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Once I had my fill of wandering the streets of Phnom Penh and pretending I was an urbanite again, Mark and I set out for the beach. Cambodia’s coastline is relatively small, but features a few tourism hotspots. Chief among them is Sihanoukville- backpacker’s paradise and jumping off point to the pristine offshore islands. Not only were were looking forward to some time in the sun, but we are also always on the scout for future possible home away from homes in tropical places with a diving industry.

Hand Painted Motorbike

Unfortunately, we just didn’t feel it in Sihanoukville. The town was pretty dilapidated- and not in a charming way. The nightlife was fun- but there wasn’t much variety. And worst of all, the beach was just disappointing. I think we may have had bad timing. Busy season was just starting and the overall effect was kind of a sleazy ghost town. Perhaps if the place was packed with other merry makers we would have felt differently.

Sihanoukville Beaches

Still, we know plenty of people who love Sihanoukville (though apparently not ) and so as always I encourage travelers to go check it out for themselves. It’s actually a must, since it is the gateway to Cambodia’s islands- and if you pass up the chance to visit them now, you’re crazier than the local Russian madman in S’ville who runs around hitching rides on the outside of other people’s tuk tuks. (Post forthcoming- about the islands, not the madman).

Despite our icky feelings towards the place, a variety of circumstances, including illness, ended up keeping us in Sihanoukville for a week in total. Here’s a bit of what we got up to:

Celebrating Halloween

I wasn’t expecting to dress up and participate this year, but when our friends who had gone to the beach ahead of us from Phnom Penh sent us an urgent message to “arrive by Halloween, bring wigs” who was I to argue? We were seriously impressed with the quality of costumes people were able to pull together thousands of miles from the nearest Halloweens ‘R Us.

Sihanoukville Halloween

Too bad Mark couldn’t make it out that night. Luckily we were joined by a new blonde haired friend, Markarita. She forgot a costume.

Sihanoukville Halloween

Sihanoukville Halloween

She was also strong. Very strong.

Sihanoukville Halloween

Beach Bumming

It wouldn’t be a trip to Sihanoukville without some serious beach time. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, these strips of sand were nothing to write home about. Worse, they were absolutely mobbed with very persistent beach vendors, and constant warnings not to leave your valuables out of sight for a moment. This meant Mark and took turns swimming in the murky water. Fun!

Sihanoukville Beaches

Still, we had some laughs. Mark rented a surfboard one day at Otres Beach and did pretty well considering the near total lack of surf. And I got to play guard dog to our bags and be interrupted from my magazine reading every four minutes to vehemently refuse a string bracelet.

Sihanoukville BeachesOtres Beach

Another day, we asked some trustworthy looking English speakers to watch our bags and paid a dollar each to go wild on these water toys out in the ocean. It was silly, happy fun, the kind you need after weeks of culture-vulture traveling.

Sihanoukville BeachesSerendipity Beach

Patronizing Crazy Establishments Run by Russians

Strangely, along with certain parts of Koh Samui, Thailand, and Mui Ne, Vietnam, Sihanoukville is a Russian holiday mecca. Everywhere you go you can spot Cyrillic signage and hear thick Russian accents. I don’t know much about Russia or it’s inhabitants, but I now know that they built some really cool bars in South East Asia.

Airport Lounge Bar, Sihanoukville

One of them being Airport Lounge Bar, a bar and restaurant on the beach that features, as you may have taken note of in the photo above, a full sized airplane.

Airport Lounge Bar, SihanoukvilleThe cool part is you can climb inside the airplane and pretend you are a pilot or perhaps a character from the TV show Lost in those episodes where they crash land in a tree.

Airport Lounge Bar, Sihanoukville

Another out-there Russian owned establishment is Snake House, an ophidiophobe’s worst nightmare.

Snake House Sihanoukville

We visited during the day, which prompted an entry fee of $2-3, but you can avoid that by eating a meal in the restaurant at night. I recommend doing that. Once we saw how cool it was inside we were kicking ourselves for not eating there. In addition to being a restaurant, the establishment also provides anti-venon to nearby clinics and hospitals.

Snake House Sihanoukville

The cool part is the snakes and other reptiles were super active compared to the normal state they seem to be in at zoos, which is somewhere between comatose and dead. With the exception of one crocodile who was being kept on a leash, the animals seemed decently well cared for.

Snake House Sihanoukville

Snake House Sihanoukville

Snake House Sihanoukville

It wasn’t all reptiles, either. In the main dining room there was an enormous salt water tank with sea turtles and tropical fish, and the garden featured some impressively beautiful birds.

Snake House Sihanoukville

Snake House Sihanoukville

So there you have it. A week in Sihanoukville for us translated into mediocre beaches, some major nights out, and some crazy Russian bars. Stay tuned to read about the true hidden jems of Cambodia’s coast- the most beautiful island I have ever laid eyes on.

