The undeveloped beaches largely exist in their totally natural state (for several kilometers). There is absolutely no development along most of the undeveloped beaches, that is, only a few restaurants and shops at each end.
So what did I do in Sihanoukville?
I stayed overnight on Koh Rong in a stilted, hillside bungalow with great views of the small Koh Rong harbor below, and the neighboring islands. The bungalows do not have air conditioning, only a ceiling fan and a mosquito net. I was supposed to have electricity, but mostly it was never available.
I spent the 2 days on Koh Rong hiking in the surrounding hills, and snorkeling in the reefs offshore. Many movies and television series episodes, including the American television program “Survivor,” have been filmed on Koh Rong due to the natural beauty. There is actually a production company now located on Koh Rong to facilitate ongoing filming. There is nearly always something in production.
The falls cascade several times for about a kilometer and traverse an overall vertical drop of about 160 meters, and with the highest cascade being about 15 meters high, and most cascades being in the range of 5 to 10 meters.
The falls are extremely picturesque and now serve as a popular spot for swimming and wading , picnicking, and hiking. The water is cold, clean, and clear. Interestingly, the falls were discovered in the early 1960s, and a decade later became a hideout for the Khmer Rouge. And then, eventually, back in 1997, the Kbai Chhay Waterfall system was marked for tourism promotion, and for eco-sensitive development being that it is located in a national park.
And, I lost a few dollars playing the blackjack and the slot machines in the casino across the street from my hotel.
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