Do you think I’m crazy for not liking it? Isn’t it frustrating to get to a place that people rave about and just… not get it?

Have you been to Sihanoukville?

 

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33 Comments...
  • Arienne
    December 7 2011

    Totally agree. We spent about 4 days in Sihanoukville and it turned out to be 4 too many days. We had also read reviews about how people loved it and stayed for weeks, but it wasn’t doing anything for us. We couldn’t believe the child touts either and how they carried themselves as if the were 30 year old salesmen. The only upside was heading out to Koh Ru island. It was one of the highlights of our stay in Cambodia and had such a beautiful and quiet beach. I’d say skip Sihanoukville and head out to one of the nearby islands.

    • Meihoukai
      December 7 2011

      I’m so glad to hear I’m not the only one! I’m sad to say I missed Koh Ru despite hearing amazing things about it. However, I did visit both Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem so I can’t complain too much!

  • Kathryn
    December 7 2011

    How weird is this? Project Hope is going to this very town next summer and I just finished filling out the application to go ten minutes before I read this post!

    Um, Mark in drag: scary.

    Yeah, the garbage – as mentioned in the TripAdvisor link – is a real issue in many developing countries I’ve visited.

    • Meihoukai
      December 7 2011

      That’s so weird! I’m not surprised though, because frankly the medical facilities I saw around there were scarier than Mark in drag. Also, I didn’t mention this in my post but there have been some pretty serious human rights violations here in the past, just google “Sihanoukville Forced Evictions.”

      I didn’t notice too much garbage really… it was more just the general unappetizing look of the water and sand. Murky and brown.

  • Noreen McKee
    December 7 2011

    Hey Meihoukai,
    You and Mark were sorely missed this past weekend at Chez McKee but it looks and sounds like you’ve got a good gig going, girl!
    Love,
    Noreen

    • Meihoukai
      December 7 2011

      Hi Noreen, I was super sad the day of the party. The holidays and holiday events are the things I realize I miss the most when traveling. Perhaps next year! Love, Meihoukai

  • Dad
    December 7 2011

    I am glad we went to Kep instead

    • Meihoukai
      December 7 2011

      Me too. I was hoping to go back this time (and visit Kampot in between) but alas, our visas were set to expire! Next time!

  • Roy
    December 7 2011

    So…….. is Markarita single?

  • MarkG
    December 7 2011

    This is an interesting post about Sihanoukville.
    Many travel bloggers rave about this place. But may be it is the first, and only sight, of a beach they get in this country. The description of it being delipidated is so appealing because in 5-10 years time it will be geared up for tourists looking for a cushy break and will be sqeaky clean!
    Beach touts are a serious nuisance everywhere. You need to learn the equivalent of ‘Get lost’ in the local language! Not nice I know. But these kids are often missing schooling in order to create business for their ‘mummy'(often a child ‘pimp’).
    Look forward to your island posts.

    • Meihoukai
      December 7 2011

      Believe me, I’m not looking for a Miami beach style resort! I was just looking for that word that my travel writing teacher told me never to use… “charm.” And despite traveling to MANY beach related destinations, I’ve managed to have very few interactions with beach touts. Maybe I’m getting lucky! Here in Koh Tao, we have almost none.

  • jim
    December 8 2011

    any chance someone could name a few of the nightlife highlights

    • Meihoukai
      December 8 2011

      Hi Jim,

      Utopia and JJ’s are the two late night spots. Before they really warm up there is Monkey Republic bar and a place on the beach called Sessions that can be quite good. Hope that helps!

  • Fidel
    December 9 2011

    This place is starting to be visited by US Navy ships (I’m in the Navy) and so I’ve been wondering about it. Your blog here gives good insights about Snookyville. I should have known it wasn’t a great place when people started nicknaming it after a character on ‘The Jersey Shore.’
    I will admit that the Airport Lounge Bar looks cool. But this place seems like Cambo’s version of Pattaya. And we all know what Pattaya is.

    (linked to you via Andi’s site where you guest posted.)

    • Meihoukai
      December 9 2011

      I’ve never been to Pattaya, but I’m not too torn up about that šŸ™‚ And yes, there was a fair amount of sex tourism going on here (hence “sleazy”) I basically refused to call it Snooky in protest of allowing the Jersey Shore to creep into the Cambodian vernacular in any way.

      Now, what is the US Navy doing there exactly? I don’t know much about these things.

      • Fidel
        December 9 2011

        Ha ha, I will do my best not to call it Snookyville, but apparently the name fits.

        Well I can’t fully answer your question based on my pay grade, security level and all that other stuff. What I can tell you is that our port visits involve a lot of handshaking and smiles among those who wear eagles and stars. As far Sailors like myself, we go on a lot of humanitarian missions, give ship tours, spread a lot of goodwill and then of course at night we stimulate the local economy, lol.

        • Meihoukai
          December 9 2011

          Sounds like a good gig! And I always wanted a job where I could say things like, “if I told you, I’d have to kill you!”

      • John
        April 8 2016

        I would say that the overwhelming majority of the sex tourism is back packers, as is the case in Loas. Also the cause of the constant stench of narcotics. As for foreigners looking for local girls, it’s a joke. All of the attractive young women you see in the bars are out of bounds and the choice is between the old ugly ones.

        • Meihoukai
          April 26 2016

          John… I don’t know where you are getting your information but it is seriously off base. Backpackers certainly contribute to sex tourism but it’s laughable to think they contribute to the “overwhelming majority” of it. Please. I think that category is pretty safely the territory of creepy old white men.

          • John
            April 27 2016

            Hello Meihoukai,
            I am afraid that your information is way off regarding sextourism in Cambodia and Loas. Most of the tourists having sex are backpackers. As for those who happen to be older, there does not seem to be quite so many enticing opportunities. Just as an aside, many of the men who go with girls in Thailand are often quite decent sorts of blokes. It is quite sickening the modern approach of speaking about men in a derogatory slating manner just because they are older. What about all those creepy pervert younger blokes who are going off with girls of 18 all the time. Try giving them some abuse for a change, as they are by far, the majority going off with attractive young women for sex.

          • Meihoukai
            April 28 2016

            John, this is truly one of the most insane things I have ever read on the internet, and it goes without saying that you have some really stiff competition. One only needs to glance down the red light districts of Patong, Pattaya, and Patpong to know that young backpackers are not the top clientele of prostitutes in Southeast Asia. I’ve got plenty of respect for my elders but I don’t extend it to the creepy old men who embody sex tourism in this region of the world. The fact that your comments seem so hung up on the appearance of these sex workers and what “enticing opportunities” they offer is disturbing and certainly suggests the bitterness of a man who has taken part in it regularly.

          • John
            April 28 2016

            Meihoukai, Your words are most disturbing. They convey an intolerance of others. My observation was simply that the majority of Sex Tourism, in Loas and Cambodia is contributed by the Back Packing community. No disrespect for this group of people was intended, or for other consenting adults. The wording you use in your reply show a disdain for people who happen to be older, despite your protestation to the contrary, and an intolerance of others who do not perceive things as you do. Most of the troubles of the world can be attributed to people who cannot empathise out with their own perceptions and ideologies. It is sad to see that you revert to such demeaning language of others.

  • Jen Laceda
    December 12 2011

    Found your blog thru Andi Perullo’s. LP and other guidebooks raved about Sihanoukville years ago when I backpacked thru Asia. I never made it to Sihanoukvilee (because I fell ill). The beach kinda looks disappointing, especially after enjoying crystal clear beaches in the Philippines.

    • Meihoukai
      December 12 2011

      The islands off the coast were so unbelievably stunning, hard to imagine anyone stays in Sihanoukville for anything other than the nightlife!

  • Neil Skywalker
    February 6 2012

    I had a great time in Sihanoukville and just posted a story about it. In a few weeks i will post about another and somewhat rougher visit.

  • Scott
    August 1 2012

    It’s Sihanoukville you just have to go with it and you’ll find it an incredibly chill place.
    Scott recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 2 2012

      Well, the great thing is not everyone has to love every place šŸ™‚ On that trip, Sihanoukville just wasn’t for me!

  • Sandy
    February 19 2014

    Hey Meihoukai, love your blog, I am a hit and run SE Asia wanderer, that is I get over 2 or 3 times a year, sometimes with family sometimes solo. Love PP and staying riverside in a hotel overlooking all the action on river and road. Regarding Sihanoukville I have been there three times, first time in July as part of first trip, second time in July after a tour of Kampot and Kep, and last month mid January on way to Koh Rong. The January experience was so different, number one – water at all the beaches crystal clear and glassy, amazing sunsets, great swimming, amazing sunset photos – so different than the visits in July. Maybe you need to visit one more time, or at least allow a couple of days in Sihanoukville on your way back to the islands if you can go Jan/Feb

    • Meihoukai
      February 19 2014

      Hey Sandy! That is awesome info to know…. I would absolutely give Sihanoukville a second chance, at least on my way to or fro one of the islands! Thanks for the great tip.

  • Lucy
    May 3 2014

    I love love love your blog Meihoukai! I totally get the frustration when you get somewhere and just don’t get the hype — I felt the same about most of the beaches in Sri Lanka. I’m off to Sihanoukville in a few days, so watch this space! L

    • Meihoukai
      May 3 2014

      I hope you enjoy it, Lucy! I’ve heard from readers that perhaps I went at the wrong time of year — supposedly at certain time the weather can really draw in trash horribly. I’m hoping you have a lovely experience!